This was developed by the Historic Advisory Committee as part of its mission to inform the public about the history and resources in and around our borough.
Somerville was settled in colonial times primarily by the Dutch who purchased land from the English proprietors of the colony. The Dutch established their church near what is today Somerville and a Dutch Reformed minister or Domine lived at the Old Dutch Parsonage from about 1754. The early village grew up around a church, courthouse and a tavern built at a crossroads shortly after the American Revolution. No one knows who gave Somerville its name, but it was known by this name by about 1800.
Farming and early industry
Somerville was originally a sparsely populated farming community, but rapidly grew after the completion of the railroad in the 1840s and development of water power along the Raritan River in the 1850s. Early industry included brickmaking from the plentiful red clay and shale on which Somerville is built. The village had grown to a thriving commercial center by 1864 when it was commissioned a town by Somerset County.
Incorporated as a Borough in 1909, Somerville expanded in population and area in the late Victorian period through the end of World War II. It functioned as the region's "Main Street" before the rise of shopping malls and the growth and suburbanization of the surrounding townships. Following World War II, it became the site of the annual Kugler-Anderson Memorial Tour of Somerville, America's premier bicycle racing event.
Architecture and buildings
While much of the borough features distinctive Victorian architecture in several neighborhoods and along its Main Street, other periods are represented. National Register sites in Somerville include the Borough's municipal building (the Daniel Robert House), the white marble 1909 Somerville Court House and the wooden and stone colonial Wallace House (today a museum) where George Washington spent a winter during the American Revolutionary War when the army was quartered at Middlebrook in 1778-79.
Near the Wallace House is the Old Dutch Parsonage, where Reverend Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, a founder and first president of Rutgers University, then called Queens College, lived. Register listed Victorian structures include the James Harper Smith Estate (privately owned), St. John's Episcopal Church and rectory, and the Fire Museum (a vintage fire house). Other notable, register eligible structures are the Victorian train station (privately owned) and several additional structures within the downtown commercial district.
Originally the center of local commerce, the borough has evolved into a destination for boutique retail and dining. Modern highways today surround and go through Somerville, including U.S. Route 22, U.S. Route 202, U.S. Route 206 and Route 28 and is within 5 miles (8.0 km) of Interstate 287 and Interstate 78, making it an important hub in central New Jersey. Somerville celebrated its 100th Centennial Anniversary in 2009 with a Centennial Parade and the opening of the 1959 Time Capsule at Borough Hall.