A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A History of the Two Matawans: A 1930s Perspective

Below are some primary pieces of the local history of the two Matawans (Borough and Township) from Matawan: 1686-1936, a book published during the Great Depression. There are plenty more stories and photographs that can be quoted, displayed, or remarked upon in future blog articles.


Central Part of Middletown Point, NJ in 1855 (Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 46)

Middletown Point was the name of the business center of what is now Matawan Borough from about 1693, when Middletown Township was established, until the US Post Office changed the name in 1865 to resolve mail delivery confusion with Middletown. (Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 55)

Matawan Borough was incorporated on 13 April 1885 under the Act of 1882. The form of government, which consisted of a president and borough commissioners, was soon challenged by the state courts and nullified, , so on 2 May 1896, the officers became a mayor and borough councilmen under the Act of 1878. (Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 55)

An obscure reference on page 3, col 1 of the 2 May 1896 edition of The Matawan Journal said that a meeting of the Borough Commissioners was being postponed from Friday to Saturday night because of a concert being held in Town Hall. "It is expected that a counsel will be present and that steps will be taken to reorganize under the Borough Law of 1878."

The front page of the 9 May 1896 edition of The Matawan Journal tells of "the final meeting of the old Board of Borough Commissioners" at Town Hall on Saturday night, presided over by Mr Van Wickle. Mr. H S Terhune, who acted as their counsel, advised that the courts had declared null and void the Act of 1882, under which Matawan had been incorporated as a borough. The legislature, he continued, had devised the Act of 1878 to reincorporate such boroughs, something he recommended be done that evening. He advised the commissioners to complete the commission's business, adjourn sine die, and then move to reorganize under the Act of 1878, which they did. Mr Longstreet made the motion, Mr Wardell seconded it, and the issue was passed unanimously. Mr Terhune read the oath and swore the former Commissioners in as Councilmen. Then former Commission President Van Wickle was promptly elected Mayor and gave a short speech. William A Rodgers was elected Clerk, James S Sickles as Overseer of the Poor, R P Van Brackle as Marshal. Mr Terhune was voted to continue as Counsel. Other positions would be named at a later date.
Gravelly Brook Bridge on Valley Drive about 1910
The Borough would grow in size, absorbing parts of Matawan Township on two occasions. On 12 May 1931, property owners along Lake Lefferts voted 46 to 29 to leave the Township. And on 23 May 1933, residents of Freneau voted 66 to 51 to join the Borough. (Source: Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 61)

Map of Matawan Boro Showing First Annexation (Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 53)

A graphic appearing opposite pg 52 titled Map of Matawan Boro Showing First Annexation, compiled by Federal Writers' Project, NJ, Irene Fuhlbruegge, State Director, shows a large area north west of Lake Lefferts and Matawan Creek as well as a small section southwest of Sutphin Avenue along the rail line as being "FIRST ANNEXATION 1931."

Map of Present Matawan Boro (Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 54)

A graphic on the next page, titled Map of Present Matawan Boro, compiled by the Federal Writers' Project (NJ), includes the  Freneau area west of Route 34 along Mill Road and west of Freehold Turnpike from Wilson Avenue to a spot just beyond Ryers Lane.


Matavan Township was established from the western portion of Raritan Township on 23 February 1857. The name was changed to Matawan Township in 1882 by legislative act. (The name was changed again to Aberdeen Township on 8 November 1977.)

Matawan: 1686-1936 paints a rather sorry picture of 1930s Matawan Township, with the exception of the beachfront area of Cliffwood Beach. Below are some observations from the book:

In the depths of the Great Depression, 43% of the residents of Matawan Township were receiving financial assistance. (Source: Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 18)

Cliffwood was "a sedate community, with houses so sparse that it is difficult to pick the center of the settlement." The area was littered with "the overgrown ruins of brickyards and claypits," including "three tall chimneys still standing as landmarks" and "old farmhouses" that "seemed to be sitting out endurance contest with the abandoned chimneys."  (Source: Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 16)

Cliffwood Beach was a "fairly busy little resort, with a boardwalk illuminated by night, a casino for dancing, tennis courts and other facilities, but no merry-go-round or roller coaster. Summer cottages [were] bunched together in the conventional beach style just behind the boardwalk, and in the woods near the shore [were] larger houses and a picnic grove."  (Source: Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 16)

Oak Shades had a bad case of urban sprawl. It provided a bedroom community on a highway between Matawan and Keyport, not only for Italians and Poles, but also for "many of the Negro workers in the ceramic industry." "Marked by the spire of St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church," the neighborhood represented "the casual growth of a housing district in an industrial area without control or restriction." (Source: Matawan: 1686-1936, pg 16)


  1. I lived in Cheesequake in the mid 1950s. We went to Matawan to shop, etc. As a child, I vividly remember the very colorful Halloween paintings on the large front windows of the old stores on Main St (I think). Are there any photos of downtown Matawan from this time period?

  2. I would be happy to post some photographs of store fronts in downtown Matawan in the mid-1950s if someone has a few to share.