Imlaystown Historic District
The Imlaystown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Imlaystown Historic District, located in southwestern Monmouth County, New Jersey, is a rural village comprised of 34 structures. Surrounded by farmland, the village stands in distinctive contrast, due to the surprisingly dense concentration of buildings. The Imlaystown Historic District includes a mix of building types (including churches, hotel, mill, school, store, and houses) common to a village arranged in a more or less linear fashion along the road. Most of the houses (which numerically dominate the district) are believed to date from the mid-19th century or before, but several non-residential buildings at the district's core were built following a large fire in 1897. Of the 34 buildings in the Imlaystown Historic District, seven are key, 23 contributing, and 4 are harmonizing. There is no intrusion. The Imlaystown Historic District's major non-architectural feature is Imlaystown Lake, the pond associated with the mill. Architecturally, the frame, 1-1/2-story house is the principal building type.
The village is located near the center of rural Upper Freehold Township. Surrounding land is gently rolling and has traditionally been agricultural. That use continues, joined today by horse farms and scattered residences. The construction of Interstate 195 from Trenton to the coast has made the area more accessible by car; Interstate 195 passes about a mile to the north of the Imlaystown Historic District.
Prior to the construction of Interstate 195, the major access to Imlaystown was by Route 526 which connects Allentown (to the west) with the shore in Ocean County. However, what is now Route 526 terminated, at least as late as 1861, at Imlaystown-Davis Station Road, at the north end of the district.
The focus of the Imlaystown Historic District is the intersection of Imlaystown-Davis Station Road with Imlaystown-Red Valley Road. Both widen at this point, forming a triangle bordered by the hotel and former municipal building, the mill and its associated house, and an open space containing the major residence of the Imlaystown Historic District (the George Imlay House). South of the intersection, Imlaystown-Davis Road is carried across Doctor's Creek by the mill dam, east of which is the mill pond (Imlaystown Lake).
The Imlaystown Historic District today extends from the Methodist Church at the north (at the corner of Route 526 and Imlaystown-Davis Station Road) generally south, crossing the mill pond, to the former school just beyond the Baptist Church. Thus, it can be capsulized as a group of commercial buildings (centered on the mill) extended north and south by a string of houses, terminated at each end by a church.
Imlaystown's growth virtually stopped following the rebuilding from the 1897 fire. Since 1898, the only construction has been the Baptist Church (1903), (following another fire) and the present public school (1930). Thus, the village looks much as it did c.1898.
Imlaystown-Davis Station Road is frequently referred to as a former cow path; it has gradually been upgraded to its present status as the Imlaystown Historic District's main street. Entering the Imlaystown Historic District from Route 526 (at the north), the landscape changes abruptly from a wide open, 50 mile per hour country road to a closely built street where 20 miles per hour seems excessive. One is faced by houses on both sides which can only be described as cheek-by-jowl, none of which are over five bays in width; two to four is more common.
The road makes an abrupt curve to the left (east) at the Imlaystown-Red Valley Road intersection. The effect of this curve is to terminate the Davis Station Road streetscape. In fact, because the intersection is triangular, all three of its arms present closed views when approaching the village center. Most of the major buildings of the district are grouped here, and their (originally) non-residential use, as well as their generally larger scale, distinguish them from the remainder of the district. They are related to the surrounding building by materials, age, and style, however. Unlike a standard four-way crossing, there is no view "straight through." This sense of a village square enhances the Imlaystown Historic District's identity.
Continuing around the mill (one corner of the first story of which is truncated to accommodate the road), one crosses the mill dam. Development immediately becomes more sparse; houses are larger, as are their lots, creating more distance between structures. Although the visual character changes, however, this side of the pond is just as firmly related historically to the village as is the northern section (see Significance). At the top of a small rise, the 1903 Baptist Church and 1930 Colonial Revival school visually close the district, although it extends beyond the church to include the former school.
While Salter's Mill is today one of the pivotal structures at the center of the Imlaystown Historic District, it has not always been the only mill in town; in fact, the village historically had two sets of mills and ponds. Buckhole Brook flows into Doctors Creek just below the present dam, and it is the latter which powered Salter's Mill. Buckhole Brook, on the other hand, flows down from the north; after passing under the present Route 526 at the Imlaystown-Davis Station Road intersection (at the north edge of the district) it parallels the latter road, passing behind the structures on the west side within the district.
Maps made in 1851 and 1861 show that the present Route 526 did not continue to the east beyond Imlaystown-Davis Station Road; rather, the two roads were one, joined by a broad curve at the site of the present intersection. This curve was atop the dam on Buckhole Brook, and the mill pond stretched out to the northeast, north of the "new" section of Route 526 and east of Palmer Avenue (outside the district). A sawmill, now gone, straddled the brook immediately adjacent to the dam within the district. Today the pond, too, is gone; its site marked only by a low wet area.
In addition, Salter's grist mill was not alone on Doctors Creek. In 1861 according to a map, a "Bark House & Mill" and a "Tan Yard" stood southeast of the grist mill, between it and the bridge over the spillway. Both are now gone.
Route 526 now continues to the east, passing to the north of the Imlaystown Historic District and no doubt relieving it of the burden of through traffic. Imlaystown-Red Valley Road runs along the north edge of the extant mill pond and intersects Route 526 less than a mile east of the village center; thus, the new road is the hypotenuse of a triangle whose legs are the two old roads which meet at the village center.
The integrity of the Imlaystown Historic District, as distinct from the integrity of the buildings which comprise it, is remarkably intact. Its street plan is unchanged and the principal non-residential buildings remain in their original locations. Surrounding land remains more or less in traditional use, reinforcing the Imlaystown Historic District's role as a local trading center.
Individual buildings have not been as fortunate. A significant number have had their clapboard siding covered with asphalt shingles, most likely several years or decades ago. More recently, efforts have been made at rehabilitating individual structures, some with a high degree of historical accuracy and others through the use of modern sidings simulating clapboard. However, in these cases the net effect on the streetscape has been neutral to positive, with the return to the horizontality of siding which asphalt shingle had in some cases obscured.
The Imlaystown Historic District is a mill village, founded no later than the opening of the 18th century, which had achieved nearly its present size by 1897 when a fire destroyed seven buildings (nearly all of the commercial section). The rebuilding following the fire was the last major period of construction. Since the principal buildings were rebuilt on their original locations and in a traditional style, Imlaystown has retained the appearance of a nineteenth century rural village. The village's early role in local commerce, spawned by the mill, undoubtedly encouraged the establishment of an inn, blacksmith shop, wheelwright shop, and two stores, as well as construction of the houses of those associated with each. The result is a village which is not typical of 19th century New Jersey mill villages, where the mill and pond are the visual and physical foci. Unlike many villages, however, the mill and pond are still in existence, fulfilling their traditional roles at least visually. With other nearby commercial buildings, this is the village nucleus; extending in both directions is the remainder of the village.
Salter's Mill, predecessor of the mill now standing at the center of the district, is traditionally reported to have been built before 1700. Richard Salter Sr. owned land in the area after 1698, and his son Richard Jr. (who inherited from his father) sold the mill and pond in 1727. This is the earliest known primary reference to the mill. Meanwhile, Patrick Imlay purchased 480 acres from Richard Sr. and lived here from 1710 to c.1730. It was from this family that Imlaystown took its name.
Little is known about events in Imlaystown later in the 18th century, although it has been contended that the first funds raised in Monmouth County for the Revolution came from a meeting held here.
The Village grew slowly for its first hundred years. By 1834, the town had "12 to 15 dwellings, a grist and saw mill, a tannery, 1 tavern, 1 store, a wheelwright, and a smith shop." [Thomas F. Gordon, Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey, 1834 (reprinted by Rutgers University, 1973).] The tavern had been in existence in 1820, according to a county history. [Ellis Franklin, History of Monmouth County, Philadelphia, 1885.]
The fact that the 1834 reference cites "a grist and saw mill" illustrates part of the reason for the town's growth. As noted in Description (above), Imlaystown was located between two mill seats, connected by the short stretch of Imlaystown-Davis Station Road running from Salter's Mill to the present Route 526. Construction would naturally be expected to concentrate in this area, and this is now the most densely built art of the Imlaystown Historic District. The physical shape of the Imlaystown Historic District (with the principal street paralleling Buckhole Brook) still testifies to the impact on the town of the two mills.
By 1851 the town could boast, besides the industries already mentioned, two stores, a wheelwright and a blacksmith, although the locations shown on a map published that year are not fully in accord with later documents.
A detailed map published in 1861 reveals a great deal about the village's development up to that time. The east side of Imlaystown-Davis Station Road, below the Buckhole Millpond, was lined with eleven buildings, so closely spaced that there was scarcely room for another. One of these is labelled "B. Church," suggesting to some that Baptists met here; elsewhere on the map, however, "Baptist Church" is clearly seen at the site of the present Baptist Church. It seems more plausible that "B. Church" was the name of a person.
On the west side of the street there were eleven more buildings between the sawmill and the grist mill. Dr. William D. Newell, brother and partner of Dr. William A. Newell, owned a three- or four-lot parcel which included his office, two other buildings and room for one or two more. He also owned land on the west side of Buckhole Brook (or Creek, as it is labelled). Immediately south of the doctor was the blacksmith shop.
On the south side of Imlaystown-Red Valley Road are shown J. Smith's Hotel and a Store and Post Office. Next to the gristmill was another store.
South of Doctors Creek there were two houses north of the Baptist Church; on the opposite (west) side of the road were two more.
Isolated but for its outbuildings, the George Imlay house stood slightly north and east of the village, just as it does today.
The conclusion drawn from this map is that in 1861 Imlaystown was not substantially different from today in terms of numbers, density, and uses of buildings. Changes that would work both for and against preservation of the 1861 appearance were, however, yet to come.
An event which turned out to have significance for the future of Imlaystown occurred shortly after the Civil War, although it may not have seemed important at the time. This was the construction of the Pemberton to Hightstown railroad line, which provided connection with the Pennsylvania. Severely damaged by the Blizzard of 1888, the line reappeared as the Union Transportation Company. A 1909 map labels this line as part of the Amboy Division of the PRR, serving the back country between Pemberton and Hightstown.
In any event, its significance to Imlaystown is not where it went, but where it didn't go. It crossed Route 526 at Nelsonville, a mile or so west of the district. Had the line come through the village it is plausible to assume that later growth would have occurred, as was the case in dozens of other New Jersey communities. Because it did not, Imlaystown remained something of a backwater, its development frozen in the mid-nineteenth century.
The railroad did improve transportation. It allowed local scholars, for instance, to walk to Nelsonville and then ride to Trenton (via Hightstown and Bordentown) in order to attend Trenton High School. However, service of this level probably did not encourage Imlaystown's industries to any great extent.
The other major event was more instantly recognizable as such. On the night of September 19, 1897 a fire broke out in Waldon's Store which stood next to Salter's Mill. Eventually the mill, the other store, an abutting former shoe shop, the hotel, and the homes of both storekeepers were also consumed. A bucket brigade fought the blaze in the absence of the Allentown fire company, which stayed at its post in the event fire should break out there. Imlaystown had no fire company of its own.
The fire was prevented from possibly overrunning the entire town when a blazing tree between the Waldon home (next to the store and north of it) and the butcher shop was felled into the street. The butcher shop and all buildings north of it were saved, as were all buildings on the east side of Davis Station Road and the north side of Red Valley Road.
Damage was estimated at $25,000 to $40,000. Although no lives were lost (except possibly "the rodents who may have munched the matches that made the mischief") ["Big Fire at Imlaystown," Freehold Transcript, September 24, 1897.], the major businesses of the town were levelled. Rebuilding got underway shortly; the new hotel opened the following March, and work began on the new mill that summer. The former store and storekeeper's house all date from immediately after the fire.
The former Municipal Building is an enigma. Contemporary sources mention a vacant former grocery store which was moved from the Hendrickson property to a site near the hotel to serve as a temporary replacement (in the process of moving it, one workman was killed). The present appearance of the Municipal Building is not inconsistent with this history, but a modern source states emphatically that the store "was used as a barber shop but never as a Township Hall;" [Ethelyn Maginnis, "The Manor of Buckhole," Messenger-Press, December 14, 1972, p.12.]
By the time of the fire, the Hendrickson name had become well established in Imlaystown. Edward T. Hendrickson had purchased the mill in 1845 and sold it to Reuben in 1872. Reuben had purchased the hotel in 1863; his son, John, rented it from him and operated it. Reuben also owned the former shoe shop destroyed by the fire; thus, of the seven buildings destroyed, he owned three (the mill, the hotel, and the shoe shop).
The reconstruction following the fire was the last major period of construction in the Imlaystown Historic District. The Baptist Church burned and was replaced in 1903 (Upper Freehold Baptist Church), and the adjacent school was built in 1930.
There have been at least four known removals. What was reportedly the oldest house burned in this century. The sawmill at the north end of town, and the Knights of Pythias Lodge nearby, are both gone, the latter disassembled during World War II. Finally, between the Methodist Church and the Kirby House stood the Methodist parsonage.
In this century, Route 526 was extended eastward, removing Imlaystown from its crossroads function in terms of transportation. Traffic from Allentown to points east now need not pass through the heart of the village, resulting in little demand for change on the Imlaystown Historic District's buildings. Even the casual observer notices the light volume of cars in the village proper, and it is easy to see why buildings have not been torn down for gas stations or convenience stores. In fact, there is today no retail use in the village, and no new structures intrude on its historic character.
In summary, the Imlaystown Historic District is a village in the classic definition of a settled place containing houses and three of the following four building types: church, school, store, and tavern/inn. In addition to the mere survival of these structures, they have not lost their historical relationships to new construction.
The central roles (visual and historical) played by the hotel and Salter's Mill are continuing. The hotel is now in business as the Happy Apple Inn (a restaurant), and the mill has been converted to landscape architects' offices. Following the rehabilitation it was entered on the National Register of Historic Places.
As is frequently the case in isolated villages, individual buildings are not architecturally outstanding. The two churches and the school, because of their non-private function, show more stylistic aspirations; the latter is Colonial Revival, and the Baptist Church has some Shingle style influences. On the whole, however, the Imlaystown Historic District buildings are vernacular evolutions of the standard building types common throughout central New Jersey. The three-bay house with ridge parallel to the street predominates (even the Happy Apple Inn is a variant of this tradition), although the Young House is notable for its temple front with pediment.
Because of a variety of events and forces, Imlaystown as a village has weathered the 20th century virtually unchanged. Individual structures have undergone alterations, mostly superficial in nature, as one would expect in a living, non-museum town; more important, the form of the village itself, focusing on the central core, is as it was at least as early as the mid-19th century and probably considerably before.
Beck, Henry C. More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1963).
"Big Fire at Imlaystown," Freehold Transcript, September 24, 1897.
Franklin, Ellis. History of Monmouth County (Philadelphia: 1885).
Gordon, Thomas F. Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey, 1834 (reprinted by Rutgers University Press, 1973).
Maginnis, Ethelyn. "'The Manor of Buckhole' ...a History of Imlaystown" in Messenter-Press, December 7 and 14, 1972.
Beers, F.N. Map of Monmouth County, New Jersey (New York: Smith, Gallup and Holt, 1861).
Lightfoot, Jesse. Map of Monmouth County, New Jersey (J.B. Shields, 1851).
† Charles H, Ashton, Heritage Studies, Inc., Imlaystown Historic District, Monmouth County, New Jersey, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.