By Pam Teel
Somerville, a borough in Somerset County, holds a lot of historic value. It was first settled in Colonial times by the Dutch, who purchased the land from English proprietors. The name Somerville was taken from the Somerville family, which consisted of four brothers originally from Castlehaven, County Cork, Ireland in the 1750’s. Starting out as a farming town, it rapidly expanded after the completion of the railroad in the 1840’s.
A lot of the borough features stately Victorian homes mixed in with row houses and other period style architecture. National Register sites include the architectural gem, the white Marble Court House, known as the Courthouse Green, which was designed by a prominent architect. Next to it is the stone English Country Church, which was also designed by a noted architect. The wooden and stone Wallace House Colonial is now a museum where George Washington spent a winter using the home as a residence and a headquarters during the Middlebrook encampment of the Revolutionary War in 1778-79. Close to the Wallace House is the Old Dutch Parsonage where Reverend Hardenbergh lived. He was the first president of Rutgers University, once called Queens College. On the corner of Main Street and Grove Street is a stately marbled fountain commissioned by Aileen Lord in honor of her deceased brother.
Other registered Victorian properties in town include The James Harper Smith Estate, St. John’s Episcopal Church, The Fire Museum- a vintage firehouse, the Victorian Train Station (privately owned), and the Municipal Building, which was the former Robert Family Mansion.
The borough today is a destination for fine dining and boutique retail. Main Street’s historical buildings are now specialty shops bringing in a lot of out of towners for a day of shopping and dining with a big diversity of restaurants to choose from. It was recently voted one of ‘New Jersey’s Great Places to Be’ by the NJ Chapter of American Planning Association. (APA)
The community is vibrant and active with a population of some12,000 plus, but the charm of the borough makes it still feel small town with over 50 events taking place throughout the year.. Aside from the specialty shops, eateries, and small cafes, other attractions include Friday night cruise night, the Division Street pedestrian walk; where events such as Summer Stage take place. The hottest local bands and solo acts play for free for thousands of people who bring their own chairs for a night of entertainment. The diverse musical events are a draw for out of towners too. Music featured ranges from reggae, to country, blues, folk, Cajun, and more. An annual Halloween event takes place right in the heart of the town, as well as a Holiday Jubilee event with special guest star, Santa Claus. The Somerville State Theatre presents free outdoor movie nights on Division Street. And channel 12 News broadcasts live occasionally from Main Street, downtown Somerville. Somerville is home to New Jersey’s largest antique complex, which is located on Division Street. Stroll the many shops and stop in at the Dessert Plate for a sweet treat. There are just too many businesses to list. For a list of shops and Somerville events go to: www.somerville.com/events/.
Somerville makes it easy for visitors with its ample parking lots, wide sidewalks and easy access to NJ Transit trains with a working train station right in town. Nearby attractions include the Doris Duke Estate, which has now become a haven for wildlife, including 30 endangered species and 230 varieties of birds, the bald eagle and the great blue heron among them. There are also available plots of land for what foundation officials say will be the biggest community garden in the country, as well as 250 acres of incubation space for aspiring organic farmers. In the greenhouses where Duke once recreated international gardens like those she had seen on her travels, the Duke Farms staff will offer classes and seed swaps for amateur gardeners.
Bridgewater Commons Mall is close by. The Somerset Patriots Bridgewater Minor League complex is a few miles away. Not far from town is Raritan Valley Community College, which presents live theatre events. Visit the Wallace House/ Old Dutch Patronage historical tours, Yestercades Arcades– step back to the 80’s with old games such as Donkey Kong, Tetris, Ms. Pacman, etc. Visit the Firehouse Museum, which is open to the public on Saturdays. Be a participant or come to watch the Tour of Somerville Cycling Series, an exciting two-day event of competitive cycling for professionals and amateurs over Memorial Day weekend. The Tour is the oldest major bicycle race in the United States and a legend in the lore of bicycle racing.
Make this your weekend designation! You’ll find that Somerville has it all!