The Millstone Times August 2021

Monroe Township News | As We Age The History of Monroe Township, New Jersey By, Surabhi Ashok

Go outside and take a look around. That building you see on the side of the road has existed for 200 years. The ground you’re walking on is the same earth that has yielded a vast number of crops to the farmers back in the day. Even some of the people you encounter have had generations of family members who have lived here before them. What does this mean? It means that history is everywhere around us. Everything and anything has some type of background: whether it be a background of 10 days or 10 years. This is especially true for New Jersey’s Monroe Town- ship. Learning Monroe’s history may enable you to live and understand three distinct worlds: the past, present, and future. The first inhabitants of the region date back to approximately 6000 BC; the Lenni-Lenape natives migrat- ed across the fields and woods to harvest crops and to hunt. In fact, these Native Americans named two of the waterways in Monroe the Manalapan and the Matchaponix. Much, much later, in 1685, the first European settler arrived in the area surrounding Monroe. James Johnstone of Scotland, after being given 50 acres of land, constructed his home and sawmill on Manalapan Brook in then East Jersey. Because he was also offered 25 acres for each additional family member that

immigrated here, his letters urging his people to come to the NewWorld resulted in the growth of the population of the Scottish, English, and Dutch who sought religious freedom in the area. Growth was also seen as Lawries Road, now Cranbury/South River Road, ran to connect with Perth Amboy’s port. How many times have you driven through there? As the settlement developed, so did the agriculture. Due to the fertile soil and the abundant water supply, many mills were constructed during the 1700s. A dam was built on Manalapan Brook, which created what is now known as Manalapan Lake. The lake supported Monroe’s earliest gristmill, sawmill, and blacksmith’s shop. A gristmill is a place that grinds grain and a sawmill is to produce lumber. This agricultural society is a reflection of present-day Monroe, a town full of farms and fields. Peter Ten Eyck built an iron forge in 1750 at Old Forge Road. As other constructions began to pop up, small villages such as Applegarth, Half Acre, Union Valley, Gravel Hill, Dey Grove, etc. formed as well. Notice that most of these names are now the names of the township’s local roads. The colonists grew more and more independent in their settlements, and thereby sparked the American Revolution. The wildest thought is that Mid- dlesex County’s Monroe had a part in it, albeit a small one. One June 27, 1778, the day before the notorious Battle of Monmouth, the Continental Army camped out in the fields near Gravel Hill/Union Valley. Famous figures such as General George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette, Molly Pitch- er, and James Monroe were present as the army rested in their pursuit of enemy British forces. Just think that you might have stepped foot in the same area where the first president of the United States was almost 250 years ago! As the 18th century came to a close, industrialization and change swept the nation, and Monroe was not an exception. In 1831, the first railroad in New Jersey, the Camden & Amboy Railroad, allowed passengers to travel between Bordentown and South Amboy in horse-drawn cars. Of course, this brought prosperity to the town. Times kept changing when, on February 23, 1838, the township was officially incorporated as an independent municipality away from South Amboy and named Monroe after James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States. The name becomes even more significant when you remember that James Monroe had been in the area during the American Revolution as well! Fast forward to the 1930s and two brick schools, Barclay Brook and Applegarth, were being constructed. Today, both Applegarth and Barclay Brook are elementary schools for the smaller children in the town. In 1936, the first police station in Monroe was the former schoolhouse on Schoolhouse Road, and in 1938, the first Town Hall was held in the Prospect Plains Schoolhouse. The continuity in so many of these buildings are astounding; next time you go there, notice the creaks, the old infrastructure, and understand the deep history in such an everyday place. Two more historic buildings that are preserved by the Historic Preservation Commission today are the England House and the Dey Farm Historic Site on 401 Federal Road. The England House, from 1810, depicts early life in Monroe Township. The Dey Farm hosts a collection of ancient Native American artifacts, 18th-20th century farming equipment, and common ancestral items. The Commission even has a block of wood from an oak tree that George Washington held council near on the eve of the Battle of Monmouth. By 1960, Monroe’s population was a mere 6,000 people, compared to the 44,600 plus residents living here 60 years later. This growth is accounted for by the introduction of retirement communities like Leisure World/Rossmoor and the proximity to the NJ Turnpike Exit 8A. While Monroe did become a staple for residential and commercial growth, the railroad and agriculture industry’s popularity decreased. This account of Monroe Township, New Jersey was made to ensure that its history would continue to be preserved and shared. And who knows? Some- day, your life in this town might even be documented for the future generations to come because history is eternal and is always in the making. Source: | roetwp%5Fcom%2FDocuments%2Fwebsite%2FMONROE%20HISTORIC%20PRESERVATION%20BOOKLET%207x10%20FINAL%2012%2E2020%2Epdf&parent=%2Fpersonal%2Fplanning%5Fmon- roetwp%5Fcom%2FDocuments%2Fwebsite&originalPath=aHR0cHM6Ly9tdHVkLW15LnNoYXJlcG9pbnQuY29tLzpiOi9nL3BlcnNvbmFsL3BsYW5uaW5nX21vbnJvZXR3cF9jb20vRVZkT054RmwwaU- JBbFFGdDJQRTd3NnNCMkRhenV4OVFtdUtNM2lQZjdfZm9MUT9ydGltZT1XcEMtVW41UDJVZw |

38 The Millstone Times

August 2021

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