Early History of Kenilworth in Colonial Times

 The early history of Kenilworth as researched by Michael Yesenko follows:

Chapter One: The First English Settlement of New Jersey

A Glance Back at the First Permanent English Settlement, 1664

Henry Hudson landed his ship "Half Moon on the shores of New Jersey in 1609 and claimed the land for Holland. Dutch settlers settled Paulus Hook, now Jersey City, New Amsterdam (New York City) and Staten Island, New York.

English settlers on Long Island, New York, seeking a land where they could have freedom of religion, speech and self-government also desired to live in this area.  They applied to the Dutch Governor, Peter Stuyvesant for permission to do so and were rejected.

March 12, 1664, English King Charles II gave his brother the Duke of York absolute power to govern the land between the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers.  The Duke sent Colonel Richard Nicolls with four ships and 450 soldiers to New Amsterdam to seize the Dutch settlement, claim the area for the English, and rule the land as deputy governor.

August 1664 Nicolls sailed his fleet into New Amsterdam waters, disembarked, met with Stuyvesant and demanded Stuyvesant surrender the fort.  Dutch citizens saw the situation as surrender or be killed and told Stuyvesant to surrender.  August 27, 1664, Stuyvesant lowered the Dutch flag and went home to Holland.

English soldiers took over the fort and offered the Dutch settlers very good terms for living on their land if they swore allegiance to the Duke of York.  Nicolls became a deputy governor and renamed New Amsterdam, New York, in honor of the Duke.

Duke of York Gave Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret a Gift

On June 23, 1664, the Duke of York gave his two good friends a deed to all the land between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers.  He called the land, New Cesarea or New Jersey.  Sir Georg Carteret had defended the Isle of Jersey during the British civil war for the Duke, who was very pleased with actions taken by Carteret.

The Duke did not realize when he gave this gift of land to Berkeley and Carteret that he had already sent Sir Richard Nicolls with four ships and 450 soldiers to subdue the Dutch Fort at New Amsterdam and govern the people remaining on that land.

Deputy Governor Nicholls

Nicolls had his men circulate information throughout the colonies under his command.  He directed the colonial settlers to "set out a town and inhabit together.  He guaranteed religious freedom, self-government and self-taxation.

Settlers of this new land which he call Albania, had to purchase the land from the Indians after they received a land grant from the governor.  Eight families were needed to create a new town and the settlers could choose a name for the town.  On group from Jamaica, Long Island, New York, applied for land along the Arthur Kill Waterway, which became present day Union County, New Jersey.

September 24, 1664, the Long Island men met with the Indians to purchase land between the Raritan and Passaic Rivers.  The Indians accepted "Twenty fathoms (120 feet) of trading clothes, two coats, two guns, two kettles, ten bars of lead, twenty handfuls of gunpowder, plus 400 fathoms (2,400 feet) wampum shells, to be paid within one year.

In the spring of 1665, families settled areas of New Jersey. The colonists near the Arthur Kill Waterway, Elizabeth River and its West Branch were mostly Puritans. Today's Kenilworth was part of the first permanent English settlement in New Jersey which became Elizabeth Town.

 Chapter II


 Part of Elizabeth Town-Today's Union County

 Elizabeth Town, 19th, February 1665/6, Meeting – James Bollen, Esq., President, by the approbation of Governor Philip Carteret of a Town meeting of Freeholders and inhabitants agreed "the province (County) should consist of fourscore families for the present, and if necessary make an addition of twenty more families.  Samuel Whitehead was appointed Town Clerk.  Some of the families settled within today's Kenilworth border.  This new 1st English Settlement was Essex County and Union County branched off to become its own official County in 1857.

 The settlers in the first two or three years were mainly New Englanders from Long Island, New York and Connecticut.  The land around the Town (Elizabeth Town) was divided into lots to be about six acres, set on both sides of the Creek (Elizabeth River) and extended upland for two miles.  The front dimensions were 264 feet on the street by 660 feet deep.  A lottery was held and the person drawing number one had the first choice of all lots mapped out for the first lottery.

 The male inhabitants were required to take an oath of allegiance and fidelity to King Charles II and his successors, the Lord Proprietors and their successors and the Government of New Jersey.  It was signed by sixty-five men.  They were:

Mr. John Ogden, Sr., Capt. Thomas Young, Michael Simpkin, Abraham Shotwell, Thomas Skillman, John Woodrofe, Thomas Leonards, Jonas Wood, Jacob Clais, Rodrick Powell, Luke Watson, Stephen Crane, Joakim Andris, John Waynes, Jacob Moullains, William Johnson, John Gray, Nicholas Carter, Thomas Pope, William Cramer, Barnabas Wines, Thomas Tomson, Nathaniel Tuttle, Robert Mosse, Peter Mosse, William Trotter, Euan Salsbury, George Packe, Thomas More, Samuel Marsh, Moses Peterson, John Haynes, Caleb Carwithy, William Oliner, Humphry Spinage, Joseph Phrasie, Zackery Graues, Peter Wooluerson, Charles Tucker, Benjamin Holman, Jeffry Joanes, Christopher Young, Jeremy Osbourne, John Dickenson, Dennis White, John Ogden, Jr. , David Ogden, Robert Vauquellin, Benjamin Price, Ben Concklin, Robert Bond, Joseph Bond, Moses Tomson, Joseph Osburne, John Brackett, Sr., William Meacker, Isaack Whitehead, Nathaniel Bunnell, Mathias Heathfield, Jonathan Ogden, Leonard Headley, John Parker, Daniel Harris, Richard Paynter, Francis Barber.

The names of the original Associates that signed their names during the command of Colonel Nicholls were listed in Elizabeth Town Book B, "Richard Nicolls, by virtue of the Power and Authority vested in him by James, Duke of York, did hereby grant, bargain, sell and confirm unto Capt. John Baker of New York, John Ogden of North Hampton, John Baily and Luke Watson and their Associates the premises aforesaid, in fee simple, equally seized a Third Lot-Right, and with them Thomas Young, Benjamin Price, John Woodruff, Philip Carteret; two-thirds lots Robert Bond, Sealy Champain (transferred to Benjamin Parkhurst), William Meeker, Tomas Thompson, Samuel Marsh; Town Lot for the Minister William Piles, Peter Couenhoven, John Brocket (transferred to Samuel Hopkins), James Bollen, Jacob Melyen, Nicolas Carter, and Jeremiah Beck.  And, to each a Second Lot-Right in the premises, Isaac Whitehead, Joseph Meeker, Humphry Spinning, Jeoffry Jones, George Ross, Joseph Bond, Mattias Hetfield, Barnabas Winds, Robert White, Peter Morss, John Winans, Joseph Sayre, Richard Beach,  Moses Thompson, John Gray, William Johnson, John Brocket, Jr., Simon Rouse, William Trotter, John Ogden Jr., Jonas Wood, Robert Morss, M. Leprary, Caleb Carwithe, William Pardon and Stephen Osborne.  And to each a first lot Right in the same Premises, Jonathan Ogden, Abraham Shotwell, David Ogden, Nathanael Tuttle, Benjamin Price, Jr., Roger Lambert, Abraham Lawrence, John Hindes, Thomas Moor, Joseph Frazey, Yokam Andross, Denis White, Nathanael Norton (since transferred to Henry Norris), Great John Wilson, Hur Thompson, Benjamin Oman, Evan Salsburry, Little John Willson, Stephen Crane, Henry Lyon, John Parker, John Ogden, for John Dickinson, Leonard Headley, Nathanael Bonnel, George Morris, Joseph Osborn, Pardey (transferred to Henry Norris), George Peck, John Pope, Ffrancis Barber, (note the incorrect spelling of Francis), William Oliver, Richard Painter and Charles Tooker.

The number is eighty; of whom twenty one had third lot rights, twenty six had second lot rights and thirty three had first lots rights.  Some of these original families of the first English Settlement; Woodrofe, Woodruff, Meeker, Meacker, Ogden, Baker, Sayrearid and Crane have ties to today's Kenilworth.

Governor Philip Carteret Guarantees – Governor Philip Carteret guaranteed the settlers that the new proprietors (owners) of the Berkeley and Carteret colony would have a popular elected assembly of settlers. The assembly would have a say about taxes imposed by his government. Religious freedom was guaranteed to encourage Puritans from New England to move to New Jersey. However each settler had to pay one half penny annually for every acre of land owned to the proprietors Berkeley and Carteret, starting on March 25, 1670.

In 1665, Reverend Robert Treat and members of his congregation met with Governor Carteret to discuss plans for a  Puritan settlement. Treat has seen Milford, Connecticut grow into a prosperous village, with a church, ship yard, mill and a Latin School. He hoped to create a new prosperous Puritan community of action in all religious concernments.

Reverend Abraham Pierson leads his flock to New Ark, New Jersey – May 18, 1666, Captain Robert Treat and Puritan preacher Reverend Abraham Pierson and their flock aboard small boats sailed along the Passaic River and landed at a new unsettled land which he called New Ark (now called Newark), New Jersey.  It was named after Pierson's former home in England, Newark-on-Trent.  Soon the people spelled the town Newark.

The families built small homes and were pleased with their new village.  One year later in 1667 there were 64 families tilling the soil, growing food, making cloth and building streets and homes.

Chapter III

Connecticut Farms Settled in 1667

In 1667, the group that followed Reverend Pierson created a small village southwest of Newark which they called Connecticut Farms because the land, rivers, plant and animal life reminded them of Branford, Milford and Guilford, Connecticut.  The Wade, Headley, Lyon, Whitehead, Townley, Bonnell, Crane, Osborne and Meeker families started to build small wooden homes on this land.

A New England type of village was created in which life was centered on a meeting house or church. Public lands were set aside for pastures, markets and military training.  This colonial village, under the allegiance of British rule, became today's towns of Kenilworth and Union, N.J.

These new established towns and villages, Newark, Connecticut Farms (Kenilworth & Union) and Elizabeth were all part of Essex County.  They were close together geographically and their borders touched each other.  Today's Newark Liberty Airport is in both Elizabeth and Newark.  Essex was another British affirmation. 

Elizabeth became the major crossover point from Staten Island, NY for the British because Staten Island was the main established port for the British and their ships during colonial times and during the American Revolutionary War.

These paths became roads and one of the most famous during the American Revolutionary War was Galloping Hill Road.  It has been written about and parts of it exist in today's Union and Kenilworth, NJ.

Another path was created by today's Michigan Avenue by colonists which was used later by General Von Lossburg, a Prussian (German) General for the British during the American Revolutionary War.  His second division went through this path as well as spies and patriots using the Beacon Hill watch known as Tin Kettle Hill or Sayre's Hill in today's Kenilworth.

A little over one hundred years later, when the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, by law all residents were required to own arms to defend themselves from the British.

Land Surveys  - April, 1665, Robert Bond was given a warrant to have 360 acres of land surveyed: Leonard Headley and his wife had 120 acres surveyed.  March 8, 1976, Henry Lyon had 360 acres surveyed; Isaac Whitehead had 180 acres surveyed; March 1, 1676, Benjamin Wade had 120 acres surveyed; March 27, 1676, Stephen Crane had 120 acres surveyed; April 10, 1676, Stephen Osborne and Nathaniel Bonnel had 108 acres surveyed; May 31, 1676, Joseph Meeker had 180 acres surveyed;  and on June 14. 1676, Benjamin Wade had 144 acres surveyed.

All members of Connecticut Farms agreed to work together to construct a church, which also served as a meeting house.  A horse hitched to a wagon was a means of travel.  The dirt roads had to be cleared of rocks, ruts, tree branches and bushes making travel difficult.

Puritan Practices– In May 1668 the first New Jersey General Assembly was called by Governor Philip Carteret and met in Elizabethtown. They adopted a criminal code which provided death for; burglary, murder, bearing false witness and for being a witch.

Children age 16 years or older who attacked their parents could be executed unless they could prove they were defending themselves.  A person convicted of burglary had a capital T branded on their hand for Thief.


In the late 1890's, the New Orange Industrial Association purchased some farms in portions of Cranford and Union and divided them into building lots. The lots were sold through illustrated brochures that pictured beautiful parks, lakes, an opera house, and yacht clubs, which existed only in the promoter's imaginations.

The Industrial Association brought in several large industries and lured Upsala College from Brooklyn with a gift of free land for its campus.

Because New Orange was often confused with one of the Essex County Oranges, the community adopted the name Kenilworth when it was created as a borough in 1907.

Real Estate

Kenilworth, NJ 07033

According to 2000 census data, there were 2,926 homes in Kenilworth. This is a a 2.9% growth from 2,844 in 1990.

Of those homes, 2,926 were located in urbanized areas or urban clusters, and none were located in a rural area.

Home ownership rate in Kenilworth is about 78.1%. Kenilworth's vacancy rate, including seasonal lodging, is about 2.5%. Average household size is 2.69 people.

The majority of houses, apartments or condos in Kenilworth were built after 1953.

Kenilworth has seen moderate sales activity, and listings are staying on the market an average of 44 days for September and October, which is somewhat lower than some surrounding towns. This can be attributed to the smaller size of Kenilworth, lower inventory levels than surrounding towns .

Because of Kenilworth's lower tax rate when compared to surrounding towns, many buyers still find a great value in Kenilworth, with prices averaging about 10-15% lower for comparable homes in some surrounding towns.

For Kenilworth in September and October, the average selling price was $369,726 and the average days on market was 44.

Currently, there are 35 single family properties and 8 multi-family homes on the market in Kenilworth

Kenilworth, NJ is a small community located about 20-25 miles southwest of New York City, with a population of approximately 7500 people.

Kenilworth has a nice mixture of business and commercial properties and quiet residential neighborhoods. The downtown area located on and around Kenilworth Boulevard has restaurants, coffee shops, offices, and small retail establishents, all within walking distance of Harding Elementary School (K-6) and David Brearley High School (7-12).

With its close proximity to route 22, and the Garden State Parkway, Kenilworth is conveniently located for those looking to commute. Kenilworth is a close knit community, with the Brearley Bears Football games being a staple of a Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

Kenilworth is bordered by Cranford, Westfield, Roselle Park, and Union.

The two schools in Kenilworth are:

David Brearley High School
David Brearley Middle/High
School 401 Monroe Avenue
Kenilworth, NJ 07033 7-12

Harding Elementary School
426 Boulevard Kenilworth, NJ 07033

You live in Kenilworth, but how much do you really know about its history?

Walking the Path of History...

[from The Kenilworth Historian, the official newsletter of The Kenilworth (N.J.) Historical Society Inc., Special Issue Sept. 1999]

O ne of the most impressive things about Kenilworth's history is that so much has occurred in this relatively small community, and so many famous people have passed through and even resided here. So observes former Kenilworth historian Robert Woods, who has spent much of his life researching and documenting the Borough's history.

Some highlights of Kenilworth's history:

  • Kenilworth's roots can be traced to a pre-Revolutionary farming community. The Sayre-Shallcross home, near Black Brook Park, is Kenilworth's oldest surviving structure. Built in 1710 by the tradesman Daniel Sayre, who used water from the nearby stream to cure leather, the home later belonged to Sayre's grandson, a soldier in the U.S. Continental Army.
  • One of Kenilworth's most famous landmarks was the 186-foot Tin Kettle Hill, located in the northeast area of town. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington designated the site as a key beacon hill for alerting soldiers in the heights above Springfield that the British were on the move. The Springfield troops would, in turn, fire a cannon signaling the militia to prepare for battle. Between 1903 and 1906, the soil from Tin Kettle Hill was removed and used to elevate the tracks for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
  • John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiator of the famous Jay Treaty with Great Britain, maintained a 60-acre country estate in Kenilworth until about 1795.
  • The original plan for Kenilworth, designed by J. Wallace Higgins in 1895, called for wide thoroughfares, industrial zones and connections with mass transit via trolley lines and a railroad, which eventually became known as the Rahway Valley Railroad. Among other features, the plan included a yacht club, national press club home and opera house.
  • The community now known as Kenilworth began in the late 1800s as a real-estate venture that was named New Orange by the businessmen behind the project. In 1904, after some of the original partners died, the remaining principals formed the corporation Kenilworth Realty and referred to their venture as Kenilworth. They derived the name from a literary society to which they belonged, called the Kenilworth Club in honor of Sir Walter Scott's renowned novel Kenilworth. Published in 1821, the novel relates to England's famous Kenilworth Castle, which in 1563 was gifted by Queen Elizabeth I to her favorite suitor, Robert Dudley.
  • The year 1899 marked the start of the building boom in Kenilworth, which drew to the area tradesmen such as James Arthur, who contracted to build a hundred homes in 100 days. It was around this time that such other well-known family names as Hoiles, Knudson, Hiller, Gow, Grippo, Vitale, Amorosa and Rego also became established in Kenilworth.
  • Upsala College, the Rahway Valley Railroad and the Kenilworth Inn, all of which were formerly located in Kenilworth, attracted many famous people to the area, including Thomas Edison, who conducted research projects here, and former Sen. Thomas Heflin (D-Ga.), who aspired to run for the U.S. presidency in the 1932 election.
  • Rahway Valley Railroad Station, once situated at North 31st Street, served at the turn of the century as the hub of activity in the community and as a backdrop for numerous movies -- particularly, Westerns
  • On June 18, 1907, the Bill of Incorporation creating the Borough of Kenilworth and establishing the boundaries of Kenilworth, Cranford and Union was signed into law by N.J. Governor Stokes. A provisional government later was elected to run the Borough until elections were held the following November.
  • Elmer Guy, the community's popular Public Service trolley line conductor in the early 1900s, was widely known for his good deeds and is said to be the prototype for the conductor in the renowned Toonerville Trolley comic strip.
  • The original Kenilworth Inn, located at the corner of 20th Street and the Boulevard, housed in its stables the acclaimed Kensington Riding Academy. This foremost equestrian academy in northern New Jersey hosted many prominent horse shows and rodeos.
  • The Union County Bandits were captured in Kenilworth by former police chief Alfred Vardalis on Feb. 26, 1921, ending a three-month crime wave in the county. Vardalis was cited for bravery by the state and county.
  • One of the most tragic incidents in Kenilworth history occurred on Jan. 1, 1940, when the tax collector stormed into the Council Caucus Chamber with the intent of assassinating the entire governing body. August Stahl, then borough clerk and former mayor, was killed instantly, and former police officer Andrew Ruscansky risked his life in disarming the gunman.
  • Famed aviator James Doolittle, who in 1942 won particular acclaim for his raid on Tokyo, crashed his plane in Kenilworth on the foggy night of March 14, 1929, while attempting an emergency landing at Kenilworth's former airfield located near North 24 Street. Doolittle credited the accident with reinforcing his commitment to finding a solution to all-weather flying. He later achieved this through the use of blind-landing instrumentation -- a feat considered to be one of the aviator's most notable aeronautical achievements.

If this information piqued your interest in Kenilworth's colorful history, join us at the Kenilworth Historical Society! Support our on-going programs and projects! Visit us at Kenilworth Historical Society. At the site, you can find out about our latest projects and programs, learn about our fundraising efforts, maybe even plan on joining us at our next meeting!