History of the Village of West Freehold
Freehold Township began in the late 17th century. From that time until suburbanization brought great economic and spatial change in the mid-20th century, agriculture dominated the landscape. For most of its history, the Township was made up principally of farmsteads; open fields, and wooded areas. There were a few small settlements occurring around a mill, store, tavern, or crossroads (such as Mount's Corner or West Freehold). This page will give you a general overview of this one particular part of Freehold Township and its impact on history.
The intersection of Route 537 and Stillwell's Corner Road/Wemrock Road is now known as West Freehold. However, during the early days of settlement of the Township, it was known as the Village of West Freehold or Mount's Corner, and some of its original structures are still here.
Moore's Tavern & Restaurant
On the southwest corner, the structure we now know as Moore's Tavern and Restaurant was originally known as Mount's Tavern. Moses Mount, who served as a private in the American Revolution, is believed to have been the first tavern keeper. However, it is conjecture that the Solomon Family may have been the original owner. Mount's petition (dated circa 1798) for renewal of his tavern license is on file at the Monmouth County Historical Association, 70 Court Street, Freehold. Mr. Mount owned the tavern until 1835 when his grandson, John Mount became Landlord.
In 1855 the property became known as the West Freehold Hotel and was run by William H. Strong. The tavern has had several owners since that time, including Samuel V. Hankinson in 1862. In 1908, John C. Moore purchased the property and renamed it Moore's Inn. The Moore family continued to operate it until 1979. During the 1990s, the inn was moved back from the road and incorporated into the restaurant complex now known as Moore's Tavern and Restaurant. The bar area of the restaurant still houses part of the original tavern.
Part of the Burlington Path, which was the main stagecoach path between Burlington and Long Branch (with a side trip to Sandy Hook) during the early days of Freehold Township, is located directly behind Moore's Inn, which was a frequent stop for passengers in need of lodging or food. The path itself ran in a diagonal from the Smithburg line (corner of Siloam Road and Route 537) to this point in the township. From there it continued across the township through what is now Freehold Borough to Burlington Road and into Colts Neck, ending in Long Branch and Sandy Hook.
Levi Solomon Farm
On the northwest corner, now known as Mount's Corner Shopping Plaza, was the site of the Levi Solomon Farm, the first Jewish farm settlement in Monmouth County. This 18th-century farm was located on the periphery of the Battle of Monmouth, which took place on June 28, 1778, during the American Revolution. When the British marched into Freehold from Allentown, they burned all the houses and buildings along the way. However, the owner, Hannah Solomon, along with members of her family, saved their home and barn. In spite of the fact that the house was damaged, they repaired it and continued living there. Later, Levi Solomon owned and enlarged the farmstead.
About 1820 Mr. Solomon and Elijah Combs were in possession of much of the land in the area of the Solomon farm, including the property across Wemrock Road, now known as the Oakley Farm. The present owner of the Solomon Farm, Bernard Hochberg, moved the barn and farmhouse of the Solomon tract to the rear of this property in the 1990s. It is hoped that they will be opened as an historic center in the near future. When the structures were moved, an archeological search was done at the site and some artifacts from the Revolution were discovered near the original foundations. These are now in the possession of the Freehold Township Historic Preservation Commission.
As you travel east on Route 537, you will be in the area where the village stores were located. About 1812, Job Throckmorton kept a store near the present-day VanDerveer's garage. Sometime around 1834, Edmund Connolly opened a blacksmith shop in the same area. William Forman and J. Elmer VanDerveer, who then opened a wheelwright shop next to the blacksmith shop, succeeded him. Thomas E. Combs opened a store in 1828 at the southeast corner of the intersection. Combs stayed there until 1835, when he moved his business to Red Bank. It is not known what kind of businesses Mr. Combs or Mr. Throckmorton operated. They were thought to be general stores. We also know that there was a bakery on the northeast corner of the intersection and a post office in the village.
West Freehold Schoolhouse
Traveling north on Wemrock Road, (originally called the North Road), you'll see the 1-room West Freehold Schoolhouse. The land on which it stands was originally part of the 143-acre Walker-Combs-Hartshorne farm. Ownership of the farm and land can be found as far back as 1686, when it was deeded from Proprietors of East Jersey to John Barclay (East Jersey Deed B40, 42). Chain of title brought the ownership to Rulif R. Schanck in 1832 (Monmouth County Deed A3 147). It is written that Mr. Schanck conveyed 1 acre of his land for the school to the Trustees, Samuel Conover, John H. Mount and William N. Thompson, for a fee of $25. In 1847, the original name of the school was West Freehold Seminary and Collegiate Institute. The school was also known as the Old Schanck School. The current and lasting name became the West Freehold Schoolhouse. The school was in continuous use from 1847 until 1936, when it was closed and all districts in the area consolidated and transferred to the new West Freehold School on Route 537. There were 8 school districts in the Township until 1936. They included East Freehold District, Number 6; Freehold District, Number 7; Paradise District, Number 8; Georgia District, Number 9 (later named Pleasant Grove); Siloam District, Number 10; West Freehold District, Number 11; Thompson's Grove District, Number 12; and Aumock District, Number 13. We find evidence that these districts were educating over 500 students per year by the end of the 1800s.
Approximately 1/2 mile north on Wemrock Road is the Walker-Combs-Hartshorne Farmstead. This is now referred to as the Oakley Farm. The farm was officially entered into the National Register of Historic Places on October 4, 1990. The National Register is the official list of cultural resources significant in American History, architecture, archeology, engineering or culture. The farm was designated a landmark site by Freehold Township Committee, at the recommendation of the Freehold Township Historic Preservation Commission on July 25, 1995.
The farmhouse itself probably began as a 10-by-8-foot settler's cabin in the early 1700s, as evidenced by the fieldstone foundation and rough-hewn timbers in the crawlspace. Some of the timbers still have bark on them. The foundation is put together with a mud-based mortar. These are indications of early construction. After several owners and 2 additions to the house, it stands today much as it did in 1924 when the Oakley Family finally completed construction.
Chain of Title
As was mentioned earlier, the chain of title for this property goes back to 1686, as follows:
- 1686 - Proprietors of East Jersey to John Barclay (East Jersey Deed B40, 42)
- 1686 - John Barclay to Robert Barclay (East Jersey Deed B41, 43)
- 1699 - Robert Barclay to John Reid (East Jersey Deed G223)
- 1701 - John Reid to John Bowne (Monmouth County Deed D159)
- 1706 - John Bowne to Richard Clark (Monmouth County Deed F34)
- 1720 - Richard Clark to George Walker (Monmouth County Deed G67) - Richard Clark's house was on this property at this time
- 1729 - Richard Clark to George Walker (Monmouth County Deed H39)
- 1748 - George Walker, Sr. to George Walker, Jr. (New Jersey Will 01599)
- 1794 - George Walker, Jr. to Aaron Forman Walker, Administrator (Monmouth County Will Liber 33, p.425)
- 1801 - Aaron Forman Walker et al. to Elijah Combs (Monmouth County Deed N118)
- 1832 - Commissioner of Monmouth County/Estate of Elijah Combs to Rulif R. Schanck (Monmouth County Deed A3 147)
- 1842 - Rulif R. Schanck to Richard S. Hartshorne (Monmouth County Deed E4 258)
- 1873 - Commissioner of Monmouth County/Estate of Richard S. Hartshorne to Acton Civil Hartshorne (Monmouth County Deed 250 409)
- 1911 - Acton Civil Hartshorne to Charles Oakley, Jr. (Monmouth County Deed 904 286)
- 1997 - Farmhouse and Outbuildings deeded to Freehold Township by the Estate of Elizabeth Oakley for Historic Preservation
According to Monmouth County Inventory Records as of 1981, this farm was one of the oldest working farms in Monmouth County. The earliest recorded reference is that it began in 1720 as a subsistence farm. Typical farm products for the time period were meats and grains such as pork, beef, poultry, wheat, rye and Indian corn. The family provided labor for the farm. In the cases of George Walker and Elijah Combs, the labor was provided by black slaves (Monmouth County Inventories I 1001, May 17,1748, and Monmouth County Inventory 203, July 28, 1831). It has been said that the farmhouse was part of the Underground Railroad in the latter part of the 1800s to help free slaves.
Another noteworthy piece of property on Route 537, approximately 3/4 of a mile past the Route 9 intersection, was known as Cincinnati Hall. It was the home of Dr. Thomas Henderson, a well-known and important Freehold citizen. This was the first house to be burned to the ground by the British during their march into Freehold in June, 1778. The house was set ablaze on June 28, 1778, along with all the houses along the route that the British did not want to use as a headquarters. Dr. Henderson was an active patriot, a colonel in the Revolutionary War, a judge, surrogate, counselor, lieutenant governor, and had been elected to Congress (but declined to serve).
Thomas Henderson was born in Freehold in 1743. He graduated Princeton College in 1761. He then entered the office of Dr. Nathaniel Scudder, where he studied medicine and was admitted to the practice. Dr. Henderson began his practice at Mount Pleasant and later moved to the home on Route 537. After the war he rebuilt his home. In honor of the American victory and the creation of the Society of the Cincinnati, a veteran's organization or officers who served in the Revolutionary War, he built a new house on the old foundation and named it Cincinnati Hall. It remained standing until December 1989 when it was demolished due to neglect.
- "Historic Resources Report - Township of Freehold - Monmouth County, NJ." Prepared for the Freehold Township Preservation Commission by Gail Hunton (Historic Preservation Consultant), 1989.
- "A Century's Progress in Education Values in Freehold," lecture given before the Freehold Woman's Club (Under the Auspices of the Educational Department - Freehold High School), March 15, 1944 by Lillian F. Lauler.
- The Early Schools of Freehold, NJ and Vicinity, 1667 to 1928, written by Lillian Lauler Wilbur circa 1969, Schuyler Press.
- Letter from Richard S. Walling, President, Friends of Monmouth Battlefield, dated September 2, 2000.