The History in the Names of Local Towns

New Jersey is rich with American history. One does not have to travel very far or search extensively to uncover remnants of the past. There are enough relics around that they can be seen in everyday life. There are many sites throughout the state where centuries-old structures still stand, like the Miller-Cory House in Westfield or the Fanwood Train Station in Fanwood.

In other spots the original structures might be long gone, but the significance of the site is preserved by a monument or plaque. Such is the case in Scotch Plains at the Terry Well, famed for reportedly quenching the thirst of many soldiers, both British and Continental, after the Battle of the Short Hills in 1777. However, the history of the area is even more apparent but not usually noticed. It's right on the tip of the tongue. Sometimes the history is in the name of the town.

Westfield was once an undeveloped stretch of land

In the west part of the settlement Elizabethtown. It was known to those in the area simply as "the west fields". It included the surrounding area, some of what is now Scotch Plains and Fanwood. Around 1700 the land was divided into 100 acre lots. The downtown section was officially distinguished as a settlement in 1720, but remained part of Elizabethtown until 1794 when it became a township. Later in 1903, it became the Town of Westfield. Currently the population is estimated to be 30,000.

The township of Scotch Plains

Has an origin much like Westfield in that it was referred to as fields. However, it is said to owe it's name to one man. According to the town's website, George Scot, a leader of Scotch settlers, came to area in 1684 and 1685. The entire region became knows as Scot's Plains in his honor. There were eight families on the settlement, a far cry from the 23,000 residents of Scotch Plains today. It remained mostly a farming community for many years.

Interestingly, the settlement was originally incorporated as Fanwood Township in 1878. It included the current neighbor of Fanwood, which separated to form it's own borough in 1895. Scotch Plains remained Fanwood Township until 1917 when it was renamed Scotch Plains.

There is no clear historical evidence to the origin of Fanwood's name

Locally, it is known to possibly be attributed to a woman named Fanny Wood (sometimes Fannie Wood). According to the town's website. Fanny Wood was a journalist who once wrote about the area. It goes on to state that the name was chosen by the president of the Central Railroad of New Jersey chose the name to honor that woman who was said to be a frequent visitor and admirer of the area. Another local legend similarly connects the name to a woman named Fanny Wood.

This woman was honored by a railroad executive as well, however, in this version of the story, the Fanny Wood in question was not an author, but the executive's beloved daughter. Whoever Fanny Wood was, she would likely feel honored that that borough continues to thrive as a quaint, family-oriented community of approximately 7300 residents.

No matter the exact history of the name

The sentiment remains the same. Small glimpses of the rich past of New Jersey live on in the names of the towns. Though the bustling shops of downtown Westfield may not immediately call to mind acres of undeveloped land, one only has to alter the name to the origin form of the west fields with a little imagination to bring forth an image of what once was. Drivers headed down Park Avenue in Scotch Plains could look around and think of what Scot's plains must have been like. Commuters need only take a moment at the train station in Fanwood to wonder, who was the real Fanny Wood?