Basking Ridge in Bernards Township has retained its small-town charm for over 200 years. Most of the shops, restaurants, and services along tree-lined South Finley Avenue are located in historic 19th-century houses. In fact, the downtown area has so much history that it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.
Bernards Township was originally formed by Royal Charter as Bernardston Township. The name Bernards Township was given to the area in 1760 by King George II to honor Sir Francis Bernard, Provincial Governor of New Jersey from 1758 to 1760. It was incorporated as Bernards Township in 1798. Basking Ridge, Liberty Corner, Lyons, and West Millington are located within Bernards Township, while Martinsville is split between Bernards and Bridgewater Townships.
Even though maps indicate that Basking Ridge is a small commercial district in the northeast section of Bernards, about 95% of the township is referred to as Basking Ridge and has a Basking Ridge postal address. The only major parts of Bernards that do not have Basking Ridge addresses are the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lyons and Liberty Corner, a small historic district in the southern portion of the township.
The Bernards Township municipal building on Collyer Lane is housed in a circa 1912 brick Tudor mansion detailed with French pocket doors, maple and mahogany paneling, and marble fireplaces. The house and its 28 acres were sold to the township by John Jacob Astor VI for $140,000 in 1968.
The recorded history of Basking Ridge goes back to 1717, when John Harrison, an agent of King James III, bought most of what is now Bernards Township from Chief Nowenok of the Lenni Lenape Indians. Some of the first European settlers were English and Scottish Presbyterians who came to America to escape religious persecution.
The name "Basking Ridge" first appeared in the records of the Presbyterian Church in 1733 when a writer noted that wild animals would "bask in the sunlight on the ridge." At that time, the church was a log cabin on what is now East Oak Street. The current Presbyterian Church, built in 1839 in the Greek Revival style, is the third church on the site and is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. Situated in the graveyard is a 600-year-old white oak tree where George Washington is said to have picnicked in the late 1770's.
There are many historic structures throughout the township. Built in 1809 as the Basking Ridge Classical School, this school prepared young men for the College of New Jersey, today's Princeton University. It has also served as a public school, a union hall, and a town hall. Currently it's home to the Brick Academy Museum, focusing on the history of Basking Ridge.
The Van Dorn Mill was built in 1768 as a wooden structure, then rebuilt using native stone in 1843. Known as the finest stone structure in New Jersey, the mill was constructed using thousands of stones hauled from the hedgerows of nearby farms. Builders were paid a dollar a day to rebuild the mill.
Other historic buildings of note in Bernards Township include the Alward Farmhouse, Lord Stirling Manor Site, Coffee House (1804 House), Lyons Train Station, Franklin Corners Historic District, and Liberty Corner Historic District.
There are many community-oriented events scheduled in Bernards Township, offering opportunities for residents to gather throughout the year. Past programs have included maple sugaring, family fun day, wildlife art exhibition, art of nature show, concert series, film festivals, Scottish games, Plays in the Park, Bike Tour of Basking Ridge, Halloween night walks, 1770's Festival, and Holiday Open House Tour.
The Bernards Township School District has six public schools. These include four kindergarten through grade 5 schools: Cedar Hill Elementary School, Liberty Corner Elementary School, Mount Prospect Elementary School, and Oak Street Elementary School. William Annin Middle School educates students in grades 6 through 8 and Ridge High School houses grades 9 to 12.
Ridge High School was the second-highest ranked school in New Jersey in Newsweek's May 8, 2006, issue listing the Top 1,000 High Schools in The United States. The high school was also the 11th-ranked public high school in New Jersey (out of 316 schools statewide) in New Jersey Monthly magazine's September 2006 story highlighting the state's Top Public High Schools.
Pingry School is a private day school with its upper campus for grades 6 to 12 located in Martinsville. The Albrook School is a private Montessori school for children up to 12 years old and the St. James School is a Catholic school for grades pre-K through 8.
Interstate 78 is situated in the southern section of the township, and Interstate 287 is in the north. Other nearby highways include Routes 22, 24, 202, and 206. The Basking Ridge and Lyons train stations located within the township offer service into New York City.
Bernards Township has a variety of single-family neighborhoods, condominium and townhouse complexes, historic properties, and luxury estate homes. Part of the township includes The Hills, a master-planned residential development located near the intersection of Routes 78 and 287.
Downtown Basking Ridge has a charming collection of Early American homes in addition to its shops, restaurants, and services. There are over 200 antique structures in Basking Ridge's historic district, including several rumored haunted houses. One is an old reproduction castle on Summerville Road built in 1920 for former Mayor Frank Beatty and his brother, William. William Beatty is said to haunt the castle, albeit in a helpful way; there have been reports of him closing windows during rainstorms. The story was once featured on television's "Unsolved Mysteries" series.
Lord Stirling County Park and Environmental Center is located behind the municipal complex on South Maple Avenue. This 900-acre county-owned park includes riding stables where lessons are offered, as well as the Somerset County Environmental Education Center, which runs educational programs for children, adults, and school groups. The park stands on land that was originally the estate of William Alexander, who relinquished his British title of Lord Stirling to command troops in George Washington's army.
Pleasant Valley Park is the largest town-owned park, a 111-acre parcel off Valley Road. It has baseball, softball, and soccer fields, tennis courts, paddle-ball courts, and an amphitheater for summer performances.
Pleasant Valley Pool is next to the park and offers an Olympic-sized pool, a kiddie pool, and play areas.
Brick Academy Museum is an 1809 Federal style building on West Oak Street with a museum of local history on its main floor. Featured exhibits have included one on early education and a display of artifacts from Lord Stirling's plantation. The lower floor of the Brick Academy contains a Research Room with collections focusing on local genealogy, local history subjects, and documents and photographs pertaining to real estate properties in Bernards Township. Garden beds are planted and maintained by the Basking Ridge Garden Club.
Size: 24 square miles
2000 Census Population: 24,575
Location: Somerset County, north central New Jersey
Distance from New York City: About 35 miles
Distance from Newark: About 30 miles
Distance from Philadelphia: About 70 miles
Parks: Lord Stirling County Park, Pleasant Valley Park, The MAVERIC Driving Range and Learning Center at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Lyons, Harry Dunham Park, Southard Park.
Local Sites/Attractions: The Brick Academy Museum, Basking Ridge historic district.
Major Roads: Interstates 78 and 287, Routes 22, 24, 202 and 206 are nearby.
Mass Transportation: New Jersey Transit's Gladstone Branch of the Morris and Essex Line offers service from Lyons or Basking Ridge stations in Bernards Township to Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, Hoboken or Newark. A one-way trip to Manhattan is approximately 70 minutes. Lakeland Bus has local commuter service to Port Authority in midtown Manhattan, a trip that takes about an hour.
Housing: Antique farmhouses, antique Colonials, Early American homes, country manors, luxury real estate, Victorians, estate properties, equestrian farms, contemporary homes, townhouses and condominiums offer an appealing mix of diverse architectural styles.
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