logo for South River's 300th anniversary  

Celebrating South River's
300th Anniversary

South River, New Jersey


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2020 marks the 300th anniversary of the settlement of what we now know as the Borough of South River. A variety of activities are being planned. Led by the South River Historical & Preservation Society with assistance from the Cultural Arts and Heritage Commission, the festivities will include the opening of the time capsule that was buried as the final event of South River's 250th anniversary celebration, 50 years ago, on November 11, 1970.
 
Read about the history of South River below and watch this page and our Facebook page for more information and specific dates.
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Timeline of the History
of the Borough of South River, New Jersey

1664 — The land that became New Jersey was granted to Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley by James, Duke of York.
1676 — New Jersey was divided into East and West Jersey. The land that became South River was part of East Jersey.
1683 — The General Assembly of East Jersey at Elizabeth-town created Middlesex County, as well as Bergen, Essex, and Monmouth counties.
1693 — Middlesex County was divided into three townships, Woodbridge, Perth Amboy, and Piscataway. The area that later became South River was part of Piscataway township.
1702 — East and West Jersey were reunited into a single province.
1720 — Willettstown, which eventually became South River, is thought to have been settled around this time when Hartshorne Willett (or Samuel Willett) settled on the bank of the South River.
1784 — Abraham Barkelew is credited with renaming Willettstown in honor of George Washington about this time. The settlement became known as Washington. In spite of the change, the original name appeared on published maps in 1811 and 1817 and in personal writings in 1815 and again in 1857.
1798 — North Brunswick Township, described as "Northward of New-Brunswick" and including the village of Washington, was incorporated within Middlesex County.
1800 — The village of Washington contained no more than six houses. Middlesex County had meanwhile grown to a population of 17,890, with 1,564 identified as slaves.
1810 — Henry Obert established what is thought to have been the first tavern in South River "a number of years" before this time. It was "situated on the main road in the Village Washington." Obert was described as "a suitable person to keep a publick house of entertainment and that he is provided with a sufficiency of house rooms, stabling hay and provender, and at least two good feather beds more than for his familys use."
1812 — Reden Wood and Elias Doughty had a store at the dock during the War of 1812 and transported goods for the government via the South River. Advertisements for the "New Pilot Line for the transportation of goods between New York and Philadelphia" first appeared in the New-York Gazette in early 1814. The line was "established for the purpose of transporting goods to and from Philadelphia by the way of Washington and Bordentown." Ross & Woods were listed as the Washington, NJ agents for the line until late November 1814 when Wood & Doughty replaced them.
1822 — "An act to incorporate the Washington Canal Company" was signed into state law on November 22 authorizing the construction of a canal connecting the South River to the Raritan River.
1823 — The village of Washington had no more than 10 houses and a single store. The store was run by Vincent Barkelew and was located on the south side of Main Street near the dock.
1824 — The Citizen's Steam Boat Line established "a new and pleasant route, being the shortest land carriage between New York and Philadelphia." The new route started from New York in the steamboat Aetna, under Captain Robinson, for Washington, New Jersey. From Washington, Citizen's Post Coaches continued on to Bordentown, and from there to a second steamboat bound for Philadelphia. The route was superseded in 1832 when the Camden and Amboy Railroad opened for passenger service.
1824 — The first school known to have been within the limits of the village of Washington was located near what is now the corner of Main and DeVoe Streets. Said to have been built in the 1700s, the earliest specific information regarding the building is that Frederick Stults taught there in 1824 and 1825.
1827 — Samuel Gordon is generally credited with completing the Washington Canal in about 1825, but an 1825 advertisement relating to the canal appeared in several March issues of the New-York Daily Advertiser. "Proposals will be received by the subscribers, until the first of April next, for finishing the above Canal, from South, near the Village of Washington, to the River Raritan. The Canal is at present forty feet wide and four feet deep, and seventy chain in length. Its dimensions, when completed, must be as follows: Fifty-four feet at the top, thirty-five at the bottom, and ten feet deep." It wasn't until August 31, 1827 that a statement came from those inspecting the canal stating that they were "of the opinion that said canal is Executed and Completed according to the true intent and meaning of the Act." The earliest map showing the canal was published in 1828.
1832 — Sculptor John Frazee left New York along with his wife Jane and their five children to avoid the cholera outbreak and spend time with his wife's family in South River. On August 16, following an excursion to Sandy Hook, Jane died of cholera. She was buried next to two of her sisters in the graveyard behind the Old School Baptist Church. John carved a classical urn for her memorial. The stone is engraved "To Jane, the wife of my youth, aged 42 years. John Frazee."
1834 — The village of Washington had two taverns, three stores, and 30 to 40 dwellings. There were also six docks known as "Overt's, Reed's, Barkalew's, Dunham's, Booraem's, and Blew's."
1838 — A one-story brick schoolhouse was built on Main Street adjacent to and on property provided by the Old School Baptist Church. It replaced the schoolhouse at the corner of Main and DeVoe Streets. The building was enlarged in 1852 and renovated in 1867. It passed into private hands when the new school was built in 1885 and was finally demolished in 1932.
1839 — The village of Washington, within the township of North Brunswick, was said to contain three taverns, four stores, and about 40 dwellings.
1841 — The village of Washington contained about 50 buildings, including stores and taverns. The steamboat line had already stopped by this time, and the canal had been abandoned.
1844 — The village of Washington, still part of North Brunswick, contained about 50 dwellings. During the summer months, steamships carried produce from the surrounding area to New York.
1844 — Although the first brickyard in South River is said to have been established by John Griggs around 1850, George W. Reynolds was already advertising drainage tile and fire brick for sale at his factory in "Washington, South River" by February 15 of this year. Van Dyke Reid's 1851 map of the village shows Reynolds' brickyard in the block bordered by Jackson and Ferry Streets, and what became Klausers Lane and Water Street.
1854 — The village of Washington had 4 stores and about 50 dwellings. "Steamboats ply between this place and New York during the summer."
1856 — Washington Monumental Cemetery was established on December 6. The officers were Samuel Whitehead Sr., president; John R. Reid, vice president; Henry Gordon, secretary; and John S. Connet, treasurer. The remaining trustees were Nicholas Booraem, Thomas Peterson, Elisha N. Blew, Robert M. Taylor, and Garret I. Snediker.
1860 — East Brunswick Township, which included the village of Washington was formed from parts of North Brunswick and Monroe Township. "An act to set off a new township from the townships of North Brunswick and Monroe, in the county of Middlesex, to be called the township of East Brunswick; and also a new township from the township of North Brunswick, to be called the township of New Brunswick" was signed into state law on February 28.
1860 — The village of Washington had 630 inhabitants including 312 males, and 318 females. Among them were nine "free colored" males and nine "free colored" females. Middlesex County's population was 34,812. There was one female slave.
1870 — The village of Washington was designated a town when "An Act for the Improvement of the town of Washington, in the county of Middlesex" became state law on February 23. The law established boundaries still within the borders of East Brunswick, designated governance by an elected board of commissioners, detailed the powers of the commissioners, and specified the appointment of a town treasurer, a town marshall, a street superintendent, and a police justice, as well as other provisos.
1870 — "Supplement to an [act] entitled "An Act for the Improvement of the town of Washington, in the county of Middlesex" approved February twenty-third, one thousand eight hundred and seventy" was signed into state law on March 14. The new law provided for an assistant marshall, a "lock-up, in connection with a court room," and the paving of sidewalks.
1878 — The textile industry was established around this time when Schofield and Harvey's rug factory relocated from New Brunswick to a new building off Whitehead Avenue. The partnership was dissolved in 1879 and the factory was purchased by Jacob Levinson, Garret I. Snedeker, and Charles Whitehead Jr. with a plan for continuing the carpet and rug manufacturing business.
1880 — The population of South River, still within the boundaries of East Brunswick, equaled 1,081. East Brunswick's total population (including Washington) was 3,272.
1882 — The estimated population of the town of Washington was 1,200. It contained "one extensive dry-goods and clothing-store, Jacob Levinson, proprietor, three large grocery and provision-stores, with Messrs. F. W. Bissett, Kleine & Thorburn, and C. W. Connet as proprietors, and a smaller store kept by Mrs. Phebe Tuttle, two hotels, several saloons, a liquor-store, a ship-yard, four brickyards, a shirt-factory, the usual variety of small mechanics' shops, and a Methodist and an Episcopalian Church and two Baptist Churches."
1885 — The population of the town of Washington increased to 1,307 according to the New Jersey State Census. The total population for the township of East Brunswick, including Washington, was 3,697. Middlesex County had 56,180 inhabitants.
1885 — Washington School No. 1 was erected on Thomas Street. The building later served as the high school, the junior high school, and the middle school. It was eventually sold and became a private school.
1888 — The Raritan River Railroad was incorporated. Freight was transported through South River for the first time on October 14. The first shipment was two car loads of clay from the Edgar Brothers in South River, one bound for Trenton and the other Baltimore.
1890 — South River's Population reached 1,796. The total population of East Brunswick (including South River) was 4,438.
1898 — "An act to incorporate the borough of South River, in the county of Middlesex" became state law on February 28. South River was incorporated as a Borough and fully separated from East Brunswick.
1910 — South River's population rose to 4,772 according to the federal decennial census.
1910 — Public School No. 2 was erected on Charles Street. The two-story brick building, designed by architects Alexander Merchant and William H. Boylan, included eight classrooms. It opened in November.
1915 — School No. 3, located at the corner of Prospect and William Streets, opened in January with space for students at primary, grammar, and high school levels.
1916 — "An act to annex to the borough of South River, in the county of Middlesex, part of the township of East Brunswick, in the county of Middlesex" became state law on March 18. South River was expanded to include additional land along its southern boundary line.
1920 — South River's population, as reported by the decennial census, was 6,596, a decline compared to the number reported by the state census five years earlier.
1920 — South River celebrated its 200th anniversary on September 24 and 25. Evie Bissett was crowned Queen Riverie on Sept. 24. Events included speeches, musical entertainment, a block dance, a baby parade, a civic parade, a firemen's parade, and foot races.
1927 — "An Act to annex a portion of the township of East Brunswick, in the county of Middlesex, to the borough of South River, in said county of Middlesex" became state law on March 29. The law added land along Old Bridge Turnpike to South River, but included a proviso that it not be adopted unless accepted by a majority of the legal voters of South River. Voters rejected the referendum at the November 8 election.
1929 — William Campbell School, located on David Street and designed by architect Alexander Merchant, opened on September 4. Named for William C. Campbell, who served as superintendent of schools from 1887 until 1909, the enrollment included "pupils living on Main street from the intersection of Jackson and Main streets to Tanner's Corner, on De Voe and intersecting streets, Wilcox avenue and intersecting streets, Grove, High, Roosevelt, Pierson and the streets south of the Raritan river." The dedication for the new building was held in May 1930.
1938 — The last passenger train to travel the Raritan River Railroad ran on April 16.
1940 — The population of South River was 10,714 according to the federal decennial census.
1961 — The new South River High School on Montgomery Street opened in September. The setting of the cornerstone and dedication of the building took place on November 5. The former high school on Thomas Street became the South River Junior High School.
1970 — The total population of South River, according to the decennial census, was 15,428.
1970 — South River celebrated its 250th anniversary from November 6 to 11. The celebration included the crowning of "Queen" Taryn Thomas, a parade, and other events. The culmination was the burial of a time capsule in front of the borough hall. Paul Schack's "History of South River" was published to commemorate the occasion.
1990 — The total population of South River, according to the federal decennial census, was 13,692.
1995 — South River's 275th Anniversary was celebrated with a series of events organized by the South River Historical & Preservation Society. A Commemorative Book: in Celebration of South River's 275th Anniversary, 1720-1995 was published to document the year's events and provide information on South River history.
1997 — The new Elementary/Middle School was completed at Johnson Place and Montgomery Street. The dedication was held on November 16 and the school opened for classes on November 18. Willett School, Campbell School, and the South River Middle School were all closed and the students transferred to the new school.
1999 — The former Old School Baptist Church building, which once house the public library and later the borough clerk's office, was rededicated and opened as the South River Museum on September 12.
2000 — The population of South River was 15,322. The largest ancestral groupings were Polish, Italian, Irish, German, and Portuguese.
2005 — The new primary school building was completed at the former site of the William Campbell School at the corner of David Street and Johnson Place. The dedication was held on August 28, and the school opened on September 6.
2010 — The total population of South River, according to the federal decennial census, reached a new high of 16,008.
2015 — The estimated population of South River was 16,395 according to the United States Census Bureau.
2020 — South River celebrates its 300th anniversary.

 

[Excerpted from a larger work in progress by Stephanie Bartz.]

 

 

For more on South River history,
visit the South River Historical & Preservation Society site.