Allentown storekeeper spent decades recording histories of area families


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By Thomas K. Robbins

On Aug. 15, 1922, (journalist) Ida Tarbell knocks at a door on Main Street in Allentown and is presented with an extraordinary gentleman named Charles Robbins Hutchinson.

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She describes the feeling of meeting him as “… same kind of feeling I have when looking for china … see a real Windsor … or an employer that I know realizes what human beings are … real things. I had found one, Charles Hutchinson, 25 years a store keeper in Freehold (Allentown), 29 years insurance and land office work.”

Hutchinson spent decades documenting the histories and land transactions of the families of Allentown, and of Monmouth and Mercer counties, including Hutchinson, Forman, Robbins, Adams, Allen, Pearson, Tindall, Steward, Rogers, Coward, Darby, Imlay and others.

When Tarbell met Hutchinson at his house in 1922, she was impressed with the volume of work he had displayed in his bookcases and noted that other volumes were located in Trenton.

She describes his writing, “Through all this time he had been gathering information about Monmouth – its history and its settlers, putting it down in ledgers in a hand so precise and neat that it was like copper-plate – not an erasure, not a blot, not a crooked or hasty letter. Almost perfect type.”

Charles R. Hutchinson was born on May 8, 1838, in Hamilton Square and died on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1927, at the age of 89. He operated a general store in Allentown and then worked in the insurance business before retiring at the age of 76.

His business contacts helped him amass the information he used to painstakingly document the genealogies of families in Allentown, and in Mercer and Monmouth counties. This treasure trove of information could have been lost if not for his children finding his collection in a bureau in his garage when they were settling his estate.

With regard to the Robbins Burial Ground in Upper Freehold Township, Hutchinson writes in Book 2 (1912) about Daniel Robins, the first Robins settler to the area, purchasing 500 acres from John Reid: ” … This tract appears to have included the farms now or formerly of Amos Miller, Charles H. and Elwood C. Tantum, Miller Irons, Timothy Robbins, Horatio G. Mount, Joseph Vincent and Edward T. Combs. The hill on which the ‘Robbins Burying
Ground’ is located was also within its limits and near the southerly line.”

His work must have been his hobby and helped distract him from the challenges of daily life.

Hutchinson wrote about his work, “… I commend it to the tender mercies of my posterity, who may or may not value it when I am gone, but to me, at least, it has been a labor of love, a fascinating diversion during a long and busy life, and represents much patient labor and careful research.

“If at some time it should happen to fall into the hands of someone to whom it is not of enough interest to keep it from destruction, I hope it will still be preserved for their surely will always be others to whom it will be of use even if at that time, our own family shall have become entirely extinct.”

The New Jersey Historical Society in Newark purchased Hutchinson’s collection in 1928 and saved it from destruction.

He must be happy since he told Tarbell at their first meeting, ” … When you are 83 it is not easy to find things in these books. You better get all you can from me now for something might happen any day now. I don’t know that anybody will care for all this
that I have done. My son doesn’t care for it.”

Hutchinson went on to form a friendship with Tarbell and provided her valuable information for her book “In the Footsteps of the Lincolns,” published in 1924.

Thomas K. Robbins is a resident of Havre de Grace, Md., and a descendant of the Robbins family of the Allentown-Upper Freehold Township area.

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