The Hopewell Valley Historical Society is dedicated the preservation of the history of the Hopewell Valley in Mercer County, New Jersey, including Hopewell Township, Hopewell Borough, Pennington Borough, and Titusville / Washington Crossing.
This page provides a brief overview of the history of these areas. Reproductions of some of the map illustrations are available from the Hopewell Valley Historical Society and the Hopewell Museum.
Mercer County, New Jersey has a rich colonial history It was first populated by the Lenape Indians, referred to by Early Europeans as the “Delaware” Indians. The the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, was founded in 1754. Many battles of the Revolution were fought in Mercer County, including the monumental battles of Princeton and Trenton.
The County of Mercer was created in 1838, honor of General Hugh Mercer, a Revolutionary General who fell at the Battle of Princeton. It encompassed Princeton and Trenton, and was carved out of parts of Hunterdon, Burlington, Middlesex, and Somerset counties.
Mercer County has a land area of 224.56 square miles and a population of 369,811 as of the 2018 census.
Hopewell Township in Mercer County dates back to February 20, 1700, when the area was still part of Burlington County. One of the earliest settlers before 1710 was George Woolsey, formerly of Jamaica, Queens, whose father was one of the earliest pre-1650 settlers of what was New Amsterdam. His descendants maintained the family farm for over 200 years.
The township was formerly the name for one of two portions of 800 acres of land purchased in 1714 by William Trent, and was formally set off to Hunterdon County, when that county was created on March 11, 1714. Trenton Township was formed out of this estate on June 3, 1719, later to become the City of Trenton. Hopewell Township was incorporated by Royal charter on March 1, 1755, and was re-incorporated by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 21, 1798, as one of the state's initial group of 104 townships.
Hopewell Township became part of Mercer County at its creation on February 22, 1838. Portions of the township were taken to form Marion Township (February 22, 1838, reverted to Hopewell Township on February 14, 1839), the Borough of Pennington (January 31, 1890) and Hopewell Borough (April 14, 1891), with additional portions of the township transferred to both Pennington and Hopewell Borough in 1915.
Hopewell Township includes the location (now known as Washington Crossing) along the east side of the Delaware River to which George Washington and the Continental Army crossed from Pennsylvania. Once in Hopewell Township, the army marched to Trenton on December 26, 1776. The Battle of Trenton followed. Today, Washington Crossing State Park commemorates this important milestone in American history.
Hopewell Township has a land area of 60.4 square miles, and a population of 17,304 as of the 2010 census.
Hopewell Borough was incorporated in 1891, but was known as Columbia up to the establishment of the Hopewell Post Office in 1825. Settlement began in 1696 when Dr. Roger Parke and Thomas Tindall bought land to the edge of the present Borough.
Home of John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an important resting place for George Washington’s troops on their way to the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, Hopewell remained a relatively sleepy place until the Mercer & Somerset Railroad was built around 1871, spurring economic development with several mills and stores being serviced by the railroad. Then, in 1875, the Delaware and Bound Brook railroad built a competing line paralleling the M&S up to a point just outside of the Borough; that point of crossing (a “frog” in railroad language) led to the famous “Frog War” of January 1876. The result was that with the D&B now able to cross tracks, the M&S lost business to its competitor and dissolved in 1879.
The latter half of the 19th century saw much more commercial development largely because of the new railroad. The Borough gained additional fame as the locus of investigative activity in 1932 when the baby son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh was kidnapped from their estate outside of the Borough.
Located at the foot of the Sourland Mountains, Hopewell Borough today is a quiet, friendly residential community of approximately 2,000 residents, in a land area of 0.7 square miles that is almost completely surrounded by a green belt of protected open space.
Pennington Borough was formally incorporated as a in 1890, but was known as Pennytown in 1725 and soon after that Queenstown, until finally sometime in the 1750’s it became Pennington.
For a short while in late 1776, the village became a focus of revolutionary war activity by British and mercenary Hessian troops. They are famously believed to have exercised horses over the still existing Presbyterian cemetery wall.
Pennington rapidly developed during the 19th century around its north-south (Main St.) and east-west (Delaware Ave.) crossroads. Taverns, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and general stores abounded. In addition, the Pennington Male Methodist Seminary (now the Pennington School) was built in 1839 - as well as a Female Seminary. These schools encouraged even more businesses to serve the students.
The arrival of the Mercer and Somerset Railroad in 1861, followed by the Delaware and Bound Brook in 1875 that quickly crushed its M&S competition, encouraged much more economic activity due to Pennington’s crossroads location. The latter part of the 19th century and the 20th century saw Pennington become the focus of its environs.
Pennington has a land area of 0.956 square miles and a population of 2,585 as of the 2010 census.
Titusville is a small unincorporated village in Hopewell Township beside the Delaware River. It is named for the family of settler Joseph Titus, who established two sawmills and a fishery there in the 1700's.
Titusville is the home of the Johnson Ferry House that was present at George Washington's December 25, 1776 crossing of the Delaware during the American Revolution. The house is located in the State of New Jersey’s 500-acre Washington Crossing Park that lies adjacent to the village.
Titusville was a major industrial and transportation center in the mid-19th century spurred by the construction of the Delaware and Raritan Feeder Canal in 1832 and the adjoining Belvidere Delaware Railroad in 1852 (removed in the early 1980s and replaced by a recreational trail). Titusville had thriving mills, stores, and shops. In 1831, a bridge linking Titusville with Washington Crossing in Pennsylvania replaced a river ferry. Floods destroyed that bridge and its subsequent replacement. The current bridge crossing the Delaware was built in 1904.
Titusville has an estimated population of 3,840.