Small bands of paleo-Indians, or pre-historic people, lived in New Jersey during the Ice Age. They lived by fishing and hunting mammoths, mastodons, saber-tooth tigers, caribou, musk oxen, wild pigs, deer and bears. Spear points and ax heads have been found throughout central New Jersey that experts have dated to 8,000-10,000 years old. Five important archeological sites were identified within the Dismal Swamp near the crossing of Tamage Road and Bound Brook, where similar artifacts were discovered.
The later generations were known as the Leni Lenape people. The word “Lenape” has been described as: a male of our kind, men of the same nation or common, ordinary, real people. The land occupied by the Lenape, included all of New Jersey, southern New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware, and was called “Lenapehoking.” The Lenape clans were an agricultural society and farmed maize, beans and gourds, and supplemented their livelihood with hunting and fishing. A tribe of the Lenape Indians living in central New Jersey was called Raritaing, from which the name “Raritan” was derived. The name “Metuchen” first appeared in 1688/1689, and its name was derived from a Lenape chief, known as Matouchin. The European explorers in the 1600s described the Lenape as tall, with no beards, and black hair that was sometimes braided on one side of the head, while the hair was plucked out on the other side.
The Province of New Jersey was part of the Dutch New Netherlands colony until the English conquest in 1664. The Metuchen-Edison-South Plainfield region was always a transportation hub, which shaped its popularity and growth. The early settlers farmed, fished, hunted and trapped beaver and muskrats, logged, or were merchants. A sawmill and gristmill were established on nearby Cedar Brook in Edison in 1732. Colonial development near Metuchen began around 1750s when well established Indian trails
served as carriage routes to New Brunswick, Trenton, New York City and Philadelphia. These routes led to roadways, and commercial rail and highway corridors. Historical maps and records indicate that in the 1800s the region was sparsely populated with only a few buildings in the Boroughs of Metuchen and South Plainfield. However, by the 1840s the Metuchen railroad station spurred commercial and residential development.
Information provided by websites for the historic societies of Metuchen, Edison and South Plainfield and the Hunterdon County Cultural and Heritage Commission were reviewed to provide the historic background for the Dismal Swamp.
Source: The Dismal Swamp Conservation Area Management Plan, Prepared by Princeton Hydro, LLC, April 2009.