Two towns for the ages – from the Revolution to 2016

By Mark Rosman

On consecutive nights during a recent week, I covered meetings of the Allentown Borough Council and the Englishtown Borough Council. I may have been the only reporter in New Jersey that week who covered meetings in two communities that existed prior to 1707.

Just typing the date “1707” is almost ridiculous. After all, how many times in a year’s worth of articles and columns do I need to refer back to a time that predates the Revolutionary War?

The patch on an Englishtown police officer’s shoulder carries the date 1688. Borough Hall is a short walk from the Revolutionary era Village Inn.

A sign in the meeting room at Allentown Borough Hall carries the date 1706 (a newbie when compared to Englishtown) and states that the borough is a National Historic District and the “Crossroads of the American Revolution.”

Allentown has about 1,800 residents; Englishtown is home to about 1,900 people. Each community has issues that are unique to its location and to its residents, although one issue is common to both small towns – traffic.

For most people, Englishtown and Allentown are not destinations, they are places to be driven through on your way to somewhere else. Thousands of motorists pass through each town every day. There are times when making a turn could be a challenging Olympic event, or when one could use a sundial to measure the time spent sitting in a traffic jam.

Primary roads in both communities are under the jurisdiction of Monmouth County – Tennent Avenue, Main Street and Water Street in Englishtown, and Main Street, Church Street and High Street in Allentown.

Elected officials in both towns face an ongoing stream of concerns expressed by residents and business owners about the situation and all they can do in most cases is to beseech their county representatives to take some type of action.

Let’s face facts; there may not be any perfect solutions in the 21st century to move thousands of vehicles through what are essentially 18th century villages that have largely remained frozen in time.

A few weeks before I covered that council meeting in Allentown, a friend and I took a ride to western Monmouth County because I wanted her to see the rural area the Examiner, which is one newspaper of which I am the managing editor, covers.

We walked down Lakeview Drive, through a small park and found a bench right next to the Allentown Mill Pond. It was a peaceful place to sit and enjoy the view, with a lovely breeze to cool off the heat of the day.

On our walk back up Lakeview Drive, we spotted gravestones on a small rise and I recognized the location as an historic cemetery that had been the subject of a recent article in the Examiner. The headstones, many of which can no longer be read, date back to the 1700s.

Just think about the years, the decades, the centuries that have passed by since those individuals were laid to rest on that spot on Lakeview Drive. All you can do at that moment is bow your head, say a prayer and hope those men, women and children are still at peace three centuries after they died.

On Main Street in Englishtown, a monument that was dedicated on July 4, 1947 honors residents of Englishtown and Manalapan who served the nation in World War I and World War II.

The monument lists the names of the men from the two communities who were killed in those wars. It serves as a reminder of a time when America was called on to save the world. Thousands of people drive by that location every day and likely have no idea what is on that stone. It is worth knowing.

You will not find shopping malls, movie theaters or hospitals in Englishtown and Allentown. You will have to go to “new” towns to find those modern amenities.

In that way, perhaps, present day Englishtown and Allentown are still somewhat like the villages they were when they were founded. The residents of both communities have pride in where they live and might well reject any suggestion to merge with a larger municipality that surrounds them, even if remaining independent comes at a higher cost.

After all, independence, in these parts, was once something worth fighting for.

Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Greater Media Newspapers. He may be reached via email at gmntnews@gmnews.com.