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Parish Profile (working draft, in progress) > III. OUR COMMUNITY (History)

28 Jul 2010


On September 30, 1686, Stephen Warne and his son received a 400-acre grant of land, soon to be known as "Warne's Neck," 100 acres of which were bought by the Scots. The parcel was long and narrow, bounded on the east by Gravel Brook (now Lake Matawan and Gravelly Brook) and on the west by Matawan Creek. Within three years, the land was divided into 24 lots, each 40 feet wide and 4,800 feet deep.

This land was then sold to 24 immigrant families from Aberdeen, Scotland. The resulting settlement was called Mount Pleasant but was soon known to the residents at New Aberdeen. Each lot ran along the Chingora Trail, which is now Main Street and Route 79. The Chingora Trail was the main north-south route, connecting northern Monmouth County to the Philadelphia area. The Indian east-west trail, called the Minnisink, also crossed Matawan, at Mill Road. The Indian tribe of the region was the Matovancons and the name Matawan is said to mean either "land between two rivers" or "where two rivers come together."

Three years later, more land was purchased to provided greater access to Matawan Creek -- at that time a main navigable river, 12 feet deep, enabling ocean-going ships reach the point where the Buttonwood Manor now stands on Route 34. The area became a production area for ore and clay, with a brick kiln at Cliffwood and a blast furnace for pig iron at Allaire. So much clay would be taken from Matawan Creek over the next century that by the late 19th Century, it would become too broad and shallow for ships.

Land was extensively cultivated and a mill was built along what is now Mill Road with power provided by Gravelly Brook.

During the 18th Century, Middletown included a strip of Middlesex County to the north and what is now Ocean County to the south. During the War of Independence, Matawan was known as Middletown Point. The rich abundance of iron ore in the district provided the raw material for munitions of war. A majority of residents favored freedom from the British, and raids by Tories were common.

Burrowes Mansion on Main Street was the home of Major Burrowes, an officer in General George Washington's army. In one skirmish, Tories marched down Main Street but were stopped.

During the war, the British burned the original settlers' church, on the corner of New Brunswick Avenue (Route 516) and Main Street (Route 79).

Philip Freneau, a prominent figure of those years, lived in the district that now bears his name. Freneau, who wrote poems and ballads promoting independence, came to be known as the "poet of the Revolution." A copy of one of his works has been displayed inside the Matawan Post Office.

After the American Revolution, industry, shipping and farming flourished. A foundry, a piano factory, tile, electroplating and furniture plants were established. The railroad arrived in 1875, 10 years after Middletown Point changed its name to Matawan Township. The rail line, known as the NY & LB, was originally scheduled to go through Keyport and Cliffwood Beach, hugging the coast. But Matawan industrialists and politicians lobbied successfully for the line to be diverted inland, passing through Matawan.

Undaunted by this turn of events, Keyport demanded and received a branch line, which was eventually extended to Atlantic Highlands. Service on this line was ended in the early 1960s and the right of way now serves the area as a recreation resource, the Henry Hudson Bicycle Trail.

In 1885, the original "New Aberdeen" settlement separated from Matawan Township and became the Borough of Matawan, the area's retail center. Thus there were two "Matawans," well into the next century, until Matawan Township changed its name to Aberdeen Township in the late 1970s.

In the early 1960s, Levitt & Sons came to the area and built the 1,990-home development know as Strathmore in what is now Aberdeen Township, along Route 34 which, in turn, promoted retail and commercial development along that route.

The Borough of Matawan continues to take pride in its older downtown, with its mix of colonial and Victorian homes and landmarks that include the original Trinity Church, now a restaurant, and the Burrowes Mansion, preserved through the efforts of the Matawan Historical Society.

Both communities, sharing a highly convenient commuter rail station, have remained popular places to live.