A TIMELINE OF SAYREVILLE HISTORY
Pre-Colonial: Leni Lenape inhabit the region, utilizing a series of established paths, or trails, through the area that would become Sayreville. These include the Matchaponix, Deerfield, and the Minisink Trails, which the Lenape used to cross the Raritan River each Spring and Fall at present-day River Road, a location they called Matokshegan. Lenape artifacts have been discovered in numerous locations along these trails including the Winding Woods and Winding River developments and along Jernee Mill Road.
1663: In the Fall of this year, Dutch and English ships travel up the Raritan River for the first time, both with the intent of purchasing land from the Lenape. What they found was a handsome and fertile countryside marked by salt marshes, meadows, and forests of pine, oak, chestnut, and hickory. Throughout the low valley, the Lenni Lenape cultivated fields of maize, beans, and pumpkins. The Dutch named the large river they had explored for the Raritong tribe who they had encountered on the riverbanks.
17th Century: The East Jersey Proprietors purchase a large parcel of land between the Raritan and South Rivers (including most of present-day Sayreville) from two Lenape identified as the sachems Neskorhock and Pamehelett, who sold the land in exchange for: “one hundred & fifty fathoms of white wampam, fifty fathoms of black wampam, sixty match coats, sixty shirts, twenty yards of stoneware, four hundred knives, one hundred tobacco tongues, one hundred tobacco pipes, twenty pounds of tobacco, fifty yards of plates, twenty brass kettles, twenty guns, forty blankets, fifty pairs of stockings, fifty hatchets, fifty fine tobacco bowls, One hundred pounds of lead, eight and twenty pounds of beads, thirty glass bottles, thirty tin kettles, fifty pounds of gunpowder, twenty gallons of wine, two barrels of beer, and two barrels of cider.”
1684: Andrew Radford begins operating a ferry between Perth Amboy, the capital of East Jersey, and South Amboy, then known as the “Outer Plantations” or “Detached Plantations” of Perth Amboy. As a consequence, South Amboy becomes a port city of some consequence, serving as a vital link to stagecoaches that carried travelers between New York and Philadelphia along Lawrie’s Road, now a significant thoroughfare in the colony.
1702: The Morgan family receives a land grant of about 500 acres from the East Jersey proprietors and settle in South Amboy along the banks of Cheesequake Creek, where they built a mansion named “Sandcombe.” This entire area would take their family name.
1775: The Morgan family establishes a kiln at Cheesequake Creek where they produce pottery with local clay. Captain James Morgan (1734-1784) and his son, Major General James Morgan (1757-1822), both served and were briefly taken prisoner in the American Revolution, during which time the British ransacked their mansion, breaking 23 windows, taking everything of value, and tossing their valuable kiln into Cheesequake Creek. Major General Morgan later served in the 12th US Congress and then the War of 1812.
1777: One morning in July, over 150 British ships of war appear on the horizon and quickly fill the waters of the Raritan Bay. The residents of the Amboys watched in awe as Admiral Richard Howe commanded a landing of over 9,000 troops on Staten Island. In response, Governor Livingston appointed Captain James Morgan to guard the south side of the Raritan Bay and River with a militia of 50 men. Thus, the 2nd Regiment, Middlesex County Militia was formed, comprised of local men and boys, charged with the duty of harassing and impeding Redcoats at any sign of movement. Nighttime raids on the British ships anchored in the bay were frequent, as locals in small boats launched from the many rivers, inlets, and creeks along the shore. The Ye Old Spye Inn on Cheesequake Creek was one place where raiding patriots sought refuge.
1818: With the abolition of slavery in New Jersey, Maj. Gen. Morgan, along with a number of other wealthy landowning families from the hinterlands of South Amboy, devise and execute a plan to secretly smuggle their slaves to the South for profit. In March of that year, by cover of night, the sloop Thorpe left Wilmurt’s dock in South Amboy and transferred a number of slaves into the brig Mary Ann, which was waiting in the bay to transport the human cargo to New Orleans. The clandestine operation was later exposed, but none of the men ever faced charges.
Early 19th Century: Settlement of the area increased, particularly along the Raritan River, where a number of small farms were established. River traffic increased as well with the establishment of steamboat service between New Brunswick and New York City and the transport of fruit, namely apples, peaches, and pears, from from the docks of the Village of Washington on the South River. The name “Roundabout” enters into common usage, a name derived from the circuitous bend in the Raritan where the Letts, Price, and French families had settled. Each of these families were engaged in the production of pottery.
1820s: Steamboats fill the waters of the Raritan as competing interests fight to offer the fastest passage between New York and New Brunswick. The Antelope, owned by the Perth Amboy Steamboat Company, was one of the most popular steamers on the Raritan during the 19th century. Capable of holding 600 passengers, it offered free excursions from docks along the Raritan to the beach at Keyport, and its interior showcased two large paintings of Washington crossing the Delaware. For many steamboat passengers, however, the accommodations inside the steamer were no less more impressive than the scenery the trip afforded its passengers. One passenger traveling from New Brunswick wrote: “The Raritan finds its sinuous way through broad green salt meadows that stretch off like soft carpets until they meet the clay beds and tangled woods of the Jersey Shore. It was indeed Holland; the same flat landscape and long stretches of green marsh. One constantly expected a windmill to appear on the sedge, or the spires and crooked tiled roofs of a Dutch village.”
1830: Charles Ferson Durant, a native of Jersey City, becomes the first American balloonist when his first “flight” from Battery Park in Manhattan landed on the Johnson family farm in South Amboy (present-day site of Arleth School in Sayreville) on September 9, 1830.
1831: Local interests dig the Washington Canal in an effort to shorten the route from the Raritan River to the docks on the South River.
1832: The Camden & Amboy Railroad, New Jersey’s first railroad, establishes passenger service between South Amboy and Bordentown along the old “Lawrie’s Road,” present-day Bordentown Avenue. Carriages were initially pulled along the tracks by teams of horses. On September 9, 1833 the steam locomotive John Bull was put into service. Weighing ten tons, the locomotive was disassembled before being shipped from England and then reassembled upon arrival. The John Bull was a marvel of its age, and many famous Americans are known to have been passengers on the Camden & Amboy Railroad, including Presidents John Quincy Adams and James K. Polk.
1840: James Woods constructs the first brick factory at Roundabout. The first schoolhouse is erected on Quaid Street that same year.
1848: Methodists begin holding regular services at Roundabout with the coming of a “circuit rider,” a preacher who traveled from town to town holding services for local populations. The methodists would later construct the oldest extant church in Sayreville.
1850: James R. Sayre of Newark and Peter Fisher of Fishkill, New York enter into a partnership to form a brick company at the Roundabout. The Sayre and Fisher Company quickly begins purchasing large tracts of clay-rich land along the south bank of the Raritan River, eventually buying out most of the small pottery and brick manufacturers then operating along the river, including the brickworks of James Woods.
1860: The first post office is established by Sayre & Fisher at Roundabout. Though still a part of South Amboy, the name “Sayreville” begins to enter into usage, identifying the area once known as Roundabout. Although James R. Sayre never lived in Sayreville, he provided the capital to establish his brickworks, while Peter Fisher, with a background in the clay and brick industry of the Hudson River, provided the “know-how.” The Fisher family resided in Sayreville and ran the brick company for generations.
1871: Through the generous donation of bricks and other construction materials by Peter Fisher, local Methodists build a church on Main Street near the intersection of Pulaski Avenue.
1870s: Large waves of German Immigrants begin settling the area, finding employment in the many clay and brick industries which were, by this time, operating throughout all corners of South Amboy.
1876: As the nation celebrated its centennial, the newly formed Township of Sayreville was carved out of approximately 14 square miles of South Amboy’s hinterlands, consolidating Morgan, Melrose, Ernston, and Sayre’s Village under one municipal government. Fewer than 2,000 people resided in the new township.
1880s: Waves of Irish immigrants begin settling in Sayreville, working as laborers in the brickyards. They settled in all areas of the township, though most lived in the Melrose section.
1881: The “German” Presbyterian Church is constructed on Main Street.
1883: Sayre & Fisher construct the Reading Room at the corner of Main Street and River Road. Not only did this building serve the community as a recreational hall, library, and all-around public meeting place, its ornate facade displayed the beauty, diversity, and versatility of Sayre and Fisher bricks to potential buyers.
1885: Sayreville’s growing Roman Catholic community, largely Irish, form the parish of Our Lady of Victories. They construct a church near “Miller’s Corner” on Main Street in 1889, prior to which point they had been attending mass at Catholic churches in neighboring South River and South Amboy.
1887: The Brookfield Glass Company constructs a glass insulator plant on Bordentown Avenue, in the Old Bridge section of Sayreville. It was, until 1922, the largest insulator plant in the United States.
1888: The Raritan River Railroad is incorporated and lays tracks through Sayreville, linking the community, and its industries, with South Amboy and New Brunswick.
1889: A fatal riot breaks out on May 5th, when approximately 100 railroad workers began construction on a spur from the main line of the Raritan River Railroad across the land of ex-freeholder Edward Furman, down through the brickyard to William F. Fisher's yard. Furman was opposed to their crossing his land, and called out his men. The railroad men were then reinforced by men from Fisher’s brickyard. The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper reported the next day: “Furman's men attacked the railroaders and burned their ties, materials and car. Pistols, clubs and stones were freely used. George Kissinger, one of Furman's laborers, was killed outright. He was knocked down with a club and a sharp-pointed crowbar jammed through his head. John Kennedy, a railroad man, was so badly injured that he died within an hour. At 4 o'clock this morning the Sheriff of Middlesex county called out a posse of fifty men. When they reached the place, all was quiet, and the railroad men had stopped work to recruit their force.”
1890s: Waves of Polish Immigrants began to settle in Sayreville. In time, they would become the largest ethnic group in the community.
1890: August Rhode acquires the People’s Hotel on Main Street and opens a soda and beer bottling works behind the popular hotel.
1890: The Enameled Brick and Tile Works is established in the Old Bridge section of the township. Tiles produced here would later be used in the construction of the Holland Tunnel.
1899: The International Smokeless Powder and Chemical Company purchases the Keenan family farm and, at the intersection of Washington Road and Deerfield Road, construct Sayreville’s first chemical plant.
1901: The Middlesex and Somerset Traction Company lays trolley tracks through Sayreville, further connecting its population with the neighboring communities of South Amboy, South River, Milltown, and New Brunswick.
1903: The Crossman Sand and Clay Company begins mining in Sayreville in the area just to the west of Burt’s Creek and the Such Clay Company. In that same year, the Sayre & Fisher Electric Company power the township’s first electric street lights along Main Street.
1904: E.I. DuPont de Nemours purchases the International Smokeless Powder and Chemical Company and upgrade the plant. Henceforth, this section of the township is known as Parlin.
1907: Joseph Allgair establishes a hotel on Main Street along with a mineral water and soda bottling plant. The Allgair Hotel quickly becomes one of Sayreville’s most important public spaces, hosting dances, parties, weddings, concerts, and political meetings.
1909: Sayreville’s first Town Hall is constructed on Main Street. Prior to this time, the township committeemen held meetings at bars, hotels, and private residences.
1910: The population of Sayreville passes 5,000.
1912: DuPont is split by an anti-trust suit, and the Hercules Powder Company comes into existence.
1914: Sayreville’s growing Polish population, wishing to worship in their own tongue, construct Saint Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church on Sandfield Road (MacArthur Avenue).
1915: The Raritan River Railroad is featured in an episode of the silent movie serial "The Perils of Pauline." The episode, titled "The Juggernaut," was staged on the main line of the railroad in Parlin and included the construction of trestle over Duck’s Nest. The filming of “The Juggernaut” required a dramatic “plunge from the trestle” that left a locomotive and several railroad cars submerged in the pond, making it one of the most ambitious films of the time.
1917: With America’s entry into the Great War, munitions plants are rapidly constructed within the township. The California Shell Loading Company is built on Bordentown Avenue and the expansive T.A. Gillespie Shell Loading plant is built in Morgan.
1918: The T.A. Gillespie Shell Loading plant explodes, destroying the entire facility and killing about 100 workers over the course of three days. The City of South Amboy sustains major damage, and the blast is felt as far away as Newark.
1919: The Liberty Theater opens on Main Street. Built by Thomas Dolan, the theater brought silent films to the rural community for the first time.
1920: The Township of Sayreville is reorganized as a Borough with about 7,200 residents.
1934: National Lead builds a plant in Sayreville near Kearny’s Point on the Raritan River.
1934: DuPont, Hercules, and National Lead construct a dam on the South River in order to provide a constant and reliable source of freshwater to the three industries. They name the dam and the resulting lake “Duhernal,” a combination of the three industries’ names.
1939: Sayreville builds its first high school on Dane Street with a federal grant from the WPA.
1940: The Edison Bridge opens to vehicular traffic. When completed, it is the largest, highest, and longest span bridge of its type in the United States. Its erection by the Bethlehem Steel Company involved the lifting of the world's longest (260') and heaviest (198 tons) girder to an unprecedented height of 135' above the waters of the Raritan River.
1940: The chemical industry becomes the dominant employer in Sayreville, surpassing the brick industry.
1941: The United States enters World War II and Sayreville sends over 1,500 men into military service; Sayreville’s population stands at 8,186.
1945: Community leaders complete one of the first World War II memorials in the nation, a replica of the World War I memorial designed by a pastor from Our Lady of Victories R.C. Church. The Sayre & Fisher Brick Co. donates the bricks, and local men volunteer their time and expertise to the construction of the memorial.
1946: The Mayor and Council declare a four-day holiday in Sayreville from August 15th through 18th, inviting all neighboring communities to join in celebrations to welcome home the veterans of World War II. Events include softball games, boxing matches, a parade for returning servicemen and women, a baby parade, and a race between Mayor Phil McCutcheon of Sayreville, Mayor Joseph McKeon of South Amboy, and Mayor Matthew A. Maliszewski of South River. Gifts are presented to all of Sayreville’s returning veterans, and a memorial service is held at the Colony Theater, where gifts are presented to the mothers of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war.
1947: The postwar housing boom begins as borough attorney Joseph Karcher actively promotes the benefits of Sayreville, proclaiming that “the people prosper where industry prospers.” With breakneck speed, the vast tracts of industrial land that separate Sayreville’s seven neighborhoods are sold to housing developers. As America quickly became a suburban nation, for the first time, Sayreville’s land itself became more valuable than the clay within.
1948: The Owens-Illinois Glass Company constructs a large plant on Jernee Mill Road to produce “Kalo”, an insulation and roofing material.
1953: With the coming of the Garden State Parkway, the Driscoll Bridge is completed over the Raritan River. Designed as a sister-bridge to the Edison Bridge, together they are the widest bridge in the world.
1950s: A great number of new housing “developments” are built throughout the sprawling borough as clay companies sell their land holdings, which had depreciated in value with the growing housing boom. Laurel Park, the largest of these developments, becomes home to over 500 families. Other new housing projects include Pershing Park, President Park, Deerfield Estates, Hope Homes, Parkway Homes, and Haven Village.
1960s: More housing developments, such as Woodside, Sayre Woods, and Oak Tree East and West, raise Sayreville’s population to 32,508 by the end of the decade.
1962: To meet the demands of a rapidly growing population, the Sayreville War Memorial High School is built in a more central location within the borough, on Washington Road amid the clay pits of the Crossman Sand and Clay Company and the Such Clay Company. The new school replaced the old high school on Dane Street.
1964: Sunshine Biscuits purchases the Owens-Illinois plant on Jernee Mill Road and Bordentown Avenue and begins producing Hydrox cookies and crackers.
1968: Sayreville is one of the first municipalities in the United States to elect a female mayor. In what the local papers called a “distaff slate,” Peggy Kerr challenges the local Democratic establishment and becomes mayor of the borough, and three women, Florence Koval, Dorothy Carter, and Dolores Zaccardi, are all elected to the borough council.
1969: The Sayre and Fisher Brick Company closes its doors after nearly 120 years in Sayreville.
1970s and 80s: Sayreville transitions from an industrial community to a suburb as its once vibrant industrial landscape continues to give way to housing developments, and more residents commute to jobs outside of town. Sayreville’s governing body continues efforts to attract new industries during this time, and while a number of chemical companies locate within the borough, their presence results in a number of chemical spills and the illegal dumping of toxic materials, particularly in the area of lower Main Street and Horseshoe Road.
1979: The Crossman Sand and Clay Company ceases operations in Sayreville.
1982: The National Lead plant on the Raritan River closes, leaving a legacy of water pollution and soil contamination at Kearney’s Point.
1990s: With the loss of most of Sayreville’s industries, the borough embraces a new suburban identity, dropping the slogans of the past, such as “Home of Nationally Known Industries.” Housing developments continue to replace many of Sayreville’s open clay pits.
1999: The Sunshine Biscuits plant on Jernee Mill road closes.
2000s - Present: Sayreville’s population passes 40,000 as housing construction continues in formerly industrial land, including at the site of the T.A. Gillespie Shell Loading Plant and in Sayre and Fisher’s main clay pit.