Montgomery Township is a township in Somerset County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 22,254, reflecting an increase of 4,773 (+27.3%) from the 17,481 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 7,869 (+81.9%) from the 9,612 counted in the 1990 Census.
Montgomery Township was incorporated on February 21, 1798, as one of New Jersey's initial group of 104 townships by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature, from what remained of Western precinct. Portions of the township were taken to form Princeton borough (February 11, 1813, in Mercer County, consolidated to form Princeton as of January 1, 2013), Princeton Township (April 9, 1838, also now consolidated into Princeton) and Rocky Hill (December 18, 1889).
The area now known as Montgomery Township was inhabited for approximately 20,000 years by Lenni Lenape tribal groups. The current Native American population of Montgomery Township is just under 0.1% of the total population.
The first European landowners in what was to become Montgomery Township, such as Johannas Van Home and Peter Sonmans, were speculators who did not live on the land, but sold large parts of what they owned to companies that subdivided it into farm-sized plots for those who did intend to settle. Many speculators and early settlers were of Dutch descent from the New Amsterdam area (especially Long Island), which, after the British ousted the Dutch (1664), was renamed New York in honor of the Duke of York (the future James II). The Township was originally known as the Western Precinct of Somerset County (i.e. west of the Millstone River). Before the creation of Mercer County in 1838, the southern border extended to Nassau Street in Princeton. In 1798 the Western Precinct was organized as Montgomery Township, named for Colonel Richard Montgomery, who fell fighting for the patriot cause in the Battle of Quebec at the start of the Revolution (1775).
Most of the land is flat and fertile, running westward from the Millstone River to Province Line, which divides Somerset from Hunterdon County and once marked the division between East and West Jersey. Farms of 300 to were common, some owners keeping a few slaves to work the land and serve in the household. The aim of the early settlers was to produce as many of the necessities of life as they could: subsistence farming, in other words. Each farm had a vegetable garden, orchard, pasturage and fields for grain, as well as a stand of timber to be selectively cut for fuel. What became known as the Harlingen Tract (1710) included part of Sourland Mountain. Each farm on the flatland was assigned a separate strip of woodland that ran up to the Hunterdon border, all crossing Rock Brook. At points along the stream mills were built either to saw lumber or to grind grain. Other early mill sites were at Rocky Hill on the Millstone River, Bridgepoint on Pike Brook and on Bedens Brook near Blawenburg.
Settlement began in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. When churches, schools, general stores, blacksmith shops and hotel/taverns were built, they tended to cluster at intersections or other important points. For example, the intersection where the Carrier Clinic now stands used to be called Plainville or Posttown, having in the nineteenth century a post office, store, school house, blacksmith and wheelwright shops, as well as a hotel/tavern where the circuit judge presided. Most people walked to where they wanted to go. Schools were generally spaced no further than four miles (6 km) apart in order that no child would have to go more than two miles (3 km) to get to one. Churches marked the most important centers. The Dutch Church's earliest congregations first gathered in farm houses. The first church building at Harlingen dates to around 1750 and was called the Church at Sourland. The church at Neshanic in Hillsborough Township was established in 1752. In the early years these two churches shared a single pastor, and up to about 1800 they conducted their services in the Dutch language. One such pastor was Martinus Van Harlingen, who gave his name to the village, to the church that now bears his name, and to the local Historical Society. The Blawenburg church, an offshoot of the one at Harlingen, dates to 1830 and was erected in three days.
During the Revolution, the Township was the scene of marches by both British and patriot forces and of clashes between them. In the century that followed the movement of goods and people was accelerated by increasingly swifter forms of transportation. First was the building of the Georgetown and Franklin Turnpike between Lambertville and New Brunswick (1820-22: Rt. 518). Next came the digging of the Delaware and Raritan Canal along the east side of the Millstone River (1834). Railroad construction followed with the Delaware and Boundbrook Railroad (later the Reading), which established depots at Skillman, Harlingen and Belle Mead (1875). In the early years of the twentieth century, the arrival of the automobile, of electricity and of the telephone brought further growth and change. In consequence, and over time, the one or two room schoolhouse was supplanted by the central school, post offices were consolidated and most of the hotels/taverns disappeared. The crossroad hamlets that once offered basic services of general store, blacksmith shops and the like disappeared also, many leaving only their names to mark a road or an area: Skillman, Bridgepoint and Dutchtown are examples.
The paving and realignment of roads, and the building of new ones, came toward the end of the transportation revolution. A new major north-south highway, Route 206, was created in 1927. Before that time Montgomery and Mount Lucas Roads were parts of the chief north-south route through the center of the Township. Farming continued despite many changes in the economy and in agricultural practices. In the late nineteenth century subsistence farming was giving way to specialized operations, such as dairying, poultry farming, and fruit orchards. As the twentieth century drew to a close even these ventures no longer offered the farmer an easy existence, given the rapidly appreciating value of the land, over against the low prices of products produced on it. As farms became less and less profitable, the land was converted to other uses. For example, in 1898 the facility for the treatment of epileptics was built on farmland between Blawenburg and Skillman. Since the Second World War, housing developments, shopping centers and business parks have sprung up, leaving as remnants of the long tradition of agriculture in Montgomery roadside stands, riding stables and the like.
As rapid growth throughout the Princeton region has spread suburban sprawl across the Township, the push to limit runaway development and to acquire open space has become an urgent concern of the community. In the last decade of the twentieth century, Montgomery's population nearly doubled; currently, it is the fastest growing township in the county.