BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A groundswell of support is emerging to re-name a storied section of Bridgewater Township.
In June, the Bridgewater Township Council discussed the possibility of formally renaming Somerville Manor to the more historical moniker of Hobbstown. The area in question is a portion of Bridgewater located between Monmouth and Sussex avenues, near the post office.
If approved, it would be renamed in honor of the Hobbs family, who will celebrate 100 years in Bridgewater in 2020.
“I was born and raised in Hobbstown,” said former resident Sonya Avant, via e-mail. "My great grandfathers, Claude and Hill Miller, who were also born in Georgia, joined the Hobbs brothers in Hobbstown in 1923 after leaving Brooklyn."
Avant said she moved out of Hobbstown herself in 1991, although she added that she has aunts and uncles who are lifelong residents of Hobbstown, and still reside there today.
To her, it's also always been Hobbstown.
“I’ve never heard anyone refer to Hobbstown as Somerville Manor, except by Bridgewater Township,” she said.
Avant has started an online petition at change.org to have Hobbstown formally recognized by the township. There is an actual sign currently in place in town that details the property as Somerville Manor, which Avant wants to see remedied, according to the petition.
As of the weekend, the petition had 930 signatures.
“Our ancestors put their blood, sweat and tears into building this small African-American community,” said Avant. “The homes they built by hand, some of which still stand strong today.”
The historical story of Hobbstown and its relationship to Bridgewater is actually featured in the book “Hobbstown: The Forgotten Legacy of a Unique African-American Community,” which was written by Cindy Williams Newsome and is available at amazon.com.
“Reading the book would be a great way to learn all about Hobbstown,” Avant said. "One of the most well-known people, who is also a lifelong resident, is my older cousin, Eric Murdock, who is a descendant of the Hobbs family as well as the Miller Family.”
Murdock, a graduate of Bridgewater-Raritan High School West, played basketball for the Utah Jazz, and was selected by the team in the first round of the 1991 NBA draft. He played in the NBA for nine seasons, including for the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks.
Avant's petition also mentions other families who helped build Hobbstown, including the Stackhouses, Tukes and Bryants.
The council is next due to meet in early August, when the issue may be brought up again in public.