Allentown Presbyterian Church

HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: A look at the Allentown-Upper Freehold of the past.

   Originally published as Local History Sketches by Charles H. Fidler in the "Allentown Messenger" dated Dec. 18, 1913.
   In the westerly wall of the Allentown Presbyterian Church is a brick on which is cut the inscription, "Robert DeBow, 1756." The brick no doubt was taken from the original church that was built in the above year. It stood on this same site, and was demolished in 1837.
   Mr. DeBow was an uncle of the late Miss Susan DeBow and her sisters, Mrs. Buckley and Mrs. Leavenworth, who built and occupied the dwelling on Main street now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Holmes Hankins [currently borough hall and built by the Rogers Bros. There was an earlier house on this site, later moved to 45 N. Main St.].
   The [covered] brick store on [18 S.] Main street now occupied by The Albert Nelson Co. was erected by the said Robert DeBow [and built by Ephraim Robbins] in 1815, and the first occupant of the new building was the owner himself, who carried on a general store business there for several years.
   In connection with the tearing down of the old church as above noted, was a sad occurrence, when David McKean [actually his son, David Jr.] instantly lost his life through a fall while assisting in the operations.
   For several years he had been an elder of the church, having been elected in 1810, and was also one of the trustees. Mr. McKean was the grandfather of Charles A. Spaulding. He was another of Allentown’s old-time merchants, his last place of business having been a residence of Mr. and Mrs. F. E. Idell, on [29] Main street.
   Among the other trustees of the church were two of Allentown’s Revolutionary patriots — Capt. James Bruere, who was appointed in 1787; and Col. David Hay, appointed in 1805. Both of these officers had served in the Monmouth Militia commanded by Gen. David Forman.
   Another trustee was Robert Montgomery, appointed in 1807. During the passage of Sir Henry Clinton’s army through this section, just before the battle of Monmouth, Mr. Montgomery suffered much loss on his Eglinton estate because of animals stolen and destruction of his property by Hessians. Also, his dwelling was cannonaded [most likely Patriot fire] and the owner was for several hours held prisoner by the enemy, but was released when it was found that he was a non-combatant.
   The original Presbyterian church building was erected on ground that had formerly belonged to William Lawrence. On December 15, 1744, for the sum of five shillings, he conveyed to Robert Imlay and Tobias Polhemus one acre of land for a Presbyterian house of worship and a graveyard.
   The interior of the church was finished off in a sky-blue vaulted ceiling on which was represented cloud effects. The high enclosed pulpit was reached by a flight of stairs, and suspended over it was the customary sounding board. The pews were of the straight high-back order, and some, for the convenience of family groups, were built in the form of a hollow square. The church stood lengthwise with the street, and in addition to the front entrance, there was one at either end of the cross aisle.
   The Presbyterian Society of Allentown was organized in 1721. Prior to the erection of their original church on the hill, the congregation had worshipped in a small building that formerly stood on the corner of what has long been known as the Episcopal graveyard, situated near the center of town. This building, during its existence, had also at various times furnished a place of worship for the early Methodists and Episcopalians of this neighborhood, before their respective church buildings had been erected.
   During the Revolution, this former church home of the Presbyterians was occupied by the military as a stable as was much injured by shot. It was because of its ruinous condition that the old building was finally torn down, in 1808.
Historically Speaking is a regular feature presented by John Fabiano, president of the Allentown-Upper Freehold Historical Society. For more information about the Allentown-Upper Freehold Historical Society send e-mail to or call (609) 259-9127.