By Art Petrosemolo
SHREWSBURY – Stand quietly in the historic cemetery around Christ Church on a misty fall morning and you’re almost transported back in time.
Some 300 years ago, as settlers pushed southward from New England, across what is now Raritan Bay, communities were formed in coastal New Jersey and they served as waypoints for travel through the colonies.
Shrewsbury was one of those early settlements and its four corners historic district remains – in appearance – much the way it did centuries ago.
Every December guests can get up close to this history of the area on the Holiday Lantern Tours of Shrewsbury’s Historic Four Corners, organized by a group of volunteer reenactors from each location.
Christ Church, 1702; the Presbyterian Church, 1735; Quaker Meeting House, 1672; and the Allen House, late 1600s, have stood the test of time and continue to be used today, three centuries after they were first built for church services and visitor sites.
Tour guides, dressed in colonial garb, with faces aglow in lantern light, tell the stories of historic Shrewsbury and the importance of the Four Corners in the growth of Monmouth County during the popular annual lantern tour, held this year on Friday, Dec. 6, on a rainy dreary night.
Visitors gather at the Christ Church Parish House in early evening and follow guides into the church sanctuary and then the surrounding cemetery – where many of the area’s earliest leaders rest – and on to stops at the other sites where volunteers continue the story.
Patrice Thornton at Christ Church was asked to organize the first tour in 1990, wrote the script for the guides and continues to coordinate Christ Church’s volunteer ushers that number nearly a dozen. The program expanded quickly with volunteers opening the three other sites and has continued for more than 20 years. Today, some two dozen volunteer guides share their stories of Colonial times in the area. Some 250 to 300 visitors take part in the two sessions of the lantern tour each year to connect with Monmouth County and Shrewsbury’s colorful history.
Christ Church dates back to 1702 and, although a symbol of the British Crown, it served as barracks for patriot militia during the Revolutionary War. The church received a communion service from England’s Queen Anne in 1708 and its library includes a Bible that dates to 1717. The bell tower, called Eli, was added in the mid-18th century and still chimes the hour for local residents.
The Presbyterian Church was erected in 1735 but dates its history to 1685 when Scottish Presbyterians, who settled the area, worshiped in area homes. The church played an active role in the War for Independence with the pastor jailed for two years for preaching sedition. The current church building dates to 1821-22 and the bell tower added in 1840.
Quaker Shrewsbury Friends chronicles its activities to the 1660s and its first structure to 1672. The current meetinghouse is the second on the site and was built in 1816. Although not as visible as the Christ Church graveyard, the grounds serve as the final resting place for many area founders.
Allen House was built in the late 1600s and served as a tavern called the Blue Bell from 1754 until 1814. Until it was acquired by the Monmouth County Historical Association in 1968, the Allen House served as the site of a pharmacy, medical practice, teahouse, dry goods and antique stores. The site is open to tourists in spring and summer.