I hope you all enjoyed Dale’s “West Trenton Jeopardy” last month. Did you West Trenton folks get all the questions correct? How about the rest of you?
However: would you have known where she was reminiscing about if it had been called “Birmingham Jeopardy”? Or “Trenton Junction Jeopardy”? Or even “Altura Jeopardy”?
The crossroads at the heart of what we now call West Trenton, and the immediate surrounding area, is land that goes back over three centuries of European settlement, and has been known by several names during that time.
Over the next several months, we’ll explore the various crossroads and neighborhoods that together have formed present-day Ewing Township, beginning with West Trenton.
You may recall that the land between the Hudson River and the Delaware River was “given” to “proprietors” (absentee landlords) Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret in 1664 by James, the Duke of York, and brother of King Charles II.
It was named “Nova Caesarea,” honoring Sir George’s recent success in defending the Isle of Jersey.
Ten years later, Berkeley sold his interest, and eventually (after much confusion as to claims and rights to land and governance) the land was divided into East and West Jersey. Each half was further subdivided into tenths or shares, which were sold to individuals or groups of individuals.
In 1677, five Quaker men from Yorkshire in England — Thomas Hutchinson, Mahlon Stacy, George Hutcheson, Joseph Helmsley and Thomas Pearson — were given (to settle debts) the most northern tenth of the West Jersey portion, which basically ended at the Assunpink Creek.
In subsequent years, land north of the Assunpink was “purchased” (actually traded for goods) from the native Lenapes inhabiting the area, thus extending the northern boundary of that tenth parcel of land. It took many years to definitively determine the northern boundary of West Jersey.
In the meantime, Thomas Hutchinson made his way to the American colonies, by 1688 residing somewhere in the County of Burlington (of which present-day Ewing was a part prior to 1700).
His own portion of land — 2,500 acres soon to be known as Hutchinson’s Manor — was surveyed in 1687. While deeds from this time are either non-existent or describe locations marked by trees and other physical landmarks which no longer exist, an approximation of this tract has been made.*
It seems to have stretched along the Delaware from Parkside Avenue to Mountain View Road, and extended out to approximately Parkway Avenue, continuing to a line near Bear Tavern Road up to Mountain View Road.
His “manor” was the first tract of land to be surveyed in Ewing. In June of 1689, he is described in a deed as being “of Hutchinson’s Manor proprietor & inhabitant of West New Jersey.” The exact location of his home is not known, but he may have been Ewing’s first settler. He died later in 1689.
His property passed to his son John, and eventually portions of the land were sold to others who were coming to reside in the area, including Greens, Reeders, Scudders and others.
A crossroads hamlet within the rural area of the Hutchinson Manor eventually emerged, and was named Birmingham. (Birmingham UK is now 2nd in population to London, and is a technological, industrial and cultural center.
Maybe the early local settlers were hopeful of the same?) By the mid-1700s, there were several homes, a blacksmith and a tavern/public house in Birmingham, NJ.
The homes which still stand from that era are the Charles Walker House (c 1774) which is on Grand Avenue south of the intersection with Upper Ferry Road; and the John Reeder Sr. House (c. 1760), which sits on the west side of Bear Tavern Road north of the intersection with Upper Ferry Road.
The Scudder House (early 19th c.), also remains on the west side of Bear Tavern Road, a bit north of the Reeder House. The Walker House and the Reeder House (and their residents) would have been witnesses to Washington’s March on Trenton in December of 1776, as the troops split in “downtown Birmingham” to ultimately turn the tide of the Revolution.
*Thanks to Joseph J. Felcone in “Ewing Township: A History to the Year 1700” (1985).
Do you have a story to tell, or your own reminiscences about living in Ewing? Contact Helen at email@example.com.