Aerial view of South Orange, New Jersey.

These Small Towns In New Jersey Have The Best Historic Districts

New Jersey is the fourth-smallest state by size but eleventh in population, which means it packs a lot of great towns into a small area! Like its mid-Atlantic neighbors, New YorkPennsylvania, and Delaware, New Jersey is home to many historic small towns that have stood the test of time for two centuries or more. Some of these historic communities are seacoast towns, others are rural villages, and still others are suburban enclaves. Check out our list of seven New Jersey towns with great historic districts, all of which are great choices for exploring the distinctive charms of the “Garden State.”


Aerial view of Burlington, New Jersey.
Aerial view of Burlington, New Jersey.

Burlington was first settled all the way back in 1677 by Quakers affiliated with William Penn, proprietor of the Pennsylvania colony, and was the capital of the West Jersey colony until the formation of New Jersey in 1702. Some of the oldest structures in the state, including the 1685 Hutchinson-Revell House, which was already nearly 40 years old when Benjamin Franklin visited it, are in town. Other Burlington walking tour highlights include the childhood home of author James Fenimore Cooper, built in 1780, and General (and later President) Ulysses S. Grant’s family home during the last year of the Civil War. Begin and end your walking tour on High Street, home to a lively and eclectic shopping district.

Cape May

The beautiful town of Cape May, New Jersey.
The beautiful town of Cape May, New Jersey. Editorial credit: JWCohen /

Situated at the southern tip of New Jersey, where Delaware Bay opens into the Atlantic OceanCape May is one of the oldest beach resort towns along the east coast of the United States. Thankfully, this town of 2,800 full-time residents has resisted over-development and retained much of its historic character. Instead of high-rise hotels and condos, the oceanfront has a charming beach promenade that is perfect for a morning or evening stroll. Take only a few steps from the beach to discover street after street of historic Victorian homes, some of which now house businesses. The Washington Street Mall, an open-air, pedestrian-friendly shopping area, highlights both historic architecture and modern commerce.


Chatham, New Jersey.
Chatham, New Jersey. Image credit: Doug Kerr via

The history of the north-central New Jersey community of Chatham dates back even beyond its founding in 1710, and much of that long history (as well as current prosperity) remains on display today. Chatham is one of the wealthiest communities in the state, and many of its stately Victorian-era homes have been lovingly restored and maintained. To go back even further in time, visit the Jacob Morrell House (now a restaurant), which was George Washington’s headquarters in 1781 as he prepared the Continental Army’s march to the decisive Battle of Yorktown. Another remaining home from that era, the William Day House (1780), stands as a proud testament to Chatham’s long history.


View of the Brainerd Lake in Cranbury, New Jersey.
View of the Brainerd Lake in Cranbury, New Jersey. Editorial credit: EQRoy /

Cranbury has been around so long that the date of its first settlement is unclear, but it happened no later than 1698. The town’s position about halfway between New York City and Philadelphia makes it an important logistics and warehousing hub today. Two hundred fifty years ago, however, Cranbury was an important way station during the American Revolution, with Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington among the luminaries who visited. The Cranbury Historic District, centered around Main Street, covers some 200 eighteenth and nineteenth-century buildings, making it perfect for a self-guided walking tour starting from the Cranbury History Center. Architectural highlights include the Old Cranbury School, Silvers Mansion, and Cranbury Inn. 


Aerial view of Morristown, New Jersey.
Aerial view of Morristown, New Jersey.

Like the nearby community of Cranbury, Morristown has a deep connection to the period of the Revolutionary War—so much so that it is sometimes called the “Crossroads of the American Revolution.” Morristown National Historical Park honors the ground upon which General George Washington’s Continental Army suffered through brutal winters in 1777-78 and 1779-80. The historic 1774 Ford Mansion, where the general spent the winter, and the more modern Washington’s Headquarters Museum also highlight Morristown’s critical wartime past. Additionally, Alexander Hamilton fans can check out the site of his wedding to Elizabeth Schuyler (the Campfield House), while those interested in the history of technology can visit the site of the first successful telegraph system in 1838 (Speedwell Ironworks).

South Orange

Aerial view of South Orange, New Jersey.
Aerial view of South Orange, New Jersey.

While the northern New Jersey village of South Orange was established in 1869, the first colonial settlers arrived as early as the 1670s. South Orange is home to one of the oldest structures in the state, the circa 1680 Old Stone House, though it is currently in a severely dilapidated condition. However, many other longstanding structures are well maintained in the Prospect Park and Montrose Street Historic Districts. Architectural highlights such as the 1894 Village Hall, as well as the gaslamp-lined streets, make South Orange a great choice for a historic walking tour. After exploring the town, be sure to take in a show at the highly-regarded South Orange Performing Arts Center.


A historical building in Swedesboro, New Jersey.
A historical building in Swedesboro, New Jersey. Image credit: Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD via Wikimedia Commons.

While it is now a fast-growing suburb of Philadelphia, which is about 25 miles to the north, the town of Swedesboro also remains New Jersey’s most recognizable remnant of the short-lived New Sweden colony of the mid-1600s. Swedesboro, for example, is home to what may be the oldest log house—the Nothnagle Log House, circa 1640—in the United States. While it is relatively young in comparison, the 1784 Trinity Episcopal “Old Swedes” Church stands as another historic highlight in town. During your visit, check out the Swedesboro-Woolrich Historical Museum on the second floor of the town hall, which contains a wealth of artifacts and information about this distinctive New Jersey community. 

New Jersey’s history stretches back to the 1600s, and many of its small towns have done a great job preserving their long pasts while still adapting to the present day. Because the Garden State is so compact, it is easy to explore several of these small towns during a weekend road trip. So, make your plans for an exploration of New Jersey’s historic communities today—and be ready to discover some new gems to add to your list!

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