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Hunterdon County has a history steeped in American Indian settlements and traditional non-Indian agrarian life. Prehistoric Indians settled in Hunterdon County nearly 10,000 years ago and remained until the early 1700s when they were driven out of the County into other areas. The earliest non-Indian settlers occurred about 1700. Although many changes have occurred in Hunterdon County's landscape over the past 300 years, there is still plenty of evidence of rural heritage. The villages and small towns that flourished in the last half of the 19th century have virtually remained the same and many of the older farmsteads in the countryside still exist. Below is a brief overview of Hunterdon County's historic periods.
Hunterdon County's earliest historic period dates back 10,000 years ago with the Native American Indians, referred to as the Paleo-Indian period. Evidence of the Lenni Lenape Indians may be found in existing archaeological sites in the County. In an archaeological site along Route 29 in Kingwood Township, a 1996-1997 dig revealed over 3,000 prehistoric American Indian objects, dating back at least 8,000 years ago. The Indians remained in Hunterdon County until the early 1700s when most of their land was acquired by European settlers and the Indians were relocated to other areas.
The earliest non-Indian settlers came to Hunterdon County about 1700 from the Netherlands, Germany, Scotland, England, Ireland, and other parts of New York and New Jersey. Woodlands were cleared and tilled and farmers planted a variety of crops and vegetables to be self-sufficient. Sawmills and gristmills were built along streams to create lumber for homes. During the early 1700s, the majority of industries catered to the needs of the agricultural economy. By the time of the Revolution, successful mining operations in the County provided ammunition for the War and iron for tools and machinery. Before the 18th century, Hunterdon County was known for its fertile soils and the abundance of streams. In 1790, the County had the highest population in the State of New Jersey. Of course, the County was also a very large land area at this time - consisting of portions of what are now other adjoining counties.
Late Agrarian and Industrialization
By 1852, railroad lines had been completed in Hunterdon County, connecting County farmers to markets throughout the East. This was a boom for Hunterdon County agriculture and advanced the fruit tree markets and later, eggs, poultry and dairy. Farmers also transported their goods locally. Streams and rivers were used for grist mills and products were carried to and from the mills across locally constructed stone arch bridges and, later, metal truss bridges. Local merchants and artisans became less specialized during this time period and worked in general stores, notion stores and hardware stores in hamlets and villages. As farmers started to specialize to respond to local markets, new industries sprang up providing for home furnishings, clothing and tools. Iron manufacturers were important for tools and bridge building. New homes were constructed for industry owners, merchants and factory workers - mostly in the larger towns and Lambertville, the County's only "city".
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While agriculture dominated the County in the 19th century, the more sophisticated tools and machines of the early 20th century improved the conditions of farming. During the first half of the 20th century, agriculture in Hunterdon County was at its best. Other industries did equally well, such as Lambertville's rubber factory, local mining operations and the several ceramics and pottery plants. But the iron industry declined significantly. By the late 20th century, virtually all of the County's industries were gone and replaced with office and retail development. The last quarter of the 20th century also saw a dramatic change in agriculture with its loss of full time farm operations due to the marked increase in land values and the competition from large farm operations in other States.
Hunterdon County Planning Board