Montgomery, N.J.: An Under-the-Radar Suburb Near Princeton

Montgomery, at the southern border of Somerset County in New Jersey, has a bit of an identity problem: The 32-square-mile township is difficult to find on many maps because its name is often omitted, while the names of its northern and southern neighborhoods appear instead. To make things even more confusing, a number of Montgomery’s homes have ZIP codes that correspond to better-known communities like Hillsborough and Princeton.

It’s an issue that “ticks me off,” said the mayor, Devra Keenan, 55, who has lived in the township for 23 years. “We don’t want to be known as ‘Princeton North’ or ‘Princeton lite.’ We haven’t claimed our brilliance. Montgomery is a wonderful community, and we sell ourselves short.”





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Veterans Park


Hidden Spring

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By The New York Times

The mayor and members of the Township Committee have pushed back when developers want to use the word Princeton in the names of projects they’re proposing to build in Montgomery. And they take pride in the things that draw people to this once mostly rural community: the highly rated public schools, the increasingly diverse population, the large and relatively new housing stock — and, of course, the proximity to Hillsborough and Princeton.

Montgomery’s growing diversity is reflected not only in the latest census figures — 51 percent of the township’s 23,690 residents identify as white, 38 percent as Asian, 6 percent as Hispanic and 3 percent as Black — but also in the makeup of the government. In January, the township swore in its first Black committeewoman, Deputy Mayor Shelly L. Bell, and the first Sikh woman to hold public office in New Jersey, Committeewoman Neena Singh.

Montgomery is “a town where people are open to others coming in and bringing new ideas,” said Ms. Singh, who was born in India and lived in Canada before moving to the township 25 years ago. She has been happy to introduce ideas that represent her culture, she said, including the new international-standards cricket pitch in Montgomery Veterans Park.

A bridge leads to the many walking trails in Montgomery Veterans Park, a 100-acre green space with ball fields, picnic facilities and a new cricket pitch for the growing number of cricket enthusiasts in town.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Sheila Liu and Jian Gao moved to Montgomery from Fairfield, N.J., last August, attracted not only by the community, but by the public schools and extracurricular activities available to their children. Since moving to the township, the couple’s daughters, Valentina, 9, and Gianna, 8, have gotten involved in numerous activities, including music, theater, swimming, art, taekwondo and Chinese language classes.

“We want our girls to experience as much as they can while they are young, and later they can specialize,” said Ms. Liu, an information-technology business partner at a pharmaceutical company. “Montgomery has afforded them the opportunity to do that.”

In an extremely tight housing market, where homes sell almost as soon as they are listed, she and Mr. Gao, a computer programmer, found themselves in a bidding war for the five-bedroom house with a pool that they bought for $935,000 — $37,000 over the asking price. They weren’t the highest bidders; Ms. Liu believes they got the house thanks to the “love letter” she wrote to the seller — who was Chinese American, as they are — in which she described the property as “generous, warm and peaceful.”

5 CONGRESSIONAL COURT | A five-bedroom, five-bathroom house, built in 1997 on 0.7 acres, listed for $1.725 million. 609-468-4235Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

What You’ll Find

Route 206 is the township’s central spine. The northern part of Montgomery is known as Belle Mead; the southern part, close to Princeton, is Skillman. In between are the remnants of historic villages like Blawenburg and Harlingen, which once defined Montgomery, along with several large farms.

In recent years, the township has become a modern bedroom community, with several housing developments built on what was previously farmland — although 39 percent of Montgomery’s land has been preserved as open space through dedicated open-space taxes and state funding.

Cynthia Fowlkes, the owner-broker of Re/Max InStyle Realty, in Montgomery, said she often educates newcomers about the township’s housing options, which are many and varied. They include luxury single-family homes around the Cherry Valley Country Club; Tapestry, an upscale 55-and-over community in Skillman; and Pike Run, a development in Belle Mead with townhouses, rental apartments and affordable housing.

491 ROUTE 518 | A three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, built in 1958 on 0.52 acres, listed for $389,000. 609-306-5432Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Kelly O’Rourke and Nick Oakley bought a 1992 four-bedroom house in the Skillman neighborhood for $735,000 in February 2020, soon after their second child was born and just before the Covid-19 lockdown. Their new home gives them easy access to Princeton’s cultural offerings and is close to the veterinary practice that Dr. Oakley, 32, owns in Harlingen and the elementary school that their daughter Isabelle, 5, will attend this fall. Ms. O’Rourke, 37, a regulatory manager for a pharmaceutical company, said she also appreciates Montgomery’s abundant open space, something they didn’t have in Millington, N.J., where they previously lived.

“I can take the kids and dog to a handful of parks that are nearby,” Ms. O’Rourke said. “And there are sidewalks everywhere. And now that things have started to open up, we can finally meet people in the neighborhood.”

What You’ll Pay

As of late April, there were 31 single-family houses and eight townhouses for sale in Montgomery, ranging from a two-bedroom, three-bath 1986 townhouse listed for $350,000 to a five-bedroom, five-bath 1997 house listed for $1.725 million.

Over the past year, prices have increased considerably as inventory has dwindled, and homes have sold nearly twice as fast as they did during the preceding year. In the first part of 2022, ending April 25, 44 homes sold for an average price of $849,000, after spending an average of 17 days on the market; during the same period in 2021, 74 homes sold for an average price of $725,000, after spending an average of 35 days on the market, according to Garden State and Bright Multiple Listing Services. Ten townhouses sold during the same period this year, for an average price of $424,000; last year, 28 townhomes sold during the same months, for an average of $398,000.

Aja Asian Cuisine, on Route 206, has an indoor koi pond, a dramatically lighted bar and private party rooms.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The Vibe

Montgomery’s main commercial activity is along Route 206. At a shopping center in Skillman, you’ll find a ShopRite supermarket and Montgomery Cinemas, a multiscreen theater that opened in 1971, showing foreign and art films.

For those looking to explore Montgomery’s agrarian roots, there is Hidden Spring Lavender & Alpaca Farm, a 25-acre farm where visitors can book an appointment to walk an alpaca.

The town has several parks, including the 100-acre Montgomery Veterans Park, with its sports fields and picnic facilities, and Skillman Park, a 257-acre county park that was once a state-run institution for epilepsy patients.

The Schools

The Montgomery Township School District operates five schools — Orchard Hill Elementary School for students in prekindergarten through second grade, Village Elementary for third and fourth grades, Montgomery Lower Middle School for fifth and sixth grades, Montgomery Upper Middle School for seventh and eighth grades, and Montgomery High School.

The high school, built in 2005, includes a television and radio studio, a culinary lab, a pool and state-of-the art science and performance spaces. It offers 22 Advanced Placement classes and 15 honors or accelerated courses. In 2020-21, the school enrolled 1,563 students from Montgomery and Rocky Hill, a neighboring township. Average SAT scores were 650 in reading and writing and 677 in math, compared with state averages of 557 and 560.

Private school options in the area include Chapin School, a coed day school in Princeton for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, and the coed K-12 Princeton Day School.

Built in 1752, the Dirck Gulick House is one of the township’s oldest homes. It serves as Van Harlingen Historical Society’s headquarters, library, archives and education center.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The Commute

Montgomery, located about 50 miles southwest of Midtown Manhattan, “is not necessarily great for commuting,” said Tracy Sonner, an agent with Keller Williams Real Estate and a nine-year resident. But that has become less of a concern for buyers as more people work from home.

The township doesn’t have a train station, so commuters either drive into New York City or travel about 10 miles south to the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor, where they can catch a New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station in Manhattan. The trip takes about an hour and costs $16 one way or $451 for a monthly pass.

Princeton Airport is at the southern end of Montgomery.

The History

The State Village for Epileptics, also known as Skillman Village, served as a self-contained community for those with epilepsy from 1898 to 1952. The institution’s 100 buildings included housing, a theater, a school, a hospital, a power plant, and safety and maintenance facilities. The village was initially seen as a model of progressive treatment, but as new drugs were developed to treat epilepsy, the facility lost its purpose and fell into disrepair, earning the nickname “the snake pit of New Jersey.” The township bought the property in 2007, but after facing a challenge to remediate the land, sold it in 2011 to Somerset County for use as a park.

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