2010-01-07 / Front Page

Birth of a town

BY KATHY CHANG & KAREN L. KESTEN Staff Writers
Ever wonder how a place, a township, a borough, a school, a park, a lake, a river, a bridge or a street got its name?

The Murray House in Poricy Park in Middletown. The Murray House in Poricy Park in Middletown. Greater Media Newspapers recently delved into this topic to find answers to questions like why is Manalapan known as the land of good bread or why is the beach in Long Branch called Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park?

Many names of New Jersey towns and locales have been derived from the language of the Lenni Lenape Indians, who occupied the area during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to explore New Netherland (New Jersey). The Swedes were the next settlers. Next came the English, who changed the name to New Jersey after the English Channel island where the Carterets lived. Capt. Philip Carteret was appointed governor of East Jersey in 1665.

Monmouth County, named for Monmouthshire, Wales, had three original towns: Freehold, Shrewsbury and Middletown.

Historian Randall Gabrielan has published 34 books on various subjects in the Monmouth County area. He is the executive director of the Monmouth County Historical Association.

His latest book, “Long Branch, New Jersey – Reinventing a Resort,” gives readers fresh insights and new interpretations of what made the city of Long Branch great and how it has changed over time into what it is today, with redevelopment areas like Pier Village.

The city of Long Branch was formed in 1867 and was originally a resort town. The town was so named because it was the “long branch” of the Shrewsbury River, according to the compilation of the Federal Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration of the State of New Jersey.

The city was a vacation spot for seven presidents: Chester A. Arthur, James A. Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson.

Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park was named in honor of their visits to the city. The Church of the Presidents is said to be the place where all seven presidents worshiped when they visited.

President Garfield was brought to Long Branch for recovery after being shot by an assassin in July 1881. In September, he died, according to local history.

Gabrielan said that in a broad sense, localities have been named after people who owned the property or land.

“Over time, some of these two-street names with ‘corner’ or ‘ville’ at the end started to fade between the 1850s and 1950s,” he said.

For example, in Middletown, there was a “Heedens Corner,” which was changed to Fairview because of a cemetery that was established in 1851.

Middletown Township was originally formed in 1693 and incorporated as a township in 1798.

Gabrielan said places often are named according to geographic location or named after other places.

“Chapel Hill Road in Middletown was named after a church that was near the road,” he said.

The town was also settled by the English. Villages were established in Shrewsbury to the south and Portland Port (near Atlantic Highlands) to the north. Middletown was the middle village. Portland Port failed, but Middletown and Shrewsbury became known as the two towns of the Navesink (River).

During the Revolutionary War Middletown was divided between Tories (pro-England Loyalists) and Patriots (pro-Revolution). Joseph Murray was murdered in 1780 by Loyalists while working in the fields (at the current Poricy Park). In 1782 John Huddy was executed at Highlands.

Marlpit Hall in Middletown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for the prominent Loyalist family during colonial times. It was built in 1756.

Also on the historic list is the Taylor- Butler house, which was built in 1853 by Joseph Dorset Taylor and his bride, Mary Holmes Taylor, according to the Monmouth County Historical Association.

Some names around town will sound familiar. Cooper owned the land on the Middletown side of the Navesink River and so its name is Coopers Bridge. Richard Hartshorne came to Middletown in 1669. A park exists today on his lands. Other families include the Holmeses, Taylors, Conovers, Heyers, Applegates and Mounts. Red Hill was one of the township’s earliest African-American communities. Brookdale was a farm. The Hendrickson mansion was known as Locustwood.

The Leonardo section of Middletown was a part of Atlantic Highlands and originally called Leonardville. It was named after Henry and James Leonard, the first ironmasters in the state. Croydon Hall was the home of John J. Leonard.

There are names that are still around, such as Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel, named after the Crawford family, who owned expensive property, Gabrielan said.

Holmdel was named after the Holmes family, a well-to-do farming family, and formed in 1857. The Holmes-Hendrickson House in the township is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Gabrielan said Telegraph Hill in Holmdel, which is the highest point in Monmouth County, was named because there was a telegraph station there, and Beacon Hill in Holmdel was so named because there were many beacons on top of the hill for communication purposes.

Early maps show the early families included the following: Crawford, Stillwell, Wyckoff, Longstreet, Conover, Beers, and Bowne.

John Bray settled in the Main Street and Holmdel Road area. This area became known as Brays Meeting House. The Mott family owned Old Manor Farm in the area known as Dorsetown in the Bethany area. Crawford Mansion was built in 1705. Land was granted to Obadiah Bowne in 1700. Clover Hill Farm was the home of Obadiah and switched hands from Bowne to Cornelius Covenhoven in 1797 to Nathan Beers. Bennett’s Mill opened in 1699 and transferred to Jacob VanDorn to Ely to Zeller.

Route 35 was known as the Middletown Keyport Turnpike and its owners included Richard Stout, Jacob Triaux and William Bennett. The Holmdel-Keyport Turnpike was blasted to straighten it out and that section became known as Deep Cut.Any place or locality can change its name, creating more than one town with the same name; however, only one municipality can have a post office.

“There are six municipalities that have the name of Washington; however, the only Washington with a post office is the one in Warren County,” said Gabrielan. “Also there are many municipalities named Madison and the only one that has a post office is in Morris County.”

Matawan and Aberdeen were part of Middletown. Matawan means where two rivers come together in Lenape. Its Native American name was “Mechananienk.” The Dutch settlers and Indian tribe name on a 1656 map was “Matovancons.”

The English granted land to Jonathan Holmes in 1677. In 1684 Gen. Thomas Rudyard purchased land in the Cliffwood and Cliffwood Beach area. It became Warne’s Neck after the 1686 land grant to Stephen Warne.

Many streets and places are named after Philip Morin Freneau, the Poet of the Revolutionary War. He was classmates with President James Madison at Princeton University.

Rose Street and Rose Hill Cemetery were named after Joseph Rose in the Cliffwood section.

The Burrowes Mansion was built by John Bowne in 1723, who sold it to the merchant John Burrowes. Burrowes’ partners were the Imlays and the Hartshornes. Other land was owned by the Conovers, Terhunes, Longstreets, Stillwells and Herberts. Large-tract landowners were the Van Pelts, Van Brackles, John Bowne and John Reid.

In 1895 Matawan separated from Matawan Township.

Aberdeen Township broke away from Matawan Township in 1977. A section of Aberdeen is named after Freneau.

Hazlet was originally incorporated as Raritan Township in 1848. The township was renamed Hazlet Township in 1967 after Dr. John Hazlett, who had an estate near Keyport-Holmdel Road (now Holmdel Road). The high school is called Raritan High School.

Hazlet is home to the Van Mater farm known as the Stone Road Meadows, which were the original lands of Gilbert Van Mater. There is a Poole Avenue named after Richard Poole, a colonel during the Revolutionary War.

The streets in Keyport are a clue to its ancestors. The area was known in Lenape as “Chingarora,” often defined as fishing point. Land owned by the Bowne family was sold to Thomas and Michael Kearny.

Thomas Kearny built Key Grove Farm atop Wolf Pit Hill, and in 1830 a dock company, the Key Port Co., was formed. “Key” was taken from Key Grove plantation and “Port” from what the company planned to do with the property.

Keyport was part of Raritan (Hazlet) until 1870 when it officially became Keyport.

Nimrod Bedle built the first house in Keyport after it became a village. The Conovers built stores on Front Street. Prominent townspeople included the Beers, Stout, Schenck, Kearny and Bedle families.

Fair Haven was named after a remark of a ship captain, according to the Federal Writers’ Program. Originally it was a part of Shrewsbury Township. It was incorporated in 1912. The town’s first permanent dwelling was built by Jeremiah Chandler in 1816, and in 1850 a “Chandler’s Dock” had been erected. A free black community was established in the 1850s. Fair Haven Road was the center of town. It has also been known as Clam Shell Road, VanTine Road, and Pearl Street. This part of town is known as the Old Village. The Hendrickson, Littles, and J.S. Throckmorton were among the first families to settle there.

Tinton Falls was settled by James Grover, an original patentee. Partnering with Lewis Morris, Grover opened an ironworks, Tinton Manor Works. It was the first to be equipped with machinery made in the colonies. It ran as a plantation with 60 or more slaves working there. A mill was operated by Bartholomew Applegate. It was incorporated as New Shrewsbury in 1950 but renamed Tinton Falls in 1975.

Red Bank was named after the red soil on the river bank, according to the Federal Writers’ Program It was originally formed in 1870. It gained its independence from Shrewsbury in 1908. Thomas Morford sold Joseph French a 3 acre lot on the west side of the highway that goes to the red bank. Barnes Smock purchased a tract of land which bordered the Navesink River and opened a tavern near the river. Red Bank grew after the Raritan and Delaware Bay Railroad came to town. The Trinity Espicopal Church on West Front Street was dedicated in 1851.

Rumson was settled in 1665. The Lenni Lenape lived on the peninsula of “Navarumsunk.” It was shortened to Rumson. It has also been known as Port Wasington, Black Point and Oceanic. It was incorporated in 1907. William W. Conover was a real estate investor of the tract of land south and west of Rumson Road and the Sea Bright bridge, the area became orginally known as Conover Park (later Conover West Park, then West Park).

Shrewsbury Borough and Township were named after Shrewsbury, England. It was one of the three original townships to receive a charter in Monmouth County. Originally Howell, Ocean Township and the entire Ocean County were part of Shrewsbury. Its Four Corners, the intersection of Broad (Kings Highway) and Sycamore Avenue (Indian Burlington Path) is Monmouth’s most historic place according ot Randall Gabrielan. Early settlers included the Allens. The Allen House, built circa 1700, still stands on Sycamore Avenue. It was a tavern known as the Blue Ball. Other families were the Whites, Tallmans, Parkers, Bells, VanBurens, Throckmortons, Halsteads, Bordens, Stillwells, Campbells and Fahnestocks.

Monmouth Beach was purchased by Eliakim Wardell in 1668. His heirs sold the land in 1842 to the U.S. Life Saving Service and to Arthur V. Conover of Freehold. In 1871, Conover and investors formed the Monmouth Beach Association, where large oceanfront homes were built. Monmouth Beach got its charter in 1906.

Sea Bright was a fishing village called “Nauvoo.” It is a Sephardic Hebrew word meaning “beautiful or pleasant place.” The Ocean House was the first hotel by the Navesink River.

Eatontown was named after Thomas Eaton, who came to Eatontown, a part of Shrewsbury Township, to survey Mill Brook and decided to use the creek to power a mill. Mill Brook is now called Wampum Brook. The village became known as this area of the mill and the pond what is Main and Broad streets. The village included a tannery, a general store and the Eatontown Inn.

Route 35 was once a Lenape trail, then was named the Eatontown Red Bank Turnpike. Broad Street was the Eatontown-Long Branch Turnpike. Route 537 was known as the Colts Neck-Eatontown Turnpike.

In 1873, the town’s name was changed to Eatontown.

Little Silver was named for the payment to Indians, or the appearance of quiet water, according to the Federal Writers’ Program. The downtown village was originally known as Parkersville. The Parker brothers were from Rhode Island and settled in the area. Other people of prominence were the Lippincott, Mulliner, Knapp and Tucker families. It was incorporated in 1923.

Ocean Township was named after its location on the Atlantic, according to the Federal Writers’ Program. It was incorporated in 1849.

Oceanport was originally part of Shrewsbury Township. Oceanportwas part of Eatontown in 1920. The Monmouth Park racetrack has been part of the town since 1870. Early settlers were the Gordons, Williamses, Slocums, Throckmortons and Longstreets.

West Long Branch was known by several different names: Hooperville, Mechanicsville and Branchburg. There is a West Long Branch on an 1889 map. It was once a part of Eatontown but separated over a dispute about taxes in 1908.

Walter Stochel, president of the Edison and Metuchen Historical Society, said localities or places are usually named after railroad stops or stations, families that owned the land, famous people who passed away, businesses in the area, and after developers.

Stochel said it will be interesting as to what names would be used as the 21st century moves forward.

“Maybe something like Googleville,” he said.

Stochel said the Metro Park train station in Iselin was named in this century. Also a high school in Plainfield in February changed its name from Plainfield Academy for Academic & Civic Development to Barack Obama Academy after the current president.

Sources for this story include municipal websites and the Images of America books.

Return to top