History of Howell Township
The History section is indebted to the excellent historical narrative written by Louise Usechak for the Manasquan Watershed Management Association (MWMA) from the “Manasquan River Watershed Initial Characterization and Assessment Report” completed in 1999.
Early History and Lenape Settlement
The history of Howell Township is connected to its location along the Manasquan River, where humans have lived since ancient times. Archeologists have estimated that Paleo-Indians (ancient Native Americans) settled in the Manasquan watershed as early as 9000 BC. This makes the Manasquan Paleo-Indian site located within Howell Township, south of Squankum Yellowbrook Road, one of the oldest settlement areas in eastern North America (Manasquan Watershed Management Association, 1999). The discovery of a projectile point at the site led to further excavations, which revealed refuse, floors, and other prehistoric remains (Monmouth County Environmental Council, 1978). Turkey Swamp Park in Freehold Township also contains an early settlement site of Paleo-Indians. At that time, the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean extended for 50 miles and the Manasquan watershed consisted of grasslands and marshland that was habitat for mammoths, caribou, musk oxen, and horses (Kraft, 1986).
The Manasquan River was first observed by Europeans in the 1520s when Giovanni da Verrazano sailed up the coast of New Jersey. The name “Manasquan” derives from a Lenape word meaning “mouth of the river.” The Lenape were a peaceful tribe that practiced agriculture, hunting, fishing, and shellfish harvesting. In addition, the Lenape possessed highly prized black wampum made from polished local seashells, which they used fortrade with other tribes. Archeological relics found in Allenwood in Wall Township, adjacent to Howell Township, show evidence of a large meeting place for the Lenape (MWMA, 1999).
Settlement and Incorporation
Early colonial settlement in and surrounding present-day Howell Township revolved around agriculture as the principle industry and activity. Settlement patterns roughly corresponded to the location of high-quality soils. A Methodist church society was one of the first European settlements within Howell, founded in the 1760s, and the first Methodist meetings in Monmouth County were held in a barn. A permanent structure for the Bethesda Methodist Church was built in 1779 on what is now Lakewood Road (Donahay, 1967). The area was later called Turkey, from which Turkey Swamp Park in Freehold Township is named, before becoming known as Adelphia.
In addition to Adelphia, Howell has a number of other early settlement areas that later became suburban neighborhoods: Bethel (Southard), Jerseyville (originally called Green Grove), Ramtown, Squankum, Freewood Acres, and Ardena. Bethel, an area in the southwest part of Howell Township, was settled in 1865 when a lot was donated by Israel Reynolds to build a Methodist Church that was completed in 1866. A school house opened in 1870, followed by a store in 1872. A post office opened in 1882 and reflected the area’s name change from Bethel to Southard (Donahay, 1967). Today, the J.W. Reynolds House and Outbuildings and the Southard Grange are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Borough of Farmingdale was known as Marsh Bog until its name was changed to Upper Squankum in 1815, before becoming known as Farmingdale in 1854. This area was a part of Howell until it became a separate borough in 1903. Farmingdale was the center of commerce in the nineteenth century and was home to churches, taverns, shops, and other establishments. During the Revolutionary War, both British and American troops were occasionally stationed at Mariner’s Tavern in Farmingdale, later called Our House Tavern (Donahay, 1967).
Howell was incorporated as a township in 1801 and named after Richard Howell, the third governor of New Jersey who served from 1793 to 1801. At the time of its incorporation, Howell Township included its current area in addition to present-day Wall Township, Brick Township, Lakewood Township, as well as several small boroughs along the Atlantic Coast. Brick Township, Lakewood Township, and the coastal boroughs separated from Howell when Ocean County was formed in 1850. In 1851, Wall Township seceded from Howell Township. In 1927, Howell Township’s border shrank again when a southern portion joined Lakewood Township (Greer, 2000 and Donahay, 1967).
Early roadways in the area were built to connect farms with the Manasquan River for transportation of goods, and access to other farms, mills, and churches. The roadways that would become US Highway Route 9 and State Highway Route 33 were based on old Lenape trails. Other roadways were created to connect different settlements and named accordingly – Lakewood Farmingdale Road and Adelphia Farmingdale Road are two such examples. Stagecoach service operated through the area starting in the 1850s along Route 524, part of which is called Stagecoach Road in nearby Millstone.
By the early- to mid-1800s, the population in and around Howell Township had grown significantly and many schools were built to accommodate the growing youth population. A number of churches were also built during this same time period.
Agriculture and Industry
Farming continued to be the primary economic activity in the area through the early 1900s, and some estimates are that Monmouth County contained over 200,000 acres of active farmland in 1910 (MWMA, 1999). Freehold Township was the center of agricultural activity and had one of the busiest public markets in the state. Potatoes were a main crop in the region until at least the 1950s, although a Colorado potato beetle infestation in 1870 caused severe damage to the local crop. Along Marsh Bog Brook near the Squankum area of Howell were a number of large-scale cranberry bogs that operated during the late 1800s to early 1900s. The opening of the Point Pleasant Canal in 1926, however, introduced saltwater to the freshwater bogs. This saltwater intrusion, combined with persistent pest problems, led to the closure of some cranberry bogs in the 1930s, although many continued to have high production through the 1950s.
In addition to agriculture, natural resource extraction and processing was another primary industry in the area. One colonial industry was the production of “bog iron,” a type of iron with rust resistant qualities that could be produced from natural deposits found alongside slowmoving acidic waters and marshes.
James P. Allaire purchased 5,000 acres of land in Howell Township in 1822 and built a self-sufficient industrial company town centered on the production of bog iron. Part of the purchase included the Monmouth Furnace, a pig iron furnace built in 1814. Allaire had a three-mile canal built from Mingamahone Brook to the site to provide power for the furnace. The company, Howell Works, produced iron that was used primarily for the construction of ships, particularly at Allaire’s shipping yards in New York. Many other iron products were also manufactured, such as stoves, cookware, pipes, and irons. At the height of Howell Works, the company town boasted 70 buildings and a resident population of 500. In addition to iron manufacturing, Howell Works produced hundreds of thousands of bricks every year. The town also contained a boarding house, a hotel, individual residences, a school, a church, several mills, a blacksmith shop, a carriage house, a screw factory, a store, a bakery, and other buildings. The bog iron industry, however, began to suffer a decline, due in part to increased competition from higher quality Pennsylvania iron. In addition, the massive amount of charcoal derived from wood that was required to fuel the furnaces put an immense strain on the local timber resources.
After little more than two decades of operation, Howell Works ceased production in the 1840s and the village was abandoned. The village was a ghost town until it was purchased, along with other lands, by Arthur Brisbane in 1907 to build the Howell Preventorium, discussed below. Allaire Village was leased to the Monmouth Council of the Boy Scouts between 1927 and 1947. In 1941, the property was deeded to the State of New Jersey and underwent renovations to convert it to an educational exhibit (MWMA, 1999). Allaire Village is now an historic park that offers tours, demonstrations of traditional trades and crafts, and special events.
Another natural resource found and extracted in Howell Township was marl, which is loose, earthy material composed of calcium carbonate, clay, and silt. It is derived from decomposing prehistoric marine life deposited in central and southern New Jersey Marl had been used for fertilizer since the 1700s and was discovered in Howell Township in 1830 along the Manasquan River. Great amounts of marl were extracted from the Manasquan River and Mingamahone Brook and shipped to farms across the state. The great demand for marl led to the construction of numerous roadways and railroads, including the Freehold and Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad in 1853, the Raritan and Delaware Railroad in 1861, the Squankum Marl and Railroad in 1866, and the Farmingdale and Squan Village Railroad in 1872 (MWMA, 1999). In 1897, the United Canal and Railroad Company of New Jersey acquired several of the railroads and subsequently leased the property to the Pennsylvania Railroad for 999 years. The marl industry in Howell Township thrived until about 1900, when more efficient types of nitrogen-basedfertilizers were introduced (Donahay, 1967).
In addition to iron, timber, and marl, the brickwork industry also thrived in Howell Township during the 1800s due to the area’s abundance of clay suitable for bricks. The different varieties of local clay created bricks of varying colors. A number of brick-making operations were established in the northern part of Howell Township on the present-day Naval Weapons Station Earle. Similar to bog iron production, brick making required a great deal of locally resourced timber to fire the kilns. A large labor force was required to cut timber for the furnaces and to dig and transport clay. The brick-making companies within Howell largely ceased production in the late 1800s as resources and labor were more difficult to obtain and brick production became more mechanized (MWMA, 1999).
The manufacturing of munitions was another thriving local industry in the late 1800s, and several gunpowder operations were established in and around Howell Township. Like the brickmaking operations, the Phoenix Powder Manufacturing Company established a plant in the northern area of Howell Township near the present-day Naval Weapons Station Earle. Another munitions operation in Howell Township was the Maxim Powder Company, located just southwest of the Squankum area, which was founded by Hudson Maxim (MWMA, 1999). The Maxim area of Howell is named after this inventor and entrepreneur.
Local Jewish History
Jewish residents have lived in Monmouth County since the 1780s, and Revolutionary War maps labeled an area in present-day Colts Neck Township as “Jewstown” (Klerman, 2007). This name, however, was most likely not derived from a significant Jewish population, but rather from a Jewish-owned tavern called Hart’s Tavern. In the late nineteenth century, many Eastern Europe Jews fled to New York City to escape persecution and many then moved to rural Howell Township (Pine, 1981).
In the 1920s and 1930s, a larger wave of Jewish New Yorkers moved to Howell with help from the Jewish Agricultural Society in New York (Hunton, 1990). The Agricultural Society encouraged the Jewish émigrés to operate poultry farms. The poultry industry, established by Jewish farmers in Howell, Farmingdale, and Freehold, grew tremendously and at its peak in the 1930s, Monmouth County was the leading egg producer in the nation. Rapid suburbanization, along with changing economic conditions, contributed to the decline of the poultry industry in Howell Township in the 1950s and 1960s (Blair 1993).
Howell’s Jewish Community Center began holding meetings at members’ houses in 1926 (Donahay, 1967). In 1930 a permanent building was constructed on Peskin Road on land donated by a local farmer. This original Jewish Community Center was closed in the early 1970s in conjunction with the creation of the Manasquan Reservoir and a new building was completed in 1975.
Arthur Brisbane bought 5,000 acres in Howell Township in 1907 for the establishment of a Preventorium. This was a facility to quarantine children who had been in contact with people suffering from tuberculosis so the children would not contract the highly infectious disease. Brisbane purchased the former Allaire Village but built the Preventorium on the current site of the Howell Municipal Complex. Up to 230 children were housed at the Preventorium, which operated from 1912 until about 1962 (MWMA, 1999). The Tuberculosis Preventorium for Children is currently the Howell Township Municipal Complex.
Naval Weapons Station Earle
In the midst of World War II, the US Government purchased land in northern Howell and southern Colts Neck Township to satisfy the need for a weapons facility in the New York metropolitan region. The station was commissioned in 1943 and named after Rear Admiral Ralph Earle, who during World War I was the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, the department in charge of the procurement, storage, and deployment of naval weapons. This facility handled most of the munitions used by the Army in Europe during the war (MWMA, 1999). In 1974, the facility’s name was changed from Naval Ammunition Depot to Naval Weapons Station.
The station is divided into two sections: Main-side is located in Colts Neck and Howell, and the Waterfront Area is on Sandy Hook Bay. Normandy Road, a 15-mile road and rail line, connects the two sites. The station’s Public Works Detachment maintains the railroad, which consists of 130 miles of track, nine locomotives, and 520 pieces of rolling stock. Located mostly in Colts Neck, Main-side covers more than 10,000 acres and is where most of Earle’s storage facilities are located. Main-side also contains its own police and fire departments, health facilities, homes, office buildings, stores, restaurants, and recreational facilities (Naval Weapons Station Earle).
As a weapons station, Earle handles, stores, transports, renovates, and issues all types of weapons and ammunition to the US Navy and Coast Guard. The station also manages handling equipment and containers for the fleet, including design, testing, acquisition, in-service engineering, and logistical support (Naval Weapons Station Earle).
Kalmyk and Russian Immigration
Another immigrant group to settle in Howell Township is the Kalmyks (also spelled Kalmucks or Kalmuks), an ethnic group of Mongolians who migrated to southeast Europe (present-day Russia) in the seventeenth century. The Kalmyks were loyal to the Russian Tsar and fought against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution of 1917. When the Bolsheviks took power, many Kalmyks fled to Turkey, and from there went to France or Eastern Europe. Those who remained at first faced persecution, although the attitude of the Soviet Union toward minority groups evolved. The Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast, in existence since 1920, became an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1935 with a population of about 140,000 people (Thernstrom). The Kalmyk population faced additional persecution when Germany invaded Russia in 1941. The Kalmyks at first fought with the Russians against the Germans, although thousands would later switch to the German side. Still others were taken prisoner by the Germans. Due to their collaboration with the German forces, the Kalmyks were forcibly deported by the Russian Army at the end of World War II (Thernstrom). About 800 Kalmyks were sent to refugee camps near Munich where they were without citizenship and denied employment and education. In 1951 the US Board of Immigration Appeals allowed Kalmyks to immigrate to the United States (Baatar).
Of the 571 Kalmyks who immigrated to the United States that year, most moved to either Philadelphia or the Freewood Acres section of Howell Township. Many Kalmyks still live in Freewood Acres, although many moved to other states in the 1970s. The traditional religion of Kalmyks is Tibetan Buddhism and Howell Township is home to a Kalmyk Buddhist temple, the Tashi Lhunpo Temple. The Kalmyk-American Cultural Association was founded in Howell Township in 1997 and has organized classes and events on Kalmyk culture (Baatar).
In addition to the Kalmyks, another group of Russians, known as the Old Believers, immigrated to the Freewood Acres section of Howell. The Old Believers originated in the seventeenth century in opposition to religious reforms in Russia intended to realign Russian orthodoxy with Greek texts. The Chapel of St. George, an Old Believer congregation located in Freewood Acres, was founded in 1961, and the chapel was completed in 1965 (Donahay, 1967). The Chapel of St. George is distinctive for its multiple gold-colored cupolas (onion-shaped rooftop domes) typical of Russian architecture.