Somerville was originally formed as a town on March 25, 1863, within a portion of Bridgewater Township. Somerville was incorporated as a borough by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on April 16, 1909, based on the results of a referendum held on May 4, 1909, at which point it was fully set off from Bridgewater Township. It is home of the oldest competitive bicycle race in the United States.
Somerville was settled in colonial times primarily by the Dutch who purchased land from the English proprietors of the colony. The Dutch established their church near what is today Somerville and a Dutch Reformed minister or Domine lived at the Old Dutch Parsonage from about 1754. The early village grew up around a church, courthouse and a tavern built at a crossroads shortly after the American Revolution. The name "Somerville" was taken from four brothers of the Somerville family, William, Edward, John and James from Drishane and Castlehaven, County Cork, Ireland, who first founded the town in the 1750s. Somerville was originally a sparsely populated farming community, but rapidly grew after the completion of the railroad in the 1840s and development of water power along the Raritan River in the 1850s. Early industry included brick making from the plentiful red clay and shale on which Somerville is built. While much of the borough features distinctive Victorian architecture in several neighborhoods and along its Main Street, other periods are represented. National Register sites in Somerville include the white marble 1909 Somerville Court House and the wooden and stone colonial Wallace House (today a museum) where George Washington spent a winter during the American Revolutionary War. Near the Wallace House is the Old Dutch Parsonage, where Reverend Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, a founder and first president of Rutgers University, then called Queens College, lived. Register listed Victorian structures include the James Harper Smith Estate (privately owned), St. John's Episcopal Church and rectory, and the Fire Museum (a vintage fire house). Other notable, register eligible structures are the Victorian train station (privately owned) and the municipal building, the former Robert Mansion.
In 1940, the first competitive bicycle race, called the Tour of Somerville was established by bicycle shop owner, Fred Kugler, to showcase his son, Furman, who was a national cycling champion, and who won the initial men's competition. His daughter, Mildred won the women's. It is held annually and has since become the oldest competitive bicycle race in the U.S. and now carries a purse of $10,000 for each winner of the women's and men's races.
Main Street Somerville maintains most of its historical buildings, although many are now boutique specialty shops and second hand shops. Somerville has quite a diverse and large selection of restaurants that draw people from the surrounding area. In many ways, Somerville remains Somerset County's downtown, and is the heart of its designated Regional Center. Several of the factories in Somerville were abandoned and replaced with modern office buildings or remodeled as apartments. Somerville today and historically has had an important African American community, a distinguished member of which was Paul Robeson. Another famous Somerville native was famed character actor Lee Van Cleef. One of the founders of modern American Dance, Ruth St. Denis, made her professional debut at Somerset Hall, once a vaudeville theatre and today a local restaurant. The mix of modern amenities and an interesting and diverse past make Main Street, Somerville a unique destination for dining, strolling and visiting.
The shopping center on the west side of the downtown area was demolished and a new shopping center, town homes and other amenities will be built on the shopping center land and on adjacent land in the former borough landfill to the south. Ground was broken for a new "world class" ShopRite supermarket in March 2011 and opened in November 2011. Borough planners envision a transit village style redevelopment centered around the Somerville train station.
Somerville was hit hard by Hurricane Floyd in September 1999, despite its having been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it impacted the vicinity. The borough received a record 13.34 inches (339 mm) of rain over three days during the slow moving storm, causing significant flooding and considerable damage.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough had a total area of 2.362 square miles (6.118 km2), including 2.331 square miles (6.038 km2) of land and 0.031 square miles (0.080 km2) of water (1.31%). The borough's territory is flat land. Somerville borders the Raritan River to the south.
Somerville's climate is warm during summer when temperatures tend to be in the 70s, 80s and 90s and cold during winter when temperatures tend to be in the 20s and 30s.
The warmest month of the year is July with an average maximum temperature of 84.40 degrees Fahrenheit, while the coldest month of the year is January with an average minimum temperature of 19.10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperature variations between night and day tend to be moderate during summer with a difference that can reach 22 degrees Fahrenheit, and fairly limited during winter with an average difference of 19 degrees Fahrenheit.
The annual average precipitation at Somerville is 45.93 inches (1,167 mm). Rainfall in is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. The wettest month of the year is July with an average rainfall of 4.81 inches (122 mm).
There were 4,591 households out of which 28.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.7% were married couples living together, 11.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.5% were non-families. 30.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.54 and the average family size was 3.20.
In the borough, the population was spread out with 21.3% under the age of 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 34.0% from 25 to 44, 24.8% from 45 to 64, and 11.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35.5 years. For every 100 females there were 107.3 males. For every 100 females ages 18 and older there were 106.7 males.
The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $69,836 (with a margin of error of +/- $5,384) and the median family income was $80,461 (+/- $9,281). Males had a median income of $45,929 (+/- $5,005) versus $46,540 (+/- $3,751) for females. The per capita income for the borough was $30,272 (+/- $2,145). About 3.6% of families and 6.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.8% of those under age 18 and 10.8% of those age 65 or over.
There were 4,743 households of which 28.6% had children under the age of 18, 44.5% were married couples living together, 11.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.0% were non-families. 31.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 3.15.
The borough population consists of 21.9% under the age of 18, 9.0% from 18 to 24, 35.8% from 25 to 44, 19.3% from 45 to 64, and 14.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.1 males.
The median income for a household in the borough was $51,237, and the median income for a family was $60,422. Males had a median income of $40,585 versus $32,697 for females. The per capita income for the borough was $23,310. About 4.8% of families and 7.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.7% of those under age 18 and 8.6% of those age 65 or over.
Somerville is governed under the Borough form of New Jersey municipal government. The governing body consists of a Mayor and a Borough Council comprising six council members, with all positions elected at-large on a partisan basis as part of the November general election. A Mayor is elected directly by the voters to a four-year term of office. The Borough Council consists of six members elected to serve three-year terms on a staggered basis, with two seats coming up for election each year in a three-year cycle. The Borough form of government used by Somerville, the most common system used in the state, is a "weak mayor / strong council" government in which council members act as the legislative body with the mayor presiding at meetings and voting only in the event of a tie. The mayor can veto ordinances subject to an override by a two-thirds majority vote of the council. The mayor makes committee and liaison assignments for council members, and most appointments are made by the mayor with the advice and consent of the council. The Borough Council elects a member to serve as Council President to act in the absence of the Mayor. Each council member is appointed by the Mayor to one of six standing committee's during the Annual Reorganization Meeting held on January 1 of each year.
As of 2018[update], the Mayor of Somerville is Democrat Dennis Sullivan, who was elected to serve an unexpired term ending on December 31, 2019. Members of the Somerville Borough Council are Council President Granville Y. Brady Jr. (D, 2019), Jane C. Kobuta (D, 2019), Thompson H. Mitchell (D, 2018), RanD Pitts (D, 2018; appointed to serve an unexpired term) and Frederick Wied V (D, 2020); the council seat held by Dennis Sullivan expiring in December 2020 was vacated when he took office as mayor in November 2018.
Ellen Brain became the first woman to serve as mayor of Somerville when she was selected in January 2018 from three candidates nominated by the Republican municipal committee to serve the unexpired term of Brian Gallagher ending in December 2019, after Gallagher left office to take a seat on the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders; Brain will serve as mayor on an interim basis until the November 2018 general election, when voters will select a candidate to serve the balance of the term of office. That same month, Democrat RanD Pitts was selected to fill the seat expiring in December 2018 that had been held by Steve Peter until he left the council to take the position of Somerset County Clerk. In the November 2018 general election, Dennis Sullivan was chosen to serve the balance of the mayoral term of office, leaving his council seat expiring in December 2020 vacant.
Somerset County is governed by a five-member Board of Chosen Freeholders, whose members are elected at-large to three-year terms of office on a staggered basis, with one or two seats coming up for election each year. At an annual reorganization meeting held in the beginning of January, the board selects a Director and Deputy Director from among its members. As of 2019[update], Somerset County's Freeholders are
Freeholder Director Brian D. Levine (R, Franklin Township, term as freeholder ends 2020; term as freeholder director ends 2019),
Freeholder Deputy Director Patricia L. Walsh (R, Green Brook Township, term as freeholder ends 2019; term as freeholder deputy director ends 2019),
Brian G. Gallagher (R, Somerville, 2020), Shanel Robinson (D, Franklin Township, 2021), and Sara Sooy (D, Basking Ridge in Bernards Township, 2021).
Constitutional officers elected on a countywide basis are
County Clerk Steve Peter (D, Somerville, 2022),
Sheriff Frank J. Provenzano (R, Raritan, 2019) and
Surrogate Frank Bruno (R, Branchburg, 2020).
As of March 23, 2011, there were a total of 6,565 registered voters in Somerville, of which 1,848 (28.1% vs. 26.0% countywide) were registered as Democrats, 1,358 (20.7% vs. 25.7%) were registered as Republicans and 3,349 (51.0% vs. 48.2%) were registered as Unaffiliated. There were 10 voters registered to other parties. Among the borough's 2010 Census population, 54.3% (vs. 60.4% in Somerset County) were registered to vote, including 69.0% of those ages 18 and over (vs. 80.4% countywide).
In the 2012 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 62.0% of the vote (2,779 cast), ahead of Republican Mitt Romney with 36.4% (1,631 votes), and other candidates with 1.7% (75 votes), among the 4,516 ballots cast by the borough's 6,952 registered voters (31 ballots were spoiled), for a turnout of 65.0%. In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 2,847 votes (59.9% vs. 52.1% countywide), ahead of Republican John McCain with 1,814 votes (38.2% vs. 46.1%) and other candidates with 52 votes (1.1% vs. 1.1%), among the 4,751 ballots cast by the borough's 6,547 registered voters, for a turnout of 72.6% (vs. 78.7% in Somerset County). In the 2004 presidential election, Democrat John Kerry received 2,485 votes (53.6% vs. 47.2% countywide), ahead of Republican George W. Bush with 2,019 votes (43.6% vs. 51.5%) and other candidates with 58 votes (1.3% vs. 0.9%), among the 4,633 ballots cast by the borough's 5,974 registered voters, for a turnout of 77.6% (vs. 81.7% in the whole county).
In the 2013 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 59.0% of the vote (1,707 cast), ahead of Democrat Barbara Buono with 38.8% (1,123 votes), and other candidates with 2.2% (64 votes), among the 2,972 ballots cast by the borough's 7,019 registered voters (78 ballots were spoiled), for a turnout of 42.3%. In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 1,465 votes (46.8% vs. 55.8% countywide), ahead of Democrat Jon Corzine with 1,265 votes (40.4% vs. 34.1%), Independent Chris Daggett with 334 votes (10.7% vs. 8.7%) and other candidates with 33 votes (1.1% vs. 0.7%), among the 3,128 ballots cast by the borough's 6,605 registered voters, yielding a 47.4% turnout (vs. 52.5% in the county).
US 202/206 in Somerville, the largest and busiest highway in the boro
Roads and highways
As of May 2010[update], the borough had a total of 36.16 miles (58.19 km) of roadways, of which 30.96 miles (49.83 km) were maintained by the municipality, 1.90 miles (3.06 km) by Somerset County and 3.30 miles (5.31 km) by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
^Garlic, Tiffani N. "Somerville named a Transit Village", The Star-Ledger, July 8, 2010. Accessed May 3, 2012. "New Jersey officials hope Somerville being named an official Transit Village community by the state Department of Transportation today will help jump-start the local economy."
^[Hirsch, Rod. "Republican Ellen Brain Appointed First Woman Mayor of Somerville by Council Democrats", TAP into Somerville, January 16, 2018. Accessed February 24, 2018. "Ellen Brain, a former AT&T executive who has served on the borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and is an adjunct professor at Raritan Valley Community College, is the new Republican mayor of Somerville and the first woman to serve as mayor since the borough was incorporated in 1909.... As appointed mayor, Brain will fill out the next ten months of former Mayor Brian Gallagher’s unexpired term. Gallagher resigned Jan. 5 after serving 14 years as mayor to be sworn in to a three-year term as a Somerset County Freeholder."
^Hirsch, Rod. "Somerville Democrats Select RanD Pitts to Fill Unexpired Council Term", TAP into Somerville, January 8, 2018. Accessed February 24, 2018. "RanD Pitts, longtime Main Street merchant and member of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, was selected to fill an unexpired term on the Borough Council at a special meeting Monday night. The five Democratic members of the Borough Council voted unanimously to appoint Pitts, a Democrat, who won out over two other Democratic candidates, Roberta Karpinecz and Gina Stravic.... Peter vacated the seat now filled by Pitts when he resigned his position as president of the Borough Council New Year’s Eve to be sworn in as Somerset County Clerk. Pitts will fill Peter’s unexpired term until the end of the year."
^Deak, Mike. "Somerville Mayor Dennis Sullivan officially sworn in", Courier-News, November 20, 2018. Accessed November 21, 2018. "When Dennis Sullivan was a kid, his family from Staten Island used to stop at the Dairy Queen on Route 22, where KFC is now, on their way home from Lake Hopatcong..... He never imagined that one day he would be mayor of the town but on Monday night, six decades later, Sullivan was sworn in as mayor of what he called 'the little town with a big heart.' Sullivan, 69, defeated Ellen Brain, the borough's first woman mayor, 2,498 to 1,800 for a one-year unexpired term."
^Staff. Frontiers, Volume 15, p. 60. Washington State University Press, 1994. Accessed February 3, 2015. "Mary Ellicott Arnold was born in Staten Island, New York, on April 23, 1876, where she lived until the death of her father in 1882, when the family moved to Somerville, New Jersey."
^New Jersey Tennis Stars, Hangout NJ. Accessed June 12, 2007. "Nicole Arendt of Somerville turned pro in 1991 and is currently ranked 26 in the world in women's doubles. The Hun School of Princeton graduate holds 16 career Women's Tennis Association (WTA) doubles titles and won the tour sportsmanship award in 1993."
^Biography, Senator Kip Bateman. Accessed February 3, 2015. "Senator Christopher 'Kip' Bateman was born on October 9, 1957 in Somerville."
^"Interviews with Raymond Bateman", Rutgers University Center on the American Governor. Accessed February 3, 2015. "A lifelong resident of Somerset County, Raymond Bateman was born in Somerville on October 29, 1927, and graduated from Somerville High School in 1945."
^"A Political Microcosm", Time, October 18, 1954. Accessed October 4, 2015. "His uncle, Clarence E. Case, now living in retirement in Somerville, was a state senator and for 23 years a State Supreme Court Justice."
^A Thousand American Men of Mark To-day, p. 306. American Men of Mark, 1917. Accessed February 3, 2015. "Royal Page Davidson, Educator of Lake Geneva, Wis., was born Oct. 9, 1870, in Somerville, N.J."
^"Don Elliot, 57, Jazz Singer, Vibraphonist And Composer", The New York Times, July 6, 1984. Accessed May 3, 2012. "Mr. Elliott, who was born in Somerville, N.J., was a versatile musician who, in addition to vibraphone, played trumpet, bongos, French horn and mellophone, an adaptation of the French horn that allows the performer to project directly at his audience instead of off to one side."
^"Gene Freed 1930–2009"Archived 2015-02-03 at the Wayback Machine., Daily Bulletin of the 81st Summer North American Bridge Championships, July 5, 2009. Accessed February 3, 2015. "Eugene H. Freed was born in 1930 in Somerville NJ to David and Mildred Freed. He lived there until about age 15, when the family moved to San Diego."
^Staff. "Frederick W. Hall, 76, FormerJustice in Jersey", The New York Times, July 9, 1984. Accessed July 5, 2016. "Frederick W. Hall, a former associate justice of the New Jersey State Supreme Court and the author of the landmark Mount Laurel zoning decision, died Saturday at the Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J. He was 76 years old and lived in Somerville."
^Joyce Kozoff, United States Department of State. Accessed October 4, 2015. "Born in Somerville, New Jersey, Joyce Kozloff graduated in 1964 from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1967 from Columbia University, New York."
^Coelho, Frank. "Bronze landmark plaques to mark historic Somerville buildings", The Messenger-Gazette, January 25, 2011. Accessed May 15, 2011. "At Somerset Hall (now Alfonso's Family Trattoria), Phil Decker, chairman of the Somerville Historic Advisory Committee, shows off a plaque marking the site where Ruth St. Denis (then just Ruth Dennis of Adamsville), the American modern dance pioneer, made her professional debut after a couple of warm-up performances in Adamsville."
^Jon Williams, New England Patriots. Accessed August 13, 2013. "By the time Jon was in third grade, his Dad was in prison on a murder charge. Three of his six siblings would become drug addicts and the streets of Somerville, N.J., were calling for more victims."
^Staff. "Her Words Gain Favor", Times Leader, June 1, 2003. Accessed April 4, 2011. "According to Elinor Wylie A Biography by Stanley Olson, Wylie was born in 1885 in Somerville, N.J., but spent much of her youth in Philadelphia."