Updated: Oct 12
Lillian Burry is a pretty terrific lady. Not only was she a borough councilwoman in Matawan, then again the same in Colts Neck before also becoming its mayor, but she’s the Monmouth County Commissioner who’s been on the job tirelessly for many years, whether just one of the commissioners as she is now, or as either deputy or director.. as she has been in the past on what was then was called the Board of Freeholders.
She’s at every event to which she’s invited which is almost unbelievable considering the number of events to which she gets invited. She’s smart, has an incredible memory, works hard at her own real estate business, and loves to be with people. But best of all, she’s a great patriot and a great historian. Well, yes, she’s also magnificently proud of her own Italian heritage which she can trace back to the de Medicis, and certainly has that culinary talent for which the Italians are so rightfully famous. But she’s a very proud and knowledgeable American and a staunch supporter of our military.
So she was an absolute joy to see, and a thrill for young sailors to meet earlier this month when a half dozen of the first crew of the soon-to-be commissioned Submarine New Jersey visited the Garden State for the first time.
There are several of these ‘fam’ trips planned for the next several months before the boat is in active service, and those sailors are going to be visiting pretty much every one of the 21 counties, both to get to know more about and appreciate the namesake of the boat as well as to give New Jerseyans the opportunity to sop up even more pride in this magnificent Virginia class vessel that will be in the fleet continuing the protection of our country for which our Navy is so justifiably known.
So there were Commissioner Burry and fellow Colts Neck resident, Peter Engelman, a member of the New Jersey Commissioning Committee, welcoming these fine young men, most of whom had never even been in New Jersey, to Monmouth County, the very first stop in their state-wide tours.
Pete is the planner and doer for these trips, but Lillian was so happy to be able to be there not only with the MAST cadets of whom she’s so proud, but also Hartshorne Woods when the crew also visited that historic site, since it’s a Monmouth County park and historic site. Parks historian Gail Hunton and rangers were also there to welcome everyone, and provide an exciting first day of education and more.
All that aside, Lillian is also a historian in her own right, and her book, A Tour of Historic Colts Neck, is an informative driving tour around 13 historic sites in Colts Neck, complete with map. The book is available at the General Store next to Lilian’s Colts Neck Real Estate office both on 537 just past Route 324 heading west, or at the real estate office itself. A great book to tuck in the glove compartment of your car in case you have a spare hour or two or three. and want to see some magnificent architecture and learn some history about Colts Neck and the people important in its formation.
Colts Neck Village
To trace the complete history of Colts Neck Village, it would be necessary to go back centuries to when the land was abundant in wildlife, including panthers and wolves, opossum and rattlesnakes.
The arrival of civilization drove many of the species out, and Colts Neck became home to tribes of Native Americans, most notably the Unami or Turtle clan of the Lenni Lenape, a sub-division of the Delawares. In 1676 the area which is now Colts Neck Township was included in the division of East Jersey, and by the 18th century the area was well known for both English and Dutch architecture.
Legend and mystery surround how Colts Neck got its name. There are those who say the boundaries at Yellow Brook and Mine Brook form a neck of land similar to a colt’s neck. Others say it is the result of a 1676 Bill of Sale to two Native Americans for a “certain neck of land” lying in Monmouth County called Colts Neck. That land, according to the Board of Proprietors of Eastern Division of New Jersey in 1676, was 1170 acres in size, and sold in parts: 450 acres to Henry Leonard, Sr., 240 acres to Samuel Leonard, and 120 each to Leonard descendants Nathanial, Thomas, John and Henry Jr. The purchases, according to the record, were from Native Americans Almeseke and Lamasand.
The Village has been generally recognized since the early 1700s as that area along the historic Burlington Path, once a stagecoach route, and the Minisink Indian Trail, an important Crossroads in Monmouth County.
It still remains an important crossroads as the intersection of State Highway 34 and County Route 537. The buildings housing the Colts Neck Realty office, the Honey Shop, the farrier, the blacksmith and the general store, as well as the Colts Neck Inn, all date to that period when business and commerce were centered while the remaining sections of Colts Neck remained rural.
The Township was established by an act of the state Legislature as Atlantic Township in 1847 carved from portions of Freehold Township, Middletown Township and Shrewsbury Township. Early settlers to the area came from England, Scotland, and the Netherlands, and names including Stout, Matthews and Sickles mingled with Schanck, Conover, Van Mater and Vanderveer. By the 1700s, records in local family cemeteries, included Probasco, Bennett, Laird, Heyers, Holsart, Statesir, Wainright, Van Clief, and Wickoff.
The first Town Meeting was held at the Hotel of Samuel Laird located across from the General Store on March 9, 1847. This practice of annual Town Meetings and election of officers continued each year till about 1890 when officials were elected for longer terms.
Those who first served as officials were: Moderator, Thomas G. Haight; Town Clerk, Tunis Statesir; Judge of Election, Samuel W. Jones; Freeholders, De La Fayette Schanck, and Thomas G. Haight; Assessor, John Statesir; Surveyors of Highways, Elias Vanderveer and Thomas W. Sherman; Collector, John Van Mater; Commissioners of Appeal, Peter S. Conover, Arthur Vanderveer and Isaac G. Smock; Town Committee, Thomas Guest, James Van Mater, John Polhemus, Daniel P. Smock and John Wyckoff; Constable, Daniel Lawrence; Superintendent of Schools, James Martin; Overseer of Poor, Charles Sears; Overseers of Highways, Daniel Polhemus, Charles T. Matthews, Elias Sickles and John B. Wardon; Pound Keeper John Robinson.
Atlantic Township was changed to "Colts Neck Township" in 1962, as the result of a referendum. It has been able to maintain its rural atmosphere in spite of the growing population of Monmouth County with the creation of a Farmland Preservation Committee preserving nearly 1,000 acres of land and avoiding any large-scale development.
Colts Neck was the scene of numerous battles and skirmishes during the Revolution, and Refugees, also known as Loyalists, created havoc and thievery in the area, plundering farms and raiding supplies.
While the Burlington and Minisink Paths were former Indian trails, the increase in population required additional roads. By the mid-1800s township residents were paying a road tax to finance the construction. Wages for workers building the roads were 75 cents a day and $1.75 for a team of horses. By 1890, there were nine road districts and the township owned plows, scrapers, an iron scoop and a grader. The following year, the Township Committee assumed road care and management and created two districts from the nine, with Henry H. Matthews and George Cross Jr., named superintendent of the districts.
Township records have been kept since 1852, with the marriage of Charles Bray and Elenor Schanck the first recorded locally, and the first death that of Phoebe Probasco, who died at age 70 as a widow June 2, 1851. One of the first births was a daughter born in January 1852, to blacksmith Garrit Thompson, in January 1852.