SHREWSBURY, NJ – The Allen House was initially built circa 1710 as a second residence for the Stillwell Family of NY. Richard, a wealthy merchant, and his wife Mercy had 8 Children who were brought up primarily in Shrewsbury.
By 1754, after Richard and Mercy had passed away, their heirs sold the property to Josiah Halstead who transformed the home into the Blue Ball Tavern.
In 1754, Josiah Halstead, a carpenter, and his first wife Zilpha, purchased the Stillwell property and began operating a tavern, which Halstead dubbed “The Blue Ball.” The kitchen wing on the west side of the house was built sometime after Halstead purchased the property. This kitchen wing features a large brick fireplace with two bee-hive ovens, an unusual feature for a private residence, but certainly needed in a busy tavern such as the Blue Ball.
PHOTO: Allen House as it appears today
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Halstead appears to have had almost immediate success with his business. In 1755, the year after he opened the tavern, his excise taxes, calculated according to income, were the highest of the dozen or so tavern keepers in the Shrewsbury area. Various organizations met at the Blue Ball, paying for the use of a private room, as well as for food and drink. Among these were the Monmouth County Circuit Court, the Library Company, and the Vestry from Christ Church, located just across the street.
Unfortunately, Halstead fell on hard times as early as 1765, when he advertised the tavern for sale in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The advertisement reveals the extent of his tavern and surrounding property:
A Compleat small Farm, lying the Center of the Town of Shrewsbury, New-Jersey, containing 56 Acres of very good Land and Meadow, with a good Dwelling House, Gardens, and Orchards of excellent Fruit, Stables and other Out-houses, all in good Repair, and in compleat order for a Tavern, it being the Place where the most noted One in Shrewsbury, had been kept for many Years…
Halstead’s financial difficulties may have resulted from an inability to turn a cash profit due to the rigidly controlled tavern industry. Coupled with the tavern’s largely local clientele, he may have been in a cash-poor situation, unable to pay his excise taxes or purchase stores from his New York suppliers in an economic system based heavily on barter. As well, during the 1760s, there was rampant inflation as paper money was greatly devalued and hard currency was withdrawn from circulation.
In 1770, despite his best efforts, Halstead’s name was added to Shrewsbury’s list of town delinquents, and by February of 1772, he found himself in debtor’s prison. He remained there until March of the following year, when Shrewsbury resident Stephen Tallman, Jr. assumed ownership of the property, probably in payment of Halstead’s debts.
In 1779, a Loyalist party raided the tavern where Continental troops were quartered. They killed 3 and captured 9 in what would become known as the Allen House Massacre.
“In the summer of 1779 there was a Lieutenant stationed at Shrewsbury with a guard of 12 men to watch the movements of the tories and quartered in the house where Dr Edmund William Allen lived. The tories came in a boat up the branch of South Shrewsbury river – landed and under cover of woods got to the south side of the Episcopal Church about 6 rods from the said Allen house. The party being headed by Joseph Price and Richard Lippincott. They held a parly and by looking from the corner of said church they found no sentries set and lounging about not under arms.
Prince then ordered his party to fix their Bayonets and started on full run for the house where the troops were quartered – their arms all stood together in the North Room – one of Prince’s men grabbed them all in his arms – a scuffle took place being 12 to 5 of the tories the man who held fast on the guns of the American troops was thrown but held fast and they put the Bayonet through one of the 12 and he fell down on the floor – and Run two more of them through the Lieutenant surrendered – one of the two lasted killed got out into the Road his Bowels coming out he soon died the other one got some what father off and fell likewise and died. the other 9 were taken prisoners, they broke free around Locust tree and made their escape”
Richard Lippincott gained notoriety in 1782 as the Loyalist captain who hanged Capt. Joshua Huddy of the Monmouth Militia and set off the an international incident.
PHOTO: Dr Edmund William Allen
In 1812 When Dr Edmund William Allen repaired the house alluded to the carpenters in trying to plane out the stains of blood on the floor – the more they planed the fresher it showed – and he had to put another floor over it.
The house is now owned by the Monmouth County Historical Association.
editor’s note: Renee Cunningham grew up in Rumson NJ and has ties to some of the oldest families in Monmouth County.