The quaint village of Blairstown was named for its most prominent citizen, John Insley Blair, the twenty-fifth wealthiest American of all time.
Blair was born in 1802 at Foul Rift, New Jersey, which lies near Belvidere on the banks of the Delaware River. By the age of seventeen John I. Blair recognized the village (then called Butts Bridge) as a key intersection of two roads on the north side of the Paulinskill and strategically located his mercantile storehouse here. Mr. Blair went on to grow his empire to include ownership or major interests in banking, milling, mining, real estate and land development. In the early 1850s he invested in the growing railroad industry and over the next forty years became the president or director of twenty-nine railroads nationwide.
Nicknamed the “Railroad King of the West,” John I. Blair was estimated to be worth seventy million at the time of his death in 1899, making him the wealthiest person in New Jersey. His philanthropic contributions include the construction of one hundred churches nationwide, the co-founding of Blair Presbyterial Academy, and funding to both Princeton University and Lafayette College. Although he traveled extensively during his life, Mr. Blair always treasured his time at home, living modestly with his family in the little village which was named in his honor.
Landmark buildings of the historic district have remained virtually untouched since the days of John I. Blair’s life. The circa-1825 grist mill still stands as the centerpiece of the village. John I. Blair’s store, Presbyterian Church, flatiron building and Victorian-era porches remain the same as when Mr. Blair walked through the village over one hundred years ago.
Scenic Blair Falls are a highlight of Main Street and serve as an entrance to the Blair Academy campus, established in 1848. Close to 170 buildings of the village are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places for their turn-of-the-century architecture and provenance. Adjacent to Main Street lies Gravel Hill cemetery, which was established in the late 1700s and is the final resting place of the Blair family and other instrumental town founders. Footbridge Park is situated across the Paulinskill at the location once occupied by the Blairstown Railway, lumberyard, and creamery.
The Blairstown Historic Preservation Committee (BHPC) has established a self-guided walking tour to highlight the historic buildings and landmarks. Walking tour maps are available at the Blairstown Township municipal building and the Catherine Dickson Hofman Library as well as the local shops, eateries and theater of the downtown district and surrounding area. Guided walking tours are hosted by the BHPC throughout the year and historical artifacts are on display year-round at the Blairstown Municipal building. For more information please email BlairstownHistoric@gmail.com, like us on Facebook at “Blairstown, NJ Historic Preservation Committee” or call 908 362 6663 x 235.