The early Dutch settlers, seeking tillable land, migrated from their original settlements on Manhattan Island to Central New Jersey. Many Reformed churches remain in this area. Middlebush was settled by these immigrants around 1701. When asked where they lived, the early settlers replied in their native Dutch “In het midden van den bosch” (in the middle of the woods). Over time, this became Americanized to “Middlebush”.
The first settlers traveled to New Brunswick, Six Mile Run and Hillsborough to attend Dutch Reformed Church services. About 1830, a plan for organizing a Dutch Reformed Church in Middlebush was suggested. Four years later, a group of people gathered at the home of Ralph Vorhees (presently O’Connors Colonial Farms Restaurant) and began to organize a church. A Consistory of four Elders and four Deacons was ordained and soon after, thirty-nine members were dismissed from the three churches mentioned earlier to become the nucleus of the Dutch Reformed Church at Middlebush on March 19th, 1834. It is the fourth oldest church in Franklin Township.
Three locations for the church building were considered; one on Amwell Road north of the current location, one on South Middlebush Road south of the railroad tracks, and the one selected. One acre of land was given for the church lot and about five more acres continuing along South Middlebush Road were sold to the church. These five acres were divided into smaller lots and sold off in 1839. The cornerstone of the church building was laid on June 7th, 1834. During construction, the search for a pastor began. After hearing four candidates preach, a call was issued to Rev. Jacob Schultz, the pastor at White House and Lebanon, New Jersey. He was formally installed on December 30th, 1835. The new church building was completed soon afterward and was dedicated on February 30th, 1835. The cost was $3,989.25 and 1/2 cents. This building was a white frame structure similar to the many churches found along the country roads and many main streets of central New Jersey.
As the Dutch language was used less and less through the years, the denomination changed it’s name in 1867 to “The Reformed Church in America”.
Since 1834, several of our many pastors have had a lasting impact on the community. Den Herder Drive is named for our tenth pastor, Marinus J. Den Herder. Thomson Parkway and Thomson Park are named for our sixth pastor, John A. Thomson.
On July 2nd, 1917, the original Middlebush Reformed Church building was destroyed in a fire caused by a lightening strike. Men and women raced in and out of the building while it was being consumed and rescued the pulpit furniture, Consistory chairs, some books and bit of Sunday School equipment.
Services continued every Sunday after the fire without interruption. The third house on the left side of Olcott Street was owned by Lewis Stryker and occupied by the Pennell family, including Hilda and Viola Pennell (past members of our church). It was offered, free of charge, for the congregation to use until a new building could be constructed. Rev. Thomson’s first sermon after the fire was taken from Isaiah 64:11,
“Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised Thee, is burned up with fire and all our pleasant things are laid waste”
It was decided that the new building would be as fireproof as possible and a goal of $25,000 was set for the project. The necessary money was raised and ground was broken in March 1918. Steel was to be used for the trusses, in keeping with the goal for fireproofing, but because of the war , it was impossible to obtain and wood had to be substituted. The stone used in the walls came from quarries in Martinsville. On May 5th, 1918, the cornerstone was laid and the first service was held in the new building on July 27th, 1919 almost exactly two years after the fire. Most of our servicemen had returned from the war and it was truely a joyous occasion. Rev. Thomson’s sermon text was
“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘let us go into the house of the Lord'”
The final tally of expenses for the new building was $33,200. The plaque in our sanctuary attests to the devotion and untiring efforts of Rev. Thomson toward the erection of the building.
In 1958, the Christian Education Building, consisting of brick and steel construction, was built and was dedicated on April 12th, 1959.
For many years, an annual Fourth of July festival was sponsored by the ladies of the congregation. At some time, this began to be called “The Harvest Home and Peach Festival” then simply “The Harvest Home” and was moved to Labor Day in the 1800’s. The Harvest Home continued until the 1940’s. The Annual Fall Fair held in the 1970’ and early 1980’s was reminiscent of the Harvest Home.
The Franklin Township Food Bank originally used our church building to store and dispense food for the needy families of the Township until it outgrew the space and moved to larger quarters.
The congregation purchased the current parsonage, known as the The Totten House, in 1992.