A Brief History of Kingston, New Jersey
Kingston, one of the oldest communities in central New Jersey, began in 1683 as a ford over the Millstone River, in either East New Jersey or West New Jersey (depending on the map you used) Soon Henry Greenland built Kingston’s first colonist home, settling along the Indian trail connecting the fall lines of the Delaware and Raritan Rivers. Greenland’s house was also a tavern. The Keith Line Agreement, which delineated the boundary between East and West Jersey, was signed at Greenland’s Tavern in 1687/8. The road was chartered in 1697 as a King’s Highway. It was a segment of the first major road to connect the original 13 colonies.
As traffic grew, houses, taverns and shops were built along the road, both by the river and on the plateau overlooking the river crossing and mill. By 1723, when the first Kingston Presbyterian Church was built, the settlement had become known as Kingston, Kingstown, or sometimes King’s Town.
Although it was not large, Kingston’s location made it an important settlement in colonial New Jersey. Kingston became a thriving stage coach stop with a number of inns and taverns. There were many such stops along the boundary between Middlesex County and Somerset County, including Six Mile Run, Ten Mile Run, Kingston, and Princeton. Each settlement had one county on one side of the road, and another across from it. Beyond Princeton was another settlement, Maidenhead, and then Trenton, on the Delaware River. Kingston was unique in having four different municipal divisions meeting at its bridge over the Millstone River.
During the American Revolution, British and American troops marched through Kingston many times. In 1777, George Washington made a key tactical decision while pausing in Kingston after the Battle of Princeton. In 1778 Washington and the Continental army stopped in Kingston on his way to the Battle of Monmouth. Washington later set up headquarters at Rockingham, a farmhouse on the road north of Kingston village, during the session of the Continental Congress in 1783 at Nassau Hall (now Princeton University.)
As the Republic grew, so did the settlements. Princeton Borough was created in 1813 as a cross-county borough. In 1838, Mercer County was formed, unifying Princeton borough and creating Princeton Township northwest of the King’s Highway. Kingston was now in four townships: Franklin (Somerset County), South Brunswick (Middlesex County), West Windsor (Mercer County) and Princeton Township (Mercer County) The bridge was the junction of all four municipalities. In 1853, all the land west of the Millstone was moved to Princeton Township.
Kingston again became important when work on the 44-mile Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal chartered in 1830. Kingston is Lock 8 out of 14 on the canal. The Kingston lock included a toll house that had one of the first telegraph offices in 1846. The Camden and Amboy Railroad was routed along the canal south of the village up to the Kingston Depot. It branched off just south of Kingston to travel a more level path north to New Brunswick. The Delaware and Raritan Canal and the Camden and Amboy Railroad fueled Kingston’s growth.
The mainline of the railroad was rerouted to the east in the 1860s, and Kingston was now served by the new Rocky Hill Branch, heading via Kingston to Monmouth Junction, NJ. Canal traffic peaked in 1866 as freight increasingly shifted to railroads.
In the 20th Century, Route 1 was paved in the 1920s and the canal closed in the early 1930s. The Lincoln Highway, created as the first transcontinental automobile road, passed through Kingston on what had once been the King’s Highway. Princeton Nurseries, grower of trees and shrubs, became a major industry. The Flemer family’s nursery became one of the largest in the world, and the Kingston Quarry a major source of stone in the state.
Most commercial traffic moved east to US Route 1 and Kingston settled into the role of small village. It has retained its charming character and small town appeal for the last 100 years.
The Kingston Mill, built in the late 1800s is the most recent of several mills built on this site since the 1700s. Grist, fulling and flour mills were established here over the past 300 years. The mill, now a private home, to many is a symbol of Kingston and its historic past.
Kingston’s historic importance is well recognized with entries on the State/National Register of Historic Places, including:
- Kingston Mill Historic District
- Kingston Village Historic District
- Lake Carnegie Historic District
- Princeton Nurseries Historic District
- Delaware and Raritan Canal
- Withington Estate/ Heathcote Farm,
- King’s Highway (Upper Road/Lincoln Highway) Historic District
- Rockingham State Historic Site