Allen House tavern museum serves up local history

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Barmaids pour drinks for very thirsty guests at what today is known as the Monmouth County Historical Association’s Allen House.

“This would have been the hub of the community,” said volunteer docent Sara Torbert.

It’s the 1770s and weary travelers are looking for food and drink, and that’s exactly what they find.

“The roads have not been good, so the food, the ale, the game of cards, it just ends the night very well,” said volunteer docent William Githens.

“In past days it has been known as the tavern at the sign of the blue ball, is probably its most prominent or distinctive historic era,” Torbert said.

Initially, the property was a private home until Josiah Halstead bought the building, made additions and transformed it into a tavern in the 1750s. Located along a busy intersection in Shrewsbury known as the Historic Four Corners for the several historic properties there, the tavern was a popular spot for decades.

“Taverns at the time were not just the way we think of taverns now as places to go and drink in the evening. It was an all-day community center, it was where the gentlemen and laborers of the community would have come to not only seek refreshment and food, but they would have gotten their news here,” Torbert said.

The bar looks a bit different than what we’re used to seeing today — it actually had bars. They protected the barmaids when the crowds got rowdy and secured the alcohol when the tavern was closed

As folks forget about their long day by dancing in the tavern, the cooks prepare dinner.

“When Halstead envisioned his tavern in this spot, he envisioned a large kitchen, as such he built it with a large hearth like this that could have kept fires going all day. There’s two beehive ovens for the baking of bread and the cooking of meats,” Torbert said.

The tavern was run by many different people over the years. Eventually, in the early 19th century, a doctor ran his practice there. It later became a general store, then an antique shop, an art gallery and a tea room. The Monmouth County Historical Association has been operating the site as a museum for more than 40 years.

“We do a lot of educational programs with students from schools in the area, and oftentimes they don’t know what has happened practically in their backyard,” said Monmouth County Historical Association outreach manager Pati Githens. “It’s incredible because they’re learning so much about their own towns or their own areas, the local history, instead of having to go to Boston or having to go to Philadelphia.”

Volunteer docents enjoy dressing in period costumes, which many make themselves for living history events.

“I think all of us here are still little kids that love to play dress up. Some of us have been inspired by stories and legends and just love the history and love to know that you’re actually walking in the footsteps of real people that have really fascinating stories,” Torbert said. “The more you learn about it, the more you really want to know, what was it like to be in that time, what did it feel like to wear those clothes, what did it taste like to eat that food, and I think that’s a large part of what we’re all trying to recreate.”