Robins Hall, 401 Main Street – Metuchen, New Jersey
In 1873 Nathan Robins built the prominent three-story Robins Hall on Main Street that also bore his name. The first floor was used for business purposes, including the post office that was located here from 1877 to 1885. The second floor served a variety of functions at times as a community room, a theater, a ballroom, and as the public library. Around the time he built Robins Hall, Nathan and his wife settled on the Ellis Ayres property on Main Street between Hillside and Highland Ave in in the 1870s. His wife Hannah Maria Ayers (1812-1879) may have been a relation with Ellis Ayres who had previously owned the property.
Carrie O. Foster transferred Robins’ Hall to her sister Mary Oakley Robins, wife of Nathan Robins, Jr. The estate of Carrie Foster was $214,001.61. Foster was widow of John S. Foster, one-time president of the Bowery Savings Bank and of the Forty-second Street Railway.
Robins’ Family Tree
The 1876 Everts & Stewart Map shows this land with identification as “Est. N.R.” This was shorthand for “estate of Nathan Robins” who died in 1875. Captain Nathan Robins (1782-1858) was forebear of the family. His son, also by the name of Nathan Robins (1811-1875) died on July 13, 1875. That explains why the 1876 map identifies this area as his estate.
Occupants of Robins Hall by Year
|Year||Fl 1 south||Fl 1 north||Fl 2||Fl 3|
|1903||Gro.||Barber & Pool / Council Chamber||Stage & Scen’y, Elec. Footlights, Coal Stoves||Lodge Rooms|
|1910||Gro.||Barber & Pool / Council Chamber||Stage & Scen’y, Elec. Footlights, Coal Stoves||Lodge Rooms|
|1920||Gro.||Barber||Shirt Waist Fac||Borough Hall|
|1924||Meyers and Mayo Hardware|
|1949||Paints & S||S||Hardware Stge.|
Frank B. Smith was born in New York on January 7, 1850. He came to Metuchen to open a barber shop in the Robins building in 1880 on the north unit of the first floor. He had a number of distinguished customers including Thomas A. Edison, when he had his laboratory at Menlo Park, where the incandescent light was invented. Others were George W. Benner, Oliver Kelly, Nate Robins, and Charles Tausig. Smith was a member of the “Edison Pioneers,” an organization of Menlo Park employees.
Around 1893 there was a newspaper report about noisy youth loitering outside of Robins’ Hall and using bad language. Mr. Robins sent a polite note to each young man and informed them “repetition of the offense will result in a complaint being made against them.” The hall was site of numerous social events. In 1896 young women of Metuchen organized a “hop” with 50 guests from New Brunswick, New York, Brooklyn, and elsewhere.
This postcard dated 1905 shows Main Street with trolley tracks down the middle and after curbs had been put in around 1903. Robins Hall is the tallest building on the left. Courtesy John Brinckmann.
Town Committee Room
The Township Committee of the Township of Raritan met at Robins’ Hall. Meetings appear to have been held at the rear of the north storefront, from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps in 1903 and 1910. The Raritan Township School Board also met at Robins’ Hall. A meeting in the town committee room for purposes of organizing the Metuchen Building and Loan Association in September 1897.
The Metuchen Record on Saturday, January 20, 1900, had an article titled “To Borough or Not to Borough” and discussed a meeting in Robins Hall and a vote in favor of Borough government. This became the Council Chamber after establishment of the Borough of Metuchen in 1900. Apparently things were not going well, for in 1906, owner Nathan Robins, Jr. (1847-1929) asked “Rev. Prickitt” why he dared to use the Council Chamber without permission and without paying rent. The Judge vacated, picked up his law books and appears, and announced that “thereafter the office of the borough Recorder will be found at the corner of Main and New streets.” Even the New York Times picked up the story the following day.
An interesting call for proposals of a new Borough Hall and Jail to specifications prepared by J.N. Pierson & Son, Architects, were due at Robins’ Hall by September 7, 1916.The 1920 Sanborn showed Borough Hall on the third floor that had previously been occupied by “Lodge Rooms” in the 1903 and 1910 maps.
3rd floor Lodge Rooms
Temple Commandery, No. 18, Knights of Pythias of Metuchen met for annual conclave at Robins’ Hall in 1897. Knights Templar had a “grand visitation” with around 75 members of Temple Commandery and other lodges in the state present.
The No.1. Loyal Legion, OUAM, also met at Robins’ Hall.
Frequent entertainment and public gatherings were held on the upper floor of Robins’ Hall. The Parish Building Fund of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church hosted entertainment there in which they raised $100 in 1891. A similar event in 1896 helped with raising funds to repair buildings of St. Luke’s Parish, attracting over 300 people. An evening of entertainment for the choir fund of St. Luke’s occurred in September 1897. When money needed to be raised for stained glass windows, Robins’ Hall hosted members of Christ church choir who gave their entertainment “The Missing Duke.”
Grand Fair advertisement, The Daily Times, January 19, 1899, p. 8.
A fair of the Church of St. Francis was held at Robins Hall in 1891. A ball of the Catholic Benevolent Union and St. Patrick’s Alliance attracted 500 people for dancing at Robins Hall in March 1894. Following the burning of their church building in December 1903, the St. Mary’s Dramatic Society of Rahway held a benefit for the new building fund of St. Francis Church. After the new church was completed, another night of entertainment was held in Robins Hall to help pay off expenses.
Members of the “African Church” had a benefit in Robins Hall May 20, 1903. A play was given and a cake walk, followed by a grand ball. The event benefited Mrs. George Hawkins, who recently lost her husband in a Southern wreck.
The Methodist Church met at Robins Hall for a lecture on Niagara Falls. Later they held a dinner as a fundraiser for their organ fund. Tickets for the supper were 25 cents and “a number of fancy and useful articles on sale.”
The Grosvenor social organization was a frequent user of Robins Hall. They hosted 50 members and guest for a hop. At a dance on May 19, 1903, Alfred C. Garland was given a thank you gift from members of the club on the occasion of their 15th anniversary of Mr. Garland’s services. Mrs. William H. Walsh, of Brooklyn, the club’s chief patron and guiding spirit since its inception gave the presentation.
Royal Arcanum, Metuchen Council, a statewide organization was formed as the 50th council and had meetings at Robins Hall.
The Social Ten of Ford’s Corner held an annual sociable at Robins Hall.
Eagle Hook and Ladder Company was organized at Robins’ Hall on May 2, 1882. Officers chosen to serve until May 1 the following year were Foreman James Oliver; first assistant foreman, Nathan Robins; second assistant foreman, Paul M. Diver; Secretary, St. George Kempson; treasurer, O.F. Browning; and steward, Frank B. Smith. They had their original truck house on land of the Presbyterian Church. When efforts to purchase the property failed in 1885, the truck house was moved to land of Ellis Ayers. Later the building was moved to another site on Main Street and an addition built. They intended to buy the corner property but through an error purchased the lot one building in from Pennsylvania Ave.
Metuchen Foodball Club held a dance at Robins’ Hall, October 4, 1907.
The Hadley moving picture entertainment was given at Robins’ Hall. This showed how entertainment was shifting from plays, concerts, and dances to movies. Around the same time “The Professor’s Tragedy” play was presented to raise funds for the Athletic Association.
A reception and dance for Metuchen High School graduates was held at Robins Hall in June 1908.
Political Activities at Robins Hall
A Temperance meeting at Robins Hall in Metuchen later turned into a Prohibition movement. When the first Prohibition Party vote in Middlesex County occurred in 1876, most of the votes came from Meuthchen where the Sons of Temperance Organization was an important factor.
Political activities were common. The Republican primary for Raritan Township occurred at Robins Hall, drawing voters from Stelton, Picatawaytown, Highland Park, and Metuchen. Democrats of Raritan Township met on September 26, 1898, to pick delegates to attend the State convention. A Democratic mass meeting in 1903 attracted 125 people who heard music and listened to speeches from political leaders. The carriers (those who carry bricks to masons or bricklayers), gathered 125 people to discuss organizing a union in 1903.
School construction in Metuchen was a hot topic of discussion. At a public meeting it was decided to not give women an opportunity to talk, out of fear the meeting would devolve into a riot. At issue was whether to make a $20,000 addition to the existing building, or construct a $47,000 new building on Home Street in closer proximity to where most pupils in the Borough lived. Mrs. Jesse Perry supported the addition plans, putting her at odds with architects and others supporting the new building.
Political gatherings changed as well. When local Democrats wanted to gather in 1916, it was reported “The club intend to hold an old fashioned rally in Robins’ Hall November 1 at which all the county candidates will be present and an orator of national prominence will be sent by the Democratic state committee.”
New Venues Draw Organizations and Events Away From Robins’ Hall
As new venues became available in the growing Borough, some activities shifted away from Robins Hall. The Eagle Hook & Ladder Company held their annual ball at the Hillside Inn a block away. As an interesting historical aside, this is the same home that members of the Robins family once lived in. The once popular Grosvenors’ dances moved from Robins Hall to the home of Mr. E. H. Spear called “Uplands” where there was a large ballroom.
The Metuchen Council, 1673, of Royal Arcanum, was founded December 2, 1895. Initially they met at the home of William R. Crowell to discuss forming a local branch. Arcanum Hall began to have events at their own Arcanum Hall, though larger banquets continued to be held at Robins Hall.
In February 1908 it was announced that the Masonic lodge would give up their current lodge quarters on the third floor of Robins Hall for the new Metuchen National Bank Building at 406 Main Street that was nearing completion. Later that month the Borough Council met in their chambers at Robins’ Hall and a communication was read from the Metuchen National Bank, offering to rent them a room for a term of three years at the rate of $250 per annum. It was read and placed on file. Apparently no action was taken for a general election was held in the Council Room in Robins Hall, November 8, 1910.
Olympia Athletic Club held an event at Robins Hall whose purpose was explicitly to raise funds for a new combined casino, club house and gymnasium. This event held at Robins Hall ostensibly also put it out of business. Metuchen architect Aylin Pierson was among the cast members in the show.
Lenox Social Club held a reception in Robins Hall, April 1904. The committee in charge included Nathan Robins, owner of Robins’ Hall, Peter Murphy, David Kramer, Harry Kramer, Walter Tausig, and Albert Kieman.
Edward Kramer Purchase
Edward Kramer purchased the Lyric Theater in July 1911. An biplane race occurred on August 5, 1911, from Manhattan to Philadelphia in Curtiss biplanes. One article suggested: “A fine place to get a good view of the flying machines is the big yard adjoining the Pierson building and the Lyric theatre.”
When aviators Charles K. Hamilton, Lincoln Beachy, and Hugh Robinson flew over Metuchen an elaborate viewing event occurred. The Metuchen News Bureau provided a bulletin service with the Lyric Theater. A special arrangement with the New York Herald and the New York World kept local people informed “right up until the time the airships had passed over the town.”
In summarizing the event afterwards it was said how:
It was a big day for Metuchen and the enterprising Metuchen News Bureau received many compliments for its clever bulletin service, made possible by an uninterrupted wire service with Herald Square. The News Bureau in turn communicated information to a Plainfield newspaper office, where bulletins were shown.”
The new theater opened at Robins Hall on September 28, 1912. A vaudeville act had been planned by the entertainers failed to appear, so motion pictures were produced at the usual price. William Dick conducted the Metuchen Theater at Robins Hall for two years, before building a new theater at the corner of Main Street and Highland Ave.
There were complaints about the moving picture theater and how the upper floor location in Robins Hall was unsafe. The Mayor and others inspected the place and ordered doors to open outwards and for a fire escape to be installed. The Borough Council met in November 1912 and notified the owner the building would be closed if changes were not made.
The High School auditorium became an alternative to Robins’ Hall for staging shows. Another example of how new venues were used were a play for St. Francis that rehearsed at Arcanum Hall before being shown at Robins’ Hall.
Shirt Waist Factory
Max Weisert was proprietor of a shirt waist manufactury in Robins Hall. In October 1921 he leased an apartment over the store at the corner of Main Street and Hillside Avenue. A “help wanted” advertisement seeking women to work at a ladies’ shirt waist factory appeared in The Daily Home News, on April 15, 1920.
In April 1921, ownership changed from the Sol Gros Company to a new company with headquarters in New York City. Twenty-five additional sewing machines were added and other improvements made to the building. They sought operators, tuckers, finishers, cleaners and pressers on shirtwaist. Both of the upper floors were to be utilized.
An advertisement from August 1921 sought an additional 10 girl to operate Standard or Wilcox & Bidder sewing machines, and Singer buttonhole machines. H. Margolin & Co. was given as the company name. Hazards of companies like this were well known. The Goodman, Cohen & Company factory in Perth Amboy was swept by a fire that resulted in $400,000 of damage. The famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 took 145 lives.
Meyers and Mayo Hardware
Benjamin Mayo and his wife Mary moved to Metuchen around 1907. They were both born in Newark where they were married on April 20, 1887. Benjamin conducted business there for 20 years, then for another 15 years was employed at a Perth Amboy plant. Around 1922 he started the Meyers and Mayo hardware store on Main Street. They lived at 52 Jonesdale Ave in Metuchen. Mary Mayo was active in the Temperance Conference in the Presbyterian Church.
The property was bought on September 1, 1926 by Herbert C. Meyers, and Irene J. Meyers, his wife, and Benjamin J. Mayo and Mary B. Mayo, his wife. Benjamin Mayo died August 7, 1946.
In 1957 Donald Hume bought Robins Hall from his wife’s aunt and uncle Meyers and Ben Mayo who was her grandfather. Donald Hume and Richard Hecht bought the building and opened Metuchen Hardware. Richard Hecht retired in 1988 and Hume retired in 1988. The business was bought by Richard Hecht, Jr. on November 1, 1988. An inventory sale was held September 27, 1992 and the building sold.
Eric Berger purchased the property in 1992. While work on retrofitting of the old 20,500 sqft Morris Stores was underway into a series of smaller businesses, he added Robins Hall to his revitalization efforts. Architects Fred Schmitt and Reidun Anderson worked on the project. Metuchen Savings Bank provided funding.
Chain of Title for 403 Main St, Metuchen
Block 116, Lot XX
|1868||Beers, Ellis, and Soule atlas of Middlesex County|
|1876||Everts & Stewart Map|
|Carrie O. Foster|
|Carrie O. Foster||Mary Oakley Robins and Nathan Robins, her husband||1914-11-20||Book 557, Page 406|
|Carrie O. Foster died||1917-10-18|
|Mary Oakley Robins and Nathan Robins, her husband||Benjamin J. Mayo and Mary B. Mayo, his wife, and Herbert C. Meyers and Irene J. Meyers, his wife||1926-09-01||Book 858, Page 46, for $1|
|Mary Oakley Robins died||1930-05-03|
|Benjamin Mayo died|
|Benjamin J. Mayo and Mary B. Mayo, his wife, and Herbert C. Meyers and Irene J. Meyers, his wife||Donald R. Hume and Ruth K. Hume, his wife; Richard N. Hecht and Thelma H. Hecht||1948-03-04||Book 1381, Page 270|
|Donald R. Hume and Ruth K. Hume, his wife; Richard N. Hecht and Thelma H. Hecht, his wife||Metuchen Hardware, Inc.||1950-03-14||Book 1609, Page 437|
|Metuchen Hardware, Inc.||Richard N. Hecht||19184-11-06||Collateral mortgage, $125,000|
|Metuchen Hardware, Inc.||Richard N. Hecht, Jr.||1998-11-01||Book 3742, Page 133|
|Metuchen Hardware closes|
|Richard N. Hecht, Jr.||Donald R. Hume||1992-12-01||Book 4028, Page 103|
|Donald R. Hume||Nassau Development LP||1994-06-09||Book 4156, Page 114, for $270,000|
 Street Railway History, The Central New Jersey Home News, February 9, 1922, p. 7.
 Mrs. Foster, Sister of Metuchen Woman, Left Estate of $214,001.61, The Daily Home News, August 17, 1918, p. 5.
 Children Have Real Fire Drill in Metuchen, The Daily Home News, March 28, 1913, p. 2.
 Frank B. Smith, Edison Pioneer, Visits Metuchen, The Courier-News, July 2, 1932, p. 5.
 Bad Young Men, The Daily Times, October 4, 1893, p. 4.
 Metuchen’s Grand Hop, The Daily Times, February 19, 1896, p. 1.
 Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, July 17, 1903, p. 3.
 You Ought to be Hanged, The Daily Times, January 3, 1896, p. 1.
 Raritan School Board, The Daily Times, March 12, 1898, p. 5.
 Building Loan at Metuchen, The Daily Times, September 13, 1897, p. 1.
 To Borough or Not to Borough, Metuchen Recorder, January 20, 1900.
 Metuchen’s Motor Chasers Land Big Game, The Daily Home News, May 21, 1906, p. 1.
 Rector Fined for Speeding, The New York Times, May 22, 1906, p. 7.
 Notice to Contractors, The Daily Home News, August 28, 1916, p. 9.
 Temple Commandery, The Daily Times, April 15, 1897, p. 8.
 Knights Templar, The Daily Times, March 12, 1896, p. 1.
 Washington Commandery’s Drawing Last Night, The Daily Home News, April 8, 1905, p. 1.
 Metuchen, The Daily Home News, November 19, 1906, p. 6.
 Metuchen Melange, The Daily Times, August 3, 1891, p. 1.
 Successful Amateurs, The Daily Times, September 30, 1896, p. 5.
 Concert at Metuchen, The Daily Times, September 28, 1897, p. 5.
 Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, July 16, 1906, p. 6.
 Attended Distant Fair, The Daily Times, December 12, 1891, p. 1.
 Social Metuchen, The Daily Times, March 19, 1894, p. 1.
 Metuchen, The Daily Home News, February 8, 1904, p. 3.
 Bishop Blesses New Edifice at Metuchen, New Brunswick Home News, December 19, 1904, p. 5.
 Capable Amateurs, The Daily Times, August 14, 1897, p. 8.
 Metuchen, New Brunswick Home News, May 7, 1903, p. 3.
 Pleasing Entertainment, Perth Amboy Evening News, December 6, 1906, p. 6.
 Metuchen Locals, Perth Amboy Evening News, November 9, 1907, p. 6.
 Metuchen, New Brunswick Home News, November 11, 1907, p. 6.
 Grosvenor, The Daily Times, October 30, 1896, p. 5.
 Presentation to Alfred C. Garland, New Brunswick Home News, May 20, 1903, p. 5.
 Social at Metuchen, The Daily Times, January 19, 1898, p. 1.
 For Metuchen Home, The Daily Times, May 26, 1899, p. 4.
 Amateurs Win Laurels, The Daily Times, August 21, 1899, p. 1.
 Eagle Hook and Ladder Company Number 1 Was Organized in Metuchen on May 2, 1882, The Courier-News, September 25, 1936, p. 14.
 Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, December 27, 1905, p. 6.
 Metuchen, New Brunswick Home News, October 29, 1906, p. 6.
 Local Items, Perth Amboy Evening News, November 17, 1906, p. 6.
 Metuchen Locals, Perth Amboy Evening News, April 6, 1907, p. 6.
 Metuchen F.C. Holds Dance, Perth Amboy Evening News, October 7, 1907, p. 1.
 Metuchen Locals, Perth Amboy Evening News, November 19, 1907, p. 6.
 Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, November 26, 1907, p. 6.
 Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, June 6, 1908, p. 3.
 Metuchen Schools Were Closed Today, The Daily Home News, June 18, 1908, p. 1.
 Metuchen Center of the “Dry” Movement Which Started in Middlesex County Years Ago, The Sunday Times, December 21, 1919, p. 19.
 Raritan Primary, The Daily Times, March 1, 1898, p. 8.
 Raritan, The Daily Times, September 22, 1898, p. 8.
 Mayor Viehmann Answers Prof. Cooper at Metuchen,” The Daily Home News, October 23, 1903, p. 1.
 Hod Carriers Organizing, New Brunswick Home News, March 10, 1903, p. 5.
 Metuchen Women at War Over the School Question, February 2, 1907, p. 1.
 Women in School Election, The New York Times, February 4, 1907, p. 5.
 Democrats Organize in Metuchen to Meet Nov. 1, Perth Amboy Evening News, October 26, 1916, p. 3.
 Firemen’s Ball, Perth Amboy Evening News, January 29, 1907, p. 5.
 Metuchenites Dance, Perth Amboy Evening News, April 3, 1907, p. 6.
 Metuchen, Daily Home News, September 16, 1910, p. 8.
 Anniversary at Clubhouse, Perth Amboy Evening News, February 24, 1908, p. 3.
 Royal Arcanum Lodge Holds 1,000th Meeting, Courier-News, October 14, 1937, p. 14.
 Metuchen Locals, Perth Amboy Evening News, March 30, 1908, p. 3.
 Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, February 4, 1908, p. 3.
 Lighting is Still in Doubt, Perth Amboy Evening News, June 2, 1908, p. 3.
 Notice, Perth Amboy Evening News, September 19, 1910, p. 5.
 Metuchen Cuts Out Fireworks, The Daily Home News, July 6, 1908, p. 1.
 Lenox Social Club Event at Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, April 24, 1909, p. 3.
 Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, July 6, 1911, p. 5.
 Metuchen Will View, Perth Amboy Evening News, August 4, 1911, p. 1.
 Big Crowd Saw the Aviators, The Daily Home News, August 7, 1911, p. 6.
 Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, October 2, 1912, p. 5.
 New Metuchen Theater, Perth Amboy Evening News, October 26, 1914, p. 3.
 Council Meeting, Metuchen Recorder, November 16, 1912, p. 1.
 All Ready to Give Play in Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, February 3, 1916, p. 5.
 Metuchen, Perth Amboy Evening News, February 8, 1916, p. 5.
 Operators on Ladies’ Shirt Waists, The Daily Home News, July 17, 1919, p. 15.
 Operators on Ladies Shirt Waists advertisement, The Daily Home News, August 30, 1920, p. 11.
 Shirtwaist Factory, The Daily Home News, April 23, 1921, p. 3.
 Civic Club Opens Program In Its New Hall, The Sunday Times, October 30, 1921, p. 9.
 Help Wanted – Female, The Daily Home News, April 15, 1920, p. 11.
 Shirtwaist Factory, The Daily Home News, April 23, 1921, p. 3.
 Advertisement, The Daily Home News, August 3, 1921, p. 13.
 Events of Week in Short Meter, The Daily Home News, March 11, 1923, p. 2.
 Metuchen Couple Observe Wedding Anniversary Today, The Daily Home News, April 20, 1937, p. 6.
 White Ribboners Meet in Metuchen, The Courier-News, October 20, 1938, p. 5.
 Carrie Foster, sister of Mary O. Robins