|Raritan in 1868|
|This author’s last article in the BReeze provided a snapshot of what Raritan was like in 1968.
That year was the 100th anniversary of Raritan’s official recognition by the State of New Jersey.
Since last month’s article some have asked what was Raritan like way back in that first official year in 1868?
Fortunately, several sources exist. Here is what is known.
|Map of Raritan from the 1860s
Click to view
|Click to view article about the remembrances of a 86 year old in 1940 who lived in Raritan 1865-66|
|Raritan just before 1868 was often referred to as “The Village of Raritan”.
The population had increased from just a handful of people twenty-five years before to around one thousand people.
The town had grown for two reasons. Manufacturing industries had sprung up by the river/canal and the railroad line had come to town.
|Factory workers in Raritan's early days|
|The railroad line which had started in Elizabeth in 1834 had been completed into Raritan by 1848 and through to Pennsylvania a
few years later. Trains, which traveled at 25 MPH, were several times faster than the horse-and-buggy which traveled at just 7 MPH.
The limitation of the railroad was that one could only travel to where the train tracks went. But society built itself up around the railroad lines, so most everything came to be found along the train tracks.
|The town of Raritan had been a through way for the Philadelphia to New York stage coach line which had been operating for at
least half a century. Locally Somerset Street in Raritan was unofficially called the “Stage Road”.
The stage coach line was still popular in 1868. The part of the stage coach line that went south western from Raritan to Flemington/Philadelphia was still busy as the train tracks did not go in that direction. (The train line went west to Easton Pa.). The part of the stage coach line that went eastern from Raritan was still used for short trips, but was no longer as busy as the train line covered a good part of eastern New Jersey.
|It is widely known that Raritan then contained several small – medium sized factories. That aspect of Raritan is well documented; thus, this article will focus on the non-manufacturing side of Raritan.
One thing that is not widely known about Raritan is that in 1868 it was a trading center for farmers from farms that were west and north of Raritan.
In 1868 most of the businesses and half the homes were found on Somerset Street.
First Avenue (then called Van Middlesworth St.), Anderson Street and Thompson Street were the only streets north of Somerset Street in 1868. Each had a few scattered homes. On First Avenue up toward the railroad tracks was a farm owned by the Quick Family. It was a small farm by the standards of any era. Milk from cows was the main product produced.
Also, around this area off First Avenue (by where Second and Third Street are today) was an open area known as the Commons. Here many things happened. Boys played ball, picnics were held, and when the traveling circus came to town, they camped out there.
|Further up First Avenue north of the railroad was an area then known as Perlee Hill as two prominent families named Perlee lived there.
Today Perlee Avenue can be found there.
The roads that we know today that go south from Somerset Street - Lyman, Nevius, Wall, Doughty, Loomis, and Thompson were all there in the 1860s.
Each had several homes. Back then Doughty Street was called Steinbach, but all the other streets still maintain their original name.
There was a bridge going over the Raritan River at Nevius Street, but it was a wooden bridge. That bridge would be replaced years later by the steel (now pedestrian only) bridge that is still standing.
The public school in the 1860s was a 20*30 foot building on Wall Street. There was also a small private school in a home on Doughty Street run by Miss Provest.
The Post Office was located on the south east corner of Somerset and Wall Street in a room of the home/business of the postmaster Cooper (who was also a tailor). No mail was delivered to the home. All mail had to be picked up at the post office.
|Early School House|
The church was a big part of the life for the people of Raritan in the 1860s. Most everyone went to church on Sundays and many were involved with the church during the week.
There were two churches in Raritan. By far the largest congregation was the Third “Dutch” Reformed Church on Somerset Street as the people who had settled in Raritan then were of Dutch descent. The Third Reformed Church had a second building, a chapel, across the street that was used for Sunday School and other functions. Their main church “building” still stands today (as a Hindu Temple) although additions have been made to it.
|Third Reformed Church|
|The other church was the Catholic Church of St. Bernard’s.
It was not nearly as popular. The church building is still standing, but that congregation moved to a larger church in Bridgewater thirty years ago. The church building today is a Shrine.
|St. Bernard's Church|
A Carriage Repair and Manufacturer was at the north-east corner of Somerset and First Avenue. (That location would be a transportation vehicle repair shop for over one hundred years as it later converted from fixing carriages/wagons to fixing automobiles.)
A surviving business directory lists two general stores, a couple of blacksmiths, and a butcher. But their exact locations are not certain.
East from the carriage repair shop on Somerset Street was the baker Benbrook.
|Next to that (across from Nevius Street) was Garnsey’s Hotel. Like many hotels of that era, it was mostly a tavern for drinks and socializing for the local population although it did supply hotel rooms for travelers. The hotel was a prominent part of the town as it was used for meetings and voting.
A shoemaker/ shoe repairer was located at the north-west corner of First Avenue and Canal Street.
|The hotel just before it was knocked down|
|There were two attorneys in Raritan - Frederick Frelinghuysen and Theodore Frelinghuysen.
Both were sons of General John Frelinghuysen whose home houses the library today.
Frederick had a large home at the north-east corner of Somerset and Thompson Street.
(That home, a few years after the 1860s, would be confiscated/purchased by the railroad to make room for an expansion line. Thus, the family in the early 1870s built a mansion where the P.C. Richard is today. Ironically the expansion line was never built.)
|A portrait of Frederick Frelinghuysen|
hangs in the library
|One store was the “candy and cigar” store. A combination that would indeed attract some attention today.
Amazingly there is one business in Raritan from the 1860s that has a descendant still in town today.
In 1869, the Raritan Savings Bank was formed. The bank would continue for over one hundred thirty years before being taken over 25 years ago by another bank. That location, after a few name changes, survives today as the Raritan Branch of the PNC Bank.
|The descendent of the Raritan Savings Bank|
|As for buildings that are still standing today from the 1860s. There are the two churches, Raritan Library/John Frelinghuysen Home, the Cornell Mansion at the corner of Glaser/Granetz, and some homes on the streets south of Somerset Street were built in the late 1860s.|
|The Cornell Mansion|
|One home on Somerset Street next to the Somerset Saving Bank across from the Basilone Statue existed in the 1860s.|
|Quick/Davenport House from 1868|