Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Imlaystown - a piece of 19th century rural life, waiting for preservation

After my visit to the Old Yellow Meeting House, I took a look at my trusty DeLorme road atlas and the 1939 WPA Guide to New Jersey to figure out how to get myself to downtown Imlaystown. It wasn't as easy as it should have been.

The atlas was helpful to some extent, but it lacked labels for some of the roads. As for the WPA Guide, well, let's just say that using it was akin to riding one of those big wheel/small wheel velocipede bicycles backwards, using a hand mirror as guidance. Reflecting the state of the road system in Depression-era New Jersey, the guide tends to reference routes by their respective surfaces: dirt, oiled or paved. This once-useful system leaves the present day traveler wondering whether the dirt and oiled roads are now paved or no longer exist. The book's Imlaystown route referenced a few of those. Consider that along with the fact that the stated directions were to the meeting house, not from, and you can see where things could get a little challenging without a navigator.

Fortunately the guide offers very accurate mileage estimates, and I was in Imlaystown proper much more quickly than I'd expected. Had I been a bit more patient on my drive in from 195, I would have found it fairly easily before detouring for the Meeting House.

The modest town hall
is a notable fixture in the middle
of Imlaystown's downtown.
True to the guidebook description, the community is densely built along the path of Doctor's Creek. It's said that the community superseded a former Indian settlement, and from the placement, I wouldn't doubt it. A series of small, old houses lines the road, packed closely together and seemingly near enough the street to make sidewalks unnecessary. Driving farther along, I found a broad intersection where the Upper Freehold borough hall and the Happy Apple Inn seem to be the major attractions. Make a turn toward Imlaystown Lake, and you'll find a picturesque pond full of lily pads, as well as a spillway that was once part of the adjacent Salters Mill and ice-harvesting operation.

In a lot of ways, Imlaystown is much like any number of small villages dotting the more rural parts of New Jersey. If it hadn't been for the rolling landscape and condensed building pattern, I'd have thought I'd been transported to a town off the beaten track in Cumberland County. It's places like that which many out-of-staters would never believe exist in New Jersey.

Spend a little time walking around, though, and you get the feeling that the place has seen better days. In fact, I didn't take any pictures of the closely-packed buildings because I didn't want to appear to be a morbid curiosity seeker. Most of the buildings are well over 100 years old, having replaced structures that burned down in the devastating fire of 1898. Preservation New Jersey listed Imlaystown on its Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites roster in 2004, citing its importance as a "mid-nineteenth century streetscape that appears to have been almost frozen in time."

Despite a partial revitalization about 20 years ago, the community's buildings continue to deteriorate, partially due to issues related to their proximity to the creek. My research revealed some continuing efforts by local residents to drive further restoration, but it appears that the work is moving slowly, if at all. The area has been designated a historic district, and we can only hope that preservationists find a way to work out the issues blocking further action.


  1. I got off I95 today and happened upon Imlaystown and much as your article points out it is in disrepair but the area is truly quaint and I was struck by the what could be, of the area.

  2. I grew up in imlaystown, there use to be a old white farm house with a red barn garage to the left side of happy Apple inn parking lot...I really do miss the tranquility of that small town..everyone knew everyone, living there is like a dream... Just wish I had never moved and also wish I had the money to buy a house there...

  3. Visited years ago, & plan to revisit soon.
    Ray Imlay


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