The earliest known residents of the area were members of a sub-tribe of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. The first Europeans arrived in 1665 under the leadership of Lord Carteret. To populate the region, Carteret traveled to New England where he encouraged others to return south with the promise of generous land grants. It has become generally accepted that the area became known as Metuchen after the Indian Chief Matouchin, who lived between 1630 and 1700. Until 1870 Metuchen was part of Woodbridge Township. Because the settlers in the western part of the township were so far removed from the village of Woodbridge, they early developed a separate identity. The name "Metuchen" first appeared in 1688/89. The early development of Metuchen is reflected in the history of its Presbyterian Church. Sometime between 1717 and 1730 a meeting house was constructed for weekday meetings conducted by the pastor of the Woodbridge Presbyterian Church. In 1756 Metuchen Presbyterians succeeded in forming their own congregation, attesting to their growing numbers. In 1770 the congregations merged, with Metuchen getting 2/5th of the pastor's services and Woodbridge 3/5ths; by 1772 Metuchen had grown sufficiently to warrant 50% of his time. In 1793 the two churches again separated.
In 1836, the New Jersey Railroad was completed to New Brunswick. The construction of a station at Main Street made it inevitable that this would develop as the principal street. A business section soon began to appear between Middlesex Avenue and the railroad tracks, and commercial and service establishments gradually began to assume a more modern aspect (the typical 18th century tavern, for example, was replaced by the equally typical 19th century hotel).
A new century began with what residents saw as the biggest improvement of all, incorporation, in 1900. According to the Federal Writer's Project history of Metuchen, "At the first meeting of the new government...committees were appointed on various phases of borough government: finance, ordinances, streets, water, street lights, poor and miscellaneous matters." Formation of the Borough Improvement League in 1902 continued the trend for progressive legislation and government reform. Commuting had become a way of life for Metuchen residents by the turn-of-the-century. Daily commuters numbered 400 out of a population of 1786 by the year 1900. Accessibility to New York City and New Brunswick enhanced the borough's reputation as a prestigious place to live, and the modern suburban ideal of small-town life where tired businessmen could escape the pace of the city grew in popularity.
Today, that ease of transportation and idea of tired professionals escaping the pace of the city persist. The Borough of Metuchen is located 25 miles southwest of Manhattan and two miles west of where the New Jersey Turnpike intersects with the Garden State Parkway. Its southern boundary is defined by Interstate 287 where that interstate changes into Route 440 and continues eastward into Staten Island becoming the West Shore Expressway. The Borough is conveniently served by the New Jersey Transit Northeast Corridor Line from New York to Trenton with a stop at Main Street in the Borough's downtown. This station also serves as a connection point for many local New Jersey Transit bus routes with connections to Fords, Plainfield, Perth Amboy, Raritan, Piscataway and much of Edison. Additionally, Newark International Airport is only 15 miles away offering access to wherever residents need to fly.
For a small town, there's a lot going on. Metuchen offers many activities that involve the community and attract residents of neighboring communities as well. Special events like the spring Arts & Crafts Festival and the fall Country Fair, the Kidsfest, and the annual town-wide garage sale bring throngs of people to Metuchen each year. Metuchen's residents also line the streets for the annual parades on Memorial Day and for the holiday season. Other seasonal event attractions are the First Night celebration on New Year's Eve and Halloween activities like the "Haunted Trail."
One local attraction is The Forum Theater, which opened in 1927, and offers a regular series of musicals, drama, comedy and shows for children, with equity actors. Movies are shown during the off season. Home-grown talent is featured in monthly "coffeehouses" at the Borough Improvement League Building, including classical, popular and folk musicians, poets, and dramatists, served up with coffee and pastries from a local gourmet coffee store.
In the summer, an outdoor musical concert series is held at Tommy's Pond, ranging from classical to country and western. Metuchen has eight playgrounds, nine ball fields (including a Little League field), tennis courts, three parks and a municipal swimming pool. The Metuchen pool complex, with a new and expanded snack bar and covered eating area, attracts nonresidents (neighboring Edison has no municipal pool) as well as local residents. It offers instructional swim classes as well as social activities for different age groups.
Children's plays and other special events are held at the Metuchen Public Library, a focal point of the community since it opened as a small reading room in 1870. The current structure, dedicated in 1937, has been expanded several times and serves as a meeting place for scores of community and civic groups.
The Borough of Metuchen offers another alternative for youth and senior citizens to congregate. A Teen Center was established in a former schoolhouse for young people to meet and socialize. A newly built Senior Center has an arts & crafts room with a pottery kiln; a kitchen and eating area; social areas, and an exam room for visiting physicians to offer blood pressure screenings and other health services.
The surrounding area has five major hospitals with a total bed space of 1,900. They include John F. Kennedy Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Raritan Bay Medical Center (Old Bridge), Raritan Bay Medical Center (Perth Amboy), and St. Peter's University Hospital. The Metuchen School District features great schools including the high school, which was recently named among the best high schools in the state of New Jersey.
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