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Central Jersey’s History

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Middlesex County, New Jersey, named after Middlesex County in England, has a long and interesting history. The first known settlers of this area were the Lenape Native Americans. These peaceful and hospitable people were essential in the later creation of roads, as later settlers would create more substantial roads using the Lenape’s trail system.

Henry Hudson began his voyage to North America in 1609 in the name of the Dutch. He claimed lands and established a colony over a large section of land dubbed New Netherland. Another explorer, Cornelius Van Werckhoven, purchased a large piece of land in New Jersey from the Lenape that encompasses all of today’s Middlesex County. Eventually he relinquished the land and it was incorporated with New Netherland. The Dutch New Netherland eventually absorbed the Swedish settlement of New Sweden. Three separate pieces of land had now been combined into one larger New Netherland.

The English eventually took this land from the Dutch in 1674 and renamed it New York. The Duke of York entrusted the land to John Berkeley and George Carteret who changed the name again to New Jersey. The two men divided the land into East and West Jersey. While Berkeley eventually sold his off, Carteret’s portion included all of present-day Middlesex County. For a time, New York and the two sections of New Jersey were forced together as one colony, and it was not until 1738 that they would again become two.

By 1760, New Jersey had grown immensely; populated with people from many different backgrounds. The increase in population may have been somewhat influenced by the promise of religious freedom.

Improving upon the Lenape trails and constructing new roads, the roadways began to be more extensively developed. The transfer of goods and people was possible via stagecoaches and boats. A ferry service was also introduced. The ferry and roads thoroughly assisted in the growth of Middlesex County.

In the 1800s, Middlesex County was still quite agriculturally based, and the Raritan River proved to be vital in the growth of the county providing a navigable waterway on which to ship goods. The railroad was introduced and provided additional opportunity for growth over the century. Another great venue for water transportation came via the D&R Canal, completed in 1834.

The Civil War brought forth the new industry of manufacturing goods that continued after the war ended. Rubber was one of the most highly produced products at the time. This brought about an increase in the population, as people were needed to work in the new manufacturing facilities.

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The clay industry became quite prosperous in the last half of the 19th century manufacturing bricks, tiles, pottery and terra cotta, but the success ended with the Great Depression. Industry had overrun the agricultural past of Middlesex County. Manufacturers of hosiery, musical strings, cut nail, iron castings, playing cards and refrigeration products were the new players in the business game.

The 20th century brought forth an increase in the population and the transformation from a manufacturing community to a more service-based economy.

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