The land now occupied by the City of Lambertville was originally purchased from the Delaware Indians as a portion of a 150,000 acre tract along the Delaware River north of Trenton. Agents for the council of West Jersey purchased the parcel in 1703 for seven hundred pounds, or about $2,800. The council subdivided and sold the land to farmers and developers over the years. The portion occupied by Lambertville was quickly sold as two lots. The boundary between the two properties was called the “Bull Line,” named for surveyor Richard Bull, and can still be traced on a City property map. The Bull Line runs eastward from the river and cuts diagonally between Delevan and Jefferson Streets. It continues across Main Street to the Old York Road, now State Route 179.
In 1705 the first resident of Lambertville, John Holcombe, purchased 350 acres north of the first survey line, the Old Bull Line. In 1724 he built the stone house on North Main Street that became known as Washington’s Headquarters. Holcombe purchased more property to the north that is now known as the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead. The Farmstead has been restored as a museum to illustrate farm life in Hunterdon County.
The land south of the survey line from Delevan to the far end of town was subdivided and transferred several times before Emanuel Coryell purchased the portion between Church Street and Swan Creek in 1732. He also obtained a charter to operate a ferry crossing the Delaware River slightly south of the present Lambertville-New Hope Bridge. Along with his ferry service, Coryell opened a tavern and inn to accommodate travelers. The settlements–Lambertville and New Hope–were called Coryell’s Ferry. Lambertville was the mid-point on the two-day journey between New York and Philadelphia.
During the Revolutionary War, Coryell’s Ferry served as an outpost and crossing point for General George Washington and his troops. Before the Battle of Monmouth in the summer of 1778, the Colonial Army camped in an orchard at the corner of Bridge and Union Streets. Washington and his fellow officers were quartered at the Holcombe Farm.
Coryell’s 1,016 acre estate was divided among his four sons at his death in 1748. By the beginning of the 19th century, the property had been subdivided by his heirs. In 1802, Coryell Street was laid out and lots were sold. In 1812, a wooden bridge was constructed across the Delaware River and Bridge Street was laid out. Some of Lambertville’s earliest houses, including the Marshall House, are located on Bridge Street. In 1812, Captain John Lambert built a stone tavern and inn on Bridge Street, which today is a beautifully restored inn, The Lambertville House.
The Lambert family settled north of John Holcombe’s land between 1735 and 1745. Their descendant, John Lambert, served in the United States Senate during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. He persuaded the Postal Service to open an office at Coryell’s Ferry. His nephew, Captain John Lambert, was appointed postmaster and his inn was designated as the post office.
Having procured a post office for Coryell’s Ferry, the Lamberts renamed the village Lambert’s Ville in 1810. This outraged the Coryells, who thought the town should be named Georgetown in honor of Captain George Coryell, who had served in the New Jersey forces in the Revolution.
The opening of the bridge, construction of a new inn, and establishment of a post office added to Lambertville’s development. By 1817, Union Street connected Coryell and Bridge Streets. York Street was laid out in 1826, and Delevan in 1832. By then, the area had grown from four houses during the Revolutionary War to over 100 structures. The city of Lambertville with 1,417 persons was incorporated in 1849.
In 1830, the State chartered the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company to build and operate a canal to connect the Raritan and Delaware Rivers. Beginning at Bordentown on the Delaware, the 44-mile canal follows the river to Trenton, cutting across the state to New Brunswick, where it empties into the Raritan River. A feeder canal was built to tap water from the Delaware six miles north of Lambertville at Raven Rock. It flows south through Lambertville to Trenton, where it joins the main canal.
In 1852, the feeder canal was widened and deepened and locks were built. It was used to transport Pennsylvania coal to New York City to fuel the industrial furnaces and heat the houses of the growing city. Coal barges traveling down Pennsylvania’s Delaware Canal were locked into the Delaware River at New Hope. The barges crossed the river and were attached to a cable and locked into the canal south of the Lambertville Lock. The coal traveled down the canal to New Brunswick and on to New York City.