Former Star-Ledger writer Henry Charlton Beck’s "More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey" was first published in 1937. Although criticized by other historians for his sources, Beck’s folksy narrative is alluring and often thought provoking. In his later year’s he resided at Hillcrest Farm, presently Washington Township’s history center.
Several years ago a reporter went to Crosswicks to write and article about the old meeting house and the legend of the cannon ball, said to have lodged in the meeting house wall. Everybody said the ball was there, that it had been written about before and that most people knew the story. But the reporter discovered that the ball was not in the wall and reported that the legend was a pretty one, but unfounded.
The day we trudged through slushy snow to browse in the Quaker outpost, built in 1773, a young man who accompanied us from a garage across the street pointed to the ball, about as big as a small-sized grapefruit, imbedded in the wall between two upstairs windows.
"That’s funny," we said. "We know a reporter who came here two years or so ago and said the cannonball wasn’t anywhere in evidence, that the story was a fake." "Maybe the ball wasn’t here then," our informant suggested. "Now, listen," we said, "the story was supposed to be that the ball crashed into the wall in a skirmish at the bridge down there. That was in the Revolution. What do you mean, maybe the ball wasn’t here two years ago?"
"They put it back since then," the man told us soberly. "You can see the plaster around it from here. It was this way: One of the residents up here was a trustee of something. He thought the ball was much too valuable to leave it where the Revolutionary cannon fired it. He had it gouged out and took it to his home where he guarded it.
"Maybe the other trustees didn’t think much of the idea but they didn’t do anything about it. They waited till the old chap died. That wasn’t long ago. Everybody agreed that the place for the ball was where it had been for over a century so they went and got it and put it back. They got a stone mason to do the job. That’s why the ball wasn’t here when the reporter was, see?"
Before we went down to the bridge itself, a thirty-year-old structure that was erected beside an old-fashioned covered span that was later removed, we borrowed a key in order to see the well-preserved paneled interior. The quiet of the lovely place would have been otherworldly except for the smell of old books and dust. There was something impressive, however, in the realization that here on the wooden benches, up in these galleries, apart from the world outside, generations had sat since those pioneers who had been linked with earliest beginnings of New Jersey.
We made a real discovery in the men’s half of the downstairs assembly room. In the midst was a huge stove which saw service at that time and perhaps still does. A large box-like and unbelievably solid article, the name "Atsion" appears on the face. Unquestionably this stove was constructed of Jersey bog ore down at Atsion, old Atsiyunk, when the furnace there was going. The stove was the first of its type we had ever seen and the only one known to be in use, although we have been told that many farmhouses of the area work them.
There is a framed letter hung near the stove, stating that it cost eight pounds, four shillings and ten-pence, and that Stacy Potts was named to collect the costs from members of the meeting. The date seems to have been 1772 and if it was, this stove has been on duty since that time. The furnace towns which made stoves near by went down about 1810.
There is no difficulty in telling which is the men’s side of the assembly chamber. Up in the gallery, on the backs of benches and on the deep window sills, are the carved initials of long ago. K.F.N. carved his in 1838. B.C. made his mark in 1793, G.L. in 1819, and a host of others at various times before and since. There are no initials on the women’s side. They didn’t carry penknives and, obviously, paid greater attention to what was going on.
The old oak on the corner of the meeting-house lawn was there, they say, when William Penn visited various meetings in New Jersey, among them the Chesterfield Meeting. Seedlings of this tree were planted, according to information on various other inscriptions in the meeting rooms, by Richard DeCou and Herman Conrow, when the 150th anniversary was celebrated in 1923.
Another building of unusual interest in the vicinity is the Presbyterian Church at Allentown, whither we took our way via the bridge near which the bloody skirmish took place. The congregation was organized in 1725 but we were not prepared for such an historic revelation by two old gentlemen who told us they had been in Allentown since "the Lord Himself was there."
There are many rhymes for epitaphs in the ancient cemetery behind the church and several stones have the sinister skull and crossbones of the markers at Topanemus [north of Freehold]. Such old-stock names as Horsfull, Pullin, Hay, Barcalow, Cowenhowen, Hepburn, and English are to be seen high on the promontory overlooking the lake. The church building goes back to 1756, was rebuilt in 1837 and enlarged in 1858.
Cabbagetown may have lost its original vegetable aspect but it has gained another. Most people call it New Canton, now. It consists of a cluster of houses, of which the largest [the former John Henry House] boasts brick and frame construction obviously more than a century old [actually two], falling into ruin. Cabbagetown was named for cabbages, we were assured, but no one knows who called it that long enough for the name to appear on older maps.
We had the good fortune to find William Hendrickson, for 37 years the principal of Imlaystown School, in the general store and post office there. The post office consists of a caged compartment as large as that assigned a cashier in a chain store.
Mr. Hendrickson said that Imlaystown is the only Imlaystown in the United States, although confusion arises sometimes because Emley’s Hill is three miles away. "The Imlays," said Mr. Hendrickson, "trace their ancestry to Scotland, the Emleys to the Indians [family feud?]. That old farmhouse over there was the first of any importance in the town and replaced an earlier structure, built of logs. It is occupied now by Allen F. Hendrickson, Sr. Peter Imlay was the first settler here and, when you are in Georgetown, ask for the Peter Imlay who lives there now. He is a lineal descendant, proud that there is a Peter Imlay on the scene after all these years."
We mentioned that it was rather curious that the main street of Imlaystown had so many twists and turns, despite so much traffic, however unwanted, being thrust upon it. "That’s natural enough," said Mr. Hendrickson. "The first road was an Indian trail which followed the top of the bank along the winding Buckhole Creek [despite U.S.G.S. quads, just a tributary, the Buckhole is further downstream]. The trail was the first street here. The Imlay’s were always aristocratic. Refused any part of the Imlay farm, newcomers were compelled to build their homes on that one street or along the other creek bank."
Days when limeboats used to come up Doctor’s Creek as far as Yardville are gone [to ship the rich fertilizer mined near Hornerstown]. With them, old Hogback Landing has disappeared. Even Hayti, pronounced Hay-tie here, forgets its palmy days on the old Amboy line in the meaningless station name of Shrewsbury Crossing.