New Jersey is the Rodney Dangerfield of states. It just doesn’t get any respect. Jersey Shore, Chris Christie, The Sopranos, tank farms, “What exit?” … Whaddya gonna do?
One thing it does have going for it, though, is an odd preponderance of weird place names. In fact, I had to give The Garden State two posts. This week, you get to enjoy towns with strange names that begin with the letters A to L. Next week, it’s M to Z. Let’s get started!
I thought this was what you were supposed to do after soaking your beans.
The name actually refers to the separation of the wonderfully named Musconetcong River into its upper and lower portions. The Changewater Forge was operating here in the mid 18th Century.
This little town’s main claim to fame is as the site of a famous 19th Century murder, the Castner murders. Changewater once had a population of 200, but now has only about 20 houses.
Former industry includes a snuff factory, which gave its name to the nearby (and equally wonderfully named) Snufftown.
Not a real billboard!
Well, you’ve got your choice of two interesting origin stories on this one:
- From an early real estate agent, a blacksmith who tried hard to sell lots he owned next to his shop
- From a bargain a slave owner made with his slaves (if they built a road, he would give them their freedom)
Bargaintown is part of Egg Harbor, on the south Jersey store. In fact, it looks like it’s right across the street from Egg Harbor’s municipal building. All that’s really left of Bargaintown is a big pond and a road.
Oh, and a fire station
8. Brass Castle
So, you’ve got your brass monkeys, your brass tacks, your brass knuckles, your brass balls … So, why not your brass castles as well?
Rather disappointingly, this place was named for early settler Jacob Brass, whose log cabin was ironically referred to as a castle. The surname comes from the town of Brace, in England.
Brass Castle is in the northwest part of New Jersey, not too far from Changewater. It’s got about 1,500 people.
Fine, upstanding Brass Castle citizen
Named after the character actor in ‘50s Westerns, Buck Shutem …
Okay, you know that’s not true, right? Well, it’s actually not all that much worse than what I could find on the Internet. Here are the two main candidates:
- It derives from the phrase "Buck, shoot 'em," when a hunter saw a deer
- It’s derived from Buckshutem Creek, whose rapid flow of water as it empties into the Maurice River causes boats to "buck and shoot"
My guess is that it’s from some Native American language and means something totally un-poetic and obscure, such as “place that stinks like cabbage” or “where the women found the dead muskrat.”
Buckshutem’s in the southwest part of New Jersey, near Millville. In fact, though there are plenty of houses in the area from the Millville suburb of Laurel Lake, there’s really nothing for Buckshutem but an eponymous road and creek.
Oh, and an ambulance service
One thing I really like about New Jersey is that the funny names are not limited to obscure, barely-there places such as Buckshutem and Bargaintown. Some of the state’s largest cities are genuine howlers. Take Hoboken. Please!
This odd one is from the Lenapi hupokàn, which means “land of the tobacco pipe.” You probably already know that this city of 50,000 is right across the Hudson from Manhattan.
Here are some more factoids you may not be aware of:
- The first recorded game of baseball was played here
- The first brewery in North America was located here
- Famous sons and daughters include tennis star Michael Chang, “actress” Pia Zadora, “businessman” “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap, sexologist Alfred Kinsey, photographers Dorothea Lange and Alfred Stieglitz, and – of course – singer Frank Sinatra
It’s just all too much! I can’t take it anymore! It’s just, just … allamuchy!
Well, at least it’s an improvement from the original name, Allamuchahokkingen. That’s Indian for “place within the hills.”
We’re in the northwest again, not too far from Brass Castle and Changewater. Allamuchy is a township, of 20 square miles and about 4,300 people.
Somehow or other, Allamuchy made it onto both weirdnj.com and strangeusa.com, for:
- An abandoned estate where every surface has been covered with obscene graffiti
- The chillingly named Shades of Death Road
Believe it or not,
there are bears in New Jersey
Another major city with a majorly odd name, Hackensack derives its name from a Native American word for “toxic waste dump.”
Excuse me. It’s actually from the Lenape, and means “stony ground.” It was originally spelled Achkencheschakey or perhaps Achinigeu-hach, or maybe Ackingsah-sack, or Ack-kinkas-hacky, or Achkinhenhcky … Hmm, they all make Hackensack sound kinda good.
Once again, we’re in the great urban sprawl across the Hudson from NYC. Hackensack’s got all of 43,000 people. And here are some interesting bits of Hackensackiana:
- It’s been immortalized in song by Johnny Cash, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Fountains of Wayne, and P.D.Q. Bach (Peter Schickele)
- Singer Debby Boone was born here
- F. Scott Fitzgerald went to prep school here
- Jimi Hendrix’s first public performance was in Hackensack
America’s “unofficial ambassador to North Korea,”
father of “barbecue diplomacy,”
and Hackensack native
3. Lower Squankum
“It looks like you’ve sprained your lower squankum, Mrs. Peabody. Very badly, I’m afraid.”
I couldn’t find anything on how this town got its name, but I was able to find that another NJ town, Williamston, was originally called Squankum as well. And that “squankum” meant either “entrance” or “place of evil ghosts” (not so sure of that latter one).
By the way, there was also once an Upper Squankum too. It was renamed Farmingdale. Now, I’m not so sure why everyone is in such a bloody hurry to erase all traces of their squankumness. Well, at least the Lower Squankumites are there to uphold the tradition.
Lower Squankum is a wide space in the road is in the northeast part of the state, between Lakewood and Asbury Park. Here’s an article about a mill there, very likely owned by a relative of mine (yup, my Dad was a Jersey boy).
It’s a dessert! It’s a natural disaster! It’s both! It’s a cheesequake!
Interestingly, this one has nothing to do with dairy products or the movement of tectonic plates.
It’s another Anglicization of a much longer Native American word – in this case, cheseh-oh-ke, which means “upland.”
It’s in the northeast part of NJ, and looks rather developed. It’s given its name to a big state park, a creek, an elementary school, a little league, a fire station, and a turnpike service area. I could not find any factories, unfortunately.
There is also a strain of marijuana
of the same name!
1. Foul Rift
Foul Rift really isn’t there anymore. The town, which is on a bend of the Delaware River, was basically condemned by the local power company, which owned the land (their power plant is right across the river). There are still some houses in the general area, though, so that’s why I’m including it here, and not below under “ghost towns.”
As for the name? The site of the town just so happens to also be the site of some hazardous rapids on the Delaware River. So, I guess that’s just an old-timey way of saying “hazardous rapids.” To me, though, it means “smelly estrangement” – if indeed it means anything at all.
By the way, the rapids are Class 2, and are considered the most dangerous along the Delaware.
- B-o-r-i-n-g – Jersey City, Jerseyville, Center Grove, Central City
- Short & sweet – Deal, Brick (after Joseph Brick)
- Just a little out of place – Broadway, Delaware, Dayton, Bogota, Hibernia, Edinburg, Flanders, Hamburg, Germania, Florence
- Just a little off-color – Beaver Lake, Buttzville
- Numerically oriented – Five Points
- Native American mouthfuls – Hopatcong, Ho-Ho-Kus (“red cedars”)
- Miscellaneous mouthfuls – Baptistown, Cinnaminson, Flatbrookville, Egg Harbor City, Cape May Court House
- Atypical adjectives – Ceramic
- Too much green – Green Brook, Green Pond, Green Village, Green Bank
- Abnormal nouns – Brigantine, Cologne, Bivalve
- Fun to say – Bricksboro (after Joshua Brick, no relation), Hurffsville, Hi-Nella
- Just plain weird – Great Notch, Center Square, Convent Station, Creamridge, Deerfield Street, Dutch Neck, Bedminster (after a town in England), Egg Harbor City, East Orange, Blue Anchor (from a tavern), Little Silver, Ironia, Loveladies, Double Trouble, Ongs Hat
- I’d like to introduce you to – Dorothy, Elmer, Lawrence Harbor, Bradley Beach, Holly Park, Leonardo
- Ghost towns (in NJ?) – Martha, Feltville, Amatol, Batsto Village, Demon’s Alley
Surprised at how many meanings I was able to provide here? I got ‘em all from this great website.