A visitor to Ewing recently asked me how to get to “downtown Ewing.” Had they asked anyone else, I’m sure they would have gotten a more succinct answer. I began to explain how Ewing doesn’t really have a “downtown;” that instead it remained rural for more than two centuries, with a few “crossroads villages” with businesses.
But curiously, none of them ever emerged as a single “downtown” for the Township, and so even today, Ewing has several smaller areas of business. At that point, it was clear that the person was not interested in a history lesson, but in finding a particular kind of store, and so I sheepishly revised my answer.
But here, I can answer those questions with a mini history lesson. For those who are interested in understanding how places came to be (like I am), I’m happy to explore the answers, and to accept explanations and stories from you as well.
For the next few months, I plan to explore one of those early crossroads—the Village of Ewingville. Although it’s rarely called by that name any more, a sign still announces “Entering Ewingville” as you travel north on Route 31/Pennington Road just past the entrance to The College of New Jersey.
Ewingville is the area that surrounds the intersection of Pennington Road with Ewingville Road and Upper Ferry Road, and extending outward in all directions a small distance from that intersection. Today it is dominated by several gas stations, a 7-11 and a Dunkin Donuts, among other businesses. But it was an early center of activity, and has been the location of varied businesses over the decades, as well as home to several prominent residents.
The settlement in and around Ewingville dates back to the 1700s, and was situated on the Hopewell Road (later known as the Pennington Turnpike, Ewing and Hopewell Turnpike, and eventually Route 31).
The area was originally known as Cross Keys, named after the tavern which was located there. “Cross Keys” is a common name for pubs in the United Kingdom, and presumably the early residents of the area felt it was also a suitable name for a tavern in Trenton Township (previous name of Ewing Township). The name changed to Ewingville sometime after Ewing was named in the 1830s.
As early as 1725, Lanning family members John and David settled in the Cross Keys/Ewingville area. Over time, the Coleman, Furman, Howell, Drake, Phillips, Woodruff, Blackwell, Sandford and Hunt families came to reside and/or do business in the area—all names with a long history in Ewing.
The Cross Keys Tavern later became a hotel, post office, and lodge, and for many years was a busy center of activity in Ewing. In its later years, the three story Ewing Lodge had a bar and dining room on the first floor, rooms for hotel guests as well as a large meeting room on the second floor, and a ballroom and gathering location on the third floor. Located where the 7-11 is now, the building suffered a fire in the 1960s, and subsequently had to be demolished.
In addition to the tavern, Ewingville had a blacksmith, a shoe shop, a school house, a post office, and a general store. In the late 1800s it also boasted a popular equestrian harness driving track, located on the northbound side of the Pennington Road, just south of the intersection with Ewingville Road. We’ll consider the Ewingville Driving Track in a future column.
Many of you will remember the landmark Ewing Lodge, or have stories about Ewingville. I invite to share your stories. Eventually there will be few who remember the Lodge or old Ewingville, and now is the time to record those memories. Please send your reminiscences to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know if you’re willing to let me share the stories.