Middletown is a sprawling township made up of smaller communities — the fishing community of Belford, the suburban neighborhoods of Fairview and River Plaza, the marina in Leonardo, the historical sections of Middletown Village and Monmouth Hills, and mansions along the Navesink River. There are more than 300 miles of roads, 48 parks and beaches, a dozen ZIP codes, and four libraries. Brookdale Community College is based in the Lincroft section. The township has about 10,000 students in 17 public schools.
Location: Northeast Monmouth County, bordered by Red Bank to the south, Keansburg to the northwest, Hazlet and Holmdel to the west and Highlands to the east.
Size: 41 square miles
The Village of Middletown was founded in 1664. In 1688, Old First Church, 69 Kings Highway, was founded. It is the oldest Baptist congregation in the state and the 10th oldest in the nation. In 1850, a post office was established at Chapel Hill, once known as High Point.
In 1888, David D. Withers bought land from Christ Church and several farmers and started the Brookdale horse farm. Withers wanted to develop racing as a "pure" sport and drive out those who used it solely as a business venture. After Withers' death in 1892, the farm was sold to Col. William P. Thompson, and his wife, Geraldine Livingston. The property today is the site of Brookdale Community College.
The Middletown Public Library was established in the 1920s, and in 1928 the Middletown Township Police Department and Fire Department were formed.
In 1942, Earle Naval Weapons Station was built, with the main station in Colts Neck and Howell and the waterfront area in the Leonardo section of Middletown. In 1953, the Belford Seafood Co-Op was formed by local fishermen formed to market seafood.
In 1978, Deep Cut Park -- 50 acres of gardens and greenhouses -- opened on Red Hill Road, site of the former estate of mob boss Vito Genovese.
World Trade Center Memorial Gardens was unveiled on Sept. 11, 2003. It is a monument to 37 people who either lived or used to live in Middletown and perished during the terrorist attacks two years earlier.
Highlights, activities, events
In spring, there is the arts festival, the fishing derby at Stevenson Park and miniature golf at Tindall Park.
In summer, the township has beach parties, free concerts at Normandy Park and movies in the park.
In the fall, children dress up for the Halloween Hullaballoo, and Middletown Day is celebrated.
Winter programs include holiday train rides, a tavern party at Poricy Park, and movie night with Santa.
Courtesy of Jersey Shore Now.com
A Day in the Life of Middletown
Published in the Asbury Park Press 11/15/01
By KRISTEN OSTENDORF
In this one town are many communities.
The township has about a half-dozen post offices, all with different names, and some residents have mailing addresses from different towns. They work on the monied Wall Street, and at sea on fishing boats. Middletown's domiciles range from mansions in Navesink to bungalows on the Bayshore.
When asked where they're from, many of the township's 68,000 residents will give the name of one of at least a dozen well-known villages or neighborhoods, rather than the sprawling 60-square-mile municipality.
"(The neighborhoods) evolved because of the size of the township . . . and people tending to focus in their commerce, their travels, their social associations with those in a fairly close proximity," says Randall Gabrielan, township historian and author of four books on Middletown.
"I think it's both of those things," says Mayor Joan Smith when asked if Middletown is a township or many villages. "I think it certainly is one big community, but people identify with certain sections of the town."
The first inhabitants were English who settled in the Old Village area, says Mary Lou Strong, chairman of the Middletown Landmarks Commission. It's one of four historic villages, including Locust, Navesink and Chapel Hill.
"That's the historic heart of the township," she says of Old Village. "I find it really annoying that people say that Middletown doesn't have a town center. It does indeed have a town center. It's had it for over 300 years."
The Old Village section is home to the train station, a key to the township's role as a commuter center.
Britt Kelly-Schwartz, 60, of Little Silver, who runs Peppercorn's, a deli on Kings Highway near the station, bought the shop in 1993 and runs it with her husband, Robert, 56.
"The customers in this area are really nice," she says to a visitor while ringing up patrons who stream through for coffee and morning papers.
But as a commuter community, Middletown suffered heavily in the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks, with about three dozen residents dead or missing. Banners proclaiming messages of support and prayers for the victims and their families are beginning to fade, but still hang in front of homes.
Relief groups have sprung up, including Middletown's Friends Assisting Victims of Terror -- or Middletown's F.A.V.O.R. -- and Middletown United for Towers. It seems everyone in town knew someone who suffered a loss, and everyone in town wants to help.
Michele McDonald, Middletown United for Towers founder, says she started the group the Saturday after the attacks.
"I'm just trying to be there to help people in need," says McDonald, 39, of North Middletown, who knew three people lost at the trade center.
Middletown's F.A.V.O.R. has raised $30,000 in cash to help the families of victims who lived in Middletown, says Allyson Gilbert, the group's executive director. That doesn't include the businesses that have donated services ranging from lawn care to gym memberships for families to the supplies needed to run the organization, she says.
"I guess from our standpoint, we're looking at it as Middletown Township residents. . . . All of a sudden there are no borders," she says.
On Sept. 11, volunteers across Monmouth County, including members of the Middletown Fire Department, rushed to help terrified commuters returning to the ferry docks in the Bayshore.
The fire department -- 11 companies strong -- bills itself as the largest volunteer department in the world and it has been a town institution since the 1920s.
"People want to perform a community service, and the choice that they make can be one of many things," says Bruce George, a former chief and member of the department since 1968. "It's hard to explain why so many people go into the fire department as a volunteer."
He joined after moving to town, following in the footsteps of his father, a Newark firefighter. George says he's had many memorable calls, but prefers to think about the "good stops," where firefighters intervened before a situation worsened.
Another Middletown institution is the Leonardo State Marina -- a busy place in the summer, but quiet on this early November day. There is still a fishing industry in Middletown along the Bayshore neighborhoods -- both commercial and pleasure.
Tom Szalus, 49, of Point Pleasant, and his fishing buddy, John Felner, 49, of Marlboro, are gently guiding Felner's boat, Gizmo, down the ramp into the water.
They had a problem with the engine, but Szalus says the day is just right for striped bass: "We were determined to go."
Felner pronounces the conditions -- light breeze and robins-egg blue sky -- "perfect" for catching big fish. He called Szalus after catching a 40-pound striped bass the day before.
Other institutions in the township act as hubs. Brookdale Community College, serves tens of thousands of people. Poricy Park, a 250-acre nature preserve, attracts people of all ages to its fossil beds, streams and historic farm.
"We are a very unique property," says park Director Carol Kealy, pointing out the rural oasis in the developed town. "We are a community resource, but we are also a regional resource.'
And there are the smaller institutions, like Molzon's Landscape Nursery in Lincroft, which has been open for more than 15 years. Paul and Gerald Molzon's grandfather bought the land in the 1920s.
They have a two-year guarantee on their plant material and they can do pretty much any landscaping job. And, as employees water the myriad of mums and other fall vegetation, Paul Molzon says, "If you love flowers, you'll love Molzon's."
Gabrielan says the neighborhood perspective of Middletown has persisted since its founding. Middletown, like many towns on the Bayshore, went through a building boom after World War II but was almost completely developed by the 1980s.
"Really, I think it tends to be a state of mind that may have existed forever in those that were born here," says Gabrielan, who says he has more of a township perspective. The fact that people still consider themselves residents of a particular section of town rather than of the township as a whole is "one of the sadder aspects of life in Middletown," he says.
Gabrielan also says he sees challenges in Middletown's future. Some of the historical neighborhoods, such as Red Hill, a one-time small African-American community near Old Village, have all but disappeared.
Robert MacFawn, 61, Old Village, who's enjoying a cup of coffee and reading the morning New York times at Peppercorn's, says that he likes the little hubs. And it's places like the deli that draw people together, he says. "They're a little community around here."
from the Asbury Park Press
Published: November 15, 2001