Readington, NJ: A Farm Community That Wants To Keep Its Charm

Recently married and looking to move out of their rental home in Woodbridge, NJ, Shaun and MaryJo Spiller set their sights on Readington, NJ, the Hunterdon County town where Mr. Spiller grew up. The couple looked at several homes last fall and made one offer that fell through due to problems with the home’s septic system. Around Christmas, Mr. Spiller’s father told him about another house that was new on the market: the house in which the younger Mr. Spiller grew up.

“Everything was exactly the same,” says Mr. Spiller, a 28-year-old data engineer for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, as he describes the couple’s tour of his childhood home. “Even my old bedroom had the same electric blue color.”

The house, which has three bedrooms, was in their price range and in the sought-after Whitehouse Station area of ​​Readington. But demand was high as the post-covid housing market warmed in rural areas and more than a dozen people lined up for the first open house. With an offer on the table, which they later raised, the Spillars hoped to increase their chances by sending a letter to the family who bought the house in 2004 from Shaun’s parents, who had moved elsewhere in Readington. In it, Mr. Spiller thanked them for taking such good care of the house and asked if they could buy it back.

“We offered a fair price, but I think the letter made all the difference,” he said. The Spillers bought the house, which was built in 1940 and has a covered porch, for $403,000 in February, and have since built an extension and painted the blue bedroom beige, and use it as a home office.

With its deep roots in agriculture, open space has long been a defining element of this 48-square-mile city, home to about 16,000 people, 93 percent of whom are white, according to census data. In 1978, to avoid the kind of overdevelopment in neighboring Somerset County, Readington became the first New Jersey municipality to put an open space referendum on the ballot, asking residents to vote for a $1 million bond to to maintain farmland and control development. The referendum was approved and since then Readington has preserved 9,000 acres – nearly a third of the city – through a combination of land purchase, purchase of farmers’ development rights and cluster zoning.

“It was a grassroots effort by those who moved here in the 1970s to escape the crowds and sprawl in the suburbs,” said Mayor John Albanese, who moved to Readington two years after the referendum was passed. “They didn’t want the whole town to turn into the place they’d moved from. There was definitely an element of ‘I’m pulling up the ladder as I go through the door here’. But either you do that or you don’t do anything and it gets fully developed.”

As the easternmost city in Hunterdon County, Readington is accessible to urban areas and business corridors, but it is slightly more affordable than counties closer to New York City, which is about 55 miles east of Readington.

“People start out in Basking Ridge or Bernardsville, then come to Readington and find they get more bang for their buck,” said Patricia Deseno, a Coldwell Banker agent who moved to Readington in 1975. “The farther west you go, the more You get.”

That’s what Terra and Brian Kremer learned during their March 2018 home search in Readington, when they flew from Utah and spent a weekend with Ms. Deseno viewing 19 homes within 20 minutes of Raritan, where Ms. Kremer, an employee of Johnson & Johnson, was moved. A microbiologist currently working on her PhD, Ms. Kremer, 40, said they wanted a house with a finished basement for their two young sons, space for a home office and “lots of space, to feel like we’re in the country. “

They found all that in a 1994 four-bedroom house on three acres adjacent to protected greenery, which they bought that spring for $540,000.

“We live on a quiet road with lots of space and many good friends,” says Mrs. Kremer. “Oddly enough, I tell people we moved to New Jersey for peace and quiet.”

Scattered at the base of Cushetunk Mountain, Readington’s rolling hills, forested reserves and vast farmlands provide a rural setting for residents. With large swaths of the city set aside for the preservation of open space, the residential areas tend to be either newer developments built on former farmland, or village hamlets such as Stanton, Whitehouse, Whitehouse Station and Three Bridges.

The Whitehouse area occupies a stretch of Old Highway 28, just north of Route 22, which is lined with quaint Victorian and Colonial-style homes, as well as the famous Ryland Inn restaurant. Whitehouse Station (a name some use interchangeably with Readington) is south of Route 22, with the city’s main commercial area along Route 523, home to the historic Whitehouse Station train station, as well as several restaurants and shops. Three Bridges, on the south side of town, is another historic area. It is named for the three bridges that cross the South Branch Raritan River.

Most of Readington’s newer homes are on two or more acres and have been built within the last 20 to 30 years. As part of its efforts to curb development, the city has instituted cluster zoning that requires developers to leave 80 percent of acquired property undeveloped, while limiting the number of homes that can be built on the remaining 20 percent. No applications for such developments have been made in the past five years, Albanian mayor said.

There are two townhomes and two 55+ communities in the town. About 90 percent of homes in Readington have their own wells and septic systems, with only the commercial and village areas connected to the city’s sewage and water systems.

Older farms rarely come up for sale, but when they do, the city’s historic governance often gets involved, according to Tara Stone, an agent at eXp Realty. “They are very proud and very passionate about these properties,” said Ms. Stone. “It makes for a beautiful city and it preserves the integrity of what Hunterdon County was built on: the farming system.”

One of those historic ranches—a five-bedroom, eight-bathroom home built in 1845 on 13.5 acres—has a pool and tennis court and is listed for $1,649 million, the most expensive home in Readington currently on the market. is. At the bottom is a one-bedroom, one-bathroom home on Route 523, listed for $250,000.

The median sales price of homes in Readington from January to mid-November this year was $518,000, up 5 percent from the same period in 2020, when the median was $492,000, according to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service.

Townhouse condominiums range from $200,000 to the mid $300,000. The 55+ communities are more expensive, ranging from the mid $400,000 at Four Seasons, a 98-unit community completed in 2002; to about $700,000 at The Regency, a 209-unit development completed in 2014.

The area’s beauty attracts weekend tourists, although locals also frequent the working farms open to the public, including Readington River Buffalo Farm, which sells bison meat harvested from the herds raised there. Schaefer Farms has a farm stall year-round, plus pumpkin picking and haunted horror trails in the fall.

For the sporty, there are hiking trails through the 380-acre Cushetunk Mountain Preserve, boating and swimming at the Round Valley Reservoir within that mountain preserve, and golfing at Stanton Ridge Golf & Country Club. Horse riding is another popular pastime, and there are over 20 miles of trails throughout Readington, some of which run through private property where residents have given priority.

Readington’s biggest draw comes in July when the country’s largest hot air balloon festival takes place at Solberg Airport, with over 100 balloons soaring above the town’s fields and homes. Some residents are heading out of town for this busy three-day weekend, Ms. Deseno said, but others are waiting for a balloon to accidentally land on their property, earning them a free bottle of champagne from the balloon’s errant navigator.

The Readington Township School District serves approximately 1,500 students in four schools. Kindergarten through third grade students attend either the Three Bridges School or the Whitehouse School. Holland Brook School serves fourth and fifth graders, and Readington Middle School serves sixth through eighth grades.

From there, students continue on to Hunterdon Central Regional High School, in neighboring Flemington, where they are joined by students from four other towns. The school serves 2,644 students, with four magnet programs, a top-rated YouTube television channel, and 75 advanced placement or honors courses, 18 of which are credits. The regional high school average SAT scores this year were 593 for literacy and 598 for math, compared to the national averages of 562 and 563.

Private schools in the area are limited but include Acorn Montessori School in Lebanon, for kindergarten through seventh grade.

The drive from Readington to New York City, heading east on Route 78, takes an hour to 75 minutes or more, depending on traffic. New Jersey Transit provides train service from Whitehouse Station to Penn Station, requiring a change in Newark. The entire trip takes about an hour and 40 minutes and costs $16 one way or $451 for a monthly pass. Bus service on New Jersey Transit is available between neighboring Raritan Township to the Port Authority, the journey takes just over two hours and costs $13 one way and $303 per month.

Now serving as the headquarters for the Readington Museums, the Bouman-Stickney Farmstead dates back to 1741, when Dutch farmer Thomas Bouman built a Dutch farm and barns on 68 acres. In 1935, Broadway playwright and producer Howard Lindsay bought the property for his wife, actress Dorothy Stickney. The couple used the house as a weekend retreat and entertained Broadway stars such as Julie Andrews, Shelley Winters and Oscar Hammerstein, who are said to have written the score for “The Sound of Music” there.

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