In 2006, voters in Toms River overwhelmingly approved changing the name of their town to what everyone called it: Toms River.
But in addition to Dover Township, which lasted from 1767 to 2006, Toms River residents had batted around several other names for their town. Officials recently scoured the history books as Toms River celebrates its 250th birthday as an incorporated community this month, and found the history behind the town names that never were.
We’ll get to those names shortly, but the irony is that the name with the least amount of history is what the town was actually called for more than 200 years, said Mark Mutter, the township clerk who also serves as township historian.
“The historical theory, and it is a theory, was that perhaps the people who were migrating in the 1600s and 1700s had come from Dover, England and borrowed the name,” Mutter said.
But in 1992, when the township was, likewise, reviewing its history for its 225th anniversary, no one could turn up any hard evidence as to why the name “Dover” was chosen.
“In 1992, we wrote to officials in Dover, England,” Mutter explained.
Toms River’s counterparts across the pond searched their own historical records in an attempt to help, but also came up empty. It is likely the mystery will never be solved.
But those other three names that were debated were recorded, including one which was approved by the township committee in 1799 but was never enacted. That 1799 vote would have named the town Washington in honor of the nation’s first president, who was still alive at the time of the vote but in poor health and expected to pass shortly after. The effort was made to honor George Washington’s service to America, though had Toms River taken the name, it would have been the seventh town to do so. There are towns that are, or were, named for Washington in Burlington, Bergen, Gloucester, Morris and Warren counties.
Toms River was also nearly named for an American patriot who was hanged by British loyalists after being captured while defending a small fort in town.
The war hero, Joshua Huddy, almost had the town named for him in the 1850s, Mutter said. The proposed name for the town was Huddyville, but town leaders at the time decided against the move. A park named for Huddy on the Toms River, near the very site of the small fort, is being rededicated as part of the 250th anniversary later this month.
After Huddyville was rejected, another debate ensued over whether the towns should be renamed. This time, some residents sought to name their town after William Dayton, a prominent attorney who ran unsuccessfully for vice president alongside John C. Frémont in 1856. Dayton was a member of the Whig party, but later joined the newly-formed Republican party.
Finally, in 1987, a referendum was placed on the ballot to change the name of Dover Township to Toms River Township. The ballot measure failed, but was revived in 2006. In the 2006 election, Mutter said, 61 percent of voters – 15,204 – voted in favor of the change while 9,826 voted against it.
Majority ruled, and the town’s name was officially changed at the council meeting following the election, on Nov. 14, 2006.