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A Brief History of the Allen House

The Allen House property was first built on between 1670 and 1688 by Quaker Judah Allen. This original structure, however, is no longer standing, and its location is unknown. In the early 1700s, the property passed into the hands of New York City merchant Richard Stillwell, who built the main part of the still standing structure ca. 1740 to be his second home. Richard Stillwell died in 1743, leaving the property to his wife and children, who tried several times in the early 1750s to sell the property. The 1752 advertisement in the New York Gazette read as follows:

To be sold, A Good large Dwelling-House, two Story high, containing several Fire-Rooms well finish'd, with a good Stone Cellar under it, and a large Kitchen and Milk-House joining to it. The Lot belonging to said House, consists of near four Acres of choice Land, upon which there is a very good young bearing Orchard, two Gardens, a good Stone Well, a large new Storehouse, Chaise House, Stable, and several other Outbuildings...

In 1754, Josiah Halstead, a carpenter, and his first wife Zilpha, purchased the Stillwell property and began operating a tavern, which Halstead dubbed "The Blue Ball." The kitchen wing on the west side of the house was built sometime after Halstead purchased the property. This kitchen wing features a large brick fireplace with two bee-hive ovens, an unusual feature for a private residence, but certainly needed in a busy tavern such as the Blue Ball.

Halstead appears to have had almost immediate success with his business. In 1755, the year after he opened the tavern, his excise taxes, calculated according to income, were the highest of the dozen or so tavern keepers in the Shrewsbury area. Various organizations met at the Blue Ball, paying for the use of a private room, as well as for food and drink. Among these were the Monmouth County Circuit Court, the Library Company, and the Vestry from Christ Church, located just across the street.

Unfortunately, Halstead fell on hard times as early as 1765, when he advertised the tavern for sale in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The advertisement reveals the extent of his tavern and surrounding property:

A Compleat small Farm, lying the Center of the Town of Shrewsbury, New-Jersey, containing 56 Acres of very good Land and Meadow, with a good Dwelling House, Gardens, and Orchards of excellent Fruit, Stables and other Out-houses, all in good Repair, and in compleat order for a Tavern, it being the Place where the most noted One in Shrewsbury, had been kept for many Years...

Halstead's financial difficulties may have resulted from an inability to turn a cash profit due to the rigidly controlled tavern industry. Coupled with the tavern's largely local clientele, he may have been in a cash-poor situation, unable to pay his excise taxes or purchase stores from his New York suppliers in an economic system based heavily on barter. As well, during the 1760s, there was rampant inflation as paper money was greatly devalued and hard currency was withdrawn from circulation.

In 1770, despite his best efforts, Halstead's name was added to Shrewsbury's list of town delinquents, and by February of 1772, he found himself in debtor's prison. He remained there until March of the following year, when Shrewsbury resident Stephen Tallman, Jr. assumed ownership of the property, probably in payment of Halstead's debts.

From this point on, the Blue Ball rapidly changed hands, but continued operation as a tavern by various owners and tenants until 1814, when it was purchased by Dr. Edmund Allen and his business partner Jacob Corlies. Dr. Allen ran both his medical practice and a pharmacy on the ground floor of the building until his death in 1867. Dr. Allen's son Joseph then opened a dry-goods store in the building, which operated until 1916. Since then, the house has served several purposes, ranging from a private residence, to tea rooms and antique shops.

In 1968, the Monmouth County Historical Association assumed ownership of the Allen House property, a gift of the last owner, Mrs. Henry H. Holmes. After several years of restoration, lasting into the early 1970s, the Allen House was opened to the public, offering a glimpse of the public side of colonial life during the second half of the eighteenth century.

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This site created and maintained by Carole Sinclair Smith

Updated: August 6, 2001