Most New Jersey towns created before 1800 were unplanned with irregular street patterns. Usually situated on major roads or waterways, these villages grew in a random manner. Belvidere, the first county seat erected in New Jersey on a new site after 1800, was laid out in a clear rectangular fashion with a central public square which faced the courthouse.
Plotted as early as 1799, the land for the square and the public buildings was donated in 1825 by entrepreneur Garret Dorset Wall of Trenton. Dwellings on the perimeter of the Belvidere Historic District are basically vernacular structures dating from 1875-1900. The name Belvidere itself is reminiscent of classical revivalism which was quite popular in the early 19th century. Actually, the term Belvidere is of Italian derivation and translates into “place having a beautiful view.” This was probably the literal meaning for Warren County’s seat of government, which was described in the late 18th century as having a spectacular view, all the way to Philadelphia on a clear day.
Belvidere, New Jersey Historical Timeline
JOHN READING SURVEYS LANDS
John Reading surveyed two tracts of land on the site of Belvidere. These were separated by a line beginning at the mouth of the Pequest and running along what was later Independence Street. The tract to the north of that line was for 1,250 acres or more, and was surveyed for William Penn. The tract to the south was of the same size, and was surveyed to Colonel John Alford, of Charleston, Massachusetts.
ALFORD TRACT HAS NEW OWNER
The McMurtries, who descended here from Ireland, came into possession of the Alford tract in 1750.
PENN TRACT HAS NEW OWNER
Robert Patterson, the first settler in Belvidere, bought the Penn tract in 1759. He was a tinsmith, and built a double log house on the site of the Warren House.
ARRIVAL OF MAJOR ROBERT HOOPS
Robert Patterson sold a great deal of his property in the seventeen sixties, and seems to have left by 1769, when Major Robert Hoops came and purchased the land on both sides of the Pequest. Major Hoops was a very active business man. He had a saw mill and a grist mill. He dealt in grain, and shipped flour and produce to Philadelphia by Durham boats. He did much to make the present channel through Foul Rift. During the Revolution he had a slaughter house on the current site of Warren County Courthouse Annex, from which many wagonloads of beef and pork were hauled to Morristown for Washington’s hungry army. He laid out all of the northern half of the town into streets and lots as they are at present, and called the town Mercer. Before 1800 he had parted with his holdings, mainly to Thomas Paul and Mr. Hyndshaw, and retired to Virginia.
A TOWN NAME IS BORN
We find the name Belvidere first used in 1791 by Major Hoops in a letter. It was written to Richard Backhouse, Esquire, Durham, and reads as follows:
The day you left me in the afternoon with seven hands I made a beginning and compleated Passage through the little foul Rift fit for a Boat to pass with 100 or 150 Bushels without touching; and was it not for the three points where the Hatchet was raised against me I should be perfectly easy-but industry and perseverance will, I hope, overcome all difficulties. I have desired the Bearer, my Negro Boy Jack, to return to me as speedily as you can dismis Him, as no time must be lost. I shall get some hands at work tomorrow before I set out for your House and wish as little detention as possible, as I am determined to return again on the same evening, having engaged some more hands for Tuesday Morning. I am with best Wishes, Dear Sir,
your Most obdt.,
8th August, 1791.
SALE TO ROBERT MORRIS
Major Robert Hoops retained the property on the north side of the creek until about 1800, but sold all south of the Pequest, including the water powers, to Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution, who built the house on Greenwich Street in 1780, for his daughter, Mrs. Croxall, to whom he conveyed it in 1793 by a deed containing an entail, which delayed the development of that part of the town for many years, or until a special act of the Legislature in 1818 gave the ownership to four heirs in fee simple.
ENTER GARRET D. WALL
The Robert Morris tract, south of the Pequest, comprising 614 acres, was bought in 1825 by Garret D. Wall, who was elected, Governor of New Jersey in 1829. He sold the Croxall mansion to John M. Sherrerd, Esq., our first county clerk, in 1827, and the rest of the tract he laid out in building lots. During this time, the selection of Belvidere as the county seat of the newly formed county of Warren created a building boom, and vacant lots were purchased at extravagant prices, one corner lot bringing $3,600 in its day. Mr. Wall gave the sites for the park, Court House and the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.
THE ROBESON FAMILY
A historic dwelling was built at the corner of the park in 1833 by John P. B. Maxwell for his bride, who did not live to enter it. It was later owned by his sister, Mrs. William P. Robeson, the mother of the Hon. George M. Robeson, Secretary of the Navy under President Grant. It was regarded as the homestead of the Robeson family, which was so long identified with the history of the State. Martin Van Buren was entertained at this house when a candidate for the presidency, and was driven by Judge Robeson in his carriage drawn by four white horses to Schooley’s Mountain. Bishop Doane, the author of several familiar hymns, was a frequent visitor here. One of his hymns begins: “The morning light is breaking, the darkness disappears.”
THE DELAWARE RIVER
Up until the mid-19th-Century, the business activity of Belvidere depended in great measure on the presence, of the Delaware River, which offered possibilities of power and communication, and the Pequest Creek, which furnished power to run nearly all of Belvidere’s industries. For many years Belvidere was the shipping point to Philadelphia and Trenton for Oxford Furnace. The iron was carried on the famous Durham boats. These were flat-bottomed affairs with a prow at either end. They floated with their load down stream, and were poled all the way back, lightly loaded, largely with sugar and molasses. A disastrous effort was made by Belvidere interests in 1860 to run a line of steamers on the river, but when the first steamer, the “Alfred Thomas,” on its maiden trip blew up after travelling less than one mile from Easton, where it was built, the project was dropped, never to be renewed. The explosion killed twelve persons, among them two of the three owners,- Judge William R. Sharp and Richard Holcomb.
SURPRISING CENSUS DATA
The census of 1870 gives 1,882 as the population of Belvidere, nearly double that of the population of 30 years before. A major stimulus to this increase must rest with the completion of the Belvidere Delaware Railroad in 1854. A few other industries were located along the Pequest, most notable being several carriage and wheel manufacturers.
The Belvidere Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.