Belvidere Historic District
The Belvidere Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Belvidere Historic District is significant in that much of the physical evidence of the development and growth of this 19th century county seat remains. In the street plan and in the scale and spacing of the individual structures can be traced the evolution of an agglomerate settlement into a small town with differentiated residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial areas. The courthouse remains the focal point around which the community revolves. In spite of such alterations as aluminum siding and the removal of some key buildings, the ambiance of the 19th century county seat has been preserved as no where else in the State.
The land occupied by Belvidere was surveyed and divided into two farm tracts by John Heading in 1716. They were divided by a line running southeast from a point a short distance below the mouth of the Pequest River along what was later laid out as Independence Street. The northern tract, said to be of approximately 1250 acres was granted to William Penn.
Major Robert Hoops came into possession of the northern tract, with valuable water power rights, about 1770. Some years later, about 1780, he sold all that portion south of the Pequest River, the water power rights, and a small part north of the Pequest at its mouth to Robert Morris. Hoops kept most of the remainder north of the Pequest until about 1800 when Thomas Paul and Joseph Hyndshaw succeeded him. Morris conveyed, title of his parcel to his daughter Mary and her husband Charles Croxall in 1792. The deed contained an entail which was not broken by the state legislature until 1818. Garret D. Wall acquired title to the land in 1825 and had it surveyed into lots and streets.
There is some evidence that about the middle of the 18th century a block house or fort stood on the north bank of the Pequest a short distance from its mouth. It was probably erected during Indian attacks of the French and Indian War. A letter written by Jonathan Hampton in 1758 notes that "our first Fort, Reading, is 12 miles above Easton." It also appears on a map he made of the New Jersey frontier forts in that year. Hampton further noted that "three of our Jersey Men went over the river to plow, near the Fort at Pequest, when a party of Indians fell upon them, and murdered and scalped them." This was the 14th of June, 1758.
It is clear that white settlement had occurred in the area by the middle of the 18th century. It was apparently quite limited, since according to a letter written by Dr. J.M. Paul in 1850 the community contained only 6 or 7 structures previous to 1780. The earliest of these was a "double log house" occupied by the first settler in the place, one Robert Patterson, a tinsmith. On the site of the Warren House, it was later kept as a tavern and store. Two other dwellings were in existence. Another "double log house" stood north of the Pequest River on the site of the Paul House, occupied by a Presbyterian minister and later Major Hoops. The third was a "log hut" close to the former and occupied by a day laborer. A log grist mill and saw mill stood on either side of the Pequest just north of wooden bridge at what became Market Street. A stone distillery stood near the southwest corner of the bridge and a slaughter house, built by Hoops, on the site of the Blair barn on Oxford Street.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries most growth in the fledgling community occurred on the north side of the Pequest where Major Hoops appears to have actively promoted the development of his land holdings. About 1780 he erected a building for a surveyor's office and a storehouse, said to be the first frame structure in the settlement. As evidenced in a letter written by him in 1791, he was also interested in improving navigation on the Delaware River by clearing Foul Rift. Shortly before his removal, his business efforts culminated in 1799 with the surveying of part of his property "Prospect Hill Farm" for a town called Mercer.
There are other indications of the growth of the settlement at that time. Several merchants and physicians located there and three taverns (two of which may survive in part) are said to have been in operation along Market Street. A stone school house was erected north of the river in 1822 and a Methodist church built on Market Street in 1826.
The first known use of the name Belvidere was in Hoops' letter of 1791. On the survey map of 1799 the Croxall property is identified as the Belvidere Estate. By the end of first quarter of the 19th century Belvidere had replaced Mercer as a place name.
Up until this time Belvidere was no different from the many other villages and hamlets that grew around important water power and transportation sites. As late as 1826 it is said that there were no more than seven dwellings (the one survivor being the Croxall House on the south side of the Pequest River).
Two events changed this: the selection of Belvidere in 1825 as the county seat of the newly formed county of Warren and the real estate promotion by Garret Wall of the newly acquired Croxall tract. Wall planned for a public square with institutions, the court house and three churches, centrally located on the adjoining blocks. While the central location of Belvidere is obvious, the expectation that Wall would donate the land for county buildings must have influenced the decision. Why the successors of Hoops on the north side of the Pequest failed to secure the location of the county buildings on their already plotted tract is not known. The answer may simply be the more level topography of the Croxall tract. A rivalry is known to have existed between the promoters of the opposite sides of the Pequest River through the middle of the 19th century.
Growth was quite rapid in the years after Belvidere became the county seat. In 1841 the town was described by J.P.B. Maxwell in "Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey" as having a "bank, 3 churches (Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal), 4 schools (and a academy now building), 2 printing offices, at which weekly papers are published — the "Belvidere Appollo" (Whig) established in 1824, and the "Warren Journal"(Democrat established in 1833) — 4 hotels (one new and very large), 3 grist mills, (one of which is very large) two saw mills (one of them double), 3 boat-yards, 2 iron foundries; 3 clergymen, 7 lawyers, 3 physicians; 12 stores; 1 apothecary, 1 baker, 3 butchers, 3 blacksmiths, 2 cabinet makers, 6 milliners, 7 shoemakers, 2 sashmakers, 2 silversmiths, 1 silver plater, 2 stonecutters, 1 tinsmith, and 2 wheelwright shops; 162 dwelling-houses, and upwards of 1000 inhabitants."
Political recognition of this development came in 1845 with the incorporation of the Town of Belvidere.
The census of 1870 gives 1,882 as the population of Belvidere, nearly double that of the population of 30 years before. A major stimulus to this increase must rest with the completion of the Belvidere Delaware Railroad in 1854. A few other industries were located along the Pequest, most notable being several carriage and wheel manufacturers.
The Delaware River remained important to the local economy. An attempt which ended in disaster was made in 1860 to open the river as far north as Belvidere to steamboats by several local individuals. Throughout the 19th century great rafts of timber floated down the river and fed the local saw-mills.
County government, the initial stimulus, continued to play a major part in the local economy, a role it continued after 1900 when timber rafts, large scale grain farming, and carriages became things of the past.
At the end of Third Avenue, situated in the middle of the street, is a white oak (Quercus Alba) estimated to be between 250 to 300 years old. This tree was a natural landmark for people in the region surrounding Belvidere in the 19th century. Approximately 15 feet in circumference, this oak tree has a historic past. It was the popular custom in the 19th century for people walking to religious services to travel either barefoot or in their work shoes, carrying their softer more delicate leather dress shoes under their arms. At this white oak, which became eventually known as the "Shoe Tree", these people, cognizant of their nearness to the town, would pause and put on their good leather footwear and continue on to church. The operation was reversed on the return trip.
Long after the custom has discontinued citizens possess sentiment for this natural resource. Frequently endangered by road widenings and traffic an exceptional effort has been expended locally to preserve this natural and folk landmark.
Most New Jersey towns created before 1800 were unplanned with irregular street patterns. Usually situated on major roads or waterways, these villages grew in random manner.
Belvidere, the first county seat erected in New Jersey on a new site after 1800 was laid out in a clear rectangular fashion with a central public square which faced the courthouse Plotted as early as 1799, the land for the square and the public buildings was donated in 1825 by entrepreneur Garret Wall of Trenton.
The name Belvidere itself is reminiscent of classical revivalism which was quite popular in the early 19th century. Actually, the term Belvidere is of Italian derivation and translates into "place having a beautiful view." This was probably the literal meaning for Warren County's seat of government was described in the late 18th century as having a spectacular view; all the way to Philadelphia on a clear day.
The concern for the classics is thought to be an important factor in the development of rectilinear street patterns. Both the Classical Revival and local entrepreneurs appear to have played a significant role in determining the streetscape of Belvidere, however. The rectilinear street pattern, especially in the proximity of the public square, remains. The dwellings which were erected along these streets date from the second quarter of the 19th century to the early 20th century, projecting a 19th century residential appearance.
Belvidere, as a County Seat, stands out among the other county governments in New Jersey. No other county seat in the state so ably projects a total feeling of the 19th century when dispersing through the streets of the district.
The area surrounding the public square has primarily substantial residential structures of the period 1825-1875.
The commercial region is generally confined within Front, Mill, Market, and Prospect Streets along the Pequest River and contains commercial edifices dating from a period generally later (1850-1900) than the public square area. Also within this region are numerous small-scale industrial structures, including a grist mill, a cotton factory, and an agricultural hardware manufacturer.
Dwellings on the perimeter of the Belvidere Historic District are basically vernacular structures dating from 1875-1900.
Overall, Belvidere reflects the character of a County Seat of the mid-19th century to early 20th century and has few modern structures within the district. Those intrusions which are in evidence are mostly small one to three-story structures that maintain the small human scale of the Belvidere Historic District.
Bertland, Dennis P. Early Architecture of Warren County. 1976.
Warren County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Historical Sites of Warren County. 1965.
Snell, James P. History of Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey. 1881.
Beers, F.W. County Atlas of Warren, New Jersey. 1874. (plates 49-54)
Wacker, Peter O. Land and People. 1975. (particularly chapter 5).
Wacker, Peter O. "Early Street Patterns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey: A Comparison." Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 10th Annual Meeting of the New York-New Jersey Division Association of American Geographers. Volume III.
Stewart, George R. American Place Names. 1970. (p. 42- Belvidere).
Barber, J.W. and Henry Howe. Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey. 1844.
Commins, George W. History of Warren County, New Jersey. 1911.
"A Plan of Town Lots at Belvidere". Joseph Hankinson, surveyor. Redrafted by Edward L. Lanterman, 1884.
"County Map of Warren." Lloyd Van Derveer, publisher. 1853.
"County Map of Warren." William Howell. 1854.
"Belvidere, New Jersey." (lithographic view) B.H. Bailey and Co., 1883.
† Dennis Bertland and Terry Karschner, Warren County Planning Office, Belvidere Historic District, Warren County, New Jersey, nomination document, 1976/1977, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.