Awash in Washingtons

New Jersey has six towns named for the father of our country.

Illustration by Ryan O'Rourke.

When George Washington died in 1799, fellow patriot Henry Lee eulogized the Revolutionary War hero and first president as “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

In New Jersey, Washington can lay claim to another first. He’s number one in names selected for the state’s 566 municipalities. Bergen, Burlington, Gloucester, Morris and Warren counties all have a Washington Township. Warren also has a Washington Borough surrounded—naturally—by Washington Township. The largest is Gloucester County’s Washington, with 52,096 people; the smallest is the Washington in Burlington, with a population of 649. New Jersey had a sixth Washington Township in Mercer County until 2008, when voters there approved a name change to Robbinsville.

The proliferation of Washingtonian namesakes is no accident. Craig Mitchell, author of George Washington’s New Jersey (Middle Atlantic Press, 2003), estimates the general spent “more time in New Jersey than anywhere else” between 1776 and 1781, the pivotal years of the American Revolution. The father of our country is known to have visited the towns that became Washington in Morris and Mercer counties. As for hosting the Virginia native for one of his famous overnight stays, among the current or former Washingtons only the Cattail Tavern in Robbinsville can make that claim.

New Jersey is not alone in so honoring Washington. By 1932, the 200th anniversary of his birth, more than 370 municipalities in the nation carried Washington’s name, according to Donald E. Howard, author of George Washington’s Legacy (American Book Publishing, 2010).

Of course, Washington Township officials cannot tell a lie. There’s bound to be mix-ups when towns share a name.

“We do see confusion,” says Mayor Ken Short of Washington Township in Morris County. “We’ve had people show for court in the wrong township and applicants show up before the wrong planning board and zoning board for hearings.”

“It’s very confusing,” agrees Nancy Godfrey, township clerk in Warren County. “We get bills for other townships. It gets kind of annoying.”

Mary Ann Ozment, clerk of Bergen County’s Washington, has dealt with plenty of callers unaware of their mistake. “You can tell by the tone of their voice when they have the wrong Washington Township,” says Ozment.

The townships have a serious identity crisis when it comes to mail delivery. Under U.S. Postal Service regulations, when states have multiple municipalities with the same name, only one can have its own zip code and post office. In New Jersey, that honor goes to the Bergen County township.

As a result, Short says, his Morris County town is served by eight zip codes. Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, former mayor of Washington Township in Gloucester County, says his town’s mail is processed by six post offices in four municipalities over two counties.

Robbinsville Clerk Michele Seigfried says changing names has been beneficial for the Mercer County township in eliminating confusion. “People would call for their birth certificates and say they were born in a hospital,” says Seig-fried. There was just one problem: “We don’t have a hospital,” she says.

Frequent contributor Tom Wilk lives in Pitman, less than a mile from Washington Township in Gloucester County.

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