In the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a TV show called In Search of…, which explored all the stuff young boys really care about: The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Swamp Creatures, and other exciting, mostly pseudo-scientific topics. To my young mind, these investigations were lent a certain amount of gravitas by their host, Leonard Nimoy. If you couldn’t trust Spock to tell it like it is, who could you trust? In the pre-internet age, this was gold.
I was recently inspired to conduct my own search—not of monsters, but of the famous “lost civilizations” the show sometimes discussed. Atlantis? Lemuria? No, this would be a search for lost civilizations of a more local bent: the forgotten—or never existent—realms of West Brunswick, Northampton, East and West Jersey, and others.
In case you’ve ever wondered, the New Jersey Brunswicks—New Brunswick, East Brunswick, North Brunswick, and South Brunswick—got their name from European influences, and not the bowling ball company. I know this because I perused the company history, which reads much the way that bowling plays: exciting at first, but only capable of sustaining interest when accompanied by an ample supply of beer. A line from the saga begins epically: “Moses led Brunswick into a new Promised Land during the 1890s…”. But the “Moses” isn’t an ex-slave leading his people to freedom, he’s the son-in-law of the company founder; “Promised Land” is used figuratively, to indicate financial success; and the sentence ends in rather pedestrian fashion: “…manufacturing wooden bowling lanes, pins and balls.”
The first settlement in New Brunswick was called Prigmore’s Swamp, an honest but ineffective name, when it comes to enticing potential settlers. In 1714, the area was named New Brunswick (regular Brunswick was back in Germany). Later, North Brunswick, South Brunswick and East Brunswick were created. But West Brunswick remains the stuff of dreams—perhaps residents to the west of the other Brunswicks can take up a petition.
Don’t feel bad about not having a West Brunswick, though—Pennsylvania’s got a West Brunswick and an East Brunswick, but is missing the other two cardinal points of the compass. As to why North Brunswick is south of New Brunswick, there’s a valid historical reason, but I like to tell people that it’s the same reason you turn right at a jughandle in order to turn left—it’s just how we do things here in Jersey.
East and West Jersey date from the early years of British rule, a division that makes more sense if you view the land the way the British did: across the Atlantic Ocean, and with disdain. Oriented this way, New Jersey is wide, not long and tall as it appears on modern maps of the United States. Apparently, the borders of East and West Jersey were disputed, much like our own informal divisions of North, South and Central Jersey. Presumably, East and West Jerseyans also fought about the names of regional smoked pork products and made fun of each other’s accents.
A modern-day map of Burlington County shows Southampton, Westampton, and Eastampton—but no Northampton. That’s because in 1931, Northampton officially became Mount Holly, a prettier but navigationally unhelpful appellation.
West Milford started as New Milford—called that to distinguish it from Milford (which was later renamed “Newark”). The same Dutch population that founded that New Milford also formed another New Milford, to the east. Something had to give, and West Milford was born. New Jersey also boasts a plain ol’ Milford, which, naturally, is farther west than West Milford.
Westfield, New Jersey is a stand-alone town; no Northfield, Southfield, or Eastfield ever existed. I wondered: Do people in the eastern part of town say they hail from east Westfield? And if so, do they giggle?
Having heard of several Westfields in the United States, but no Eastfields, I consulted us.geotargit.com, and learned that there are 24 Westfields in America, but only 1 Eastfield; 17 Northfields but only 2 Southfields. How to account for the anti-East/South bias? I don’t know, but maybe it’s relevant that when something’s going bad, people say it’s “going south,” and the famous line about seeking opportunity is “Go west, young man,” not “head east.”
Once there was Windsor Township, which was later split into East Windsor and West Windsor. There was never a North or South Windsor, but today, we have the next best thing: high schools called West Windor-Plainsboro South and West Windsor-Plainsboro North. And don’t forget about the town of Windsor itself, which was once part of East Windsor, and then Washington Township, which became Robbinsville. And Istanbul was once Constantinople.
By this time, I was pretty confused—no great surprise, considering I’m still trying to figure out why the Middle East speaks a different language and holds vast supplies of oil, while the Middle West speaks English and favors country music. The situation reminded me of an old Peanuts cartoon, wherein Linus proudly names the 50 states, and Lucy, sabotager of self-esteem, asks, “What about East Dakota, North Virginia, New Missouri, South Hampshire, West Wisconsin and Old Maine?”
I silently gave thanks that my own town’s name was not so complicated. Then I remembered that there’s another Hamilton Township, in Atlantic County, New Jersey. It was incorporated as a township in 1813, while Hamilton Township of Mercer County was incorporated in 1842. We could become “North Hamilton,” based on geography, or “New Hamilton” based on age, though at 175 years old, maybe “Newer Hamilton” would be more appropriate. The other Hamilton might not go for this, but if we all start calling them “Old Hamilton,” I think they’ll get the message.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself harassed by telemarketers, just tell them to mail some information to your home address—in South Milford, North Orange or Old Hamilton.