Four Centuries in a Weekend
Union County: A Historical Overview:
Today, Union County is the third most densely populated county in the State of New Jersey. Half a million people make their homes in Union County’s twenty-one municipalities.
A great deal has changed since 1664 when the land that would become Union County was purchased from the Lenni Lenape Indians by a group of Englishmen. The area was named Elizabethtown after the wife of Sir George Carteret, proprietor of East Jersey. It was the first permanent English settlement in New Jersey and was the provincial capital of East Jersey.
By the mid-eighteenth century, Elizabethtown had become one of the most prominent cities of New Jersey. In the 1750s, Royal Governor Jonathan Belcher established his residence in Elizabethtown, making the town the colonial capital.
The area saw much action during the American Revolution, and local politicians such as Elias Boudinot, William Livingston, Abraham Clark and Jonathon Dayton became leaders in shaping the new nation.
The nineteenth century transformed Elizabeth into a transportation hub as railroad lines, highways and steamboat shipping converged in the city. Originally part of Essex County, the area split off and incorporated as Union, the state’s final county, in 1857. All of what is now Union County was once part of the Elizabethtown tract.
Union County saw tremendous growth in the late nineteenth century. Its easy access to transportation was a magnet for industry and immigration.
The railroads also spurred the growth of attractive residential communities. Historic districts of Victorian and early twentieth century houses may be found in many Union County communities.