Somerville is a borough in Somerset County, New Jersey, United States. As of the United States 2000 Census, the borough population was 12,423. It is the county seat of Somerset County. Somerville was originally formed as a Town on March 25, 1863, within a portion of Bridgewater Township. On April 16, 1909 by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature, Somerville was incorporated as a borough and fully set off from Bridgewater Township.
Somerville was settled in colonial times primarily by the Dutch who purchased land from the English proprietors of the colony.
The Dutch established their church near what is today Somerville and a Dutch Reformed minister or Domine lived at the Old Dutch Parsonage from about 1754. The early village grew up around a church, courthouse and a tavern built at a crossroads shortly after the American Revolution. No one knows who gave Somerville its name, but it was known by this name by about 1800. Somerville was originally a sparsely populated farming community, but rapidly grew after the completion of the railroad in the 1840s and development of water power along the Raritan River in the 1850s. Early industry included brick making from the plentiful red clay and shale on which Somerville is built. While much of the borough features distinctive Victorian architecture in several neighborhoods and along its Main Street, other periods are represented. National Register sites in Somerville include the white marble1909 Somerville Court House and the wooden and stone colonial Wallace House (today a museum) where George Washington spent a winter during the American Revolutionary War.
Near the Wallace House is the Old Dutch Parsonage, where Reverend Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, a founder and first president of Rutgers University, then called Queens College, lived. Register listed Victorian structures include the James Harper Smith Estate (privately owned), St. John’s Episcopal Church and rectory, and the Fire Museum (a vintage fire house). Other notable, register eligible structures are the Victorian train station (privately owned) and the municipal building, the former Robert Mansion.
Originally the center of local commerce, the borough has evolved into a destination for boutique retail and dining. Modern highways today surround and go through Somerville, including U.S. Route 22, U.S. Route 202, U.S. Route 206 and Route 28 and is within 5 miles (8.0 km) of Interstate 287 and Interstate 78, making it an important hub in central New Jersey.
Main Street Somerville today maintains most of its historical buildings, although many are now boutique specialty shops. Somerville has quite a diverse and large selection of restaurants that draw people from the surrounding area. In many ways, Somerville remains Somerset County’s downtown, and is the heart of its designated Regional Center. Several of the factories in Somerville were abandoned and replaced with modern office buildings or remodeled as apartments. Somerville today and historically has had an important African American community, a distinguished member of which was Paul Robeson. Another famous Somervillee was famed character actor Lee Van Cleef. One of the founders of modern American Dance, Ruth St. Denis, made her first professional debut at Somerset Hall, once a vaudeville theatre and today a local restaurant. The mix of modern amenities and a interesting and diverse past make Main Street, Somerville a unique destination for dining, strolling and visiting.