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By the 18th century, Rahway consisted of four distinct communities: Upper Rahway, Bridge Town, or Lower Rahway, Leesville, and Milton.
Rahway saw action during the American Revolutionary War because of its proximity to Staten Island, Elizabethtown and Perth Amboy. In January 1777, rebels were victorious against the British in the Battle of Spanktown, which resulted in the death of some 100 British troops. The battle was named this after Rahway's original name given to it by the first settlers, Spanktown, which is said to have been chosen "because an early settler publicly took his spouse across his knee and chastised her". Spanktown was mentioned in Revolutionary War military dispatches from 5 January 1777 through 14 March 1782.
The Merchants' and Drovers' Tavern resides at the corner of St. Georges and Westfield Avenues. The earliest buildings at the site date to 1795 and the property remains one of Rahway's most prominent historical landmarks.George Washington visited Rahway during his travel to New York City prior to his presidential inauguration in 1789. A marker across the street from the tavern reads:
Here, on April 23, 1789, on his way to New York City, Washington was received by troops from Elizabethtown and Newark. He was entertained at the inn kept by Samuel Smith by gentlemen of the town.
Following the Revolution, Rahway became the home of the first national mint to create a coin bearing the inscription E pluribus unum. A United States Post Office established in Rahway was one of only six in the entire state in 1791.
As immigrants from Britain, Ireland and Germany streamed into what was then Rahway Township in the 1850s, Rahway became incorporated as a city by an act of the State Legislature on April 19, 1858, from portions of Rahway Township in Union and Woodbridge Township in Middlesex County. In 1860, the portion of Rahway that had been part of Middlesex County was transferred to Union. On March 13, 1861, the remainder of Rahway Township became part of Rahway City. Clark Township was formed from portions of the city on March 23, 1864.
The first municipal elections for the mayor and council were conducted on April 19, 1858, and the council held its first meeting on May 3, 1858. The city's police department and its initial group of four constables were created at that first council meeting.
The city became home to dozens of major manufacturers, including the Regina Music Box Company, Wheatena, Mershon Bros. and, most importantly, Merck & Co., which was established in Rahway in 1903, when George Merck moved his small chemical company to Rahway from New York City. The company remained in Rahway through the presidency of George W. Merck and after.
The national decline in industry after World War II led to the closure of most of Rahway's major manufacturing facilities (except for Merck) and a general deterioration of the city's central business district. Beginning in the late 1990s, the city launched a plan to revitalize the downtown area and authorized the construction of hundreds of new market-rate housing units, a hotel, art galleries and additional retail space.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city had a total area of 4.04 square miles (10.47 km2), including 3.90 square miles (10.09 km2) of land and 0.15 square miles (0.38 km2) of water (3.59%).
The Rahway River travels through Rahway, entering from Clark at Rahway River Parkway. The river receives the waters of Robinsons Branch at Elizabeth Avenue between West Grand Avenue and West Main Street, and then receives the waters of the South Branch at East Hazlewood Avenue and Leesville Avenue. The river leaves Rahway at the city limits of Linden and Woodbridge before flowing into the Arthur Kill.
Of the 10,533 households, 28.1% had children under the age of 18; 42.4% were married couples living together; 16.8% had a female householder with no husband present and 35.3% were non-families. Of all households, 29.5% were made up of individuals and 11.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.58 and the average family size was 3.23.
21.8% of the population were under the age of 18, 8.5% from 18 to 24, 28.6% from 25 to 44, 27.5% from 45 to 64, and 13.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38.8 years. For every 100 females, the population had 91.1 males. For every 100 females ages 18 and older there were 87.1 males.
The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $58,551 (with a margin of error of +/- $3,355) and the median family income was $77,268 (+/- $9,506). Males had a median income of $56,572 (+/- $3,375) versus $47,832 (+/- $3,542) for females. The per capita income for the city was $28,855 (+/- $1,981). About 5.4% of families and 8.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.9% of those under age 18 and 9.4% of those age 65 or over.
There were 10,028 households, out of which 30.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.7% were married couples living together, 15.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.9% were non-families. 28.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 3.24.
In the city the population was spread out, with 23.9% under the age of 18, 7.8% from 18 to 24, 32.0% from 25 to 44, 21.8% from 45 to 64, and 14.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $50,729, and the median income for a family was $61,931. Males had a median income of $41,047 versus $32,091 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,481. About 5.4% of families and 7.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.3% of those under age 18 and 8.2% of those age 65 or over.
Rahway Public Library, 2006
Beginning in the early 1990s and continuing through the present day, the City of Rahway has rebounded as its downtown began to see the construction of new restaurants, art galleries, market-rate housing and the old Rahway Theatre reopening as the Union County Performing Arts Center. The theater underwent a $6.2-million renovation and expansion project, completed in 2007. As part of the expansion, the facility was purchased by the County of Union for $1.3 million and leased back for $1 a year.
In September 1999, remnants of Hurricane Floyd swept across New Jersey and caused severe damage. The Rahway Public Library was on a flood plain and suffered over US$1 million in flood damage. The building was demolished in October 2001 and a new library was constructed and opened on March 22, 2004, behind the city's municipal building along a less flood-prone area of the Rahway River. The area where the former Rahway Public Library was now contains tennis courts and a small playground.
Rahway is home to the Union County Performing Arts Center. It is in the process of building dedicated artists' housing so that actors, musicians, dancers, comedians, poets, filmmakers, and visual artists can live in safe affordable housing.
A number of contemporary art galleries sit in the Rahway Arts District as well as three professional rehearsal and recording studios.
Parks and recreation
The city is home to more than ten parks. The best-known is Rahway River Park, which is maintained by Union County, and is also partially located in Clark. Parks and plazas run by the City of Rahway (and overseen by the Rahway Recreation and Parks Department) include:
Arts District Park
Berzinec Park (tennis courts)
Brennan Field (soccer, baseball)
Flanagan Field (baseball field)
Hart Street Park
Madden Field (football and baseball fields)
Rahway Train Plaza
Tully Field (baseball field)
Parks run by the county inside Rahway's borders (overseen by the Union County Parks and Recreation Department) include:
A mysterious duo known as the "Bushman of Rahway" are reported to frequent the Rahway River Parkway disguised as talking bushes. Dressed in ghillie suits, the pair stand up and say 'Hi' to unsuspecting passers-by. Their actions have generated local and international controversy. While some find their prank humorous, local law enforcement have threatened them with arrest if caught.
Rahway City Hall
The City of Rahway is governed under the Faulkner Act system of municipal government under the Mayor-Council (Plan F), implemented as of January 1, 1955, based on the recommendations of a Charter Study Commission. The township is one of 71 municipalities (of the 565) statewide that use this form of government. The city's governing body is comprised of the Mayor and the nine-member City Council. The Mayor is elected directly by the voters. The City Council is comprised of nine members, all elected to four-year terms of office. Six members of the council are elected from each of six wards. The other three members are elected to represent the entire city on an at-large basis. Elections are in even-numbered years, with the six ward seats up together, followed two years later by the three at-large seats and the mayoral seat. Under the City of Rahway's form of government, all executive and administrative authority is vested in the office of the mayor, who appoints the Business Administrator and department directors. The Business Administrator develops an annual budget for the city, manages the city's departments and oversees its employees. This form of government gives citizens a centralized line of authority for the efficient management of the city's business.
As of 2020[update], the mayor of Rahway is Democrat Raymond A. Giacobbe Jr., who was appointed in January 2017 to serve an unexpired term of office ending December 31, 2018. Members of the Municipal Council are Council President Joanna Miles (At Large; D, 2022), Council Vice President Jeremy E. Mojica (At Large; D, 2022), James E. Baker (At Large; D, 2022), Robert "Bob" C. Bresenhan Jr. (Third Ward; D, 2020), David Brown (Fourth Ward; D, 2020), Michael W. Cox (Second Ward; D, 2020), Rodney Farrar (First Ward; D, 2020), Joseph D. Gibilisco (Sixth Ward; D, 2020 - elected to serve an unexpired term) and Danielle "Danni" Newbury (Fifth Ward; D, 2020 - appointed to serve an unexpired term).
In October 2019, Danni Newbury was selected to fill the Fifth Ward seat expiring in December 2020 that had been held by Jennifer Wenson-Maier until she resigned from office.
In January 2018, the council selected Council President Raymond Giacobbe to fill the seat that had been held by Samson Steinman until he resigned the previous month, citing personal reasons. Later that month, Joseph Gibilisco was appointed to fill the sixth ward seat expiring in December 2020 that had been held by Giacobbe that became vacant when he took office as mayor. Giblisco served on an interim basis until the November 2018 general election, when he was elected to serve the balance of the term of office.
Steinman had been appointed to the position of mayor in September 2013 following the resignation of Rick Proctor, whose term of office was to have run until December 31, 2014. In turn, the city council chose Raymond A. Giacobbe Jr., from among three candidates nominated by the Democratic municipal committee to fill Steinman's vacant Sixth Ward seat expiring in December 2016. Giacobbe served on an interim basis until the November 2014 general election, when he was elected to serve the balance of the term of office.
Federal, state and county representation
The New Jersey state motor vehicle commission in Rahway
Rahway is located in the 10th Congressional District and is part of New Jersey's 22nd state legislative district.
Union County is governed by a Board of Chosen Freeholders, whose nine members are elected at-large to three-year terms of office on a staggered basis with three seats coming up for election each year, with an appointed County Manager overseeing the day-to-day operations of the county. At an annual reorganization meeting held in the beginning of January, the board selects a Chair and Vice Chair from among its members. As of 2019[update], Union County's Freeholders are Chair Bette Jane Kowalski (D, Cranford, term ends December 31, 2019), Vice Chair Alexander Mirabella (D, Fanwood, 2021)
Angel G. Estrada (D, Elizabeth, 2020),
Angela R. Garretson (D, Hillside Township, 2020),
Sergio Granados (D, Elizabeth, 2019),
Christopher Hudak (D, Linden, term ends December 31, 2020),
Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded (D, Westfield, 2021),
Andrea Staten (D, Roselle, 2021),
Rebecca Williams (D, Plainfield, 2019). Constitutional officers elected on a countywide basis are
County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi (D, Union, 2020),
Sheriff Peter Corvelli (D, Kenilworth, 2020) and
Surrogate James S. LaCorte (D, Springfield Township, 2019). The County Manager is Edward Oatman.
As of March 23, 2011, there were a total of 15,719 registered voters in Rahway, of whom 7,159 (45.5% vs. 41.8% countywide) were registered as Democrats, 1,675 (10.7% vs. 15.3%) were registered as Republicans and 6,880 (43.8% vs. 42.9%) were registered as Unaffiliated. There were 5 voters registered to other parties. Among the city's 2010 Census population, 57.5% (vs. 53.3% in Union County) were registered to vote, including 73.5% of those ages 18 and over (vs. 70.6% countywide).
In the 2012 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 8,413 votes (74.7% vs. 66.0% countywide), ahead of Republican Mitt Romney with 2,648 votes (23.5% vs. 32.3%) and other candidates with 107 votes (0.9% vs. 0.8%), among the 11,269 ballots cast by the city's 16,730 registered voters, for a turnout of 67.4% (vs. 68.8% in Union County). In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 8,340 votes (69.8% vs. 63.1% countywide), ahead of Republican John McCain with 3,410 votes (28.5% vs. 35.2%) and other candidates with 115 votes (1.0% vs. 0.9%), among the 11,944 ballots cast by the city's 16,039 registered voters, for a turnout of 74.5% (vs. 74.7% in Union County). In the 2004 presidential election, Democrat John Kerry received 6,512 votes (63.1% vs. 58.3% countywide), ahead of Republican George W. Bush with 3,668 votes (35.5% vs. 40.3%) and other candidates with 92 votes (0.9% vs. 0.7%), among the 10,326 ballots cast by the city's 14,471 registered voters, for a turnout of 71.4% (vs. 72.3% in the whole county).
In the 2013 gubernatorial election, Democrat Barbara Buono received 55.4% of the vote (3,211 cast), ahead of Republican Chris Christie with 43.0% (2,494 votes), and other candidates with 1.6% (93 votes), among the 5,934 ballots cast by the city's 16,359 registered voters (136 ballots were spoiled), for a turnout of 36.3%. In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Democrat Jon Corzine received 3,961 ballots cast (57.4% vs. 50.6% countywide), ahead of Republican Chris Christie with 2,451 votes (35.5% vs. 41.7%), Independent Chris Daggett with 366 votes (5.3% vs. 5.9%) and other candidates with 68 votes (1.0% vs. 0.8%), among the 6,895 ballots cast by the city's 15,842 registered voters, yielding a 43.5% turnout (vs. 46.5% in the county).
As of 2010, the city had a total of 73.67 miles (118.56 km) of roadways, of which 59.18 miles (95.24 km) were maintained by the municipality, 10.45 miles (16.82 km) by Union County and 4.04 miles (6.50 km) by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
Rahway Train Station serves NJ Transit's North Jersey Coast Line and Northeast Corridor Line. The City of Rahway and NJ Transit helped fund a $16 million renovation for the station in 1999 and a public plaza in front of the station was completed in 2001, changes that have spurred cleanup and revitalization downtown. A new US$11.2 million 524-space parking deck opened across the street from the station in January 2005, helping train commuters and allowing the city to transform old parking lot space into new buildings and residences. A typical train ride to New York City's Pennsylvania Station takes 40 minutes.
^History, Dr. Wm. Robinson Plantation Museum. Accessed May 22, 2013.
^HistoryArchived 2005-02-09 at the Wayback Machine, City of Rahway. Accessed November 20, 2012. "In January 1777, the Battle of Spanktown was fought on St. Georges Avenue in the vicinity of Robinson's Branch and the North Branch of the Rahway River. The battle lasted twelve hours with the rebels getting the best of the British, who lost almost one hundred men."
^About Us, Union County Performing Arts Center. Accessed May 20, 2012.
^Russell, Suzanne C. "Rahway FEMA action closes books on Rahway's flood-damaged library", Home News Tribune, November 14, 1999. Accessed May 20, 2012. "The flood-damaged Rahway Public Library will never reopen at the St. Georges Avenue building because Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have deemed the damage too severe. Instead, a new library and technology center are planned by the city for the 40,000-square-foot SDI Technologies building on Main Street, Rahway officials said."
^Rahway City Council, City of Rahway. Accessed April 29, 2020. "The Municipal Council is made up of nine (9) members elected by the citizens of Rahway. There are six (6) wards in the City of Rahway and a Councilmember is elected by the citizens from each respective ward. There are three (3) Councilmembers-at-large who represent the entire City and run with the Mayor. All Councilmembers are part-time."
^Staff. "City Council Appoints 5th Ward Representative", Rahway Rising, October 1, 2019. Accessed April 29, 2020. "City Council unanimously appointed Danni Newbury to fill the remaining 15 months of Jennifer Wenson-Maier's term as 5th Ward representative on the nine-member governing body.... Wenson-Maier stepped down Sept. 15 and is expected to become the next executive director of the Housing Authority."
^Iati, Marisa. "Cursed seat? After back-to-back mayors resign suddenly, 3rd takes over", NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, January 9, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2018. "Rahway got its third top executive in less than five years Monday after former Mayor Samson Steinman resigned suddenly on Christmas Eve, citing personal issues.The council unanimously selected council President Raymond Giacobbe Jr. to serve the last year of Steinman's term, the city clerk said. Steinman stepped down Dec. 24 after three years in office, the last 16 months of which saw him twice crash a city car, go on medical leave to resolve then-unspecified issues and later publicly come out as bipolar."
^Staff. "Joseph Gibilisco appointed to City Council", NJToday.net, January 25, 2018. Accessed February 12, 2018. "The Rahway City Council unanimously appointed Joseph D. 'Joe' Gibilisco to the governing body during a special meeting held to fill a vacant seat. The Sixth Ward vacancy was created when the governing body approved then-Council President Raymond Giacobbe, Jr. to serve the remaining year in the mayoral term of Samson Steinman, who resigned on Christmas Eve after an eventful year."
^Khavkine, Richard. "Rahway Mayor Rick Proctor resigns post after 32 turbulent months", The Star-Ledger, September 11, 2013. Accessed September 14, 2013. "With a single-sentence resignation letter, Rick Proctor has ended his tumultuous 32-month tenure as mayor of Rahway, effective immediately.... Council president Samson Steinman, a one-time political ally but more recently a frequent Proctor adversary, has been named acting mayor."
^Staff. "Giacobbe picked to replace Steinman on Council", NJToday.net, October 8, 2013. Accessed October 16, 2013. "Raymond A. Giacobbe Jr., of 439 Harbienko Court, was appointed as the Sixth Ward's new representative when the City Council held a special meeting Tuesday immediately after Rahway Democrats offered his name among three contenders for the spot. Giacobbe, 34, was nominated as councilman to replace Mayor Samson Steinman, who resigned from the governing body when he was named to his current position following the unexpected departure of embattled former Mayor Rick Proctor."
^Russell, Suzanne. "Linda Carter sworn into General Assembly, replacing Jerry Green", Courier News, May 24, 2018. Accessed July 3, 2018. "Former Union County Freeholder Linda Carter was sworn into the New Jersey General Assembly on Thursday, representing the 22nd Legislative District communities in Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties.... Carter replaces Assemblyman Jerry Green, 79, of Plainfield, who died April 18. Green served 26 years in the assembly."
^Rahway Board of Education District Policy 9000 - Role of the Board, Rahway Public Schools. Accessed March 3, 2020. "The Rahway Board of Education is constituted, authorized, and governed by New Jersey statutes and exists for the purpose of providing a thorough and efficient system of free pre-K-12 public education in the Rahway Public School District. The school district is comprised of all of the area within the municipal boundaries of the City of Rahway."
^Martin, Antoinette. "Can a Face Lift Offer a New Identity?", The New York Times, October 29, 2006. Accessed May 20, 2012. "Rahway's train station, transformed after a $16 million renovation, is in the heart of its compact downtown, offering commuters a direct trip to Penn Station in Manhattan, about 15 miles northeast of here, or to Penn Station in Newark or to Trenton."
^Peter Boettke Interview, The Best Schools. Accessed September 21, 2015. "Boettke was born in Rahway, New Jersey, in 1960."
^New Jersey Aviation History, New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame. Accessed September 21, 2015. "1909 - Rahway's Boland brothers built and flew the state's first fixed-wing aircraft. They were also the first to fly in South America."
^Wallye. "The story of the Assemblyman who got caught stealing an air conditioner", PolitickerNJ, May 7, 2009. Accessed September 21, 2015. "Arnold D'Ambrosa was the 40-year-old Rahway Democratic Municipal Chairman and Public Works Director when he was elected to the State Assembly in 1973.... In July 1974, six months after taking office, D'Ambrosa was arrested on charges that he sold an air conditioner owned by Rahway for $600, pocketing the money, and he took a $200 bribe from a contractor."
^Antonio GarayArchived 2007-03-28 at the Wayback Machine, Chicago Bears. Accessed May 17, 2007. "Earned Prep Star All-American and All-New Jersey Group III honors as a senior at Rahway H.S. in Rahway, N.J. after totaling 141 tackles and 10 sacks in his final season... Outstanding wrestler who was tabbed the 275-pound national champion by the National High School Coaches' Association"
^About WayneArchived 2007-09-26 at the Wayback Machine, Congressman Wayne Gilchrest. Accessed May 17, 2007. "Born in Rahway, New Jersey, he was the fourth of Elizabeth and Arthur Gilchrest's six boys."
^Goldberg, Marv. "The Concords", Marv Goldberg's Yesterday's Memories Rhythm & Blues Party. Accessed September 21, 2015. "Enter Pearl Reaves, a singer originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, who had moved to Rahway, New Jersey in the late 40s."
^Kochakian, Dan. "Pearl Reaves", Women, Whiskey and..., December 1985, Issue 15. pp. 25-27.
^Freddie RussoArchived 2007-10-24 at the Wayback Machine, New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame. Accessed May 22, 2013. "Freddie Russo was born in Brooklyn, New York on October 3, 1924. His family moved to Rahway, New Jersey and that city became the home base for one of the classiest boxer-punchers of that era."
^Mark Slonaker, Georgia Bulldogs. Accessed July 12, 2016. "A native of Rahway, N.J., Slonaker lettered for the Bulldogs (1976-79) and was co-captain of coach Hugh Durham's first team at Georgia in '79."
^Staff. "Sagal adds edge to FX's new 'Sons'", Philadelphia Daily News, September 3, 2008. Accessed May 20, 2012. "Created by Kurt Sutter, a New Jersey native whose biography boasts that he was 'raised in the shadow of Rahway prison' and spent much of his childhood indoors, away from people, three feet from a TV screen."
^Cheney, Margaret. "Tesla: Man Out of Time". Accessed June 5, 2007. "The Tesla Electric Light Company was formed, with headquarters at Rahway, New Jersey, and a branch office in New York.
^Johnson, Robert. "Looking Back Is Not an Option", The New York Times, November 28, 2004. Accessed October 19, 2007. "He is also promoting his new book "Medicine, Science and Merck" (Cambridge University Press), written with Louis Galambos, describing his path from son of a luncheonette owner in Rahway, N.J., to leader of a pharmaceutical giant."
^Staff. "Rahway's Own, Shanice Williams plays 'Dorothy' in The Wiz Live", Suburban News, December 8, 2015. Accessed May 30, 2016. "On the evening of Dec. 4, the Rahway community gathered at the town's high school to celebrate the success of yet another of 'Rahway's Own', Shanice Williams, who won the coveted role of Dorothy in NBC's network television premiere of The Wiz Live!"