Hackettstown, New Jersey Steeped in History—Loaded with Charm

Hackettstown, New Jersey

Hackettstown, New Jersey is one of a kind, literally. In fact, it is one of the few towns in the United States that has no duplicate in name, meaning there is no other Hackettstown.

Before its incorporation in 1853 it formed a part of Independence, New Jersey. It is situated in the Musconetcong Valley, and is nearly surrounded by Schooley's Mountain on one side, and on the other by a mountain range of which Buck's Hill forms a part. It is fronted on its northwestern border by the former Morris Canal and on its southeastern border by the Musconetcong, whose excellent water power determined the location of a town at this point.

According to the town's own website, the town is dedicated to its citizens and to preserving the quality of life for all of its residents. Hackettstown was incorporated as a town by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 9, 1853, from portions of Independence Township. Portions of territory were exchanged with Mansfield Township in 1857, 1860, 1872 and 1875.

Fascinating History

Hackettstown’s name comes from Samuel Hackett, the earliest and largest landowner of the region, who is said to have contributed liberally to the liquid refreshments on the christening of a new hotel, in order to secure the name (which, before this, had been Helms' Mills, or Musconetcong). The name Halketstown is found on a 1769 map, along with the notation Helms, placed two miles further up the Musconetcong. This is the name of a family that came from County Tyrone, Ireland, whose head was Thomas Helms, father of General Helms, of the Revolutionary War army, and grandfather of Major Thomas Helms, of the War of 1812. The Helms' mill on the Musconetcong was on the site of Youngblood's mill, and was the first mill in this vicinity, being built before 1764.

William Johnson (1817-1891) was a prime mover in getting the town incorporated in 1853. Along with his brother George, they were successful merchants when they began operating the W.L. & G.W. Johnson dry goods store. The two men were very active in community affairs. George was a member of First Presbyterian Church, a director of the Hackettstown National Bank, and a member of the Hackettstown Water Board. Both men were involved in the establishment of Union Cemetery.

Hackettstown is known for the famous Schooley's Mountain Springs, which was for half a century the most fashionable watering hole in America. Here the wealth and fashionable citizenry of New York and Philadelphia were attracted every summer by the healthful mountain air, the mineral waters and the relaxed atmosphere. The mountain is named in honor of Thomas Schooley, one of four brothers who came to New Jersey from Yorkshire, England.

Hackettstown houses the headquarters of Mars Chocolate USA, the American division of Mars, Inc., makers of Milky Way, Mars, M&M's, Twix and Snickers candy bars, as well as pet foods (such as the Whiskas and Pedigree brands), Uncle Ben's rice products, and non-confectionery snack foods (including Combos). Former Olympian Kristen Maloney and Yankees minor league pitcher Cole Kimball are some of the town’s notables.

Victorian Charm

The town center retains the charm and quaintness of a small town with lovely shops and restaurants that line Main Street. Taking a stroll around the town you'll find some wonderful examples of Victorian houses. Many residents remark about the small town feel. In addition to the mom & pop stores there are also many other entertaining diversions and recreational activities for the town’s young people. H-town Skate Park, one of the largest indoor skate-boarding, inline skating and bike parks on the East Coast, also has a roller rink with speed skating, inline hockey and fun zone. Many families come from miles around to celebrate birthday parties and other family events.

A Good Place to Live

Hackettstown's most recent claim to fame was being named by Money Magazine as no. 72 out of the top 100 towns to live and work in the U.S. (2005). For commuters there is a Martz bus service to New York City and a train service either to Hoboken or Penn Station via Midtown Direct and by road Hackettstown itself, which is located only a few miles off exit 19 of Interstate 80.

Perhaps the loveliest time of the year to visit is in the late summer or autumn when trees change and the weather is cooler. Any time of year, though, be sure to stroll around town, check out the retail shops and enjoy a good hearty meal. Why not plan to spend a day...you just might end up wanting to stay.    

Liam P. Cusack is the associate editor of The New Jersey Cooperator.

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