By Susan Baldani
Berkeley Heights, with its family friendly neighborhoods, quiet tree-lined streets, and bustling downtown is a great place to live and shop. In 2013, it was ranked #6 in Best Places to Live – America’s Top 50 Small Towns by CNN/Money. Originally incorporated as New Providence Township, it was named Berkeley Heights on November 6, 1951, after John Berkeley, the first Baron Berkeley of Stratton. The town sits on the crest of the Watchung Mountains.
The school system is top-notch. There are four public elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Governor Livingston High School also educates students from nearby Mountainside, as well as deaf, hard of hearing, and cognitively impaired students from all over north-central New Jersey. There are also three private pre-Kindergarten schools in town.
Springfield Avenue, which runs through the heart of town, is the location of many of its stores and restaurants. A great variety of businesses can be found here. For the home, Window Tailors offers custom window treatments. In business for over 25 years, they can beautify your home with plantation shutters, Roman shades, and even wall coverings and bed ensembles. If you have teenage girls in your life, take them to Summer’s Boutique where they can find all the latest styles and brands. And the prices are 10% to 20% below retail, so everyone will be happy.If you’re craving Portuguese food, head to Oporto Restaurant for lunch or dinner. They have a vast menu with offerings such as chorizo sandwiches, steak and garlic shrimp, and pork spare ribs to name just a few. They will even deliver right to your home or office. Or, if you are in the mood for an authentic Mexican experience, Hacienda Mexican Restaurant and Grill is the place to go for enchiladas, quesadillas, and burritos. If you want to look like you’ve just been to Mexico, Electric Beach can give you that golden vacation tan. Their UV tanning beds have 5 levels to satisfy every customer; spray tanning is also available at their Scotch Plains location. In addition to the many small shops in town, many larger businesses, such as L’Oreal, make the Connell Corporate Center in Berkeley Heights their home base.
Besides the downtown, Berkeley Heights has many municipal parks featuring basketball and tennis courts, baseball fields, and play areas for children offering hours of fun for families. In addition, the town has three swimming clubs, and the nearby Watchung Reservation has horseback riding, hiking trails, picnic areas, lakes and ponds, and the deserted community of Feltville, also known as the Deserted Village.
In 1845, David Felt, a paper manufacturer from New York, bought a parcel of land where he constructed a mill. He then built a small village around the mill and named it Feltville. Besides homes, this village included everything the workers could need, such as a general store with an upstairs church, a post office, a one-room schoolhouse, and orchards for growing food.In 1860, David Felt sold the land and most of the residents left to find work elsewhere. Eventually, the area became known as the Deserted Village and the land was bought by the Union County Parks Division. There are still some inhabited homes on this property, as well as empty remnants of a store, carriage house, and barn. The Deserted Village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During daylight hours, people can stroll through the village and hike along the surrounding trails. There are also hayrides in October and other family events scheduled throughout the year.
Another interesting part of Berkeley Height’s history is the installation of the Nike missile battery in 1958. The surface-to-air missiles themselves were located in Mountainside, but the missile tracking radar station was located in Berkeley Heights. Although it was taken out of operation in 1963, parts of the site are still visible next to the high school. In addition to everything else, an event not to miss in Berkeley Heights is The Feast of Mount Carmel. Every July it draws big crowds from all over the area. Started in 1909, the feast has amusement rides, music, food and game booths, and culminates with one of the largest fireworks shows in the state.
Thanks to the easy access to Interstate 78 and NJ Transit trains and buses, Berkeley Heights is a favorite of commuters, whether traveling in state or into New York City and beyond. Newark International Airport is only about 18 miles away and easy to get to.
So spend some time in Berkeley Heights and get to know this friendly town. It has something for everyone.
Susan Baldani has a MA in Education and a BA in Psychology. She enjoys writing and in addition to writing articles on small town life, is currently working on her second book. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her website at www.mywritingwall.com.