By Jay Cook |
SHREWSBURY BOROUGH – One of the area’s oldest historical buildings may have had its most undesirable visitor in its 300-plus year history last weekend.
At about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 15, a two-car accident at the Historic Four Corners crossroads sent a two-door Jeep Wrangler skidding back through the intersection and onto the steps of the pre-Revolutionary Allen House – a few feet short of crashing into the former tavern building.
“Given what it could have been, I feel very lucky,” said Linda Bricker, president of the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA), the organization overseeing the Allen House.
Bricker said the property had opened for tours only a half hour before the car accident. Volunteer docent Teresa Blake was tending to a colonial herb garden on the other side of the building.
According to Bricker, Blake heard the cars crunch at the Broad Street and Sycamore Avenue intersection and came running around the building so see what caused all the commotion.
Shrewsbury Police’s accident report was not available. But Bricker said she learned a car was traveling eastbound on Sycamore Avenue, attempted to make a left turn onto Broad Street after the dedicated left turn signal had expired, and collided with the second car travelling westbound on Sycamore Avenue.
That caused both vehicles to spin, hurling the late-1990s Wrangler back toward the Allen House. About eight to 10 feet of the white picket fence that surrounds the property “flew everywhere,” Bricker said. Shrubs behind the fencing were crushed and a light fixture and the Allen House sign sustained some damage. The Jeep smashed a section of the brick stoop which Bricker believes actually stopped it from hitting the house.
To Bricker’s understanding, there were no major injuries caused by the crash.
“It’s just a very dangerous corner,” said Shrewsbury Borough Mayor Donald Burden by phone on Tuesday.
Surprisingly enough, Saturday tours were not affected by the crash.
“We still had people coming to visit the Allen House, coming up through the caution tape and into the tavern throughout the afternoon,” Bricker said. Tourists entered through the back door “so they didn’t have to climb through too much chaos,” she added.
Since Saturday afternoon, the site has been marked with bright yellow caution tape where the white picket fence once stood, and red ‘danger’ tape around the stoop. A pile of fencing and smaller, smashed car parts were swept together at the foot of the stoop.
Bricker also said the Allen House will continue to stay open for the time being. She will consult with MCHA’s curator Joseph Hammond to determine the extent of the damages and how to appropriately replace the damaged sections of the property. No cost is known at this point.
The Allen House is named after Quaker Judah Allen, who built an original structure on the property between 1679 and 1688. In 1710, the property was bought by Manhattan businessman Richard Stillwell and his wife Mercy Sands, who demolished the prior building, eventually creating the one that exists today.
The property was then bought by Josiah and Zilpha Halstead in 1754, who turned the house into The Blue Ball tavern, and operated it for about two decades, according to MCHA records.
Mrs. Henry Holmes eventually purchased the Allen House in 1943 and bequeathed it to MCHA upon her death in 1948. A close family friend continued to live there until 1968, and MCHA eventually took control of the property on May 1 of that year.
The Allen House is also one of the four landmarks at the Sycamore Avenue and Broad Street intersection known as the Historic Four Corners. The other three properties are Christ Church, Presbyterian Church and Shrewsbury Friends Meeting House. An annual lantern tour takes place each year to highlight the history in that section of Shrewsbury.
Those four properties “are a focal point of history in Monmouth County,” Burden said.
The Allen House just celebrated its third annual Declaration of Independence community reading on July 4, an annual growing tradition.
Bricker said within the days after the accident, people had begun inquiring about how to fund the repairs for the old tavern. Creating a GoFundMe page or creating a new fundraiser could help with that, she added.
“The fact that people feel some connection to what we’re doing at this house is very special,” Bricker said.
This article was first published in the July 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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