Walking Tour of Historic Milltown

Milltown was created on land where the Lenape people lived and passed through for thousands of years. The Mill Pond, before the dam was built, was a stream running through town and gave the early residents a clean source of water and fish to eat. Our local highways were once trails that Lenape traveled to spend time at the shore in the summer. Many arrowheads and other tools have been unearthed here in town to show that what we now consider “our land”, was once the home of the Unami branch of the Lenape. (The History Buff’s Guide to Middlesex County. 2008) 

What follows are brief stories of some of the uses of buildings and sites that you see as you walk and drive through the streets of Milltown, with links to further information. It is not complete, and you may contact the Milltown Historical Society with more information on any of the buildings listed below, or with a new entry at barbarawp7@gmail.com.

Click the square with arrow top left corner of the map to see the map locations in order.

1. Milltown Eureka Engine Co. #1 – 132 South Main St.
The building played a very important role in the history of Milltown, serving capacities crucial to the community. It was built as Milltown Public School #78, and served as a school until the Milltown Public School was built on W. Church St. When Milltown was incorporated in 1896, it was the Borough Hall, and the municipal courthouse, as well.
The Milltown Fire Department was incorporated on Feb. 22, 1911 as The Eureka Fire Company No. 1. In 1922, this Company was disbanded and two new Companies were Incorporated:Eureka Engine Co. No. 1 located on South Main Street which currently houses 2 Engines. At this time, this is the oldest structure in Middlesex County housing an active and functioning Fire Department.
Eureka Hose Company No. 1 located on Cottage Avenue currently houses 1 Engine and 1 Ladder.  Eureka Engine Company No. 1, of the Milltown Fire Department, continues to operate out of the building to this day but not for much longer! Although the cupola is gone and an addition has been made, the firehouse looks much the way it did in 1889. The original blackboards from its school days are still being used to log fire calls. https://milltownhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com                                                                                                                                                         

2. Milltown Historical Society – 116 South Main St.
The Milltown Historical Society was created in 1968 by a group of residents who wanted to record and preserve our town’s Victorian era founding. Two homes from the mid 19th Century serve as display spaces and meeting rooms for our members today. New ongoing projects are to remember the importance of the Michelin Tire Company in Milltown’s growth,  including the more difficult stories of Milltown’s racist incidents. The more that we can be open to hear those stories, the more we can move forward to being the inclusive, friendly community that we hope to be. http://milltownhs.ning.com/photo/1239749:Photo:22?context=latest

3. Schwendeman’s Taxidermy – 119 South Main St.
Milltown’s longest surviving family business, the Schwendeman family bought the Main St. property in 1859, and opened their taxidermy shop in 1921. Although the business is not currently active, the family homestead in the log cabin on Kuhlthau Ave. is now owned by the Borough of Milltown, and will become a nature center and the future home of the Lawrence Brook Watershed Partnership. https://www.taxidermy.net/ken/?p=719 

4. Ellsworth & Irma Lown home – 80 South Main St.
The large building at 80 South Main St., originally owned by Edward W. Schlosser, was the location of Kuhlthau’s general store and the Milltown Post Office. Electricity was added to the general store in 1906. After owner William Kuhlthau’s death in 1939 the building was sold to Ellsworth and Irma Lown, who transformed the store and post office into apartments. The Lowns lived with their family in one of the units, and maintained a woodworking shop in the back building.

5. St Paul’s Church – 62 South Main St.
Began as a church for German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century. The first church building, a wooden structure, was dedicated in 1873. The present brick building was erected in 1923. http://milltownhs.ning.com

6. Bites and Bowls and The Ice Cream Depot – 28 South Main St.
This building on South Main St. built in 1888, was known as Conrad Kohlhepp’s Union Hotel. In 1900, when he died, it was taken over by his son in-law and was renamed Denhardt’s Hall. It later housed a candy store, and once, it was an insurance company office. The Milltown Tavern was there for many years, and many feel that it served the best pizza in Milltown. Many sons of Milltown were on their slow pitch softball team that had a lively rivalry against the Golden Lion Tavern teamin the 1960’s and 1970’s. John Capone, who owned the tavern, had an appliance store there in the late 1950’s. It was one of three locations in town where Milltown’s former minor league ballplayer Ray Kimber sold clothing.  https://www.bitesbowls.com/index.php

7. Karma Cat and Zen Dog39 South Main St./Holsten’s Fuel 1 Station – 29 South Main St.
Across the street from the current location of the Ice Cream Depot is the spot that was the home of Jensen’s Hardware, Jensen’s Texaco Service Station, and Auer’s Seed Store. You can tell we had a lot of farms, when a whole store was dedicated to seeds! Christian Jensen opened a barbershop there in 1910, and it later became the Hardware Store. The service station was expanded after the demolition of that store and home. The first building used by the Milltown Rescue Squad was built in the backyard on Jensen’s property, behind the hardware store. When a call was received Mr. Jensen had a list of squad members by the phone that he would call until he got three men to respond. There were no whistles back then, however; I have seen a metal gong that may have been used at one time to alert members. The building earlier served as a Miss Jackie’s Dance Studio, a Scuba Diving Shop, a picture frame shop, and a yoga studio.  https://karmacatzendog.org

8. Golden Lion Inn23 South Main St.
The Golden Lion building was erected in 1903 and originally called Sayre’s Hotel. E.F. Sayre’s original Sayre’s Hotel in Milltown was a separate building, located on Washington Ave near where the post office is located. The name of the Hotel was changed to the Hotel Marguerite, and when it changed hands again it was Findon’s Tavern, which was popular for their fried fish dinners. It has been known as the Golden Lion for many years now, and is renowned for having the best chicken wings in central New Jersey.  https://www.goldenlionmilltown.com/index.html

9. Raritan River Railroad Passenger and Freight Station Washington Avenue
The Raritan River Railroad had an important role in the early years of the Twentieth Century, when our Freight station was built. Passengers could travel from Milltown and go to South Amboy in one direction, or to New Brunswick in the other. Once in New Brunswick, travelers could find their way to other lines and travel up and down the East coast. The building at its current location is slated to be moved across the road to Open Space and restored and conserved by the Milltown Historical Society as a place to memorialize the importance of the railroad to our town and others on the line.

10. The Mill Condominiums 40 Washington Avenue

The Mill Condominiums building was erected in 1899 by Milltown’s first Mayor, John C. Evans. It was originally the India Rubber Company, and went out of business in 1901. It was later the Russell Playing Card Company, and before it’s days as a factory ended, was used as Decorated Metal Manufacturers. This building was deemed a National Historic Site.

11. Speedway Gas Station

 The Speedway Station at the corner of Main St. and Washington Ave has gone through many changes. In the early days of Milltown, it was the site of the Brunswick Traction Company powerhouse and trolley barn. In the 1950’s, it was the location of a classic New Jersey diner. Eventually, the Hess Gas Station was established at this spot, where generations of Milltown families purchased Hess Trucks every winter for their children. Now the station is owned by Speedway.

12. Milltown Bridge Main St. at Mill Pond

Main Street’s bridge over the Mill Pond has undergone many changes over the years, as methods of transportation have evolved. Milltown’s history of flooding has caused the bridge to be rebuilt over the years so that the street would be passable in times of heavy rain. Early sources list it as a wooden bridge, then a metal truss bridge. The bridge is the perfect spot to photograph Milltown’s iconic water tower and smokestack, our remaining landmarks of the Michelin Tire Factory. The Dam under the bridge is historic itself, as it was a milldam, that is a dam built across a stream to form a pond so that the water is deep enough to turn the waterwheel of a mill. And that’s how we got our name of Milltown!

13. Michelin Factory Ford Ave.

The French Michelin Tire Company located its first American factory in Milltown, at a site that had been in the rubber industry for about 50 years. First, Christopher Meyer, and then the AV International Rubber Companies had factories located along the Lawrence Brook. But in 1907, industry became big business in Milltown with the construction of the Michelin tire factory. Professor Pau Medrano-Bigas’ dissertation on advertising by Michelin includes the most complete description of the history of this business. The chapters on the Rubber industry in New Jersey and about Michelin’s years in town are very relevant to the study of Milltown history. The Forgotten Years of Bibendum. Michelin’s American Period in Milltown: Design, Illustration and Advertising by Pioneer Tire Companies (1900-1930)
14.  Wells Fargo Bank – 15 North Main St.
The First National Bank of Milltown opened on January 15, 1917 in a space made available by the Michelin Company in the back of Building #1 on North Main Street.. There was a bank robbery of the First National Bank of Milltown on December 20, 1920. The first and only bank in town, it later moved to 44 North Main Street, which is now Hanna’s Electric and then to the building across the street at 15 North Main. The First National Bank of Milltown folded on August 14, 1964 when it merged with the Edison Bank. This location was where the children of Michelin’s French speaking employees sent their children to French School, where lessons were taught in French four days a week, and in English one day a week.
http://milltownhs.ning.com/photo/french-veterans-wwi?commentId=1239749%3AComment%3A4124
http://milltownhs.ning.com/photo/french-school-pageant
15. Francesco’s Pizza building – 23 North Main St.
This building was built as the Michelin Community Center. It served as the cafeteria for Michelin employees, and also housed a movie theater and bowling alley. The theater remained there for some years after Michelin left town, as Nancy Lown, who grew up here recalls going to the movies there on Saturday nights. Her father, Ellsworth (Lowny) Lown remodeled the building for its new owner Louis Lukach. The part of the building that has been a gym used to be the Milltown Post Office in the 1960’s.

http://milltownhs.ning.com/photo/michelin-community-house

16. Masonic Lodge – 30 North Main St.
This site was built in 1907 as the Redman’s Hall. The Improved Order of Redmen was established in North America in 1834 as a patriotic, fraternal organization . Ironically, although the name was to honor native Americans, the organization was solely by and for white men. At its peak, the local organization had 500 members and supported various charitable youth and educational programs. The women’s branch was known as the Degree of Pocohantas. In 1974 the all-white clause for membership was eliminated. Redman’s Hall is now the Masonic Hall, established in 1957, above the Milltown Diner, and clothing designer Sally Miller’s store .The Milltown Masons have their own website, with history and photos.

17. Dr. Kelleman’s Office – 36 North Main St.

This next building on Main Street is the former site of Fox’s Milltown 5-and-10 cent store. In later years it was the location of Rocco’s Barber Shop. Now Dr Kelleman’s ophthalmology office and eye glass studio use the building.

18. Hanna’s Electric – 44 North Main St.

Previously owned by the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters (Carpenter’s Hall), it was originally the First National Bank of Milltown. Built around 1920, the bank moved in 1958 to what is now the Wells Fargo Bank at 15 North Main, next to the Milltown Pharmacy.

19. Joyce Kilmer School – 21 West Church St.

The present site of Joyce Kilmer School was first used in 1907, moving from the original site on South Main Street. The original building stayed in use until it was condemned in 1978. The school, originally called Milltown Public School, was renamed to Joyce Kilmer School in 1961 in honor of New Brunswick poet, Joyce Kilmer, who died in World War I. Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees” is his most famous work. Gail Christ Piccirillo won $25 for suggesting Kilmer’s name for the school.

20. Michelin Field – Sherman Avenue

Home of the semi-professional Michelin Tire Company Baseball Team during the 1920s.  The field is now for Little League and public use.
http://milltownhs.ning.com/photo/wide-open-michelin-field?context=latest
21. United Methodist Church – 47 North Main St.

Established in 1844. A new brick church was built in 1873 replacing the original wood structure. It was remodeled and rededicated in 1926.
http://milltownhs.ning.com/photo/united-methodist-church

22. A&M Vacuum Repair – 66 North Main St.
Established in 1886, this location housed the first Milltown Post Office and General Store, established by Philip Kuhlthau. For many years this was the Milltown Hardware Store, and then Capella Brothers Hardware Store.
http://milltownhs.ning.com/photo/back-of-kuhlthaus-general
https://www.aandmvacuum.com

23. Shanahan’s Bakery – 84 North Main St.
This building was one of Milltown’s early schools. It predates the Milltown Public School, which was built in 1907 at the location of Joyce Kilmer School, and its original location was on School Street. In 1917, this site housed the Milltown Post Office. John and Kay Shanahan opened the S & S Bakery here in 1969, with his renowned Irish soda bread, rye bread, “low calorie” crumb cake, and delicious donuts. Now I’m hungry.

24. Valley National Bank – 94 North Main St.
 The Evans-Forney House: The home of John A. Evans, father of the first mayor of Milltown, was built in 1828. Later owned by Dr. N.N. Forney, Sr., it became Dr. Sharma’s office, and then Dr. Sharma decided to sell. It was one of the few Victorian homes left in town, and by citizens’ efforts, was placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, the demolition still occured.
http://www.keepmilltownhistoric.org

25. Provident Bank –  97 North Main St.
On this site was the home owned by John Evans, known as the Kuhlthau House. John A. Evans was the father of MIlltown’s First Mayor, John C. Evans. The house was demolished in 1970 to make way for the Lawrence Brook Savings and Loan Association.

26. Legends Caterers – 122 North Main St.
Legends is a sandwich shop, delicatessen, and catering business, but this storefront formerly housed Family Pharmacy and Gifts, which was owned by pharmacist Charlie Katz. The Sentinel Newspaper was published out of this building in the 1950’s, when Rod Leury, author of The History of Milltown, was the Sentinel editor.

http://legendscaterers.com
27. Revilla Grooves & Gear 126 North Main St.

Milltown draws customers from far and near to Revilla’s Grooves & Gear, a used and new vinyl record and high quality stereo equipment shop. The previous occupant of this location was Lionel Bannister, whose sign and trophy making business was there 63 years, since he returned from the Korean War. At its peak, the Bannister business employed 20 people.


28. Crabiel’s Home for Funerals – 170 North Main St.
The original owner of the building was Dr. Ferdinand Riva in the 1890s. The house eventually came under the control of the Michelin Tire Company. Many Michelin executives stayed in the house, including several members of the Crabiel family who worked for Michelin. The house was later sold to the Booreem family, and in 1955 the house was purchased by Joseph M. Crabiel. The following year, the house was officially the Crabiel Home for Funerals. The house stands as an example of late 1880 architecture with its well preserved original woodwork and structure.

29. Our Lady of Lourdes Church – 233 North Main St.
Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church began as a Mission Church in 1912, associated with Sacred Heart Church. It primarily served French families who had moved to Milltown as employees of the Michelin Tire Company. It was established as a Parish in 1921.
http://milltownhs.ning.com/photo/olol-1942

30. Vanderbilt Coles Schnatter home – 269 North Main St.
Built around 1750, with modernizations after that date. Once owned by the Misses Addie and Rosa Vanderbilt, a prominent local family. Another noted owner of this home over the years was Mrs. Coles, who was a history buff and one of the founders of the Milltown Historical Society. The current owner, Mr. Wayne Schnatter, maintains the  appearance of Milltown’s oldest home with pride.

The South Main St. Firehouse

Eureka Engine Company #1 with Fire Museum at rear of property

The Milltown Fire Department was incorporated on Feb. 22, 1911 as The Eureka Fire Company No. 1. In 1922, this Company was disbanded and two new Companies were Incorporated:Eureka Engine Co. No. 1 located on South Main Street which currently houses 2 Engines. 
Eureka Hose Company No. 1 located on Cottage Avenue which currently houses 1 Engine and 1 Ladder. Eureka Engine Company No. 1, of the Milltown Fire Department, continues to operate out of the building to this day but not for much longer! Although the cupola is gone and an addition has been made, the firehouse looks much the way it did in 1889. The original blackboards from its school days are still being used to log fire calls.

The building played a very important role in the history of Milltown, serving capacities crucial to the community. In addition, this is the oldest structure in Middlesex County housing an active and functioning Fire Department.

Milltown Fire Departent org. 1911 Banner

Emergency Fundraisers for Historic Train Station

Hello all! With the near completion of the new Milltown Public Works building, we are in desperate need of funds for building a new foundation, and moving the historic Raritan River Railroad Train Station in Milltown. The station has been given to the Milltown Historical Society by the previous owner. The new site location is approved by the town and county for the station to be moved to. We have a local contractor who has pledged support, and has made site plans of the new foundation and such.

However, with a pricetag of $68,000 for the site prep, new foundation, and transporting the station across the street, and on hand reserves of $16,000 from previous fundraisers, we are $52,000 short. There is a time crunch as well, as the owner of the land that the station is currently located on, really would like to see it gone. He has been very patient with us over the 10+ years, and we truly appreciate that. But the time has come to finish what was promised by the previous generation of Historical Society leadership, many years ago.

Under the newer leadership in the Milltown Historical Society, we have had many new projects and plans going on simultaneously to benefit the historic aspect of our beautiful little town and it’s Museum. This project, however, has been thrust front and center due to the aforementioned time constraints.

To close the funds gap, we will be planning several fundraisers in the very near future, and stay tuned for a charity GoFundMe that will be coming soon also.

The Raritan River Railroad Train Station
Milltown, NJ, as of 12 years ago…
…and today.

The Grande Reopening of the Milltown Museum!

Come join us on October 19th, from 10AM-3PM, for the long-awaited reopening of the museum of the greatest little town in all the land!

Milltown Historical Society members will be on hand to answer questions and act as guides where needed. Activities for youngsters are planned, so bring the kids!

Milltown Historical Society merchandise will also be available for purchase (all proceeds directly support our program, the maintenance and upkeep of our museum buildings, and the acquisition of historic Milltown artifacts). We accept cash, all major credit cards, and checks.

This event is free to all, but as always, donations are greatly welcome.

We hope to see you there!