Colonia, New Jersey: How the town acquired its unusual name

Historical home on New Dover Road sheds light on history of Colonia.

Historical home on New Dover Road sheds light on history of Colonia.

By: Patrick Coveny, Editor

Situated in upper Middlesex County, New Jersey, directly between the large metropolises of New York and Philadelphia, lays a small suburban town called Colonia. This municipality of Woodbridge Township holds an almost 350 year rich history that extends all the way to the colonial era. Since that time, Colonia has birthed some of the nation’s bravest soldiers and most accomplished athletes. Its people have an uniquely unfettered pride in their community. One thing about this small city remains a mystery, however: exactly how did Colonia get its name? For that answer, one must look to the history books…

In the mid-seventeenth century, Colonia went by the name of Houghtenville. The town’s first settler was Daniel Pierce, who voyaged there in 1666 from the colonial settlement of Newbury, Massachusetts. Houghtevnville was an original participant in the breakaway of Woodbridge Township from the Elizabethtown Purchase, a much larger colonial community. Soon after, the Bishops, Jacques, and Robinson families moved to the area. Together, these four families owned two thousand acres of land.

Years later, in the 1800s, arrived a new and more important family in Colonia’s history: the Cones. Although it is hard to believe today, central New Jersey was once entirely composed of farm and woodland. This is exactly what attracted the wealthy Cones family to relocate to the settlement of Houghtenville. Their clan consisted of a father, widowed Edward G. Cone, and four children: Kate, Elizabeth, Grace, and Edward.

“Edward [Cone] published a pamphlet on the attractions of life in Colonia, enticing the readers with the promise of every modern convenience— excepting trolley cars—combined with the pleasure of living in real country and not a crowded suburb,” writes the Woodbridge Township Historical Preservation Committee in their article Historic Tour of Woodbridge Volume III Colonia: The Colony.

Soon, the Cone family began advertising their settlement of Houghtenville to out-of- towners. Using their immense influence, the family decided it would be best to change the name of Houghtenville if they were to be successful in attracting new settlers. The Cones heavily pressured the Pennsylvania Railroad Company into changing its train station name to Colonia.

“The name of the railroad station at the intersection of [modern-day] Route 27 and New Dover Road… was changed to Colonia in 1894,” says Wendi Rottweiler, a historian working at the Iselin Branch of Woodbridge Public Library. The station name-change is the first official time the town was referred to by its new title. Elizabeth Cone was extremely pleased with this decision as she passionately detested the name Houghtenville, comparing it to the sound of hungry dogs.

In addition to selecting the name Colonia, the Cones help transform their town into a modern suburb. Their influence on the town they named can still be seen in the city today. The affluent family helped to establish one of the municipality’s’ most famous landmarks- the Colonia Country Club. Also, the family’s living quarters, a plantation nicknamed “The Trees,” still stands at the corner of New Dover Road and Middlesex Avenue. This historical site once held carnivals and a family- founded tennis club, two city-wide traditions still held today.

Still, however, the Colonia of 2017 would be utterly unrecognizable to the Cone family of the 19th century. The Cones lived in a Colonia with no major highways, no fast-food restaurants, and no schools. Not only did the family give Colonia its name, they also helped make it the community it is today. The Cones were the first in a long line of proud Colonians who helped shape their community, helping bridge the gap between Colonia’s rural past and modern suburbia. As Colonia approaches its 350th anniversary, don’t discount the history behind its unconventional name-rather, admire it.

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