Bridgewater Township, New Jersey
By 1917 the first wave of the Great Migration - the widespread exodus of African Americans from the oppressive conditions of the rural South to the major Northern cities - was in full swing. Seeking economic opportunity and freedom of self-expression, over a half million black men and women left the South, bringing family and friends to a new and uncertain world. Reverend Amos Hobbs Sr. was in that early movement.
Amos was raised in Schley and Marion counties, in west Georgia. His parents, Perry Hobbs (1831-1903) and Charlot Stewart Hobbs (1842-?) were born enslaved. US Census records from 1870-1910 reveal 15 children born during their 50-year marriage.
The extended Hobbs family lived in and around the towns of Buena Vista, Doyle, Ellaville, Lickskillet and Ty-Ty as recorded from the mid 1800's. Amos was a tenant farmer and an ordained minister. He married Frances Hicks in 1903.
Amos arrived in Brooklyn, New York sometime during late 1918, and found work on the construction of the BMT subway. He was one of the organizing members of Cornerstone Baptist Church. Over the next two years he made infrequent trips back to see his wife and children in Doyle.
By 1920 Amos had sent for Frances and the family, settling them in a small apartment on Lorimer Street in Brooklyn. He learned of land for sale in Bridgewater, New Jersey, and he traveled with his wife to view the site. Oral history reports that Frances said, “This is it! Just like home.” Amos Hobbs signed a contract for purchase.
“In 1910, the Weston Park Realty Company of New York laid out a development in Bridgewater to the west of Somerville Road (now North Bridge Street). They called the development Somerville Manor. The lots were vacant and primarily 20’ by 100’…
Among the first to purchase some of this land were Amos Hobbs and his brothers, (General W Hobbs and Robert Hobbs) and they were the first to build homes there. It was then that the name of Hobbstown was given to the area.”
Evelyn S. Field. Family & Friends Reunion Journal, August 4-6, 1995.
Reverend Amos Hobbs followed the traditions of the Great Migration; working, saving, encouraging his brothers to come north, helping one another to build new lives. General George Washington Hobbs was married to Viola Person. They were living in Ty-Ty, Georgia. General was tenant farming and Viola managed a growing family. General decided to join Amos in a push for self-sufficiency. Robert too, was eager for change.
And on a cool evening in April 1920, Amos, General and Robert set up camp on the dirt road that cut off from the old Somerville Road (North Bridge Street). By the light of lanterns and a fire, they walked out the perimeter of the foundation for Amos’ house.
General was a skilled carpenter. He and Robert worked on the house by day while Amos commuted to his construction job. Amos returned almost nightly with food prepared by Frances. They slept in the truck they had purchased to haul lumber and supplies to the homestead site. When the house was completed in 1921, Amos moved his family from Brooklyn. Frances, their eight children, General and Robert all lived in the large two-story house.
In 1922, General purchased three acres of farm land adjacent to Amos’ property. The brothers completed construction on General’s homestead, and then built a third for Robert. Thus, the three Hobbs brothers built the nucleus of the community.
“The Hobbs Family grew in both the Hobbs family and extended family. The Hobbs brothers (Amos, GW and Robert) extended their new-found homeland to other friends in Georgia, sending back for the Bryants, Millers, etc.
Mattie Mahaffey, Family & Friends Reunion Journal, August 4-6, 1995
According to U.S. Census records (1930-1950) the Hobbs families had tens of boarders during those years. Boarders whose names are easily recognized as patriarchs of other early families of Hobbstown.
The Macedonia Baptist Church, established by Reverend Amos Hobbs, first met in the barn behind his house. The families of Hobbstown – farmers, laborers, small businessmen, and women – built the original church at the end of Monmouth Avenue in 1922. Rev. Amos Hobbs served as pastor until 1929.
General was a carpenter, an all-around handyman; and essentially the largest land-owner in Hobbstown at the time. He was well-known in Somerset County for building summer cottages for wealthy New Yorkers.
Robert Hobbs was a tenant farmer in Leesburg, Georgia. The 1910 census lists his wife Catherine. During the 1930’s Robert is reported as living in his home on Monmouth Ave in Hobbstown with boarders only. By 1936 the Hobbstown community enjoyed a playground and pool, a regulation baseball field and a dancehall, all built and funded by the residents.
Until the 1960s, Bridgewater Township was largely known as a farming community. Hobbstown was considered as ‘out in the country’; a ‘quiet Negro enclave’ that was largely ignored by local government. The proposed plan of construction of Route 287 placed the highway through the middle of Hobbstown - threatening to demolish the Macedonia Baptist Church building and displace the entire community. Hobbstown residents ‘spoke’ through their newly organized Somerville Manor Civic Association. The Association garnered local, state and federal support to re-route the highway to bypass the community.
With the opening of Route 287, the Township’s commercial base and population grew rapidly. Bridgewater became a fairly developed suburban community, with only few traces of its rural past remaining. In 1969, The Somerville Manor Civic Association was instrumental and effective in convincing Bridgewater Township to extend sewers, gas hookups, running water, garbage collection and other municipal services to Hobbstown.
“Hobbstown Stands on Roots Going Back Half a Century” headlined an April 1970 article in the Somerset Messenger Gazette. The full-page feature included an interview with the Rev. Amos Hobbs age 96, who recalled the “hard life of a Georgia tenant farmer”. He spoke of the challenges he and his brothers faced while building new lives. He remembered their dream. Robert Hobbs died in 1942, General in 1967. Amos lived 98 years, transitioning in 1972.
The MLK Youth Center was chartered on August 22, 1973. It was Hobbstown residents who saw the need, developed the concept and assembled community leaders to provide essential supportive services for local youth. It is now a community based organization that provides quality care in a nurturing environment for children of all ethnic backgrounds. The Martin Luther King Youth Center is a Somerset County United Way Agency.
A “Family & Friends Reunion” held August 1995 celebrated the deep connections between the Hobbs’ and the Hicks-Bryant-Miller-Murdock-Proctor-Sermons-McCray-Tukes families. Those tight-knit relationships were woven through common goals and inter-marriage with generations of Hobbs descendants. Today, the area remains officially designated ‘Somerville Manor’. But to all descendants it was, is, and will always be Hobbstown.
I was first made aware of Hobbstown family history and settlement details from Ian Bryant who married a Hobbs descendant. I only became aware of my being a Hobbs descendant in 2001, long after working with her, and believe my great-great grandmother was Perry Hobbs' sister in Ellaville, Schley County, GA.
The uploaded "then" photo is from 1974 and the "now", 2015.
Michele Alvine (Hobbs)