Usually, when the word "diverse" is used to describe a place, it's in reference to the ethnic makeup of the population. We tend to think of many different races or cultures living together, expressing and celebrating their cultural identities and traditions with language, dress, food, religious observations and holidays from their various nations of origin.
Franklin Township in Somerset County certainly has ethnic diversity, boasting substantial populations of different races. However, the community's diversity goes beyond culture to many very different types of living: urban, suburban, and rural.
A Little History
Around 1650, seven Dutch families, along with one Huguenot family, discontented with the growing English influence on Long Island, were the first settlers in the area that would one day become Franklin Township. They settled this area by trading and bargaining for land with the Raritan Indians. The area remained a farming community and a backwater of its larger neighbor, New Brunswick, until the early 1800s.
Figuring prominently in the Revolutionary War, Franklin was the scene of many raiding parties along Route 27, which was then known as the King's Highway. In 1776 and 1777, these raiding parties ravaged the Franklin area, tearing down barns and using the scavenged materials to construct bridges over the Raritan River.
After trying to lure George Washington and his troops from their nearby encampment, Generals Cornwallis and DeHeister of the British forces withdrew their troops to Staten Island, laying waste to even more farms on their way.
General Washington wisely avoided battle at that point in the war, choosing to remain at Chimney Rock, an advantageous position just north of Franklin. Later, Washington delivered his farewell address to the troops at Little Rocky Hill in 1783.
The source of Franklin Township's name has been the source of great debate, with one side claiming the origin as Benjamin Franklin, one of our most famous founding fathers. Others claim that the township was named for his son, William Franklin, who was the governor of New Jersey from 1762 to1776.
In 2000, the Township Council decided to officially side with the theory that the township was indeed named for Benjamin Franklin, after considering evidence set forth in Franklin Township, Somerset County, NJ: A History, by William B. Brahm, commissioned by the Franklin Township Library in 1998.
In 1834, the building of the Delaware-Raritan Canal between New York and Philadelphia provided an economic boon to several towns along its route, including Franklin. This series of villages—including East Millstone, Griggstown, Kingston, and Rocky Hill—can all be found on the National Register of Historic Places.
The canal was originally built to haul coal by barges towed by horses and mules. It served as a major shipping route until the advent of the railroads later in the century. Converted into the Delaware and Raritan Canal Park, the canal and towpath are now owned by the state, and the canal itself is stocked with several varieties of fish. This park also forms part of the township's western border, and provides drinking water for residents.
Living in Franklin
Forty-six square miles of residential living provide a wide range of housing opportunities, everything from apartment complexes, condos and townhouses, to luxury estates. "Most people live in single-family homes," says Ellen Carter, an agent with Century 21, "but there are many housing options to choose from."
"A three-bedroom condo will generally start at around $300,000," says Carter, "but some can be found for less, around $250,000." Rental units can be found for around $1,000 per month for a two-bedroom unit, while co-ops are largely phasing out as many are converting to condo. Townhomes start at around $230,000 and go up from there.
"There is a lot of open space around Franklin, " says Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine. "The diversity in housing opportunity adds to the variety that makes Franklin an interesting place to live. You can probably find the type of home that you desire within the township at a cost that is likely less than surrounding areas—and certainly less than New York."
While most Franklin residents live in single-family homes, and many are condo owners, the fastest-growing segment of the population is people over 65, and they are flocking to the new developments in and near Franklin, the active adult communities.
Somerset Run, Canal Walk Renaissance, and several other active adult communities that are currently awaiting construction approval provide ample opportunity for people looking to invest in a community that will provide leisure, relief from chores, and entertainment in a housing development. Mayor Levine is in fact a resident of one such community.
In addition to the active adult communities, new residents are drawn to Franklin by the large tracts of open land. "Franklin Township's population has grown substantially in the last few years," says Levine. "The census in the year 2000 showed Franklin with a population of just fewer than 52,000 residents, and now we have over 60,000. That's a 20 percent growth in five years. The available land space attracts people who are looking to build on these lots," says Levine. "They come and build large houses to go with the large tracts of land."
Not all of the land in Franklin is available for development, however. A staunchly environmental community, Franklin has set aside much of the open space as a permanent preserve, whose only development will be the installation of walking trails and other nature-based ways to enjoy the land. Forty square miles of preserved space within the township are under such jurisdiction.
Education and Business
"Schools are leaning more toward neighborhood groupings, nowadays," says Levine. Franklin Township has been involved in a system of magnet schools at the elementary level, divided into science and technology; fine, visual and performing arts; and humanities and international studies. The area is also a hotbed for many Fortune 500 companies.
Diversity and the Environment
Franklin is a place where the wide variety of people and styles of living can come together with an added focus on ecological awareness. In Franklin, not only is there a large reserve of land set aside as a preserve, but the municipality is run with an eye to its overall impact on the surrounding environment.
Eco-heritage tourism is generating renewed interest in Franklin because visitors can enjoy the resources of preserved and protected areas. The township's parks and preserves are available for groups of elementary school children to learn about nature and the environment, with several programs dedicated to their education and field trips.
According to a recent study conducted by CNN Money Magazine, Franklin Township is one of the top 20 safest cities in the country with populations greater than 50,000 residents.
Like many of New Jersey's commuter townships, Franklin Township enjoys the benefits of proximity to New York City while maintaining a more suburban—or in some cases, even rural—flavor and feel. Families have room to spread out and grow, whether they've been in the area for generations or have only recently arrived from another part of the world. It's diversity—both of people and lifestyle choices—that characterizes Franklin Township and makes it the modern community it is today.
Denton Tarver is a freelance writer living in New York City.
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