Although Ewing Township was officially established in 1834, the history of the region ranges back thousands of years. The earliest inhabitants of the land area today known as Ewing Township were the Lenni Lenape Indians. These migratory people ranged throughout New Jersey along the banks of the Delaware River, and the Township’s many creeks provided rich natural resources for hunting, fishing, pottery-making, and simple farming.
When the region was first settled by European colonists around 1699, it was part of Hopewell Township, and continued under that name until the City of Trenton was established in 1719. From 1719 until 1834, the area was named Trenton Township. On February 22, 1834, the name was changed from Trenton Township to Ewing Township in honor of Charles Ewing, who was posthumously honored for his work as Chief Justice of the New Jersey State Supreme Court from 1824-1832.
Ewing was settled by a mixture of European and American colonists. Emigrants from Long Island and the East Jersey Province were largely of English and Scotch ancestry, with a sprinkling of Welsh, Dutch and French Huguenots. Other English families came from Burlington County and the New England colonies.
Religion played a prominent role in the lives of the people who lived in the region. In 1702, a group formed an Anglican Church on what are today the grounds of the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital between Stuyvesant Ave. and Sullivan Way. The church has long since disappeared, but a small cemetery remains. In 1708, Andrew Lockart deeded land on Scotch Road for the establishment of a Presbyterian Church to fulfill the religious needs of the early settlers. Their first services were held under two large oak trees, one of which is still standing. The congregation has erected four church buildings: the first of logs in 1712, the second a frame church in 1728, the third of brick in 1795, and the present stone structure in 1867, all on the same site. The adjacent cemetery contains the graves of many Revolutionary soldiers. Prior to 1823 when the Rev. Eli Field Cooley became the first full time pastor, several congregations shared their ministers. At various times the congregation had been led by supply ministers, the most historically famous being the Rev. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and Signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The populace of Ewing (Trenton) Township was sympathetic to the American cause during the Revolution, and many served in the war. General George Washington, after ferrying the American army across the Delaware River on Christmas morning, December 25, 1776, marched his troops down Bear Tavern Road to attack the Hessian mercenary forces stationed in Trenton.
In the early years of settlement, Ewing was chiefly a woodland area; however, after the Revolution, Ewing embarked upon a long period of agricultural growth and activity. In 1844, historians Barber and Howe described the Township as having some of the richest soil in New Jersey. Early development was in the form of small hamlets scattered throughout the Township, including Birmingham (now known as West Trenton), Ewing, Ewingville, and Greensburg (now Wilburtha). Most of these hamlets were located on the main transportation routes through the township: on roads such as Scotch Road or Pennington Road, on the Delaware & Raritan Canal, or near ferries across the Delaware River.
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Early 20th Century
By the early 20th century, Trenton had become a major industrial center, and the population of the city rapidly increased. The areas of Ewing adjacent to Trenton began to take on urban characteristics, absorbing the population overflow from the city. Many Trenton residents discovered the advantages of living in Ewing, and the Township began to change from an agricultural to a residential community. Trains and streetcars enabled people to live further from the center of Trenton. Areas such as Homecrest, Prospect Heights, Prospect Park, and Weber Park were established near the borders of the City of Trenton, some of the earliest ‘suburban’ developments in Ewing.
Despite the early development of the streetcar suburbs, Ewing grew slowly in the first quarter of the 20th century: by 1920 the population of the Township stood at 3500. The area remained predominantly rural in nature until just prior to World War II, when new industries would begin a long period of growth and development for the Township. With the construction of the General Motors plant in 1938 and the employment opportunities that accompanied it, new communities such as the Glendale and Fernwood began to be built. By 1940, only twenty later, the Township’s population had almost tripled to 10,146.
Important industries were attracted to the area by the proximity of the Reading Railroad. Companies such as Homasote, Roller Bearing, Winner Manufacturing, Nassau China, and Heath Lumber benefited from this major transportation system, and some even installed spurs connecting to the main rail line.
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World War II
During World War II, factories in the area devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the war effort. General Motors became Eastern Aircraft, and made a critical contribution to the war effort through the production of the Navy Avenger Torpedo Bomber. Assemblies from other plants on the East Coast were transported via the Reading Railroad to the Ewing plant, where they joined Ewing-fabricated sections in final assembly. Bombers off the line were sent to the Skillman (now Trenton-Mercer) airport, where they were tested before delivery to the Navy.
After World War II Ewing Township grew rapidly, reflected by the construction of a variety of housing, including Parkway Village, Moss Homes, Wynnwood Manor and Fleetwood Village. Later subdivisions include Hampton Hill, Hillwood Manor, Sherbrooke, Hickory Hills and Village on the Green. By 1960, the population of the Township had grown to 26,828.
Through the years, the State of New Jersey has established a number of important institutions in Ewing Township. These include the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, The College of New Jersey, (formerly Trenton State College,) Marie Katzenbach New Jersey School for the Deaf, and the State Department of Transportation complex. Another significant governmental installation was the Naval Air Warfare Center on Parkway Avenue, which developed many major aeronautical defense weapons, such as the cruise missile, for the US Navy.
Today Ewing has become an ethnically and socially diverse community of residents. According to the 1990 census, the population of the Township stood at 34,185 and is expected to stabilize around 40,000. The economy of the Township is strongly rooted in government, light manufacturing and education. With easy access to both Philadelphia and New York, the Township remains a viable business center. It continues to function as a corridor for the vital components of air, rail and land transportation, including the Trenton-Mercer Airport and Interstate 95.
Under the initiative of the new Mayor-Council form of government, the Township is now preparing to review and define several areas for redevelopment and community renewal. This initiative will maximize the potential for future growth, and help the Township meet the challenges of the 21st century. Ewing remains a vital community in Mercer County and Central New Jersey for growth, opportunity and progress, and although much changed from its agrarian roots, its character remains intact for future generations in neighborhoods, people, and special places.
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