By Lauren Wanko
There’s a historic village in Wall Township where the blacksmith works over a hot fire and carpenters chisel away at wood. The tinsmith makes much needed chamber pots.
“This was the largest iron producing town or factory town back in New Jersey in the 1830s,” Hance Sitkus said.
It was known then as the Howell Iron Works Company. It’s since become The Historic Village at Allaire and is located within Allaire State Park. Industrialist James P. Allaire purchased the property in 1822.
“He really wanted a source of iron that he could get locally and locally meaning even in this area was local for NYC area,” Sitkus said.
Allaire owned a couple of other businesses, including a Marine Engine factory in Manhattan, says Allaire Village Chairman of the Board
“On this site is actually where he’s getting a lot of the raw material – iron to actually make the marine engines that are going to go into the ships if you will,” Sitkus said.
Allaire built a village for his employees. There were 26 buildings on the Monmouth County property then, 13 remain.
“He had to support the population of about 200 to 300, possibly up to 400 people living and working within this village,” he said.
This is the Howell Works Company store. The four story building is what made the village self-sufficient says Sitkus because of the amount of goods available here. Residents could buy everything from food to fabrics. It cost $7,000 to build in 1836.
“It was probably one of the largest stores when it was built in the state of New Jersey at one point in time,” Sitkus said.
Fresh, warm bread was once made in the bakery. It’s something the blacksmith might have purchased after a long day of work.
“A blacksmith is in essence a mechanic, so it’s our job to fix and maintain machinery,” Katherine Muller said. “Here we were in one of the largest blacksmith shops in America.”
12 to 20 people probably worked in this building at one time, according to Muller who serves as the events and volunteer coordinator. These folks made sure the iron works factory kept running. The carpenter was the highest paid employee, but still the blacksmith was able to make a decent living.
“We’re making maybe a $1 a day,” she said. “That doesn’t sound like much, but our rent to live in the row house would have been $2 a month.”
The tinsmith was another popular worker.
“I am an itinerant tradesperson, which means I come in and work piecemeal for Mr. Allaire for the things he’s selling in his general store. What a tinsmith makes are things mostly for the home,” Ray O’Grady said.
During the week the chapel became a schoolhouse for children.
“He has a free public school system that he inaugurating in 1830s,” Sitkus said.
Allaire eventually retired and spent the rest of his life in this home, says Sitkus. In the 1940s, newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane donated the property to the state so that the land could be preserved and the history honored for generations to come.