Belle Mead, NJ, offers a taste of country living without sacrificing the amenities that make life easier and more enjoyable. The growing community is ideally located halfway between Philadelphia and New York.
From Farmland to a New Town
Like so many other areas in New Jersey, Belle Mead was once nothing more than rolling farmland. Around 1875, William Van Aken, a wealthy real estate developer from New York City, purchased acres of farmland after learning about a new rail line that would pass through the area. He intended to create a city modeled after his hometown and quickly set to work designing the layout of the new town, which he called Vanaken.
Despite his initial optimism, Vanaken lost money on the project, and the property went into foreclosure. U.S. Senator John McPherson bought Vanaken and changed the name to Belle Mead in honor of his daughter, Edna Belle Mead McPherson.
From the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, the Woods Tavern was the center of activity in town. The tavern and hotel served rail travelers who stopped at the Belle Mead depot and even hosted Presidential candidate Horace Greeley. Although the tavern burned down in the 1930s, the site where it stood remains an important part of the Belle Mead business community. Every resident has probably paid a visit to one of the stores at the Shoppes at Woods Tavern and taken a few minutes to study the plaque commemorating the site’s history.
Some of the original historic homes still remain, but most have long been torn down. Today, you’ll find a variety of housing styles in Belle Mead, ranging from condos to Cape Cods to large modern homes. Although much of housing stock is older, the area also offers upscale new home communities. Residents enjoy the quiet neighborhoods and the sense of community pride that’s evident throughout Belle Mead.
A Convenient Location
Over the years, Belle Mead slowly evolved from a sparsely populated farm town to the vibrant neighborhood it is today. The community is part of Montgomery Township, a 32-square-mile area that is home to more than 23,000 people.
Many Belle Mead residents commute to jobs in Philadelphia, New York, Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton or Princeton. Routes 202 and 206 offer convenient access to other towns, as well as to local restaurants and shops.
Commuters who prefer to read the paper or decompress during the morning commute can leave their cars behind and hop on a New Jersey Transit train. The Northeast Corridor line provides service from Trenton to New York’s Penn Station and offers stops in nearby Princeton, Princeton Junction and New Brunswick.
Amtrak also offers daily service to New York City and Philadelphia from the Princeton Junction Station. Three airports serve the area. Small planes and helicopters take off from the Princeton airport, while both Newark and Trenton-Mercer airports offer both commercial and charter flights.
A Strong Local Business Community
Belle Mead residents never have to travel far to pick up a loaf of bread, gas up the car or get their teeth cleaned. The area is home to many independently owned and franchised businesses, including grocery stores, fast food locations, fine restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons, banks and medical offices.
Macys, Lord & Taylor, J. Crew, Banana Republic and Chicos have stores in the Bridgewater Commons Mall, a short drive away. Local shoppers also enjoy spending an afternoon browsing the Van Heusen, Coach, Ann Taylor and Tommy Hilfiger outlets in historic Flemington.
Montgomery Township’s business community is growing, thanks to participation in Einstein Alley, an effort by Congressman Rush Holt to attract innovative companies to the area. Several leading edge institutions and companies are already located in the area, including Sarnoff Corporation, Princeton Plasma Physics Lab and the Institute for Advanced Study. Congressman Holt hopes to develop the area into the Silicon Valley of the northeast.
Belle Mead children in grades PreK through 12 attend schools in the Montgomery Township School District. The district is known for academic excellence and a commitment to encouraging and challenging its students. The high school ranked 23rd in New Jersey and 390th in the country in U.S. News and World Report’s 2016 ranking of high schools. Parents who prefer a private school education will find plenty of options in the area, including the Princeton Day School, Waldorf School of Princeton, Princeton Montessori School and The Lawrenceville School.
Recreational Opportunities Abound
Sourland Mountain Preserve, a 4,000-acre preserve located just a few miles away from Belle Mead, offers horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking and bird watching. It’s also the perfect place to try out your bouldering skills. Bouldering is a type of rock climbing that doesn’t use ropes or harnesses.
If you’d rather spend the day on the links, you’ll want to pay a visit to Mattawang Golf Club. The Belle Mead club is open to the public and features challenging fairways bordered by tall trees. The area also offers several other golf clubs, including Green Knoll Golf Course and Spooky Brook Golf Course.
If miniature golf is more your style, try your hand at the 18-hole putting course at Colonial Park, located in Somerset. The course is one of only two handicapped accessible miniature golf courses in the country. After a round of mini golf, there’s no better way to end the day than with a paddle boat cruise on the park’s Powder Mill Pond.
Proximity to University Towns Offers Cultural Benefits
Belle Mead is located just nine miles from Princeton and 13 from New Brunswick, home to Princeton University and Rutgers-New Brunswick. Both universities offer cultural benefits you usually won’t find outside major cities.
Princeton University’s free art library may not rival the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s in size, but it offers an impressive collection of African, American, Ancient, Asian, European and Modern art. The University also offers lectures, readings and theater and music performances throughout the year.
In addition to an art museum that has more than 60,000 pieces of art, Rutgers-New Brunswick also offers geology and entomological (insect) museums and screens more than 100 films annually in its film series.
Current Homes for Sale in Belle Mead, New Jersey
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Montgomery County, NJ: Home Page
U.S. News and World Report: Montgomery High School
Somerset County Parks: Sourland Mountain Preserve
On Hillsborough: The View from Hillsborough
Wikipedia: Belle Mead, NJ