History

Scotch Plains, New Jersey, a Township in Union County with a population of 23,510, encompasses just over 9 square miles. The area was first settled in 1684 and has a rich history with many Revolutionary War landmarks still standing. Today, Scotch Plains has a diverse population reflecting many ethnic, religious and age groups. We have extensive recreation opportunities, a vibrant business community and top notch schools.

The native people living in this area were the Raritans, of the Leni Lenape branch of the Delawares. They lived in a large wigwam village near what is now the Shackamaxon Golf Course and in the Ash Brook Golf Course area. The first white man in the region was probably Verrazano in 1524, but the land was first claimed by the Dutch in 1609 as a result of Henry Hudson's explorations. The heartland of Scotch Plains was first owned by a Dutchman, Peter Sonmans, until the English conquest in 1664. Captain John Baker bought the region from the Indians before 1684 paying one cent for every 10 acres. In 1684 and 1685 this village was settled by Scotch immigrants who had landed at Perth Amboy under the leadership of George Scot. Thus we were Scot's Plains. In those early days Scot's Plains was part of West Fields (later Westfield) which in turn was part of Elizabethtown. There were eight families in the original settlement living in wigwams or log cabins. At this time people traveled by horseback on Indian trails which were later adorned with wagon wheel tracks from stagecoaches and buggies pulled by horses. These paths became our present main streets: Front Street, Park Avenue, Martine Avenue, Raritan Road, and Westfield Road.

 

Scot's Plains, which included what is now Fanwood, grew slowly in population, and was a farming community for 200 years. In the 1720's William Darby, a Baptist, gave part of his property to build a meetinghouse and a cemetery. It was christened as the first meeting house in Scotch Plains in 1742. Family bickering and moral dilemmas were addressed at weekly gatherings. On this property a Baptist church was dedicated in 1747. In the 1760's he also gave land for the first school, an academy standing next to the church on Park Avenue (then called Darby Road). The church became the mother church of the Baptist Church of New York City during the colonial period. In 1762 this New York City Group joined with an upstate group to found Colgate University. The present Victorian Gothic church on the site was erected in 1870. The cemetery contains brown sandstone markers from as early as 1742. Original settlers, slaves, and 24 Revolutionary War soldiers are buried there. It is on these grounds that our Scotch Plains patriots drilled.


The Stage House Inn was erected in 1737 by John Sutton as a hotel. By the time of the Revolutionary War it had become a tavern and home of Captain Recompense Stanbery, as well as a stopping place for the Swift and Sure Stage Line which traveled from Philadelphia to New York. When the stage coach arrived at the inn with mail, a miniature cannon was shot off, and townspeople came to pick up their mail. Colonial leaders Lord Stirling and General Lafayette discussed battle plans at this tavern during the war. During the Civil War it was a rallying point for Union recruits. Through the years town festivities were held on its grounds. In the 1800's gypsies, traveling circuses, and migrant Kickapoo Indians camped In wigwams. The latter to sell their Kickapoo Juice remedy. In the 1900's clambakes and oyster feasts abounded here.

 

The Osborn-Cannonball House across the street received a stray cannonball that hit the home as Washington's troops fled the large British force after the Battle of Short Hills, which occurred at the site of the present Ashbrook Golf Course. 6,000 colonial troops and 8,000 British soldiers passed through Scotch Plains during this battle. John Adams' son-in-law, Colonel William Smith, was in charge of a colonial encampment in Scotch Plains. In 1780 a cannon called "old one horn" was captured by Captain Eliakim Litttell and today is in the Fairview Cemetery in Westfield.  The colonials fared poorly.  60 lives, 3 Officers and 3 canon were lost.  200 were wounded.  Since this had been an early Indian camping ground, many arrowheads were found in developing the golf course.  The Betsy Frazee house on Raritan Road was visted by Cornwallis and his men when they smelled baking bread.  When Betsy said “I give you this bread in fear, not in love”, Cornwallis left without the bread.

 

In 1775 the center of Scotch Plains consisted of 11 houses including the inn. Following the Revolutionary War our township started some growth. A reading society was formed in 1800, the local post office opened its doors in 1804, and a temperance society was formed in 1831. In 1838 The Elizabethtown and Somerville Railroad had reached Westfield, and they offered to purchase rights of way in Scotch Plains. When the townspeople would have no part of this, it passed east of our center to Plainfield, spurring Plainfield's growth. In 1851 three private schools were augmented by a public school system, and at the time of the Civil War in 1861, the village included I church, 3 private schools, I. public school, 1 tavern, 2 stores, 5 mills, 70 houses, and many farms. There were no paved roads, sidewalks, or street lighting. Following the Civil War two other denominations arrived: Methodists in 1867 and Episcopalians in 1872. In 1867 the train depot on Midway Avenue was given the name Fanwood, and the 350 acres around it called Fanwood Park. In 1869 the Excelsior Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, a volunteer firefighter company, was founded. In 1877 Scotch Plains divorced itself from Westfield, and became Fanwood Township. In 1895 one mile of land in the center separated itself, and became Fanwood Borough. It has remained separate ever since. The railroad brought commuters and vacationers to Fanwood whose progressive ideas clashed with those of long­time residents of Scotch Plains. Clayton's History of Union County  dated 1882 noted a population of 324 which didn't include south Scotch Plains at all. Mentioned were 3 churches, 1 schoolhouse, 2 taverns, 3 grocery stores, a dry goods store, a paper factory, a drugstore, a shoemaker, and 2 butchers. A formal public library was established in 18 the same year "Union Church" (now Willow Grove Presbyterian) was built. The two Fanwoods existed side by side until March 22, 1917. On that day, through the efforts of George H. Johnston, the legislature agreed to give our town its original colonial name of Scotch Plains.

 

By World War I, Scotch Plains was becoming modern as paved streets replaced mud roads. Although the first Italian family settled in Scotch Plains in 1860, it was in the early 1900's that a big influx of Italian immigrants came, bringing with them skills in shoemaking, masonry, carpentry, and plumbing. They came from the medieval hill town of Montazzoli, about 20 miles from the Adriatic Sea in central Italy. Four of their descendants have served as our mayors: Thomas Santo Salvo, Gene Novello, Mauro Checchio, and Thomas Santo Salvo, Jr.. Among the 89 veterans of World War I listed on our monument at Park Avenue and Front Street there are many Italian names along with the older pioneer names. The monument was dedicated in 1920. John Z. Hatfield opened festivities by accepting a captured German cannon presented by the U.S. government to our town as first prize to non-banking towns of the 2nd Federal District for the greatest percentage of oversubscription to the Victory Loan.

 

After World War I the town grew mostly in homes for commuters with construction of Route 22 in 1930 playing a part in the town's development. City people began to move here "to the country". At this time we had the old School #1 built in 1890, School #3 built in 1915, School #4 in 1922, and a one room schoolhouse (School #2) on the southside. Fanwood had La Grande School (now Children's Specialized Hospital). Fanwood and Scotch Plains have always shared a school system. Until 1925 high school students went to other towns. At that time, what is now Park Middle School was built as a high school and junior high.

In 1921 Scotch Plains received national attention with the founding of the first African-American country club in the country, Shady Rest, originally the Ephraim Tucker farmhouse in the mid-1700's. lt played host to famous black musicians such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, and Sarah Vaughn. Celebrities such as Joe Louis and Althea Gibson visited. From 1924 until 1960 John Shippen served as its golf pro. He too made history as the first American born golf pro. In 1964 this building became the township owned Scotch Hills Country Club.

 

During World War II we were still mainly a rural town of 4,500. Nine hundred residents served our country in World War II. 14 of them gave their lives. During the Korean War and Vietnam Wars we lost 3 men in each of them. The biggest growth came after World War II in the 1950's and 1960's, especially on the south side where many big housing developments replaced farms. Shackamaxon, Evergreen, Brunner, Coles, Terrill Middle School, Mc Ginn, and a new School #1 were added. In 1953 there were 10,000 people here and students in schools had doubled. A new high school was built, and the old one became Park Middle School. Now in 2013 Scotch Plains has over 23,000 with many commuting to N.Y.C.. We have more churches, a Jewish Temple, YMCA, Jewish Community Center, many banks and shops. We are very fortunate to be part of a town with such a rich 300 year history. Not many towns can say that.

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