Matawan is located in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Main Street is part of County Highway 79. The historic downtown area is easily reached from State Highway Routes 34 and 35, or the Garden State Parkway.
Settlement and early growth
Matawan was founded around 1686 by Scotch Presbyterians who settled at the crossing of two Indian trails. The town was first known as New Aberdeen, and then Mount Pleasant. The tiny beginnings of a town, comprised of a few houses and a Presbyterian Meeting House, sprung up along the area that is now where the southern end of Main Street meets Freneau Avenue.
Soon docks were built along Matawan Creek at what became known as Middletown Point, attracting trade and commerce to the area. Sloops and schooners carried produce and people to and from New York and northern New jersey, and by the mid=1700’s the young village became the main point of water-bound export and entry for Monmouth County. Gradually over the course of the 18th century the nucleus of the settlement moved northward to the present town center. Some of Monmouth County’s wealthiest merchants and numerous tradesmen made their homes along Main Street in the 1700’s and early 1800’s. A number of these still stand among their later Victorian neighbors as reminders of the town’s early history.
It lies on a bank elevated about fifty feet above the stream, fronting a marsh on the opposite side; contains a Presbyterian Church, from seventy-five to one hundred dwellings, many of which are very good buildings, eight or ten stores, four taverns and a gristmill. This is the market of an extensive country, and large quantities of port, rye, corn, cord-wood and garden truck are then sent to New York. —Description of Matawan in Gordon’s Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey, 1834
Growth in the 1800’s
The coming of the steamboat in the 1830’s propelled Matawan into an era of growth and prosperity. Now the vast New York regional market was more accessible for local agricultural goods and products. The years between 1830 and 1860 saw the founding of local lumber mills, shipping warehouses, and brickyards in Matawan as well as the beginnings of a sizable ceramic industry that expanded to include the manufacture of pottery, stoneware, and tile.
Matawan becomes a borough
It was also during this time that the town’s name of Middletown Point was officially replaced with Matawan, following the formation of Matawan Township in 1857. Main Street’s existing character emerged in the mid to late 19th century as schools, banks, stores, churches, and an array of handsome dwellings were built along the thoroughfare and on adjoining streets. The first railroads through town were completed in the 1870’s, helping to sustain Matawan’s prominence as a transportation center as shipping declined due to silting of Matawan Creek. In 1896, Matawan was incorporated as a borough. A landscape of farms and woodland circled Matawan’s town center along Main Street until the mid-20th century, when suburban development brought residential subdivisions and the modern highway system. Today, Matawan’s historic town core retains its appeal as a place to live, work, and shop. Its historic resources are community assets to appreciate and preserve for the continued livability and economic vitality of Matawan.