THE HISTORY OF HOLMDEL

1700s - Religious Freedom and the Revolutionary War  - Religion Plays a Part

Revolutionary War 

1800s - Origin of Holmdel and the Civil War - Origin


The Baptist and Quaker settlers came to America to escape persecution and seek religious freedom.  John Bray was an early settler in the village area of Holmdel that we know now as the corner of Main Street and Holmdel Road.  Bray was a Baptist minister who opened his house for prayer meetings. Before 1700, this area was known as Bray's Meeting House.  In 1709, Bray donated land on Main Street to build the first Baptist Church in New Jersey.  The church attracted more Baptist settlers and the area became known as Baptistown. Reverend Obadiah Holmes, one of the original signers to receive land under the Monmouth Patent, also helped organize the Baptist church. His two sons, Obadiah, Jr., and Jonathan settled in the Holmdel area. In 1667, Jonathan Holmes was an elected official in Middletown. 


The Battle of Monmouth occurred on  Sunday, June 28, 1778.  It was hot that day and several soldiers died of heat exhaustion. Sir Henry Clinton led the British soldiers on a march from Philadelphia to their ships anchored in Sandy Hook, passing right through Holmdel. Along their way the British soldiers plundered the farms and set them afire. During the Revolutionary War, the American Patriots fought for their lives and their liberty. They defended their land and their families. 

A section of Middletown (now Holmdel) was known as the Hornet's Nest. Near today's Longbridge Road and Cross Farms, armed Patriots would hide in the woods waiting for British soldiers. Stings from the Patriots muskets often meant death to the British soldiers. They said it was like getting stung by a hornet. Today, as history repeats itself, Holmdel High School athletic teams call themselves the Holmdel Hornets, as they sting their opponents along their way to victory. 
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The first official use of the name "Holmdel" was on January 21, 1830, when the Postmaster General established the Holmdel Post Office. The date it was first used is clear, but the origin of the word "Holmdel" is not certain. 

The earliest explanation found so far is in The History of Monmouth County, New Jersey, published in 1885, where Franklin Ellis wrote that Holmdel Township was so named for the Holmes family, several of whom were, now are and have been for generations, large land owners and influential men in this region." On the 1830 Census there were eleven Holmes families in Middletown which then included the village of Holmdel

In 1899, Reverend Abram I. Martine edited the Bi-Centennial Celebration of the Reformed Church of the Navasink and its two branches. Rev. Martine wrote, "The name Holmdel was derived from the two Saxon words 'Holmd' and 'dell' by Richard Cooke, ... 'the meaning of which when put together made a very near equivalent to Pleasant Valley." Separately we can confirm that Dr. Robert Cooke did have a brother/doctor named Richard born 1806, but not much is known about him.

 
The discrepancy continued in 1916, when William Reiley of New Brunswick, New Jersey, wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Freehold Transcript saying that the name "Holmdel" was not named after the prominent Holmes family in the area. Reiley wrote that "a sister of Dr. Robert W. Cooke, a famous physician and surgeon of his day, suggested "Holmdel," a combination of two Dutch words, "holm" meaning pleasant, and "del" meaning a valley, hence Holmdel, the name for Pleasant Valley." Unfortunately, Reiley did not explain how he knew this. 

As a retired attorney and former Middlesex County Surrogate, Reiley seemed to be a credible source. He was born in the Holmdel section of Middletown in 1845, fifteen years after the word was first used. His father, Reverend William Reiley, was a clergyman of the Dutch Reformed Church and in 1840, the Reiley family and the Cooke family were close neighbors. 


At the time the Holmdel Post Office was established, there were many families of Dutch descent in the area. Some of them still spoke the Dutch language. Reiley wrote that because of this Dutch influence, Cook's suggestion "met with immediate popular approval." 

Dr. Cooke did have three sisters, Hannah Maria Cook (1802-) who married John Boggs in 1828, Teresa Ann Cook (1804-1897), and Alethia Bates Cook (1810-1893). 

A problem with Reiley's statement is that when translated from English, the words "pleasant" and "valley" in Dutch, are "prettige" and "vallei," not "Holm" and "del." According to a Dutch language expert, "holm" is not a word in the Dutch language. 

Incorporation


Holmdel Township became a township on February 23, 1857. Holmdel was formed from part of Raritan Township.

Raritan Township became a township on February 25, 1848. Raritan was formed from part of Middletown Township. Raritan also gave parts to form Keansburg, Keyport, Union Beach, and the remainder eventually became Hazlet Township in 1967.​​

Middletown Township was formed on October 31, 1693.  So tracing a Holmdel family or property can be tricky: on and before the 1840 US Census it was called Middletown; in 1850 it was called Raritan Township, and in 1860 to current it is called Holmdel



1900s 

Farming continued to be the way of life and farmers continued to prosper. After WWII, property values began to climb. In the 1960s, farmers realized they could make large profits by selling their acreage to land developers. Builders began building houses and streets and created new neighborhoods, like Heather Hill, Blue Hills and later The Vineyard. Before its development, this area was part of McCampbell's Grape Farm - the largest grape farm in New Jersey. 

One by one the farms disappeared but there are still a few farms left. Some are privately owned. The farms purchased and now owned by Holmdel Township are restricted to agricultural use. These purchases were made to preserve examples of the farming way of life, which was for so long a part of Holmdel's history. You can still buy Holmdel grown fruits and vegetables in Holmdel produce stores and farm markets. 









Civil War


During the Civil War, most of the farmers in newly formed Holmdel Township opposed freedom for slaves. New Jersey was the last northern state to abolish slavery. The Holmdel farmers used slave labor to work the land, but a few families were against it. Quakers in the area were particularly intolerant of slavery. 

Some Holmdel residents may have allowed slaves to stay in hidden rooms in their houses until it was safe for them to continue traveling to find freedom. With help from Abolitionists, some African Americans traveled north along the elusive Underground Railroad. Before slavery was abolished it was illegal to help slaves escape, which is one reason why those secret activities are difficult to document. Years after the Civil War ended, some Holmdel farmhouse owners have discovered hidden rooms behind hidden doors. ​



2000s 

Holmdel Township today is a rural suburban community. For the year 2000, the US Census Bureau reported a population of 15,781 residents, of which, 17.4% were of Asian background. This pleasant valley with its illustrious past continues to be a comfortable place to live and its school system is highly rated. 

 The Gideon & Daly's Race Track







1930 - The Route 34 improvements of 1930 created a new road at a right angle westward to Marlboro and the realignment of the western portion of Main Street from Holmdel Village leading to Route 34.  This created a small triangle between Pleasant Valley Road and the new road (now Route 520). The Texaco station, is gone and the original Pleasant Valley Inn has been replaced by the old Remington's.  William and Helen Stevenson's house and the old Ely's Mill house are in excellent condition.


During the 1890's, several famous thoroughbred horses trained at Gideon & Daly's race track and breeding stable.  Destroyed in a fire in 1912 the property was sold in 2013 to the Cross family who purchased the property to grow potatoes. In 1979, Holmdel Township purchased it and converted the farm into the recreational Cross Farm Baseball and Soccer fields that we have now.
The Evolution of "The Village" of Holmdel
  
Rolling Hills, streams, ravines, open fields and heavy woods would best describe the topography that greeted the first English settlers to The Village area.  It was then that the first white settlers were English and their land grants were as follows:-

  • The Holmes Tract to the North extended from Ramanessin Brook on the east to Hop Brook Farm on the west.
  • On the northern boundary were lands granted to John Bowne and Jonathan Stout.
  • The Richard Stout, Sr. Tract was located on the east side of Ramanessin Brook slightly to the northeast.  The southern boundary was what is now known as Main Street.

Although the earliest deeds of conveyance are June 12th and June 20th, 1677 from the proprietors of east New Jersey, The Holmes Family is among the first settlers resulting from the Monmouth Patent of 1664.  The Homes Family along with the Stout Family, the Bowne Family and others were in Holmdel in 1664.

  • South of the Holmes Family tract, Eliezer Cotterell received two grants.  One for 100 acres and the other for 130 acres – both dated March 22, 1687.  This tract extended from Ramanessin Brook on the east to a small brook on the west that divided the tract from the Bray tract.  This brook was later known as “Bray’s Brook”.  The southern boundary has Hop Brook.

  • The Bray Tract extended from “Bray’s Brook” on the east side and Hop Brook Farms on the south and west.  John Bray received a grant for 50 acres – December 15, 1687.

  • John Bray acquired two parcels from John Reid on August 10, 1688 - one of 130 acres and the other of 30 acres, both adjacent to his own Land.

Neighbors were few and far between.  To the west near Carl Zellers Mill property, two Dutch settlers bought land from John Bowne on May 17, 1700.

  • Jacob Vandorn and Adrian Bennett acquired 200 acres.  This was part of a large tract that John Bowne purchased from William Penn on January 15, 1699.  The Vandorn Mill was established at this site.  Carl Zellers has restored the mill that the Ely Family established a few hundred feet below the original Vandorn Hill.

  • To the east of the Cotterell Tract, Benjamin Borden received a grant for 351 acres in seven parcels on June 20, 1677.  He did not settle on this tract and conveyed the land to John Bowne on May 17, 1712, who in turn conveyed it to Johannes Smock on December 9, 1712.  He is believed to be the forefather of the Smocks of Monmouth County.

  • John Bowne received a grant for 500 acres on March 10, 1685/6 located to the north west of Johnathan Holmes land.  John Bowne later sold this tract on October 7, 1695 to four Dutch men.  They were Cornnelius, Covenhoven, Garret Schenck, Stephen Voorhees and John Wyckoff.

Jonathan Holmes also had a few neighbors along his eastern boundary across the Ramanessin Brook.  They are:-

  • Richard Stout Sr. was granted a large tract of land to the north east of Jonathan Holmes just across the Ramanessin Brook.  In 1690, Richard Stout Sr., now very old, conveyed to his sons several positions of his land holdings.  One tract conveyed to this son, Peter Stout, would later be in The Holmes Family and through the marriage of Jonathan Holmes Jr. to Tieunje Hendrickson, resulted in an inter-marriage of two religious beliefs, the Baptists and the Dutch reform.  The Holmes Hendrickson House was built on this tract in the early 1700’s and moved to its present location the Bell Labs location.

South of the Stout Tract and east of the Holmes Tract, we find the following early settlers, going from north to south:-

  • George Jobes received a grant of 135 acres, which is now the Laura Harding Tract or Bayonet Farms.  It is on the south west corner of this tract that the first Dutch Reform Church was built in 1721.  A larger second church was built on the same site in 1769.  This church was used until 1838 when a new Dutch Reform Church was erected in The Village.  The Dutch Reform Cemetery is located just east of this site separated by a long driveway of Twin Brooks Farm.

South of Middletown Road:-

  • John Morford received a tract of 130 acres which tract included what is now the Balmer Tract and a portion of the Vineyard Development.

  • William Cheeseman received a grant of 162 acres which covers the south portion of the Vineyard Development to Old Mill Road.  Bruch Phillips', who passed away March 2019, home was on this tract. 

  • East of the Cottrell tract and south of Francis Harbor received a grant of 132 acres.  He is buried on this tract – location unknown.

  • The Benjamin Borden tract, south of Cottrell’s tract and extending to Hop Brook, settled by the Johannes Smock Family in 1712.  This tract extended from Ramanessin Brook to Borden’s Brook on the east.  Most of this farm is now public property owned by Monmouth County on the east side of Longbridge Road and Holmdel Township on the west side of Longbridge Road.


This is the way it was back around the turn of the century - 1700.  These are the neighbors of Holmdel.  The major items that would draw these families together were their strong beliefs and convictions to the Baptist faith and John Bray who was an early devout preacher.  It is believed that his early preaching were held in his own home and later referred to as the “Bray’s Meeting House”.  The "Village" consisted of one house in 1700, that of John Bray.  The settling farmers built their homes and barn back from the pathways on their land.  John Bray donated a gift of 4 acres to the Baptist Church (now known as the United Community Church) in 1708 for the construction of a house of worship. 

If it were not for the establishment of the Baptist religion at this location, there may have never been a “Village” Development in Holmdel.


  
If you have any photos of Holmdel Township "in the day" or any stories,  please contact us.   
We would love to share them with everyone.
1873
The J. Alex Guy General Store c.1873 on West Main Street in Holmdel.   Today it is the Cracked Olive Delicatessen.
1935 - The Holmdel Inn, c. 35, at the corner of Holmdel Road and W. Main Street.  Currently where the Holmdel Village stores are today.

1915 - Holmdel's Hance's Store at the corner of South Holmdel Road and West Main Street was built in the middle 1800's and served as the "old cracker barrel" for local residents as well as the Post Office in 1915.

1694 - In Holmdel, set back from Holland Road, the Hendrickson House, a Dutch colonial dwelling, was originally built in 1694.   During the Battle of Monmouth, the house quartered soldiers of the Continental Army.

  1. Veterans' Memorial
    Veterans' Memorial
    The New Jersey Veterans’ Memorial is located off of Telegraph Hill Road. This offers a meaningful experience that recognizes the courage and valor of veterans.
  2. Baptist Church
    Baptist Church
    This church is a merger of two of the oldest churches in Monmouth County, one of the youngest within the United Church of Christ denomination. The historical ties go back to the Middletown Baptist Church (1668) and the Dutch Reformed congregation (1699), which became known as the Holmdel Baptist Church and the Holmdel Reformed Church with the separation of Holmdel from Middletown in 1836.
  3. Old Wagon Farm
    Old Wagon Farm
    Old Wagon Farm, Holmdel, NJ - Rt. 35 and Laurel Ave. This was a large fruit orchid stand. Now this is the shopping center where Marshall's and the Dollar Store are today.

Holmdel Incorporated In 1857


A few facts...

  

After World War II, Holmdel began to change from a farming community to a more industrialized and commercial area.  Lily Tulip, Mattel Toys, Bendix Electric, Triangle Cable and Prudential Insurance Company took over land on the north and south side of Route 35 as well as the former Academy and Holmes farms.  The Garden State Parkway, completed in 1954, cut through the heart of Holmdel dividing the Township into north and south regions.

The biggest changes to the town came when the Garden State Parkway and Highway 35 were built.  All zoning for commercial and industry were to be along the Route 35 corridor.  These roads also made Holmdel more accessible to commuters who traveled from New York City or northern New Jersey.  To date, Holmdel residents travel by train bus or car to New York City, Philadelphia or northern New Jersey.

The largest residential boom took place from the 1950’s through the 1980’s.  Until then, most residents lived and worked within a 15-20 mile radius of the town.  Everyone knew each other due to the residential growth.  With the Garden State Parkway connecting Monmouth County to northern New Jersey, more professionals and business people moved down and became full-time residents.

The 17.9 square mile town of Holmdel still retains its quaint residential feeling.  People appreciate the open space.  Bayonnet Farm is owned and operated by Holmdel Township.  It has walking trails and other recreational activities.  The former owner, Laura Harding, willed the land to the Township on the condition that it remained as “open space”.  Even though much of the land in Holmdel is being developed, the town is doing what they can to balance progress with preservation and beauty.
  
  
From the arrival of the earliest settlers in 1664 until the recent past, Holmdel has been principally an agricultural community.  Having knowledge that the Dutch were to surrender to the British in New Amsterdam (New York City), a small group of Englishmen set out on a sailing boat from Gravesend, Long Island to negotiate the purchase of land from the Indians in what is now Monmouth County.  The first deed was for land at Nevisink and given to Captain John Bowne, Richard Stout and nine others.  These men eventually settled or had family representatives settle in the Holmdel area of old Middletown known as “The Village”.  This vast extent of land, deeded to the settlers from the head Indians, was acquired at an honest price.  The men made an application to governor Richard Nicolls for a grant to cover their land purchases.  Nicolls issued the document known as the Monmouth Patent.  This document ensured the settlers the privilege of having their own representative assembly and their own courts but also declared that the land had been honorably purchased from the Indians.  This historic patent was the first instrument recorded in The Archives of the State of Trenton and in the county records at Freehold.
     
The name “Holmdel” was not noted in historical records as a village or neighborhood name until the early 1830’s.  Prior to that, The Village area was known as “Bray’s Meeting House” after the old Baptist church.  The actual naming of The Village did not occur until citizens petitioned to have a post office established in the 1830’s.

The name Baptistown was proposed at a name for the post office and therefore as a name for The Village, but was rejected because the name existed in northern New jersey.  “Holmdel” was then selected in honor of the Holmes Family, which at the time, owned most of the land around The Village.

The Township of Holmdel separated from Middletown and incorporated in 1857.  The terrain of Holmdel is varied from level rolling hills to wooded areas and valleys.  Major streams run north to the Raritan Bay and south to the Swimming River.  The streams provided energy to operate the many mills established by the Van Dorn and Bennett families in the south on the Ramanessin and Willow Brooks and the Taylor and Arrowsmith families in the north of Mahoras Brook.

In 1928, Bell Laboratories (then part of Lucent Technologies) acquired five farms in central Holmdel to establish a research facility.  It was there that Telstar was developed.  Over 4.000 people worked at this facility where, in 1962, the first telecast from a satellite was received.  In 1964, traces of cosmic energy presumed to have originated in the “big bang” with which the universe began, were recorded for the first time.  The 20-foot horn antenna used in this work is now a national historical landmark.




  

Holmdel Timeline


The belief is that Holmdel is named for the Holmes Family many of whom were and still are large landowners and influential in the area.


The territory of Holmdel was carved from Raritan and became a township in 1857.  It was formally known as “Baptistown”.


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  • 1668 – English settlers emigrating from Long Island and New England organize the First Baptist Society.
  • 1705 – The First Baptist Society builds the Holmdel Community Church in Holmdel Village.  The Church is originally known as the Upper Meeting House of the Baptist Church in Middleton.  It is rebuilt in 1809 as the Holmdel Community Church.  The property includes a large Victorian parsonage built in 1882 and a Chapel half built in 1886.  It housed British soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth.  The Church was extensively renovated in 1896 and later named the New Jersey Heritage Society Register.
  • 1788 – The van Mater grist mill is erected and remains operational unitl March 29, 1860 when it is destroyed by a fire.
  • 1836 -  The Post Office is established with Dr. R. W. Cooke as postmaster
  • 1890 – Longstreet Farm owned by the Longstreet Family was comprised of 496 acres – taking in all of Holmdel County Park and property once owned by Bell Laboratories as well as an adjacent tract once owned by IBM.  The farm was purchased by the park system in 1867 and work began immediately to restore the structures to their late nineteenth century appearance.

  • 1917- The Holmdel Fire Company No. 1 is established
  • 1929 – American Telephone & Telegraph Company acquires the site where it installs its Bell Telephone  Laboratories unit.
  • 1932 – Karl Jarsky, a scientist working for Bell Labs, uses a rotating antenna to pick up radio moves emanating from space.  The discovery opens up a whole new way of studying the heavens.
  • 1953, March 29– The historic Prentice Farm is sold to the Ramanessin Brook Farm Corp.
  • 1953, November – Through arrangements made by Bell Labs, the historic Hendrick Hendrickson Farm House, which dates back to 1730, is donated to the Monmouth County Historical Association.

  • 1960, January – Construction of Bell Labs Research Building gets under way.  It goes up on Bell’s 450 acre tract at Crawfords Corner and Roberts Roads.
  • 1965, January 12 – The Garden State Arts Center is proposed.
  • 1965, June 10 – A 15-acre plot on North Beers Street is sold to Bayshore Community Hospital by Mr. & Mrs. Theodore G. Bailey.
  • 1966 – June 10 – Lanvin-Charles of the Ritz, one of the world’s largest leading cosmetic manufacturers, announces the purchase of the $2,000,000 plant and 26 acre site.
  • 1966 – December 6 – The $34,000,000 Bell Labs Building opens!  It was designed by Ero Saarinen and is one of the final achievements of the noted architect.  He died in 1961 before the final phase of construction was completed.
  • 1967, May – The Holmdel Police Department observes its first year as a full-time unit with Joseph W. Phillips as police chief.
  • 1968, June 12 – The Garden State Arts Center (now PNC Arts Center) opens after delays and rising costs.  The Arts Center was financed by New Jersey Highway Authority, which operates the outdoor amphitheater.

  • 1970, February 1 – The Holmdel First Aid Squad is founded.
  • 1972  The Holmdel Chinese School is founded.
  • 1972, February 23 – The State Police formerly housed in Keyport moves to the new barracks on Centerville Road in Holmdel.
  • 1972, May 1 – Bayshore Community Hospital, with 158 beds, opens
  • 1973, September 5 – Holmdel High School, a $5,200,000 facility opens.  The school’s first graduation class, on June 16, 1974, has 145 pupils.

  • 1983, June 12 – Longstreet Farmhouse opens as a restoration of the farm owned by the Longstreet family during the 19th century.
  • 1984, April 9 –Prudential Property and Casualty Insurance Company, one of the largest insurance companies in America, relocates its South Plainfield office to Holmdel.
  • 1989, May 7 – Ground is broken for the New Jersey Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial by Gov. Kean.  The memorial designed by Hem Nguyen is dedicated on May 7,1995.
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  • 1996, Feb. 2 – Bell Labs is spun off from AT&T and is then named Lucent Technologies, Inc.
  • 1996, July – Garden State Arts Center changes its name to the PNC Bank Arts Center for a 10-year period following a $9,200,000 payment from the Pittsburgh based bank.
  • 1997, April 29 – After more than a decade of court and legislative battles, endless zoning hearings and bouts with developers, the Township is officially notified that it has fulfilled its 776 Mount Laurel unit requirements.



  
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Donations Appreciated
  1. Downtown Holmdel
    Downtown Holmdel
    An east view on Route 520 showing the hotel on the corner. Also in view is the Holmdel Community Church.
  2. Holmdel Village
    Holmdel Village
    Formerly o the corner of Holmdel-Keyport Road (Now Holmdel Road) and Main Street (now Route 520). The Holmdel Inn was situated on the corner where Coldwell Banker Brokerage is now located.
  3. Early 1900.
    Early 1900.
    Looking west on Route 520 this picture is showing the parsonage and Holmdel Church buildings almost as they are today.
  4. General Store
    General Store
    This is the north side of Holmdel Village in the early 1900's showing Alex Guy's General Store which is The Cracked Olive today.