Some weeks ago we determined that there are considerably more place names in New Jersey than there are municipalities. Here are some of the unincorporated townships, historic communities, hamlets, neighborhoods, and census tracts most often mistaken for municipalities — with their parent bodies in parenthesis: Basking Ridge (Bernards Township); Browns Mills (Pemberton Township); Cheesequake (Old Bridge); Convent Station (Morris Township); Crosswicks (Chesterfield); Darlington (Mahwah); Forked River, which John Pizzarelli made famous by pointing out that it “ain’t chopped liver” (Lacey Township); Loveladies (Long Beach); Marlton (Evesham); Mays Landing, which has a subdivision of its own, Mizpah (Atlantic County’s Hamilton Township); Ocean Grove (Neptune Township); Oldwick (Tewksbury); Ortley Beach (Toms River); Packanack Lake (Wayne); Pedricktown and Perkintown (Oldmans Township); Pluckemin (Bedminster); Pompton Plains (Pequannock); Short Hills (Millburn); Stirling (Long Hill; Succasunna (Roxbury); Tuckahoe (Upper Township); Waretown (Ocean Township); Whippany (Hanover); White Horse Station and Whitehouse Station, which could easily be confused each with the other, (Tabernacle and Readington, respectively); Whiting (Manchester); and Yardville (Mercer’s Hamilton Township).
Worse, there are any number of duplicated names among the non-munis. We won’t chronicle the duos or trios or even the four places named Pleasant Valley, because, if we did, we’d feel duty bound to give you a rundown on the three named Pleasant Grove and the three named Pleasant Plains as well. We’ll even skip the two dozen or so places with the word “Cedar” in their names, including five called Cedar Grove in addition to the township of that name. We’ll stick, instead, with precise repetition, where the runnerup, with seven places, is Centerville (one each in Branchburg, Camden, Edison, Hazlet, Mercer County’s Hopewell Township, Readington, and Sandyston). And the gold medal goes to Mount Pleasant — with eight (one each in Alexandria, Dennis, Knowlton, Newark, Pleasantville, Gloucester County’s Washington Township, Woodbine, and one that overlaps Mansfield and Burlington County’s Springfield.)
There are also scores of non-municipalities with names identical to that of an actual municipality elsewhere in the state. Our favorite is Harmony. There’s Harmony Township, to be sure, but there’re also places named Harmony that are part of Jackson, Middletown, and Quinton. Plus — and here’s why we love it — one in the Cumberland County’s Hopewell Township and one in the Mercer County Hopewell Township. Yes, it’s true, identically named subdivisions of identically named municipalities half a state away! The runnerup for ubiquity is Milltown, which in addition to the Middlesex County borough, has lent its name to parts of Bridgewater, Chester Township, Delran, Kingwood, Pilesgrove, Union County’s Springfield Township, and Union County’s Union Township. But the champions are the places named Fairview; aside from the Bergen County borough of that name, there’s a Fairview in Camden, Delran, Medford, Middletown, Montgomery Township, Tabernacle, and Gloucester County’s Washington Township — plus a Fairview Knolls in East Brunswick and a Fairview Lake in Stillwater. (We wonder where MapQuest sends you if you declare “Fairview” as your destination.) One wag wondered how — with all the Fairviews, Harmonys, Friendships, Pleasant thises and Pleasant thats, and even a Tranquility (Green Township) — we ever developed a reputation for brusqueness.
WHAT TOWN AM I IN?
And, yes, there are even unincorporated places that overlap municipal lines. If you tell people you live in Parlin, you could be a resident of either Old Bridge or Sayreville. If you reside in Flanders, you might vote in Mount Olive or in Roxbury, depending on which part of Flanders your home is in. If your children go to a Great Meadows school, you might live in either Liberty or Independence, which are deliciously adjacent up in Warren County. Green Village is partly in Harding and partly in Chatham Township. Most of Richwood lies within Harrison Township, but a sliver of it belongs to Mantua. If you bought a home in the membership community of Crandon Lakes, you may be a resident of Hampton Township, but you may also reside in Stillwater Township. A majority of the people who live in Lake Mohawk call Sparta Township Hall when they have a problem, but almost a fifth of them have to call Byram Township. Nor do city folk escape here: Country Village is a planned community mostly with the city limits of Jersey City, but a hunk of it is in Bayonne. Pottersville is special: Not only is it split between two municipalities — Bedminster and Tewksbury — but those townships are in two different counties, Somerset and Hunterdon, respectively. Pittstown spans three townships — Alexandria, Franklin, and Union, in Hunterdon County. But, the winner for being all over the place is Kingston; like Pittstown, it overlaps three different municipalities, and they’re in three different counties: South Brunswick (Middlesex), Franklin Township (Somerset), and Princeton (Mercer).
The origins of these names include a founder (Doddtown in East Orange for Daniel Dodd, the area’s first settler) or founders (Othello in Cumberland County’s Greenwich Township for the free blacks who settled there in the early 1800s). Some derive from a prominent physical feature (Gum Tree Corner in Stow Creek Township). Some are simply the result of a good story: Pemberton Township produced two of the best: Mount Misery is supposed to be haunted, and Ong’s Hat gets its name from a young man named Ong who, turned down by a local belle, threw his hat in the air where it got stuck in a tree. Some places get named for exclusivity. People say they’re from Fardale, in Mahwah, so folks won’t think they live in the Ramapo Mountains. Then there’s Upper Montclair. We know. There’s a topographical aspect to this, but the folks who live in the mansions up the hill really don’t want anybody to confuse where they live with the center of Montclair, where all that commerce takes place. And some of the best ones — Chrome (Carteret), for the old Chrome Steel Works, and Bivalve and Shell Pile (Commercial Township), where they shucked oysters and other shellfish — evoke a lost local industry.
ZIPPITY DO DA
Remember that unfortunate family that got fined $10,000 for sending a child to the wrong school district? Well, the culprit there, as in so much of this, is zip codes, which were created in 1963 and a means of zipping the mail to its intended destination. (Just in case you’ve ever wondered, ZIP is an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan). But zip codes were assigned with wanton disregard for municipal boundaries. For example, if you live in Parsippany-Troy Hills, you could have any one of a dozen zip codes in your address, but Lake Hiawatha and Mount Tabor stand out among the almost dozen and a half unincorporated communities as the only two that have their own zip codes. Or try to find the logic in this. Frankford, with 6,000 people, has no zip code of its own. Some citizens of Frankford get their mail from the Augusta post office (07822). Augusta is an unincorporated community within Frankford with a population under 900. Other citizens of Frankford are whacked up among the zip codes of Newton (07860), Branchville (07826 and 07890), and Lafayette (07848). And, even if you understand that, you don’t get off that easily. The 07826 zip for Branchville also serves Walpack. And the Newton post office also serves parts of Andover Township, Fredon Township, and Hampton Township.
One of our wags called this “the most promiscuous zip code in the state.” Another explains that Princeton came to be the address of so many places through “a combination of practicality and profitability.” As development came to Mercer County, the mail came into and out of the local post office closest to each new development with a carefree disregard for municipal boundaries. That was the practical part. The profitability part ensued when businesses started moving onto Route 1 and wanted the prestige of a Princeton address. So, we ended up with a zip code that covers almost 52 square miles — and parts of eight municipalities (Hopewell Township, Franklin, Lawrenceville, Montgomery, Plainsboro, the actual Princeton, South Brunswick, and West Windsor) in three counties (Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset). Curiously, neither Princeton Junction (which is part of West Windsor and can therefore be reached by snail mail at 08550) nor Princeton University (which has its own zip code, 08544) is part of the 08540 sprawl.
And a personal tale that sums it all up. One of our regular interlocutors reports that he lives in Sergeantsville in Delaware Township but has a Stockton mailing address. Almost two decades age, he was nominated to the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission but had his appointment withdrawn because there already was somebody from Stockton on the Commission, and the law precluded more than one member from any municipality to serve on the body. That got cleared up when he explained the mailing address/residence problem. Once seated on the Commission, he sought out the Stockton representative to share his story and a laugh only to discover that, while Stockton was her mailing address, she actually lived in Lambertville. That left Stockton without representation on the Commission even though two members got their mail from the Stockton post office. And that’s how we do things in the Garden State.
Nick Acocella is the founding editor of Politifax.