Thomas Farnsworth, an English Quaker, was the first to settle on this bluff overlooking the Delaware River in 1682. With Crosswicks Creek flowing into the Delaware River at this point the location was destined to be a transportation center and the man to exploit it was Joseph Borden. At this location in the early 1700s Borden meshed together a packet line on the Delaware River from Philadelphia with a stagecoach line across New Jersey to Perth Amboy where travelers then caught a ferry to New York City.
As the critical link on the route between New York and Philadelphia most every figure of importance in early America passed through Bordentown at one time or another. And more than a few decided to stay. One was Thomas Paine, dubbed the “Father of the American Revolution” for his influential writings and another was Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration of Independence. The town earned an odd footnote during the Revolution when patriots dumped kegs stuffed with gunpowder into the Delaware River with hopes that the current would float them into the midst of the British fleet anchored in Philadelphia and then explode. Only one of the primitive mines detonated and caused no damage but the British overreaction, firing aimlessly into the night at a non-existent enemy, caused them much ridicule. In retaliation for “The Battle of the Kegs” the British sent 800 soldiers to Bordentown, one of three occasions during the war when they occupied the town.
Another historic figure who chose to live in Bordentown was Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon and exiled King of Spain and Naples. He bought about 1,500 acres north of town that he developed into a baronial estate. While residing in “New Spain” he was offered the throne of Mexico but turned it down over his preference for a country gentlemen’s lifestyle.
The first steam locomotive in New Jersey operated on the outskirts of Bordentown in the 1830s and the town benefited from an influx of workers employed on the Delaware and Raritan Canal and in the developing railroad shops. When the Pennsylvania Railroad took over both the canal and the railroad in the 1870s, however, it removed the shops and restricted freight on the canal so it wouldn’t compete with its trains. Bordentown reverted to a sleepy burg.
Similarly a century later, the interstate highway system bypassed Bordentown as well. So we’ll have to exit the turnpike to begin our walking tour and set the way-back machine for about 150 years...
Old City Hall
11 Crosswicks Street
This was Bordentown’s second town hall, constructed of brick with stone trim in 1888. The Romanesque-inspired building is distinguished by its wooden clock tower containing a clock by premiere American clock-maker Seth Thomas. The clock tower is dedicated to William F. Allen, a Bordentown native who created standard time in the United States. In the 19th century each new railroad used its own time, published in its schedules. This worked fine unless the line ran into a city that served other lines; Pittsburgh, for instance had to post information in its main station for six different times. Allen, the editor of the Traveler’s Official Railway Guide, drew up the plan for “standard time” by running the borders through existing major cities. It was inaugurated on Sunday, November 18, 1883, also called “The Day of Two Noons”, when each railroad station clock was reset as standard-time noon was reached within each time zone.
FACING THE OLD CITY HALL, TURN RIGHT AND WALK DOWN CROSSWICKS STREET, AWAY FROM THE CENTER OF TOWN.
Temple B’nai Abraham58-60 Crosswicks Street
Although never large, the presence of a Jewish community in Bordentown dates to before the 1830s. Moses Wolf, a Jewish tailor and clothing store owner, was elected mayor in 1874 and served through 1877. In July of 1918 the newly formed Bordentown Hebrew Association purchased this double-house and converted it to a synagogue. The building retains its residential form and the only things outside that betray its purpose are beautiful stained glass windows featuring the Star of David.
St. Mary Church
45 Crosswicks Street
The congregation formed in 1831 from Irish immigrants recruited to build the Camden and Amboy Railroad and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. It would not be until 1842 that services would move from private homes to a modest meeting house. The cornerstone for this church building was laid on October 30, 1870. The cost of their impressive new church was $73,000 but didn’t leave enough to purchase surrounding land so the brick building had to be angled from the street line.
Clara Barton School House
Crosswicks Street and Burlington Street
Clarissa Harlowe “Clara” Barton is best remembered as an Army nurse on the battlefields of the Civil War and as founder of the American Red Cross but before that she was a teacher. Born on Christmas day 1821 in Massachusetts, Barton first came to New Jersey in 1851 to visit friends anddo a bit of teaching. She saw the lack of free public schools in the state and won approval to start the first tax-supported school in the state in Bordentown in 1852. The school was an immediate success and attendance swelled to over 600 students by the end of the first year. The town voted to build Barton a new brick school. When it opened in 1853, however, a male educator from outside the town was hired as principal instead of Barton and paid more than twice her salary. Discouraged, Clara Barton left teaching in 1854 and moved on to Washington, D.C. and into America’s history books. Now a museum, the trim little brick building includes Miss Barton’s original desk. It was completely restored in 1921 with funds raised by New Jersey school children.
St. Clare’s Monastery
201 Crosswicks Street
These handsome brick and terra cotta buildings have their roots back in Ireland with a sisterhood known as the Sisters of Mercy. After coming across the Atlantic in 1843 to Pittsburgh, their second spot for a Motherhouse was Bordentown, in 1873. The cornerstone for the Saint Mary School was laid in 1885; it would later be turned over to the Poor Clares, a cloistered order. In the fall of 2000, the sisters took leave of the school, but the complex has been re-developed as an assisted-living facility called the Clare Estate.
east side of Crosswicks Street opposite Union Street
The core of this frame house was constructed around 1725, making it the oldest surviving property in the Bordentown Historic District. It carries the name of the last family to own it - the Gilders. The Reverend William Henry Gilder married Jane Nutt, into whose family the property passed in 1814. Gilder, a Methodist minister, established Bellevue Female Seminary in the house in 1842. William Gilder would die of small-pox ministering to stricken Civil War soldiers in Brandy Station, Virginia in 1864. William and Jane had four children, three sons and a daughter, who would all become persons of note in publishing. Jeannette was a pioneering woman in journalism who worked in New York and Boston from the age of 20 in 1869 and later authored several books. The youngest, Joseph Benson, was an editor whose resume included a stint in charge of the New York Times “Review of Books.” The eldest, William Henry, Jr., was managing editor of the Newark Register before embarking on a decade of world exploration that included a 2,000-mile mid-winter sledge journey across Siberia. On his expeditions and travels he was a correspondent of the New York Herald. In such an illustrious family the most famous was poet and editor Richard Watson Gilder, who was born in this house in 1844. After serving in the Civil War at Gettysburg and founding the Newark Register, the city’s only morning newspaper, he edited the influential Scribner’s Monthly which later was renamed The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. Gilder was a prime mover in the late-nineteenth-century world of arts and letters and was the editor and friend of many American writers, artists, intellectuals, and leaders, including Mark Twain, Grover Cleveland, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Richard Gilder gained possession of this house in 1895 and his son Rodman donated it and 13 acres to the City of Bordentown in 1935 to be used as a park and remembrance of the Gilder family.
TURN RIGHT ON UNION STREET.
Bordentown Public Library
18 East Union Street
This little brick building presents a handsome guide to Georgian Revival architecture in the early 20th century. The overall appearance is well-proportioned and symmetrical, sandwiched between gable-ended chimneys. The bricks are laid in alternating courses of headers and stretchers in the English bond style. Bricks have also been used to create window lentils, inlaid with small keystones. The cornice is given a crisp row of dentil blocks and the entranceway is crowned by an exaggerated broken scroll pediment.
TURN RIGHT ON FARNSWORTH STREET.
433-435 Farnsworth Avenue
The Adelphi Institute, one of Bordentown’s early private schools, operated here from 1866 to 1878. The brick house from the Federal Era, boasting a splendid Greek Revival door surround with a square transom and sidelights, was donated to the Presbyterian church in 1893.
428 Farnsworth Avenue
Bordentown’s streetscape abounds with marvelous examples of original cast and wrought iron seen in fences, window grilles and railings. Here you can see an exuberant front yard iron fence and also a hitching post by the curb. The house is an Italianate villa with heavy roof brackets, an early Victorian style popular in the mid-19th century.
First Presbyterian Church
420 Farnsworth Avenue
The Presbyterians organized in the spring of 1848 and its first house of worship was constructed - entirely free of debt - on the corner of Park and Second streets in 1851. The present brick church was dedicated on January 15, 1869. It once sported a tall steeple above the bell tower but after it was struck by lightning on several occasions it was dismantled in 1914.
377 Farnsworth Avenue
George A. App established a hardware emporium at this location in 1900. Helmed after his passing by his son-in-law Melville R. Hausser, the store remained a Bordentown institution for a century.
Trinity United Methodist Church
339 Farnsworth Avenue
Circuit-riding preachers brought Methodism to Bordentown in 1770, addressing meetings in private homes, the Bordentown Academy and finally the First Methodist Church at 209 Farnsworth Avenue in 1821. Visiting preachers were still used until 1835 when the town received its first Methodist pastor, the Reverend John L. Gilder. The congregation finally settled into this sanctuary in 1867. It was constructed with fieldstone save for ashlar stone blocks used on the gable facing the street. The congregation chose to erect its bell tower at the back of the building rather than at the entrance, as was customary. Eventually, with the new structure, the two Methodist Churches in Bordentown consolidated, (First Methodist and Trinity Methodist) and became one in the year 1906.
First National Bank
335 Farnsworth Avenue
Samuel Engle Burr began his career in dry goods and by the age of 24, in 1860 he was operating a general merchandise store at the corner of Farnsworth Avenue and Crosswicks Street at the center of the town’s commercial activity. Burr would remain at the center of the town’s economic interests for another half-century and in 1908 he led the organization of the First National Bank. Within six weeks the bank had $50,000 on deposit and in short order was able to construct this imposing Neoclassical vault dominated by a quartet of powerful Ionic columns supporting a ponderous ornamental pediment.
Old Friends Meeting House
302 Farnsworth Avenue
Quakers settled this area and the community’s first house of worship was built simply of brick in 1740 on land deed by Joseph Borden. Now restored to its original appearance after long years under stucco, you can still see the change in the bricks when the building was expanded to a full two-story meeting house.
Bordentown Banking Company
300 Farnsworth Avenue at Walnut Street
The Bordentown Banking Company was one of 15 banks set up under the General Banking Law of New Jersey, and took its first deposits on November 25, 1851. To celebrate 50 years in business the bank moved into this Beaux arts-inspired headquarters in 1901. It features a pair of fluted Corinthian pilasters reaching up to a bold, pedimented cornice. Note the elaborate brickwork on the facade.
Bordentown Female College Memorial
Center of Crosswicks Street at Farnsworth Avenue
Established by a Methodist minister in 1851, Bordentown Female College was a well-known boarding school. It operated successfully until it fell victim to financial problems brought on by the Panic of 1893. It was promoted as “an excellent school, in a healthy and accessible locality, under wise administration and reasonable in its charges.” In memory of its half-century of existence the Bordentown Female College Association donated this one-time horse fountain.
Thomas Paine House
154 Farnsworth Avenue at Church Street
For a man whose inflammatory writings earned him the title of “Father of the Revolution,” Thomas Paine did not spend a lot of time under the dictatorial thumb of the British crown in America. He arrived from England in Philadelphia at the age of 37 in 1774 and two years later published his influential pamphlet, Common Sense. For his contributions to the Revolution the State of New York would give him a house in New rochelle but the only house and property he ever owned in the United States was seven acres at this location in Bordentown purchased from Elizabeth Martin in the early 1780s. Thomas Paine sold the property to John Oliver for $800 in 1808 when he moved to New York City where he would die within a year. He would not recognize this house on his old property which has been energetically altered through the decades.
John Bull Memorial
east side of Farnsworth Avenue at Railroad Avenue
In October 1830 Robert Stevens, President and Chief Engineer of the Camden & Amboy Railroad traveled to England to purchase rails and a locomotive for his company. A disassembled engine, John Bull, was shipped to Philadelphia from England in 1831. Stevens hired Isaac Dripps, a young mechanic, to take charge and assemble the engine. Despite having never seen a locomotive and having no drawings or measurements to guide him, Dripps was able to assemble the engine. He also constructed a four-wheeled car and fastened a whiskey cask to the platform to serve as tender. The cask delivered water to the engine via a leather pipe. Later he invented and added the two-wheeled “cow catcher” to the front of the locomotive which improved its handling and also helped avoid damage to the locomotive from stray cows on the tracks. On November 12, 1831 the John Bull, now in the collection of the United States National Museum in Washington, became the first steam-powered locomotive to move on tracks in New Jersey. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company erected this monument in 1891 at the location of the first railroad track in the state about a mile east of here. The 30-ton hunk of Maryland granite was moved here at a later date; the monument has been historically ringed by a rail of that original track.
Francis Hopkinson House
101 Farnsworth Avenue
Francis Hopkinson was born in Philadelphia in 1737 and was a member of the first class at the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1751. After graduation he obtained several government positions, including customs collector at Delaware River ports in Salem and New Castle, Delaware. He married Ann Borden of this town in 1768 and by 1774 was living in this handsome brick home that was built in 1750. Hopkinson represented New Jersey as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and penned his name to the Declaration of Independence. In 1778 when the British sacked the town the Hopkinsons were not at home but the invaders found nourishment at his table. After dining it is said that they set fire to the house but the officer in charge, Captain James Ewald, impressed by Hopkinson’s library, ordered the firebrands extinguished. Hopkinson was, in fact, an accomplished amateur poet and musician and his Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano is one of the first musical composition books ever published in America. Hopkinson also claimed to have designed the first American flag but historical evidence suggests many fingers to have been in that pie but elements of Hopkinson’s, including the unfinished pyramid and radiant eye, appear on the Great Seal of the United States and the reverse of the one-dollar bill. After Hopkinson died in 1791 while serving as a federal judge, the house passed to his son, Joseph Hopkinson, best known as the author of Hail Columbia. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the house today is much changed from its origins as a two-story house with a gable roof.
100 Farnsworth Avenue
Patience Lovell was a Quaker farm girl who married Joseph Wright in 1748. She settled into a life raising her five children and occasionally dabbling in wax carvings, a popular recreation in colonial America. When her husband died in 1769 she found she could make a living from molding portraits in tinted wax. From this house she became the first recognized American-born sculptor. In 1772, Wright traveled to England and opened a successful wax museum. Her friend Benjamin Franklin introduced her to London society and she soon won many commissions among the Royal Court. Wright’s sculpture of new friend William Pitt still stands in Westminster. She openly supported America’s bid for Independence and became a spy for the cause, often secreting messages across the Atlantic in her wax figures. Patience Wright’s son Joseph was a well-known portrait painter and designer of early American coins.
Joseph Borden House
32 Farnsworth Avenue
The enterprising Joseph Borden arrived in town in 1717 and it wasn’t long before Farnsworth Landing was “Borden’s Towne.” In addition to a stagecoach line, Borden was involved in a brewery, cooper shops, and stables. He also bought up most of the land in these parts. By 1750 Borden had a coach line across New Jersey and a house on this location. His son, Joseph, a Colonel in the Revolutionary Army owned the house when it was torched by the British in 1778. He rebuilt the family home in the Georgian style but the most notable feature of the property is the decorative iron fencing that feature wheat sheaves. Stylized wheat sheaves were often added to represent the “Body of Christ.”
Bordentown Banking Company
29 Farnsworth Avenue
This building, with prominent drop pendant cornice moldings, was constructed in 1850 as the first bank in town. Long since converted to a residence, the heavy iron front doors give away its original purpose.
Thomas Buchanan Read House
15 Farnsworth Avenue
This is one of the oldest houses in town, dating to the early 1750s; it is said George Washington enjoyed the table here. It features a classic Philadelphia three-bay, side entrance form with a facade of Flemish bond brick and glazed headers. A 19th century owner was Thomas Buchanan Read, a poet and portrait painter. Among portraits he painted were Abraham Lincoln, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning and William Henry Harrison. Several of his written works found great favor in their time, most notably “Sheridan’s Ride,” penned in 1864.
New Bellevue Site
2 Farnsworth Avenue
This was the site of the grand mansion of Josiah Kirkbride in the 18th century, known as New Bellevue. A colonel in the American Revolution and a faithful friend of Thomas Paine, Kirkbride originally lived across the river in Pennsylvania before the British burned “that rebel Kirkbride’s home of Bellevue.” His new home was said to far outstrip its predecessor in beauty. it was later the home of the Bordentown Female College from the monument at the center of town. The original structure was destroyed by fire. The present house was built in the early 1900s in a Georgian Revival form that has Gothic-inspired wooden trim and ornamental ironwork.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO COURTLAND STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN RIGHT ON PRINCE STREET.
Thomas Paine Statue
median at end of Prince Street
Thomas Paine rightly takes his place alongside the Founding Fathers of America, yet there are only two statues of him in the country - this one and another in Morristown. There are none in Philadelphia, nor in Washington. While budding American revolutionaries loved his political writings on freedom they were less thrilled with his later thinking in The Age of Reason which was an assault on organized religion. This work by Lawrence Holofcener was dedicated on June 7, 1997 by the Bordentown Historical Society.
WALK AROUND BACK OF THE STATUE TO THE END OF THE STREET TO ENJOY A VIEW OF THE DELAWARE RIVER. YOU CAN ALSO WALK DOWN TO THE WATERSIDE IF YOU WISH. WHEN YOU ARE READY, TURN AND WALK BACK UP PRINCE STREET, AWAY FROM THE RIVER.
1 Prince Street
Philadelphia architect John Notman is credited with introducing the Italianate style to America. He designed this house that was originally a square three-bay structure. The riot of splendid ironwork was added when the house was expanded to mask the loss of symmetry when the house was expanded. Notman also did work on the State Capitol building in Trenton.
2 Prince Street
Robert Schuyler Van Rensselaer, descended from two of the wealthiest families in New York, came to Bordentown in 1845 as president for the Camden and Amboy Railroad. This Italian villa was constructed around 1850. In 1911 George W. Swift, Jr. obtained the property for “$1.00 and other valuable considerations of lawful money of the US of A.” Swift was an inventor and holder of more than 100 patents; he formed the Swift Mansion Machine Shops in town.
Christ Episcopal Church
130 Prince Street
The first building of Christ Episcopal Church was erected in 1837; the present English country stone church was dedicated in 1879. The church displays Gothicform with steep roofline profiles, pointed windows and buttresses.
First Baptist Church
Prince and Church streets
The Baptists are the oldest congregation in Bordentown and their first meeting house was erected on this plot of land in 1752. This brick Romanesque style church is the fourth house of worship, constructed in 1894 after lightning ignited a steeple fire that destroyed its wooden 1861 predecessor on May 26, 1892.
TURN LEFT ON WALNUT STREET.
15 Walnut Street
Admiral Edward Shippen brought the influential Philadelphia family, friends of Joseph Bonaparte, to Bordentown in 1830. Shippen settled in this classic Federal, side-hall home typical of the handsome houses seen on the streets of Philadelphia (the building has been expanded to the east in subsequent years). The elegant entrance portico is distinguished by a beautiful fanlight and glazed sidelights. Other standouts on the property include exquisite ironwork and the original firesign to alert fire departments that this house was insured.
8 Walnut Street
Organized firefighting in Bordentown can be found as early as 1767; this 1886 Victorian brick firehouse was the home of the Citizens Hook and Ladder Company. Its days of responding to fire calls long over, the building has been converted into an art gallery in the engine bay with an artist’s residence above.
CONTINUE ON WALNUT STREET ACROSS FARNSWORTH AVENUE AS IT BECOMES CROSSWICKS STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.