Allentown’s Underground Railroad Station

Robbins Sisters – 30 South Main Street, Allentown, NJ

June 8, 2023

By Thomas K. Robbins

ALLENTOWN, NJ (MONMOUTH)–The Allentown Messenger article published on March 3rd 1904 described a “certain house on Main Street, not now in existence, was once a “station” of the “underground railroad” whose purpose was to house men, women, and children on their journey north to freedom in Canada. Those helping would bring the escapees to the house during the night and conceal them the following day until nightfall, when they moved to the next station. When they reached a village near Perth Amboy, they would board a steamboat to New York.

The article also recounts a story by a witness to these events when she was a child and states: “She had been spending the day at the house referred to, and about dark had the occasion to go to the cellar while rendering assistance to one of the ladies. Passing through a through a door in a partition, there was found a partly furnished room, and at a table were six negroes eating their supper. She little knew at the time that the people before her were fugitive slaves, and it was not till years afterward that she learned that what had then been seen was one of the methods of operating the so called ‘underground railroad’ in the days of African slavery.”

A Messenger Press article published in 1918 told of the family residing in this house.  Under the headline “Some Interesting Local History”, the article described the old house as occupied by a “a Quaker family by the name Robbins. Included in the household were several daughters, the last survivor Aunt Sallie, a “maiden lady.”  The sisters knitted clothes for the refugees, since they were wearing rags when they arrived.

We can pinpoint the house using the description of houses from an Allentown Messenger article published on February 4th, 1904 that details who lived along Main Street in the 1830s.  The article states: “The old frame gristmill stood a little to the north of the present mill, and Henry Ford’s brick dwelling was occupied by Louis Steward, one of the heirs of the mill property. Where now is Dr. Johnson’s home was an old red house where lived the family of Mrs. Letitia Steward. Next to that was a general store conducted by Stout and Flak, and then came the residences of Misses Robbins, on the site of the Worden building. William Imlay was occupying the old homestead, and his neighbor, Joseph Robbins, was in the tailor business in the old building next door.” The building currently located at 30 Main Street is the Worden building, also known as the Dr. Framer Annex, which was completed in 1872.  The Robbins Sisters’ house was demolished sometime prior to the Worden building being constructed.

An 1850 United States census record documents the occupants as William V. Robbins, Ruth Robbins, Sara Robbins, Beulah Robbins, and Lydia Ford.  Their neighbors toward the north were the Imlays and next to the Imlays were Joseph and Elizabeth Robbins.  Their neighbors toward the south were Mary Page who married to Timothy Page a descendant of Aaron Robins, son of Daniel Robins, Sr., the first settler by that name to the area.  Aaron had owned the plantation immediately north of Allentown in 1706 and his granddaughter, Margert, married Joseph Page, Timothy’s father. 

William, Ruth and Sarah were the children of Vanroom Robbins and Tabitha Ford.  Vanroom, a descendant of Benjamin Robbins, brother to Aaron, had eleven children including William, Ruth, Lydia, Sarah, Patience, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, Ann, Benjamin, and Vanroom, Jr. 

Hannah married John Dickson; Patience married Nathaniel Cafferty; and Mary married William Rogers. The maiden sisters were Ruth, and Sarah, plus Lydia, Elizabeth, and Ann who passed away prior to 1850.  Lydia died in 1849; Elizabeth in 1848 and Ann in 1839.  They are interred in the Crosswicks Methodist Cemetery at Crosswicks. Whether they were all involved with the station remains a mystery but the Aunt Sallie mentioned in the article could have been Sarah since Sallie is a nickname for Sarah.

Many articles had mentioned the sisters but only the 1918 article identifies one of the sisters.  The witness to this fact is unknown, but future research may someday identify her.

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