Our History
History of Spotswood
Published in the Home News Tribune on January 20, 2000

1685: The town's first white resident -- James Johnston or Johnstone -- arrives from Scotland, naming his new home after his old one, Spotteswoode. In a letter to his brother, Johnston brags about a land of plenty, complete with friendly Indians. Somewhere along the line the town drops its British spelling.

1700s: As the young colony develops, Spotswood -- stretching along what was then known as Lawrie's Road and with few business establishments -- becomes something of a village center for the surrounding farms. It is also an overnight stop on the stagecoach that goes from New York to Philadelphia via the Amboys.

1750: The town, which will become known for its various mills, already has several taking advantage of its ready water supply. One of the town's Dutch settlers, Peter Ten Eyck, has a grist mill, sawmill and forge in the village, but he goes bankrupt in the years leading up to the Revolution and eventually becomes a fugitive. In 1764, the Pennsylvania Gazette runs this ad: "Escaped from Sheriff of Middlesex, Peter Ten Eyck, a lusty, likely man, about five feet 10 inches high, fresh colored, has dark eyes, dwelt lately near Spotswood, owned a gristmill and forge. Ten-pound reward to be paid by James Brooks, Sheriff."

1776/77: Col. Neilson of New Brunswick leads a raid on Spotswood, which is believed to have Tory sympathizers in its borders. The Revolutionary troops seize quantities of iron, 2,680 pounds of beef, 2,646 pounds of pork and two kegs of lard.

1778: After the battle of Monmouth, the American troops spend the night in Spotswood. On July 1, Gen. Washington dates two dispatches from the town.

1800s: As the industrial age begins, Spotswood's manufacturers turn to new products: most importantly snuff and paper. Among others, Isaac DeVoe opens a snuff mill on a tract of land that once held a foundry and saw and flour mills. The land -- called "the island" -- is on the road that now bears the family's name and near the lake. Today, the American Legion continues to use one of the snuff mill's old buildings. Although Helmetta becomes the famous snuff company town, Spotswood turns out famous brands of snuff -- Eagle Mills Scotch Snuff, Pocahontas Mills Maccoboy Snuff, Tecumseh Mills Sweet Scotch Snuff -- for many years. The town is still home to three paper mills.

1838: Monroe Township breaks from South Amboy, which is then a mammoth municipality, taking Spotswood with it.

1860: East Brunswick breaks from Monroe, and Spotswood comes along again. One of the theories is that Monroe, a land of farmers, wants a dry township and Spotswood, a burgeoning village with a few taverns and hotels, wants to keep its liquor options open.

1908: Spotswood, a village of 800, takes a vote and becomes an independent community, with power to regulate its own liquor sales. At its founding, the town has three general stores, a butcher shop, a barber shop, and bicycle and blacksmith shops. It is home to three taverns, all on the north side of Main Street, because of which it is known as "The Devil's Side." The south side has three churches, and so is called "The Lord's Side." The second ordinance the new town adopts regulates the use of bicycles; the fifth prevents horses, cattle, sheep, swine, goats and other animals from running at large.

1913: Spotswood becomes a summer vacation spot with the opening of a health camp on Spotswood Lake -- now known as DeVoe. A few years earlier, a publisher named Bernarr Macfadden had established a Physical Culture City along Daniel Road, on the border of Spotswood and Monroe. Its goal was to revitalize folks through a vegetarian diet and vigorous exercise. For several years it drew big crowds and rave reviews: "The city struck a popular chord among residents and they flocked out here in great numbers all summer," the Home News reported on Nov. 16, 1908. "A Standard Oil magnate and his family, lawyers of national reputation, doctors and professional men, supposed to be touring Europe, were to be found among the numerous tents and roomy shacks of the settlement." It all comes to an abrupt end, around 1913 however, when Macfadden is arrested on obscenity charges for publishing an article about venereal disease in his magazine.

1930: Spotswood purchases DeVoe Lakes for $500 from the U.S. Tobacco Co. It is later improved through a WPA project.

1958: A longtime resident, writing a history of Spotswood in the Home News in honor of its 50th anniversary, speaks longingly of the old town -- a place where both chestnut and pine trees grew wild. Children shook the one for snacks, and families chopped the other for Christmas. There were fields which lured hunters and an old licorice mill which offered free treats. But all that, the writer says, has become housing.

Borough of Spotswood This borough, created April 15, 1908, is on the southeast border of East Brunswick, near the mouth of Machaponix creek, and is a station on the Camden & Amboy branch of the Pennsylvania railroad, about eleven miles south of Perth Amboy. Among the earliest residents, of whom there is any record, were David Carnegie (Lord Rosehill), John Lewis Johnston, James Rue, Samuel Neilson, David Stout, Richard Lott, James Abrams and James and John Perrine, referred to in the charter of St. Peter's Church, granted November 23, 1773, by William Franklin, the last royal governor of New Jersey, as"all freeholders and inhabitants of the town of Spotswood," etc. It is the general belief that the Johnston above mentioned, of the ancient family of "Spottiswoode in Scotland," conferred the name in honor of his ancestors, as he was the owner of much land adjacent to the present borough. It is also supposed that the area of the tract known as Spotswood in 1773 was much larger than the boundaries of the former village.
Spotswood owes its existence to the water power there, and was known as a manufacturing point since its earliest history. During the Revolutionary War a paper-mill was in operation, and it is claimed the paper was there made on which the Continental notes were printed.