While Belleville industrialized early, its geography has included a mix of agriculture, housing, and manufacturing. From its incorporation in 1839 to the present, the Township has been in transition from an agriculturally-focused village to a manufacturing town to a residential community with an industrial base. A perspective on this diverse history is important to understanding the Township as presently developed, as well as in planning its future direction.
Jersey City, originally known as Bergen, was settled in 1633 by Dutch settlers. The Dutch expansion soon led to other settlements, including one called the Second River. This settlement would later be known as Belleville. The first landowner was probably Hendrick Spier, who arrived on the second vessel bringing settlers from Holland. He built his home near the present day SOHO section on a tract consisting of hundreds of acres of unbroken forest. His holdings extended from the house to the Passaic River, a distance of about two miles.
An early residence of note was the Van Cortlandt-Van Rensellear mansion, built in 1683. The mansion was destroyed long ago by fire. It was reputed to have escape tunnels in the basement for use during the Indian raids. The names of at least four Belleville streets are derived from the original owners and those who married into the family. These streets are Cortlandt, Schuyler, Bayard, and Van Rensellear.
During the Revolutionary War the British sent many foraging parties into the S econd River Colony. General Washington and his troops passed through Belleville on November 22, 1776. They came down Main Street, then known as River Road, with the British in hot pursuit. A bronze plaque at the front of the Dutch Reformed Church lists the names of sixty-two veterans of the Revolutionary War who are buried in the cemetery behind the church. A major cleanup has made the Church’s cemetery more accommodating to visitors and increased interests in its historic value.
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