HISTORY AND HISTORIC SITES
The village originally referred to as “Hopewell Meeting House” gradually grew into existence shortly after Jonathan Stout brought his family to the land where he had earlier hunted with the Lenni Lenape Indians in 1706. At the center of this small community of farmers was the Hopewell Baptist Meeting, organized in 1715. The first church was constructed in 1748 (on the site of the current Hopewell Baptist Church), when the congregation appointed the Reverend Isaac Eaton to be it first pastor. In 1756, Isaac Eaton also founded the first Baptist secondary school in America, the Hopewell Baptist Academy. Eleven years later, this Academy moved north to Rhode Island where it became Brown University.
John Hart, on of the five New Jersey Signers of the Declaration of Independence, donated the land on which the Baptist Meeting House was built. This prominent Hopewell resident, farmer and miller represented New Jersey as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and served as a member of the Colonial assembly and the Provincial Congress (1775-6) and was Speaker of the New Jersey Legislature.
In 1778, prior to the Battle of Monmouth, George Washington’s army was encamped on the hills above Hopewell Borough while the General called a strategy meeting in the nearby Hunt House. Present at the meeting were Generals Lee, Lafayette and Steuben, to name a few.
For generations, the town was known equally as Columbia and Hopewell; in 1825 the Post Office was established, and then Hopewell became the official name. By 1834, the village was described as including “the Baptist Church, two taverns and the Hopewell House, the Blackwell store, a post office, and about a dozen dwellings.”
With the arrival of rail service in 1874, Hopewell as we know it today began to take shape. The fist company, the Mercer and Somerset Railroad, began the boom in 1873, and was soon taken over by the rival Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad (the present Conrail line). The area near the station, the current Railroad Place, became a focus for related industries, including lumberyards, canneries, a creamery and a shirt factory. Throughout the village, new activities burgeoned; there was a hay press, a second lumberyard, a harness shop, two blacksmiths, three wheelwrights five stores, a hotel, a saloon and a livery stable. In 1891, Hopewell Borough was incorporated and by 1900 the Borough had a population of roughly 890, living in about 208 households. Other denominations had built churches, including the First Presbyterian Church, Hopewell Mountain Christian Church, the Methodist Church and St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church. The town continued to grow steadily and by 1928 there were 1,339 people living here. Today we’re a town of approximately 2,000 strong and the commercial area is focused around Broad Street.
Some Historic Sites Present Today Include:
John Hart House
John Hart’s house, the 18th century stone, brick and frame house where Hopewell’s “signer” lived and died, is currently a private residence but can be seen from the avenue which bears Hart’s name.
Hart Monument in Cemetery Yard
Hopewell’s illustrious citizen and patriot, John Hart, lies reburied in land he donated to the Old School Baptist Churchyard.
Hopewell House, originally the tavern owned by the Stout and then the Blackwell families in the early 19th Century, is located on the north side of Broad Street. This building later became a hotel, which stayed in business through the 1950s. Today it serves the town as a liquor store and is now known as the Historic Hopewell House.
The Old School Baptist Church and Cemetery
The Old School Baptist Church and Cemetery on West Broad Street stand on the site of the original Hopewell Baptist Meeting House. Built in 1822, the current brick structure is also known ads the First Baptist Church of Hopewell and the Old School Baptist Church. The Baptist Meeting constituted the center of the community in Hopewell’s early history.
28 East Broad Street
Hopewell, NJ 08525
The Hopewell Museum was incorporated in 1922 as the Hopewell Free Public Library and Museum Funding and Building Association. It was formed to raise funds for a building to house a collection of antiques offered to the community by Miss Sarah D. Stout. This collection became the nucleus of the present museum which bears the much simpler name of The Hopewell Museum.
Originally the Museum and Public Library were housed in a large, brownstone structure that was built by Randolph Stout in 1877. In 1965 the Library moved to its present location and in 1967 a two-story addition was made to the Museum building through the generosity of Dr. David H. Hill. The additional space enabled the Museum to display its many fine collections to greater advantage as well as house Dr. Hill’s superb collection of Southwestern Native American crafts.
The aim of the Museum is to display and preserve what is most typical and interesting of American village life from colonial days to the present. Most of its treasures have been given by residents of the community and surrounding area with many of the items having been used by ancestors of the donors. In 1998, more than 500 children from area schools visited the Museum on class trips while studying their town and region. Visitors will often see people engaged in research, quietly pouring over the many books in the Museum’s genealogical collection.
Photographs, maps, quilts, furniture, costumes, tools, utensils, toys, signs, weapons, deeds, charters and many other items relating to the history of this quiet, industrious community and its people are presented in revue.
The Museum is governed by a Board of Trustees and staffed by two curators who are present during the time the Museum is open on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 2:00- 5:00 pm. Admission is free and rotating exhibits make repeat visits worthwhile.