At the crossroads of Church Street and North and South Main Street lies the small village of Windsor, celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding this year. It has its own ZIP code, 08561, and its own post office, but more important it houses a tight community intent on maintaining its identity within the confines of the rapidly growing Robbinsville Township.
Tucked behind Route 130, Windsor might be misidentified as New Jersey’s Lake Wobegon, “the town that time forgot” in Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.
Fifty-year Robbinsville resident Janet Van Nest, unofficial township historian and past president of the now-defunct Historical Society of Washington Township, captures the sense of small-town America still reflected in the town of Windsor.
“I’ve always felt it’s like our little gem because it stayed the way it was from the 1800s and the people who live there have a lot of camaraderie,” she said. “They get together for picnics, pot luck dinners and have book clubs.”
As quiet as Windsor is today, during its early incarnations it was an economic and transportation center for farms in the area. In 1816, when the surrounding wooded area was still known as Magrilla, the New Jersey Legislature authorized a turnpike to carry stagecoaches from Philadelphia to New York, and two years later Centreville, Windsor’s original name, became a stop on the segment from Bordentown to South Amboy.
“They needed a hotel and tavern because people needed lodging, food, and place to change horses, or a livery stable,” Van Nest said.
Centreville moved from being an isolated stagecoach stop to a small town in 1832 after it became a station on the Camden and Amboy Railroad. The building spree that followed turned Centreville into a small town. Although the first trains were pulled by horses, by 1833, when regular commercial service was established, the “John Bull” steam locomotive did the job.
By the 1840s the town boasted three stores, a passenger station, a freight house, a blacksmith, a school, and several mills. Houses were on small lots, set close to the street.
In 1838, residents who had attended “camp meetings” in the nearby woods to hear preaching by circuit riders decided to build their own church in Centreville, the Windsor United Methodist Church. By June 1840 they had completed a plain, one-story brick building. Due to a substantially increasing membership, by 1863 the church had been enlarged and remodeled, and a parsonage built next door. To help pay down the debt the Lady’s Aid Society made a quilt and charged people 10 cents to have their names sewed on.
By 1846 the town had grown so much that it got a post office, but because another post office called Centreville existed in Hunterdon County, the town’s name was changed to Windsor. In 1859 when the legislature created Washington Township to encompass four towns, Windsor the most significant among them.
The railroad continued to foster Windsor’s growth in the late 19th century, as attested by a shirt factory, a cider house, and a basket factory, as well as a few harness shops and blacksmiths, and three general stores. In 1875, Windsor had a population of about 150 as compared to 75 in nearby Robbinsville. By the turn of the century, five trains going in each direction stopped in Windsor and it had four mail deliveries.
In 1897 a Baptist Church was built on Church Street near the former mill pond, and spectators would line up at sunset to witness the baptism of new church members. When the reverend was called to another church and funds and members were low, the building was moved to Trenton at the corner of Chambers and Samuel Streets. In 1922 the building was rededicated as the Memorial Baptist Church.
About this time the shirt factory moved its operations to Bordentown. The building became Odd Fellows Hall, and that was where the Windsor Grange No. 40, organized in 1902, met.
By the 1930s, economic and transportation changes stilled the commercial activity in Windsor. In the early 20th century, the mills had outlived their usefulness: farmers had stopped growing grain and the area lacked lumber. Also, a break in the dam in the mid-1920s had eliminated the pond. Finally, the construction of Route 130 in the mid-1930s meant that eventually automobiles and trucks displaced trains, and eventually passenger service was stopped and commercial service curtailed. Back before 130 was built, Windsor resident Beverly Tindall says, “all the cars came through Main Street, Route 25.”
Windsor resident Janice Ford recently learned from Paul Keris, co-owner of Windsor Farm, that a village of the Lenni-Lenape tribe existed on his property, attested by the many artifacts he has found. He also told her he had evidence that an Irish regiment came up the Windsor Road on its way to Princeton. “It’s amazing when you think of what has happened during the existence of the town,” Ford says.
To share memories of 20th and 21st century Windsor, four residents—the oldest born about 1935—met with The Advance at the Robbinsville Library.
Robert “Bob” Faille, 74, was born and raised in Windsor, in a house that his maternal grandfather, a painter, pharmacist and doctor, encouraged his parents to move into and helped them finance. His mother Helen, 96, has lived there since about 1942. In about 1966, he left for Jamesburg, where he bought a house and worked at Jamesburg Hardware. But 34 years ago his aunt wanted to sell her Windsor home, and Faille and his wife bought it and moved back home.
‘We’re afraid that you’re losing some of the history because of the buildings being torn down.’
Faille, who attended the Windsor School for grades K to 3, recalls its principal: “Miss Mullens was a toughy. If you got on the wrong side of her, she gave you a whack with a ruler; and if you were bad, she put you under her desk.” After Windsor he attended the Robbinsville and Sharon Schools.
Beverly Tindall was born in Windsor, lived in East Windsor from 1971 to 1983, then when her grandmother died moved into her her circa 1850 house in Windsor, which is next door to Helen Faille’s house. Her family’s tenure in Windsor started with her grandfather’s farm in Windsor, where he grew potatoes, tomatoes and wheat, and raised “loads of chickens.” She remembers picking tomatoes and taking them to Campbell’s Soup in Camden.
Tindall’s parents moved to the upper floor of the big farmhouse when they married. Her father ran the 4-H Club for the boys. “They used to have contests with a tractor with a trailer on the back, backing into different areas,” she recalls.
For Shirley Bouchelle, 83, who lives two houses down from Tindall, her family’s tenure in Windsor goes back to her great-grandparents, who moved to Windsor when they married and lived near the “crick”—the Assunpink (where there used to be houses). They eventually they “moved into town,” to the circa 1849 house where Bouchelle now lives. Her great-grandfather was a carriage painter back in the days of horses and buggies.
Bouchelle describes the Windsor School, which she attended from grades K to 8. One of its two downstairs rooms was for K to 2, the other an empty room that they rented to Robbinsville for a few years. On the second floor, one room was for grades 3 to 5 and another for 6 to 8.
Janice Ford, 58, has lived in her house since she was a year and a half. Her parents “had six kids so they were looking for a place that was reasonable and out in the country,” she says, adding that they liked the people in Windsor and “the person who owned the house helped them out with getting the house.” By chance, the former owner’s son does her taxes.
Ford says the Windsor of her childhood was quiet.
“You didn’t have the traffic and noise you have in other places,” she said. “It was a family town.”
Ford went to the Windsor School only briefly, in first grade, and particularly recalls climbing on the big evergreen trees in the schoolyard.
Currently the township’s plans are to tear down the Windsor School, but some residents are looking for grants the township could file to possibly save the school. “It’s a long shot. They’d have to remove asbestos and any lead paint and make it ADA compliant,” Ford says.
‘We have been here longer than Robbinsville has. We want to keep our small town. You struggle as a small village to retain your identity.’
Another venerable town institution, the old Windsor United Methodist Church, is closed and its future uncertain, Ford said.
“We’re afraid that you’re losing some of the history because of the buildings being torn down,” she says.
In 1965, the church suffered a gas explosion, some 15 minutes before the children were set to arrive for vacation Bible school.
“All of a sudden, boom; if it had happened 15 minutes later, we would have all been there, and you might not have been doing this interview,” Ford said.
All but two of the original stained-glass windows, still in place, were blown out. During the six months the church was being repaired, they were able to have services at the Grange Hall. In that building, Faille recalls, were Friday night dances where he and his seven siblings along with other town kids would “play music and dance on the street.”
Other old buildings are already gone or have been altered. The hotel is now a restaurant and its porch has disappeared. Ford remembers the two big rocks that used to sit on either side of its front steps: “You didn’t walk up the steps, you got up on the stone, then got up.”
The Taylor Store offered items like lunchmeats, cheeses, eggs, and ice cream, Tindall recalls. Kashner’s Store, on the corner of 130 and Church, sold mostly ice cream and a few canned goods, she says. Its name changed to Rue’s Stores when her friend’s father bought it. Tindall remembers a pool table in the back and pinball machines. Her friend’s mother would make sandwiches and cook meals for truckers who would stop for lunch or dinner.
Bouchelle also recalls a spaghetti place above Taylor’s Store; the Windsor Shirt Company factory, and a barber shop on Main Street. Ford also remembers “a basket place.” Faille adds, “We all had a favorite spot to go to in Windsor—Jim’s Drive-In on 130.”
The town is on both the national and state registers of historic places, and the houses of Faille, Ford, Bouchelle and Tindall all are on those lists. Ford’s house actually got moved by rolling logs at one point from the property next door to make room for building the big house in town, belonging to Charles Rue of Rue Insurance.
All four spoke of the sense of neighborliness that has filled Windsor.
“When I was a kid, I knew everybody,” Bouchelle says. Ford, who delivered newspapers with her brother, says of her customers, “They knew us. We would go into their houses. We were young kids, but you didn’t think twice.” Tindall recalls that “on Halloween you knew everybody.”
Faille recalls, “When I was a kid growing up, if my father was out doing something in the house or yard, he had three or four neighbors automatically helping him. Today, you don’t see that anymore—boy has it changed.” He adds that “the neighbors always got together.”
The town residents also share many individual memories that capture what it meant to grow up and live in a quiet small town in New Jersey.
Bouchelle remembers the truck deliveries that brought food into town. On Wednesday and Friday different fish sellers came around. “You picked out what fish you want, and he would clean it,” Bouchelle says. Three bakers also served the town: Freihofer’s from Trenton, Dugan’s from Newark, and Fischer’s from Asbury Park. Milk was delivered from Conover’s Dairy and Decker’s Dairy, both in Hightstown.
Faille asked the other three Windsor residents: “Do you remember when Marion Polen was a switchboard operator? If you got a call coming in, she would transfer it to you. They used to say to her, because she knew everything that was going on in town, ‘Marion, get off the phone,’ because she was listening to the conversation.”
Faille also recalls Mrs. Schieder, the truant officer for the township. “If you didn’t go to school by 9, I guarantee that you get a knock on the door. She was a tough cookie.”
Because there was no Catholic Church in town, Faille says that nuns would come to Windsor for catechism (religious education) every week or two, first at Mr. Ward’s house, then at his own home.
Tindall recalls the vegetables from their huge garden that they either canned or froze in her grandmother’s huge chest freezer. Faille adds, “When we were kids we hated that—we put up 300 quarts of vegetables.” Tindall replies, “The thing I hated was the lima beans; it took forever, because you had to shell the beans.” She adds that for many years and her aunt and uncle “had the strawberry farm.”
Ford recalls that when she was a kid with six siblings, “all the kids came to my house because it was easier for my mother to keep track of us.” They played baseball next door, which was “why my father put wire on the cellar windows.” Back then, when a ball went across the street, she adds, “you would chase the ball. Now, because of all the traffic, you would think of forgetting about the ball.”
Ford also shares stories about her grandmom, Mabel Taylor, “a short, little petite old woman with white hair,” born in November 1885, who “told us stories about racing with her wagon to try to beat the train to the crossroad to try to cross in front of the train.” Taylor’s husband ran the old brick Taylor Store, which Bouchelle said once held the post office.
The post office then moved to the back porch of Marion Pullen’s home. “When you went to get mail, she always had her main meal in the afternoon, and you’d walk in and smell her cooking, and she’d say, “I’ll be right there, I’m stirring the stew,” Ford says.
“And that was the type of community it was; a community where the post office was on a porch; a community that everyone knew everyone. As to who lived in what house, still to this day that person might be gone for 20 years or more but it is still the Taylor House, the Meeker House,” Ford says.
Ford remembers going to Mach Lumber, which is now Windsor Industrial Park, to watch the train come through. During World War II, the train would take troops from Fort Dix to Fort Monmouth, Bouchelle says. “We would always run out to the end of the yard and wave to them; sometimes they’d throw letters out, and say, ‘Can you mail this to my mother?’”
Bouchelle feels strongly about maintaining Windsor’s identity as a separate town.
“These people in Robbinsville want to get rid of Windsor and say it is all Robbinsville, but they want our taxes,” she says.
Ford adds, “We have been here longer than Robbinsville has. We want to keep our small town. You struggle as a small village to retain your identity. We’re proud of the fact that we’ve lasted this long and retained that sense of community and small town and things haven’t gotten too modernized.”
The town also stands by its own ZIP code, 08561. “When the township wanted to change to get all one ZIP code, we made sure we said we don’t want to change our ZIP code,” Ford says. “We were guaranteed by the post office and the township that our ZIP code would not be affected. We wanted to keep it because it is part of our identity. You progress with the time yet you have to keep the community as to what it is.”
A couple years ago Windsor fought to keep one of its farms as open space, thereby fending off the development of big megamansions across the street from Ford’s house. They also fought against a gas station, but seem to have lost that battle.
The 200th anniversary celebration is now in the planning stages. Robbinsville Township is having two banners made for display in honor of the 200th anniversary. The post office will have an anniversary stamp, as they did for the Methodist Church’s anniversary and a couple of other celebrations. Also in the works is a celebration Sept. 29 at Windsor School, which will include artifacts from the village’s history.
Highlighting the significance of the town tiny town of Windsor, Linda B. McTeague, a preservation planning consultant, wrote in the 1987 application to be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places that despite some newer homes and teardowns of earlier structures, Windsor’s buildings retain their original shapes, as well as their barns, sheds, and outhouses. Therefore, she writes, “When one comes upon Windsor, there is a sense of the discovery of a nineteenth century village. … Windor’s importance lies not in buildings—or in events. … Rather, its importance is found in the absence of fine buildings, momentous events, and important persons. Its very ordinariness makes it special, for while monuments to the prominent abound, reminders of the lives of the majority—the common folk—are scarce indeed.”