A Look at Phillipsburg Rural Charm Outside the City

A Look at Phillipsburg

Phillipsburg is one of those small towns that when you hear about it, you want to immediately jump into your car, drive to the area and check it out.

Just read the description of their town on their website, www.phillipsburgnj.org: "Located on the Delaware River, in a beautiful setting of rolling hills, woodlands, and flowing waters, Phillipsburg, New Jersey offers the best of all worlds. Here, you can escape from crowded, impersonal developments, and find the joys of living in a close-knit community of families and friends, as you enjoy all the advantages of urban living, as well as rural atmosphere—from a quaint downtown waterfront shopping district, to a choice of nearby airports." The Phillipsburg area consists of the township of Phillipsburg, Alpha Borough, and the townships of Greenwich, Lopatcong, and Pohatcong. The area is situated in scenic Warren County.

Go Ahead, Get Your Keys…

If you're not looking to become Phillipsburg's newest resident, perhaps you might consider starting or relocating a business in this community. From an economic standpoint, Phillipsburg has had its ups and downs, but the last few years have definitely seen a peak in the two important "C's" for this city—commerce and customers.

Frank Geraghty, president of Graphic Action and Pro Signs on South Main Street, has owned his business for 18 years, all of which he has spent in Phillipsburg's downtown section.

"New business is moving in and new residents are moving in," says Geraghty. "The town has fostered development through the use of public and private funds, including a regional contribution agreement. They've fixed up buildings and it's bringing more customers and it's a benefit to all the businesses in the area."

Things have come a long way since Phillipsburg's humble beginnings back in 1851. According to a history of Phillipsburg written by George Wyckoff Cummins, Ph.D., M.D. and the Lewis Historical Publishing Company, "Phillipsburg was first organized as a township in 1851, and at that time included Lopatcong, which was not set off until March 8, 1861, when Phillipsburg was incorporated as a town. An addition was made from Lopatcong to Phillipsburg in 1903."

"Phillipsburg," he adds, "is on the site of an Indian village called Chintewink, which is still the name of one of its alleys. The present name is variously ascribed to an Indian chief Philip, who lived in the village, and to a family named Phillips who settled there later."

Cummins goes on to explain that in 1820, Phillipsburg contained thirty or more houses, scattered for a mile along the Sussex road—now North Main Street—and the New Brunswick Turnpike—or George Street—now partly South Main Street.

According to Cummins, the first important growth in Phillipsburg began with the building of the New Jersey Central Railroad, which was completed to the town on July 1, 1852. The population increased rapidly after that, from 1,500 in 1860 to 5,950 in 1870, 7,176 in 1881, 9,500 in 1899 and 14,000 in 1911. Today, the town has six wards and is governed by a mayor, 18 city council members, and a police force of eight officers.

Iron and Brass

Phillipsburg was—and still is—essentially a manufacturing city. Through the years, some of its most successful businesses included the iron and brass foundry of J.R. Templin & Co., (destroyed by fire), Cooper Iron Works (not in business), and The Ingersoll-Rand Drill Company and The Warren Foundry and Machine Company (both of which still exist today).

Deborah Russo, the executive director of the Phillipsburg Chamber of Commerce, explains how the revitalization of downtown Phillipsburg is taking shape. "About ten years ago, it was kind of rundown, and some of the housing and storefronts needed work—both inside and out," she says. "Now the business fronts and brownstones have been redone, and there are high-end restaurants and specialty shops. There is also an all-steam train ride and a winery that has brought a lot of attention to the area."

Also attracting new businesses is an Urban Enterprise Zone, an incentive plan that includes tax abatements for rehabbed commercial properties and a 15-year-in-lieu-of-tax program for new construction, a revolving loan program, façade grants, and urban enterprise zone benefits. These benefits include 50 percent off sales tax for customers and other exemptions and tax credits, infrastructure investments, rebates from area utility companies, low-interest financing and more.

"So, if a sales tax is only three percent and someone buys a bike at the bike store, the sales tax money goes back into the fund for Phillipsburg and it continues as an ongoing process," said Russo. "This has brought a lot of people downtown and really brought it back to its original status—and it looks good."

In addition to business growth, Russo explains that there has also been housing growth in Greenwich, Lopatcong and Pohatcong.

"Many people commute everyday by car or by bus - it's a bedroom community and everything is hopping here," says Russo. "We used to have to go to [another town] for clothes shopping, but now we have many more stores and chain stores.

The Face of Phillipsburg

According to Marie Emery, broker/manager Coldwell Banker Heritage Real Estate in Phillipsburg, the face of the community is families.

"When you get into the condo market, it's mostly singles or corporate couples," says Emery. "The draw is the convenience of Routes 22 and 78."

Many tour buses pass through Phillipsburg on the way to such attractions as Dorney Park (in Allentown, PA), Bethlehem's Moravian culture, Christmas tradition and Musikfest, as well as Easton's Canal Museum and Canal Boat Ride, Museum of the Industrial Revolution, the Weller Health Education Center and the Binney & Smith Crayola Museum.

For the residents, Emery explains that there isn't a lot of entertainment in Phillipsburg proper, but Philadelphia, New York City, and the Pocono Mountains are all less than a two-hour ride away and offer a variety of recreational, cultural, and tourist attractions to supplement those found in the Phillipsburg area.

"Single family homes are pretty much finished being developed in Phillipsburg," says Emery. "There are many condos in Lopatcong, including a development for the 55 and over crowd and another one, Warren Heights, for whomever wants to buy."

One-bedroom condominium residences at the Warren Heights development are priced from around $190,000, and two-bedroom condominiums are priced from around $273,000. According to the Larken Associates website, Warren Heights includes gourmet kitchens, formal living and dining rooms and master bedrooms offering lavish master bathroom suites, a walk-in closet and an attached sitting room. As an added feature, all one-bedroom homes come with standard California Closets in the master bedrooms and bonus electric fireplaces.

Like most real estate markets nationwide, the Phillipsburg market has slowed a bit in the last year or so. Emery explains that one-bedroom condos in Lopatcong range from $178,900 to $210,000; two-bedroom condos go for $199,900 to $349,900 and, although there are only a few, three-bedrooms go for between $249,900 to $299,900.

"It's a seller's market, and the pendulum has changed," says Emery. "There are very few rentals available and some are bought as an investment. They are going for around $1,200 for two bedrooms."

Phillipsburg is an area that, Russo says, "is more affordable than New York City, but incoming residents still need to realize that it's not that cheap either.

"However, kids get a good education here and it's small enough that people know each other and I'd like to see the continued revitalization of downtown because the buildings are beautiful."

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer living in Poughkeepsie, New York.