Settled during colonial times, Basking Ridge is home to several major corporate entities and some very large condo communities. It is an unincorporated community located within Bernards Township in the Somerset Hills region of Somerset County.
Some major Fortune 500 corporations have settled down in Basking Ridge. It serves as the current headquarters for Verizon Wireless (the former AT&T site), Avaya, Applied Communication Sciences and Barnes & Noble College Booksellers. This part of the township also includes Lyons, Liberty Corner, and West Millington. As of the 2000 Census, the population was 21,424.
Some of the first European settlers were English and Scottish Presbyterians who came to America to escape religious persecution. According to a historical account on the township website, 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. 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.
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 is the home to the Brick Academy Museum, a 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. Altogether, this amounted to $5,000, a large amount of money in the 1800s. However, the mill paid for itself in the first year of operation.
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 the Liberty Corner Historic District.
Something as Lovely as a Tree…
The “Old Yard” cemetery surrounds the church. The earliest burial is Henry Haines in 1736. Thirty-five veterans of the Revolution are interred here. According to the Historical Society account, “over the tombstones broods the ancient White Oak (Quercus alba), which has stood for more than 600 years. It stands tall at 97 feet, with a spread of 156 feet and a circumference of 18 feet. According to local lore, General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette picnicked under its shade and colonial soldiers stopped here to rest.” Fortunately, the tree did not sustain any damage from the October 2012 storm, Hurricane Sandy.
Other trees have grown into township legend, as well. In the center of town is an oak tree that was recorded in General William Lane's diary during the American Revolutionary War. On its eastern side is engraved the letters "WL." The Warren Kinney Memorial Oak Tree commemorates the life of a well-known dairy farmer and community leader from New Vernon, New Jersey. According to Mr. Kinney's 1975 obituary, he "helped lead a fight to prevent a jetport from being built on the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge in Morris County," and was "a founding member of the Madison Square Club, and trustee of the New York Zoological Society."
And finally, we have every town’s urban legend, so to speak. The so-called Devil's Tree is a solitary oak with some dead limbs that you find growing in an undeveloped field on Mountain Road, opposite Emerald Valley Lane. Local legend, documented in Weird NJ magazine and the book based on it, tells us that the tree is cursed or the property of the Devil. The tree allegedly has also been a site of lynchings for the Ku Klux Klan in the past.
Character and Old Time Charm
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 Township 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 township contains some major recreational areas and parks. One such is the Lord Stirling County Park and Environmental Center, which 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.
The largest-owned town park is the Pleasant Valley 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, next to the park, offers an Olympic-sized pool, a kiddie pool, and play areas.
The Brick Academy Museum on West Oak Street is the repository of the town’s history. 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.
The area is home to many large scale condo communities, including Cedars at Basking Ridge. The Cedars at Basking Ridge contains 526 units, in the form of duplexes, townhomes, condominiums and low and moderate income housing. Another condo complex is Amherst Mews, an exclusive collection of 123 luxury townhomes and duplexes located in The Hills
section of Basking Ridge, adjacent to the New Jersey National Golf Club.
Society Hill at Bernards I and Bernards II, built by developer K. Hovnanian, consists of 812 two and three bedroom townhomes, two bedroom condominiums and low and moderate income housing. The Barons is a community of 132 spacious townhomes ranging from one to two story, offering two and three bedrooms, full basements and one or two car garages. Countryside Manor, built by Lanid, offers a charm of a secluded, wooded, country hilltop setting of 150 units of one and two bedroom townhomes and condominiums with basements and garages in seven different floor plans.
Hamilton Crest, which K. Hovnanian built in 1998 to 1999, is a community of 158 townhomes in The Hills section of Basking Ridge, offering three different open floor plans. K. Hovnanian’s Hamilton Ridge, which was built in 1999 to 2000, has 118 townhomes with three different floor plans. Another K. Hovnanian development is Hamilton Woods, a community of 198 townhomes offering six different open floor plans with two, three and four bedrooms with one or two car garages.
True to one of the area’s namesakes is Lord Stirling Village, which consists of 150 townhomes situated on 52 tranquil acres. Maple Run is a small community of 64 townhomes on 24 private acres and Patriot Hill was built by Toll Brothers in 1999 to 2001 in The Hills section. This community consists of 261 townhomes featuring four different models of two to four bedrooms. The Ridge is a community of 110 townhomes built by Bocina. The Spring Ridge townhouse community offers 1,050 one and two bedroom condominiums, duplexes and single family homes. Most condominium units have basement storage rooms and garages. There are six different floor plans. St. Andrews is an exclusive, spectacular, award-winning enclave of 14 luxury townhomes built by Bocina in 2002 to 2003 in The Hills neighborhood of Basking Ridge.
If you want to make yourself at home, consider Basking Ridge—a fine community in which to plant your roots.
Debra A. Estock is managing editor of The New Jersey Cooperator.
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