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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Green Brook

New Jersey

Basic Information

Type of Place
Independent City or Town
Metro Area
Politics c. 1860?
Unions, Organized Labor?
Don’t Know

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
Was there an ordinance?
Don't Know
Don’t Know
Year of Greatest Interest
Still Sundown?
Probably Not, Although Still Very Few Black People

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
1970 4302 4293 2
2000 5654 5000 95 452 4 231
2010 7203 5297 243

Method of Exclusion

  • Unknown

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


Former Green Brook resident:

“Green Brook was one of a cluster of exceedingly small towns in Somerset County. I have always been struck by how each “white” town in the area seems to have a twin, “black” town, which of course is relatively poorer. For Green Brook, it was South Plainfield; for Livingston, it was East Orange, etc. I honestly can’t say, though, whether this segregation at the municipal level was explicit (I doubt it) or enforced through the usual home loan/real estate combo.

The New Jersey government includes an additional layer, the township, between the county and the municipality. The township can include several municipalities or parts thereof, or it can cover only section of an existing municipality (in which case it would lie below the latter, not above, in any organizational chart). The existence of such a structure can make it hard to decide exactly when a town was created, or why. The land that Green Brook comprises today has at different times lain in the Counties of Middlesex and Somerset, and the Townships of Piscataway, Bridgewater, Warren, and North Plainfield. The area first came under a single, albeit larger administration just before the Civil War, when it was designated part of Warren Township. Green Brook went along with North Plainfield when it seceded from Warren Township in 1872, only to secede itself in 1932. The area that became Green Brook Township was at that time the most agricultural section of an area much changed by industrialization. Many of the tract houses were not built until after World War II.

The question for our purposes, of course, is, why the secessions especially in 1932? Based on the township government’s own site, Green Brook would seem to have sat in a cthonic stupor from the seventeenth century until the Revolutionary War. Then, of course, its Brave Sons joined the local militia to a man and helped General Washington espy the British movements in and around New York (at the top of the Watchung mountain range in town lies Washington Rock state park, whence the good General allegedly did his snooping). Come independence and peace, the area lapsed back into somnolence.

Digging around a little more, I found some other things. Most of the area on the east side of the town was once part of the Vermuele Plantation, one of the farms that helped make the county’s population at least one tenth slave and indentured servant right up to abolition in 1846. The area was lukewarm toward the Union cause in the Civil War; one neighboring town’s history site describes the busy trade in substitute recruitment after the introduction of conscription. Yet a plantation/copperhead past does not a sunset town make. Plenty of all white neighborhoods have seceded from all white towns and cities in New Jersey before. Down the shore, mainland towns withdraw from townships because they don’t want to effectively subsidize the utilities and beach costs of the island towns. The more established island towns in turn resist incorporation because they don’t want to be swallowed up by the larger, more populous towns on the bay. Green Brook’s neighboring town of Dunellen was carved out of the township of Piscataway in the 1860s by a group of real estate speculators who had a sweetheart deal with the rail company to build a new station nearby. In 1932, Green Brook was a backwater farming section of North Plainfield, itself one of the dozens of small cities in that part of the state that had developed a stock of industries. Amid the financial and social crisis of the Depression, who can say why they made the decision to secede?

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I’d need to do more research, preferably with copies of the local newspapers. I had previously thought that Green Brook had incorporated after WW2, which would be more of a red flag. Through the early 80s, no black family that I knew of had bought a home there, but I cannot say whether this is due to the circumstances surrounding the town’s creation, or simple racism.”