Promotional materials dub Bordentown City “A Little City With A Lot of Charm.” Say what you will about truth in advertising, but there’s something to the motto.
In less than one square mile, Bordentown City packs in three centuries of history, a half dozen highly rated eateries, a microbrewery, boutiques, performance venues, a beach, and absolutely none of the pomposity affected by similar quaint cities in the state.
Nestled along the shores of Crosswicks Creek and the Delaware River, Bordentown City is an island unto itself, surrounded on three sides by Bordentown Township and on the other by the river and the creek separating it from Hamilton. Secluded from its neighbors by the waterfront, Interstate 295, Route 130, and Route 206, the location provides a haven for its 3,924 residents.
Travelers are unlikely to stumble upon the city, despite it being just six miles southeast of Trenton and 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia. There is no real reason to drive through Bordentown City aside from the joy of it. The city is the destination for the majority of the traffic on its streets.
Perhaps because of this, Bordentown City is a neighborly place. Residents stop to talk to each other. People sit at tables and on benches outside, watching the world go past. Restaurant hosts stand on the sidewalk and give pedestrians a nod as they walk by. It’s almost as if they’re glad you found Bordentown City. And once you have, you’ll wonder how you missed it all along.
That some people still are discovering Bordentown City surprises Kelly Tunney Rein, a sales associate with ERA Central Realty.
Rein, 58, has been licensed as a real estate agent since 2000, and currently works out of ERA Central’s Robbinsville and Bordentown offices. But her connection to Bordentown City goes much deeper.
Rein’s family — the Tunneys — have nearly a century of history with Bordentown City, dating back to her grandparents. Her father, Anthony Tunney, Jr., grew up in a three-bedroom house on Crosswicks Street in the city, with his parents and nine siblings. He went on to a career in law, and later served as a superior court judge in Burlington County. He married a girl from Beverly City, Patricia, and together they had 12 children.
The Tunneys lived at 15 Farnsworth Avenue, in a five-bedroom house built in 1750 and now named for 19th century poet and artist Thomas Buchanan Read.
Farnsworth Avenue is home of the city’s central business district, but it has a much different vibe where the Tunneys lived, at its northwestern end. There, Farnsworth Avenue runs through the Hilltop neighborhood before ending at the edge of Crosswicks Creek. Hilltop, one of the nicest parts of Bordentown City, overlooks Bordentown Yacht Club and the Delaware River, with walking paths inviting residents to be outside. The environment makes it easy to partake in an informal citywide tradition: the twice-daily (at dawn and dusk) parade of residents walking their dogs.
Hilltop’s stately homes, mostly built in the 18th or 19th century, are the most expensive real estate in the city. While it’s normal to have 20 to 25 properties on the market in Bordentown City at any one time, rarely do any homes in Hilltop go up for sale, Rein said. There are a few properties in the neighborhood on the market now, including a seven-bedroom home on a double lot once occupied by the personal secretary of Benjamin Franklin, Stephen Sayre. The asking price of $598,500 is the very top of the Bordentown City market. The average list price is $296,000.
While treading on the city’s brick and cobblestone sidewalks, it’s easy to imagine Bordentown City as it was in the 18th century. A hotbed of the Revolutionary movement, Bordentown City boasts a lengthy list of patriots as former residents, including the aforementioned Sayre; Patience Lovell Wright, the sculptor and possibly a Revolutionary War spy; Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the designer of the first official flag of the United States; and Thomas Paine, the Revolutionary War pamphleteer. Some, like Lovell Wright, did not live in Bordentown during the Revolutionary War, but were brought up in the city.
Other notable residents include Clara Barton, who founded the first free public school in New Jersey and, later, the American Red Cross. At the corner of Crosswicks and Burlington streets, a replica of Barton’s schoolhouse stands.
Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and the former King of Naples and Spain, lived in Bordentown for 17 years. His home, called Point Breeze, no longer exists in its entirety, but some traces remain. The Divine Word Mission occupies the land, along Park Street.
On Farnsworth Avenue the stone John Bull Monument marks the spot where the first piece of railroad track in New Jersey was laid by the Camden and Amboy Railroad. Away from the bustle of downtown, a monument to Thomas Paine offers quiet refuge by Crosswicks Creek on Prince Street in Hilltop.
This tranquility is another major selling point for Hilltop’s waterfront manors — they allow homeowners to be within walking distance of all Bordentown City has to offer while also being far enough away to be secluded. This also means some of its homes have a perk most other Bordentown City properties don’t: off-street parking.
Two-thirds of Bordentown City’s housing was built prior to 1960, with the majority of homes (50.5 percent) constructed before 1939. This gives Bordentown City its quaint, historic feel, but comes with the drawback that the majority of the housing stock was designed before automobile ownership and suburban commuting were commonplace. While parking on the street is free, those residents without off-street parking have to compete with each other, visitors, and city parking ordinances.
While having a vehicle in Bordentown City sounds like a hassle , it isn’t really necessary for in-city outings. In that regard Bordentown City sounds like one of the many cities now being rediscovered by millennials eager to live in a walkable downtown area with nearby restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and entertainment venues. It’s even possible to walk to the grocer, Aldi, which has a location on Route 130 South less than a mile from downtown.
“People love the hometown and quaint feel,” said Rein (no relation to the editor of U.S. 1), who now lives in Hopewell but has five siblings still living in Bordentown City. “They want to get back to the way it was. There are a lot of people who’d prefer to live in a small little city and not a big town. People like that they can come home from work, park the car, and be able to walk everywhere.”
For work, however, the car is still a necessity for most commuters (except for those who can take the light rail Riverline either north to Trenton or south to Camden with connections to Philadelphia). In moderate traffic it takes less than 20 minutes to drive from Farnsworth Avenue to the Route 1 interchange on Interstate 295. Commuting between Bordentown City and the Princeton area requires using some combination of Route 130, Route 206, and Interstates 195 and 295, and their commute time will vary should inclement weather or an accident be thrown into the mix on any one of those roadways.
Bordentown City also is a short drive from the New Jersey Turnpike, with a trip of less than two miles bringing motorists from the city’s southern border to Interchange 7.
The good news is, once you’re finished with work, there are loads of small businesses within walking distance, mainly concentrated on Farnsworth Avenue. Farnsworth draws comparisons to Princeton’s Nassau Street and to Bridge Street in Lambertville, but Bordentown City’s retail district has all the contents of its better-known brethren with none of the cachet. Visitors can get much the same experience in a more relaxed and generally less crowded environment.
Farnsworth Avenue features olive oil retailers, shops featuring handmade and vintage clothing, antique stores, a luthier, a piano conservatory, a luxury furniture store, and art galleries. The commercial district is bookended by a pair of record stores: Randy Now’s Man Cave and the Record Collector. Both shops sell vinyl and CDs as well as host concerts and events. Randy Now’s Man Cave also sells retro knicknacks — it’s stuffed to the brim with stuff your parents threw away 30 years ago but you probably wished they hadn’t.
Next to Randy Now’s Man Cave is Toscano, an acclaimed Italian restaurant. Here starts a string of eateries that would be the envy of any small city in New Jersey. This stretch includes Marcello’s, Argentinian spot Under The Moon Cafe, and Zagat-rated Oliver A Bistro. Across from Toscano is Old Town Pub, a recent addition to the city in the former home of mainstay Farnsworth House.
All but Toscano and Old Town Pub are on a single block of Farnsworth, between Church and Walnut/Crosswicks. Also on this block is Jester’s Cafe, a casual spot popular with residents. Around the corner from Jester’s, on Crosswicks Street, is Properly Fueled, a health food and coffee shop that opens at 7 a.m. six days a week. It is one of the many places that makes it possible to eat in Bordentown City at any hour — or all hours — of the day.
Another coffee shop further down Farnsworth Avenue is Chez Alice, a deli and convenience store that also serves as a hangout for some of the neighborhood seniors. They sit outside under Chez Alice’s awning, chatting. This has been going on for years, back to when a different business, Corner Deli, occupied the building.
Scenes like this are quintessential Bordentown City and is a huge selling point, Rein said.
Bordentown also has a lively bar scene. You can grab a drink at Toscano, Marcello’s, Old Town Pub, and Jester’s. Common Sense Brewing at the corner of Farnsworth Avenue and West Park Street is a microbrewery with a rotation of beers on tap. The name pays tribute to Thomas Paine and his famous 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” which laid out a case for the American Revolution.
And then there’s the city’s only real pure bar: HOB, short for Heart of Bordentown, a name that describes its geographic location but hints at a more sentimental meaning for many city natives. The HOB tries to be more than its dive appearances with frequent events and interesting food items, such as its trademark peanut butter and jelly chicken wings. But, at its core, the HOB takes a cue from its hometown, a come-as-you-are community. The HOB is a place you can ramble into in your sweatpants for a drink at midnight, if you so desired, and no one would blink.
The HOB may be carrying on Bordentown City’s corner bar tradition, but there’s plenty else to do in town outside of eat, drink and shop. The Delaware and Raritan Canal runs along the city. Bordentown Beach, just beyond the city’s light rail station, provides picturesque views of the Delaware River and a giant I-295 overpass. At Bordentown Beach is one of the city’s boating organizations, Yapewi Aquatic Club.
Then there’s the city’s extensive list of annual events and traditions. In October alone, the city already has hosted Riverfest and Cranberry Fest — a hugely popular street fair named in honor of Ocean Spray that has fewer cranberry-related items than one might expect.
On Sunday, October 28, the city will hold its annual Halloween parade and house decorating contest. The celebration will spill into the beginning of the following week with the annual Thompson Street display. Every Halloween, residents on the street band together to turn their road into a not-so-spooky ode to the holiday, decorating on such a scale that it draws visitors from around the region. Last year all of Thompson Street turned into pirate village, with skull and crossbones flags flying along the street.
The other large street fair in Bordentown City is Iris Fest, held every May on Farnsworth Avenue. But the city also goes big for the holiday season with a gingerbread house contest, model train displays, horse and carriage rides, and a chocolate walk. It hosts an annual St. Patrick’s Day 5K that draws hundreds of runners.
On days of big events, the city comes to a standstill. If you live in Bordentown City, you will have to coexist with these events — or get out of town before the roads shut down.
The city has tried to ease some of the traffic- and parking-related stress by introducing visitor shuttles earlier this month. Running every 15 minutes on Friday and Saturday nights, the shuttle picks up passengers at Carslake Community Center on the edge of town. It makes stops at the intersections of Crosswicks Street and Farnsworth Avenue, Farnsworth Avenue and Railroad Avenue, and Second Street and East Church Street. The city may add more dates and times during special events.
But, even with the shuttles, there’s no way around it — you’ll probably be doing a lot of walking if you live in or visit Bordentown City.
While we’re here, it is worth a brief digression into the city’s walkways. The last time this publication visited Bordentown City eight years ago, the author — a Bordentown City resident himself — ruffled a few feathers by disparaging, of all things, the condition of the sidewalks. He said, in a piece that otherwise would classify as a love letter to the city, that some of the sidewalks in the Park Street area “could not be more irregular if Frank Gehry designed them.”
Most of the city’s walkways are not tremendously uneven, but the brick ones are wavy in spots and quite old. This is a historic place, after all, and it makes sense that if the buildings have several centuries to their name, the sidewalks would have a certain character as well.
So watch your step, but don’t stress too much.
There’s one more thing about Bordentown City, something that takes only one visit to notice. It has churches. Lots of churches.
Residents of Bordentown City seem to take a cue from this peaceful religious coexistence. Walking around the city, it’s not unusual to see “Hate Has No Home” signs and LGBT pride flags next door to folks with “Make America Great Again” and “We Support Our Troops” stickers.
It’s a fine ode to Bordentown City’s long history as a place where different people came together for a common cause.
Demographics. Bordentown City has 3,924 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. That’s 45 fewer people than in 2000, and 417 fewer than recorded in the 1990 census. The median household income is $66,557, and the per-capita income is $36,814. The city has 1,859 housing units.
Property taxes. The property taxes on a house of average value, approximately $271,000, are $6,789 per year.
Education. Students living in Bordentown City attend schools in the Bordentown Regional School District (K-12). Neighboring Bordentown Township and Fieldsboro also send their children to BRSD schools. The district has 2,592 students, and a student-teacher ratio of 13.6:1, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
There are five schools in the district. The two elementary schools — Clara Barton in Bordentown City and Peter Muschal in Bordentown Township — offer full-day kindergarten through grade 3. MacFarland Intermediate School, located across the street from Clara Barton Elementary in Bordentown City, serves grades 4 and 5. Bordentown Regional Middle School houses grades 6-8, and Bordentown Regional High School serves grades 9-12. Both the middle school and high school are in Bordentown Township.
Bordentown High had 721 students during the 2016-17 school year. The average SAT score is 1093 (for math and reading, out of a possible 1600), according to the New Jersey Department of Education’s School Performance Report. The score is just shy of the state average of 1103. BRHS also falls short of the state average of Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate course participation (27.8 percent versus 41.5 percent). It has a graduation rate of 89.6 percent (state average is 90.5). Sixteen months after graduation, 79.3 percent of the Class of 2016 had enrolled in post-secondary education. About half of that number goes to 4-year colleges, with the other half enrolling in 2-year colleges.
Churches. There are 11 places of worship in Bordentown City, including African Methodist Episcopalian, Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches. Also Temple B’Nai Abraham, a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation on Crosswicks Street, and Dorthea Dix Unitarian Universalist Community on Park Street.
Transit. Bordentown City offers plenty of accessibility to the major transportation hubs of the region. NJTransit’s RiverLine, offering light rail service between Trenton to the north and Camden to the south, stops in Bordentown City. Just two stops rest between Bordentown Station and the Trenton Transit Center. At the TTC, travellers can transfer for SEPTA service to Philadelphia, NJTransit’s Northeast Corridor line to Princeton Junction, New Brunswick, Newark Liberty Airport and New York Penn Station, or Amtrak service to Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia and New York.
Weekday service on the RiverLine runs every 15 minutes. The trip from Bordentown to TTC takes 11 minutes. During the morning rush, commuters could make it from Bordentown to New York City in 94 minutes, or Princeton Junction in 30, if they time their trains right.
Hiking and biking trails. Keep an eye out for painted blue and yellow markers on the ground that depict a man following the North Star. They are points on the Delaware River Heritage Trail, a proposed 60-mile-long loop highlighting the cultural and natural resources along the upper portion of the Delaware River estuary. The portion in Bordentown City was among the first work completed on the trail, a 2.8-mile segment constructed by Burlington County in 2013 that links Bordentown Township, Fieldsboro, and Bordentown City.
Government. Bordentown City is the northernmost municipality in Burlington County. The mayor, deputy mayor and a commissioner make up the local government, a three-person city commission. The city has its own police department, with 13 officers. Garbage and recycling collection occurs twice a week.
The Burlington County seat is in Mount Holly, a 25-minute drive from Bordentown City. The superior court and other county services are located here.
Bordentown City belongs to New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, represented in D.C. by Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur. At the state level, Bordentown is in the 7th Legislative District, represented by Troy Singleton (D-Palmyra) in the state senate and Herb Conaway (D-Moorestown) and Carol A. Murphy (D-Mount Laurel) in the state assembly.
Real Estate Listings
163 2nd Street. Built 1860. Single family. Three bedrooms, two baths, brick front porch, side porch, hardwood floors, high ceilings, brick fireplace, central air, fenced backyard, and shed. Taxes: $6,291. Listed: Bridget Harvey, Coldwell Banker Schiavone & Associates, 609-291-9400. $249,000.
360 Farnsworth Avenue. Built 1860. Multi-family. Four bedrooms, two baths, open floor plan, quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances, ceramic wood tiled bathroom, central air, patio and pergola. Taxes: $7,250. Listed: Marina Echavarria, ERA Central Realty Group, 609-298-4800. $300,000.
75 Crosswicks Street. Built 1900. Single family. Four bedrooms, two baths, kitchen with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and pantry, laundry room, mud room, patio, and firepit. Taxes: $7,337. Listed: Stephen Zuzulock, the Bell Team, LLC, 609-468-0666. $254,000.
211 Lafayette Street. Built 1960. Single family. Two bedrooms, one bath, porch, hardwood floors, full unfinished basement. Taxes: $3,866. Listed: Philip Angarone, ERA Central Realty Group, 609-298-4800. $110,000.
25 Farnsworth Avenue, aka the Stephen Sayre House. Built in early 18th century. Single family. Seven bedrooms, 3.5 baths, pre-Revolution marble mantles, tall windows, double entry doors, stone stagecoach, formal room, eat-in kitchen with stainless steel appliances, winder stairs, separate apartment with own entrance, built on double lot, two storage sheds, koi pond, red brick driveway. Taxes: $14,836. Listed: Cathy Nemeth, Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty, 609-737-7765. $598,500.
327 West Burlington Street. Built in 1950. Single family. Three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, front porch, hardwood floors, fireplace, open floor plan, updated kitchen with granite countertops and stainless appliances, cedar closet in master bedroom, partially finished basement, and shared driveway. Taxes: $6,938. Listed: Jennifer Jopko,Re/Max Tri-County, 609-587-9300. $269,900.