Eatontown began as most towns do, with commerce.
In 1670, Thomas Eaton came from Shrewsbury to survey the shores of Mill Brook (now called Wampum Brook.) He decided to create water power for a mill that would grind farmers' grain into flour.
By 1796, Eatontown's business district included a tannery oposite Mill Pond; a tavern on the corner of Main and Broad Streets called The Eatontown Inn; and a general store on the east side of Main Street. Today, this section of town is called The Village.
In 1873 the New Jersey State Legistlature made the name of Eatontown official.
Some of our local roads follow the trails created by the Lenni Lenape Indians who originally came here from Delaware. One north-south trail became the Eatontown-Red Bank Turnpike. It used to connect Main Street to South Street to Wall Street. In the 1920s it was straightened out when it became a state highway (Highway 35.)
A second north-south trail was the Eatontown-Long Branch Turnpike. Today it is Broad Street where many historical houses are still standing. One of them is the Eatontown Museum that is open the first Sunday of every month.
The Colts Neck-Eatontown Turnpike (today known as Highway 537), located just north of the old Mill Pond, was a main road for farmers to bring in their produce from Colts Neck and Freehold.
The Indian trails are a crossroads for modern commerce. The site of Eaton's Mill anchors the northern end of town. Monmouth Mall, built in 1959 on a former farm, is the center of town. Industrial Way, where a colonial woman once homesteaded, runs along the southern border.
Many of Eatontown's earliest residents were Quakers or Episcopalians who worshipped in Shrewsbury in buildings that are still in use today. Thomas Eaton was a Quaker in Rhode Island before he moved here.
The oldest church in Eatontown is the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on South Street. Also known as A.M.E. Zion, the recent edifice went up in 1845, a year after the congregation was incorporated. Every October, the church holds a Harvest Dinner for the community.
The St. James Memorial Episcopal Church was organized in 1866, and construction of the stone church on Broad Street was begun in the same year.
The First Presbyterian Church of Eatontown was originally a mission of the Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury. While its cornerstone was laid in 1873, the actual building was the famed Little Church Around the Corner in New York City. The structure had been dismantled and transported by barge to Middletown and then by wagon to Broad Street.
Eatontown education has a long tradition that began when Quakers opened the first school in 1806. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries there have been a variety of one-room and two-story schoolhouses around town.
The Eatontown Board of Education was organized in 1894. It built its first school -- a six room, two-story brick building -- on Broad Street in 1907.
One famous citizen, Fred G. Steelman, came to teach in 1916. He took a short leave of absence to serve in the military during World War I. He returned to teach, and was principal until 1940.
Eatontown Public School No. 1 was renamed in his honor in 1955.
Eatontown has had a long association with Fort Monmouth. Just after the United States entered World War I, the War Department bought most of the original Monmouth Park Race Track, creating the Signal Corps Camp.
The war made it necessary to train large numbers of telegraphers and other communications personnel. The camp was renamed after Alfred Vail in honor of the New Jersey inventor who helped develop the Morse telegraph.
The first method of communicating behind enemy lines was by carrier pigeon; many were trained here. The War Department declared the camp a permanent military post in 1925, and named it after an American Revolutionary battle.
Fort Monmouth was the first to develop many communication methods used today. Innovations begun here include:
- aircraft radar detection
- walkie talkies
- weather tracking devices