By Jeff Heimbuch
The clanging of metal filled my ears as soon as I walked into town. The blacksmith had started early, making nails for the nearby carpenter. I walked a few more feet and the aroma of freshly baked bread filled my nose. It looked like the bakery was at it, too. A few women from the village waved to me as I walked by. They were dressed appropriately for the 1850s, with hoop skirts covering their ankles and white bonnets keeping their hair out of their eyes while they worked. Nearby, the church bell tolled to let us know it was 9:00 a.m.
So began another day in the Historic Village at Allaire, and no, I didn’t hop into a Delorean and travel back in time to see these sights. I merely got into my 2001 Alero and traveled down CR-524 to Historic Allaire State Park, located in Farmingdale, New Jersey. It’s a living history park where visitors can experience how life was lived back in the early nineteenth century, with volunteers assuming the roles of townspeople and giving tours of the Howell Works, New Jersey’s finest example of the bog iron industry.
And if the stories are true, you may experience some of the village’s ghostly inhabitants as well. Before you can understand the paranormal populace, however, you need to know more about their origins.
James Peter Allaire was a philanthropist, engineer, steam engine and boiler manufacturer, and all-around businessman. He purchased the land that became the Howell Works in 1822. The land was in the Pine Barrens: a remote area in the heart of southern New Jersey. Due to its isolation, Allaire developed a self-sufficient community at the site, which eventually included a carpenter shop, bakery, blacksmith, various mills, a general store, a school, a church, and row houses for the workers and their families. Amazingly, most of these buildings still stand today.
At the time of the purchase, the Allaire family lived in New York City. But a severe cholera outbreak in 1832 made Allaire fear for his family’s safety, especially that of his wife, Frances Duncan, who was already ill with what is thought to have been tuberculosis. He moved them to a large farmhouse at the Howell Works that today is affectionately referred to as “The Big House.”
The fresh air didn’t help Frances Duncan’s condition, however, and she died in the Big House on March 23, 1836. It hit Allaire hard and he’s said to have grieved by her empty bedside for two months after she had passed. Business eventually forced him out of mourning, and the marriage of a daughter that June helped, too. After the wedding, Allaire returned to New York City, not wanting to continue living at a place that would constantly remind him of his deceased wife.
Unfortunately, Allaire suffered a series of financial setbacks in the following years, and shortly after 1849, the Howell Works Company was declared bankrupt. He lost his business and his New York home and retired to the Big House around 1851. His new wife Calicia—whom he married in 1847—joined him along with their son, Hal. It was there they lived the rest of their lives, and James Peter Allaire passed away quietly at the age of 73 on May 20th, 1858, on the Howell Works property.
In 1941, the property was deeded to the state and renamed Allaire Village. Today, visitors learn about the life and times of James P. Allaire, but what would any historical village be without a few of its former residents still lingering around? The park system doesn’t officially recognize the existence of these otherworldly occupants, but many volunteers and visitors report strange experiences while visiting this once-thriving community.
One of the most prominent ghosts is that of Hal Allaire, the youngest son of James Peter Allaire. He died on the property in 1901 at the age of 54, and is rumored to haunt the Big House. He has a habit of playing tricks on the costumed interpreters who work there, including moving books and other household objects around and playing with candles.
I spoke to a few of the volunteers and many had ghostly stories to tell. One told me about a night she was giving a tour of the Big House, when some visitors reported that a locked bookcase they had passed when the tour began was now wide open. The tour guide closed the case and resumed her stories about the house.
“After I regained everyone’s attention, we noticed the candles were flickering strangely. The flame would almost go out and then go bright again, repeatedly, like someone was taking all the oxygen away from it,” she said.
“Instances like these happened often at the mansion. Other times, people would report seeing candlelight and faces looking back at them in some of the windows of the Big House, long after we had closed down for the night. We would also notice things going missing, chairs moved around, strange voices, and images in the mirror that weren’t actually there. None of it was ever threatening, though.”
A visitor shared a story with Weird NJ about a tour guide who told his group the mansion was haunted. “Apparently,” the visitor wrote, “the ghosts of two of Allaire’s wives roam the place. In fact, the guide said that one day, while leaving the mansion for the evening, he said goodnight to the ladies of the house, as was his custom. But this time a disembodied woman’s voice replied ‘goodnight’ in return.”
Many of the other buildings are said to be home to some haunts. The Visitor’s Center, for example, used to be the former residences for the ironworkers and their families. Many visitors complain of cold spots while there, ad some volunteers refuse to go into center’s basement at night because they feel someone is watching them.
Another ghost said to haunt the grounds is Oscar Cheesman Smith, who’s said to have been a manager of the Iron Works. Oscar supposedly likes to play tricks around the Manager’s house by using the children’s blocks on the second floor to spell out “Laura,” his fiancée’s name. One worker even reported seeing him while she was waiting for her friend to come pick her up. Thinking it was her friend, she followed after him, only to see him disappear in thin air!
Allaire Village’s rich history alone should be enough to entice you to visit, but if it’s not enough, the park also boasts a small steam-powered train ride and nature trails. Just a reminder: though it’s a state park, many areas are off limits to guests, so please don’t trespass. And on your way out, be sure to say goodbye to the residents of the town: both the living…and those who decided to stay around after death.
Allaire’s Haunted Mansion
I took my brats over to Allaire State Park in Howell the other day, and we went on a guided tour of the Allaire Mansion. The tour guide (who was a very knowledgeable yet semi-creepy sort of guy) informed us that the mansion is haunted. Apparently the ghosts of two of Allaire’s wives roam the place. In fact, the guide said that one day, while leaving the mansion for the evening, he said goodnight to the ladies of the house, as was his custom. But this time a disembodied woman’s voice replied “goodnight” in return. Pretty creepy.
Also, it seems a teenage girl once worked at the mansion for a short period of time as a volunteer tour guide. She was so convinced the place was haunted that she wrote exorcism symbols all over the walls. Needless to say, her tour guide duties were immediately terminated. –Ken Coles
The Historic Village at Allaire, 4265 Route 524, Farmingdale, NJ 07727.
The preceding article is an excerpt from Weird NJ magazine, “Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” which is available on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com.