The Garden State is home to some of the country's oldest communities founded by Dutch and English settlers long before the Revolutionary War. Many of these tiny towns and villages slip under the radar for visitors, but their historic charms and modern draws merit trips to different corners of the state.
In Essex County, South Orange dates back to 1666, when settlers purchased land from the Lenape Indians. The village maintains many historic features, starting with gas street lights. Several venerable buildings, including South Orange Village Hall, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors will also enjoy taking in a performance at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
Moving west to Morris County, Chatham Borough was first settled by Europeans in 1710. It served, alongside nearby Morristown, as an American hub during the Revolutionary War. Two centuries have passed, but Chatham still has a small-town feel with local businesses and restaurants along Main Street. Architecture buffs will enjoy the mix of Victorian homes and more modern styles.
In Middlesex County, the Main Street of Cranbury is the heart of a 200-building historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The tiny township was established as a village in the late 17th century and still boasts many buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Visitors will enjoy strolling the streets on their own or perhaps picking up a copy of a self-guided historical walking tour brochure at the Cranbury History Center located on Main Street.
With less than 3,000 residents, the borough of Swedesboro in Gloucester County is one of New Jersey's smallest gems. The borough was settled as part of the New Sweden colony in the mid-1600s. Don't miss seeing the historic Old Swedes Trinity Episcopal Church and the Nothnagle Log House, one of the nation's oldest such structures, in nearby Gibbstown.
The township of Toms River in Ocean County dates back to 1767 and was used to help supply colonial troops during the Revolutionary War. Since then, it's become a popular destination down the Shore. The downtown area hosts many events for visitors and locals alike, including a popular Halloween parade.
The namesake of historic Cape May, Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, explored the area in the early 1600s, but it is perhaps best known for its Victorian homes, which were built after a massive fire destroyed much of the town in 1878. Modern visitors enjoy bed and breakfast lodgings on quiet streets with great proximity to the beach.