2019 Winner New Jersey’s Best Towns for Families and Best in Somerset County
Victoria “Cookie” Acot used to tell people she lived next to Princeton. But in recent years, she’s begun to boast about where she actually lives. “I can start telling people where Montgomery is and what we have,” says Acot, a mother of two who moved here seven years ago to raise her kids, now 10 and 15. “I really do like living here because of all these amenities and still having that private, rural feel.”
Montgomery is a bucolic Somerset County township that offers a little bit of everything in its 32 square miles. Founded by a mix of Dutch and English settlers, it was incorporated in 1798 and sits nearly halfway between Philadelphia and New York.
No town could win top billing in New Jersey without stellar schools, and Montgomery is certainly no exception. The proverbial trophy case for the district includes past designations as a National Blue Ribbon School for both the high school and one of the town’s two middle schools. And there’s nary a list of top schools statewide that doesn’t include the township.
But for a town that’s almost completely residential, there’s a growing business community. Restaurants include Aja Asian Cuisine and Lounge, a primo spot for sushi, Sahara Restaurant, whose a Middle Eastern favorite of Mayor Sadaf Jaffer, and Tiger’s Tale, a local institution where beers and pub fare are the way to go.
The commercial footprint here is poised to grow even more in the coming years, thanks to a national developer building a 300,000-square-foot complex dubbed Montgomery Promenade. The proposed development will feature shopping, dining and entertainment at the intersection of Routes 206 and 518. Announced tenants include Whole Foods, L.L. Bean and a movie theater.
So, the pastoral town that hasn’t had a true downtown—though it’s long borrowed Princeton’s just a few miles south—may soon get one of those, too. “It’s going to have a town square type of feel to it,” says Mayor Jaffer. “And that’s precisely what we’re going for.”
The Great Outdoors
Businesses are nice to help keep taxes down, but the beauty of this town is its spectacular outdoor spaces. In fact, nearly one-third of Montgomery is preserved open space or farmland—any resident would be hard-pressed to spend a day not passing land or homes with historic landmark status. Whether it’s the township’s portion of the 4,000-acre Sourland Mountain Preserve or the 256-acre Skillman Park, tons of green spaces and dozens of miles of trails abound.
“I love that we have all these parks,” says Acot, who works for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton. “It’s just a place where the community can congregate.”
And, really, that’s what makes Montgomery special. It’s not just infrastructure like premium pedagogy and pristine parks. It’s the people who live in unincorporated communities, such as Belle Mead, Blawenburg, Dutchtown, Harlingen and Skillman, that fall within the town’s borders. Residents who volunteer at Montgomery’s two fire districts and ambulance squad. Old-timers who make sure the landmarks committee and historical society stay vibrant.
“To me, it’s all about community,” says Jaffer, who’s also a Princeton University research associate raising a 4-year-old. “It’s really about the people who live here who are willing to dedicate so much of their efforts to serve the community where they spend time, where they raise their families. To me, that’s what makes Montgomery great.”