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?
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.
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 developers.
For example, he said in the 1960s, the people in Old Bridge Township, which was previously known as Madison Township, named many of their elementary schools after some of the well-known astronauts of the time: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, L. Gordon Cooper, WalterM. Schirra and Alan B. Shepard.
“When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, many places that were being built were named after him, including the JFK Medical Center in Edison, the JFK Memorial High School in Iselin, and the JFK Airport in New York,” said Stochel.
East Brunswick Township was incorporated in 1860. The area known as the Historic District of Old Bridge is in the southeast corner of the township.
Original settlers in the Old Bridge section were the Devoe, Appleby, Bissett, Disbrow, Crandall and Herbert families. It was once called Herbertville after the Obadiah Herbert family. Old Bridge Turnpike was a toll road. It cost 1 cent to walk and 3 cents for a horse to travel on it. A racetrack was in operation on Racetrack Road, where the Pathmark supermarket is located.
“A large concentration of Germans settled in the Dutch Road section. Street names such as Hardenberg, Dutch (Deutsche), and family names like the Fishers and the Hardenburgs reflect this once ethnic community,” according to the township website.
The Rue family had a farm where Brunswick Square Mall stands. Halls Corner was named after J.C. Hall, who owned and operated a hotel and tavern.
Farrington Lake was named for New Brunswick Mayor Edward Farrington.
Monroe Township and Spotswood Borough share the heritage of James Johnstone. He was the first settler in Monroe, which was incorporated as a township in 1838. Spotswood was named after Johnstone’s hometown of Spotteswoode, Scotland. Spotswood was incorporated as a borough in 1908.
Monroe was named after President James Monroe and founded by Matt Barrow in 1838. Originally it was a part of Piscataway, then South Amboy. It included Spotswood, Helmetta, Jamesburg and parts of East Brunswick and Cranbury. Early settlers were from the following families: Perrine, Mount, Dey, Reid, Outcalt, Appleby and Clayton. Forsgate Farms was named from the first four letters of John Forster’s surname and the first four letters of his wife’s maiden. Monroe had two waterways, the Matchaponix, which means land of poor bread and sandy soil, and the Manalapan, which meant land of good bread and fertile soil.
Spotswood’s earliest settlers will sound familiar since most of the streets bear their names. These families were early landowners: Disbrow, Appleby, Devoe, Perrine and Snowhill. The library is named the Devoe Memorial Library and Devoe Lake was also named for the family. An early Dutch settler was Peter Ten Eyck, who owned a gristmill, sawmill and forge in Spotswood and became a wanted man when he went bankrupt.
Spotswood broke away from Monroe in 1860.
Helmetta was named after Etta Helme, daughter of snuff factory owner George Washington Helme. It was incorporated in 1888. Helme’s company, George W. Helme Tobacco, was one of the largest snuff producers in the country, and he purchased land in Spotswood and Jamesburg.
Jamesburg was named after James Buckelew, who owned Buckelew Mills in the borough. It was incorporated in 1915.
In 1847, Buckelew built a brick schoolhouse, which was named the “James B.” school and open to all children, black and white. The railroad stop after this event became known as Jamesburg.
The Jamesburg Historical Association is entrusted to care for Lakeview, the Buckelew mansion, located in Buckelew Park.
Milltown, which was incorporated in January 1889, was named after the early gristmills. Phillip Kuhlthau was a German immigrant in 1848. He was responsible for a wave of German immigrants from his hometown of Oberzell. Kuhlthau and Yarnell avenues can be traced to this family. Other early families include the Vanderbilts and the Richters. Two landowners were the Booreams and Van Liews. Garritson Circle was named after Garret Booream. Dr. Ferdinand Riva was one of the first councilmen and a mayor. John Ford loaned money to rebuild the Meyer Rubber Co. after it was destroyed by fire.
Milltown has also honored the following casualties of war by naming streets for them: George Moetz, William Carina, Joseph DeBonis, Gilbert Mathison, William Benhardt, Julian Desmet, Henry Potter, John Fisher, Leigh Pardun, George Renoux, Michael Starodub, Brian Clayton and George Hye.
The borough was home to the Forney House and Clinic, originally known as the John Evans House, which was built in the 1860s. Evans’ son, John C. Evans, was the first mayor of Milltown.
In January 2009, preservationists lost their battle to save the Forney House to Valley National Bank. Dr. Norman C. Forney Sr., the borough’s first surgeon, operated the clinic.
South River is named after the tributary of the Raritan from the south. It was originally formed as the town of Washington within East Brunswick. The borough was incorporated in 1898. A street and avenue are named after the Willet family, who founded the borough. Augusta Street and Leland, Holmes, Little Martin and Martin avenues were named for descendants of the Willet family.
Other prominent families were the Whiteheads, who owned the Whitehead Millinery, Dry and Fancy Goods store and the Print Shop. Charles, John and Kathryn streets and Russell and Whitehead avenues were named for members of the Whitehead family.
The Bissetts owned the Raritan River Railroad Hotel. Other early settlers honored with their own roads were Peter Obert, John R. Reid, Thomas Gordon, Stephen Barkelew and Mobray C. Bright. Ferdinand David was a county detective who served during the Halls-Mills murder case.
Louis Maklary, Louis Monush, George Allgair, Joseph Olchaskey, Charles Sontag, John Wilus were tavern keepers/ owners. Alexander Schack was an innkeeper. Josiah Tice was a surveyor. Peter Kamm and Joseph Grochowiak were developers. Gen. Casimir Pulaski was a Polish-born Revolutionary War hero.
Old Bridge Township was originally known as Madison Township and incorporated in 1869. Through a referendum in November 1975, residents came out to vote to change the name to Old Bridge.
From accounts by the East Brunswick Historical Society, Old Bridge is said to have derived its name from the fact that the first bridge spanning the South River was built there. As other bridges were built across the river, the first one became known as “the Old Bridge.”
The name Madison was in honor of President James Madison, who attended Princeton University.
Many old family names are displayed as sections of Old Bridge and street names, including the Browns for Browntown, Quackenbush, Hausers, Cedar Grove section, Tice, Schulmeister, Disbrow, and Seidlers Beach between Cliffwood Beach and Laurence Harbor.
Laurence Harbor was named after the land developer Laurence Lamb. One of the first families to settle in the area were John and Susannah Brown, who obtained a 1,000-acre land grant from the King of England in 1737, according to historical accounts.
The Cheesequake section of Old Bridge means upland, according to the compilation of the Federal Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration of the state of New Jersey.
Sayreville was originally incorporated in 1876 and was named after the Sayre family, who owned the Sayre & Fisher Brick Co.
The Morgan section of Sayreville is named after the prominent local Morgan family, who received a land grant of 640 acres from the proprietors of New Jersey, Lord Berkeley and George Carteret, according to the Federal Writers’ Program.
The Morgans established a home along the Cheesequake Creek that later became known as the Old Spye Inn; hence the name Old Spye Road in Sayreville. An old cemetery on Morgan Avenue has many Morgan family member interments, the program said. The Morgans’ eldest son was an officer in the Revolutionary War and was a representative to the General Assembly in Philadelphia, Pa.
North and South Brunswick were once the South Ward of New Brunswick and the North Ward of New Brunswick. Later “Ward” was dropped from a map; North and South Brunswick are both south of New Brunswick.
According to “North Brunswick: A Township History” by Ruth Mihalenko, North Brunswick’s first settler was Nicholas Bodine, the blacksmith who settled near Georges, Hermann and Milltown roads (Bodine’s Corner). Other early families and settlerswere the Voorhees, Bennits, Ryders, Tunisons, Booreams, Farmers, Cornelius de Hart and the Rev. Ira Condict.
The area around How Lane was named for Henry Haw (How). Livingston Avenue was known as Livingston Park and was named for William Livingston, the first governor of New Jersey (when it became a state). It was also known as Frogtown because it was swampy and had many frogs.
Route 1 was a toll road called the Trenton-New Brunswick Turnpike or the straight turnpike. Tolls were 1 cent for each horse up to four horses and 2 cents for each additional horse, half a cent for a horse and rider, half a cent per mile for a dozen calves, sheep or hogs, and 1 cent per mile for a dozen cattle, mules or horses.
Route 130 was a dirt path known as Georges Road. In the mid-1880s it was called Old Georges Road.
South Brunswick originally included Plainsboro and parts of Cranbury. South Brunswick was basically farmland with small villages located on major transportation routes. It was incorporated in 1798.
Kingston was on King’s Highway (Route 27) and the Millstone River. There were many taverns and mills.
Dayton was originally known as The Cross Roads. In 1866, the named was changed to Dayton in honor of William L. Dayton, an attorney for the Freehold and Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad.
Deans was on the Lawrence Brook and Georges Road. They built dams on the brook and created Deans Pond.
Monmouth Junction was the junction of the New York division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Rocky Hill Railroad, and the Jamesburg and Freehold Railroad.
Kendall Park was built in the 1950s as a suburban housing development.
Stochel said it will be interesting to see what names will 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.