Middletown Township is a township in Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township had a total population of 66,522, making it the state's 16th largest municipality, having seen an increase of 195 residents (0.3%) from its population of 66,327 in the 2000 Census, when it was the state's 17th most populous municipality, which had in turn declined by 1,856 (-2.7%) from the 68,183 counted in the 1990 Census. Middletown is one of the oldest sites of European settlement in New Jersey.
Middletown Township was originally formed on October 31, 1693, and was incorporated as a township by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 21, 1798. Portions of the township were taken to form Atlantic Township (February 8, 1847, now Colts Neck Township), Raritan Township (February 25, 1848, now Hazlet Township), Atlantic Highlands (February 28, 1887), Highlands (March 22, 1900) and Keansburg (March 22, 1917).
In 2006, 2008, and 2010, Middletown was voted in the Top 100 in CNNMoney.com's Best Places to Live.
Middletown is part of the Bayshore Regional Strategic Plan, an effort by nine municipalities in northern Monmouth County to reinvigorate the area's economy by emphasizing the traditional downtowns, dense residential neighborhoods, maritime history, and the natural beauty of the Raritan Bayshore coastline.
Small communities of the Lenape Navesink tribe were common throughout the area when the first known European landing in what would become Middletown Township occurred in 1609. Sea captain and explorer Henry Hudson, in search of the mythical Northwest Passage in the service of the Dutch West India Company, anchored along the shores of Sandy Hook Bay in 1609, describing the area "a very good land to fall in with and a pleasant land to see." While a patroonship was granted by the company in 1651 the land wasn't officially settled. Today's Shoal Harbor Museum and Old Spy House includes portions of a house constructed by Thomas Whitlock, one of the area's first European settlers, who arrived after the English conquest of New Netherland in 1665 as part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Long-standing tradition had Penelope Stout, one of the first settlers, hiding in a tree from hostile Native Americans.
Shortly after the Dutch surrender of the New Netherland to the English in 1664 a large tract of land known as the Navesink Patent was granted to settlers from Long Island, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which soon thereafter became the townships of Middletown and Shrewsbury.
During the American Revolutionary War, Middletown and much of the rest of Eastern Monmouth County was held by the British. After the Battle of Monmouth, the British retreat from Freehold Township, New Jersey carried them down King's Highway in Middletown to their embarkation points at Sandy Hook in the bay, heading back to New York City.
Upon the completion of a railroad junction in 1875, the town grew more rapidly, eventually changing from a group of small and loosely connected fishing and agricultural villages into a fast-growing suburb at the turn of the 20th century. If Middletown ever had a recognizable town center or town square, it was lost in that rapid growth soon after World War II.
In May 1958, several Nike Ajax missiles exploded at Battery NY-53 in Chapel Hill, killing ten Army and civilian personnel. The accident was one of the worst missile-related disasters of the Cold War.
The Waterfront site of Naval Weapons Station Earle is located in Leonardo on Sandy Hook Bay, and is used to load ammunition onto ships on a finger pier that stretches for , making it the world's second-longest such pier.
The "Evil Clown of Middletown" is a towering sign along Route 35 painted to resemble a circus clown, that currently advertises a liquor store. The sign is a remnant of an old supermarket that used to be at that location called "Food Circus". The clown and recent successful attempts from residents to save it from demolition have been featured in the pages of Weird NJ magazine, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and in the Kevin Smith-directed film Clerks II.
The Indian Trails 15K road race is held each year in April to benefit the Monmouth Conservation Foundation and includes a 5K walk/run event for fun. The race, run on a combination on paved and dirt roads, includes many relatively steep hills and has been described as "the most challenging race in the state".