Opinions vary as to when the first settlers arrived in the area where Sussex County is now located.The Dutch built the Old Mine Road through the county from their settlement in what is now Kingston, NY, to the Pahaquarry mines in Warren County around 1650.
The so-called Minisink settlement in what is now Montague Township was first settled by Johannes Westbrook and Simon Westfall.Situated on the route of the Old Mine Road, it was a stopping place for men and teams carting copper ore from Pahaquarry to the Hudson.
There were still no permanent settlers in the Sussex region in 1693 and it was not until 1697 that the first patent for 1,000 acres was received.
In the 1740’s a number of Germans settled on the Paulinskill near present day Stillwater.After the close of the French and Indian Wars, Sussex County was populated by large numbers of Puritans who had originally settled on Long Island and in Orange County, NY.For much of its early history, Sussex County remained a rural area populated predominantly by those engaged in agriculture.Through the years it became a popular summer resort area because of its many lakes, but by 1940 still had a year-round population of only 30,000.The standing joke by residents to outsiders was that the county had more cows than people.That was still true in 1950, when the county’s population had increased to only 34,423.From 1950 to 1960, there was a 43 percent increase in population.New retail shops and supermarkets opened their doors and new highways were built.People began buying existing housing and converting summer homes to year-round use.Lower housing prices and taxes began attracting more people from neighboring metropolitan areas.
By 1980 the county’s population reached 116,119.It climbed to more than 135,000 in 1986, a year that saw the start of a housing boom that leveled off years later.
The 1990 census showed Sussex County with a population of 130,943, making it the seventh fastest growing county in the state.
Although some 30,000 residents leave the county daily to commute to jobs, 98 percent of county jobs are filled by county residents.
Major employers include: Selective Insurance Co. of America, Newton Memorial Hospital, Ames Rubber Co., Dynapack Mfg. Inc. and Accurate Forming Inc.
Despite the breaking up of large farmland tracts by residential and commercial growth, farming remains big business in Sussex County.
Recognized for its beautiful landscape and excellent farmland, Montague was the earliest settled town in this part of the country, establishing America’s first commercial roadway now known as the Old Mine Road.
Although it was the first to be settled, Montague remains a small bedroom community.The state owns most of the land, which lies along the Delaware River and has wild and holdover trout streams running through it.
Much of the land is undeveloped, providing scenic drives through roads that wind and twist, wrapping around the rolling slopes of farms, fields and forests.There are many active farms providing residents with farm fresh food sold at market stands along Route 206.
Many people move here for the beauty and small community feel.The town’s little league is very active, as is the historical society and the local Grange.
The Tri-State Mall, located on Route 23 provides area residents with a Shop Rite supermarket, a pet store, liquor store, video rental and electronics store, Italian restaurant, bank and other stores.Motorists can choose from three gas station/convenience stores located within sight of each other, and benefit from the best gasoline prices in the tri-state area, as well as a Dairy Queen and McDonald’s for a quick snack or meal before hopping onto Interstate 84.
Though there are no major employers, Montague is approximately a 90 minute drive from New York City, and just a few miles from Milford, Pennsylvania and Port Jervis, New York.
Outdoor recreation is abundant, from canoeing and rafting on the Delaware to the lovely surroundings of High Point State Park.The 14,218 acre park was at one time a private game preserve and contained the mansion of Colonel Anthony Kuser.The High Point Monument marks the highest point in the State of New Jersey, and the park contains a lake for swimming and fishing, camping and picnic sites, nature trails and the Appalachian Trail, which runs through a portion of the park.Cross-country skiing and ice-skating are available during the winter.The High Point Country Inn provides guests with a charming, relaxed atmosphere where they can enjoy the spectacular views of the countryside and the close proximity to the park.
The majority of Montague’s 2,800 plus residents live at Highpoint Country Club.The 1,100 acre site features a clubhouse, swimming pool and 18-hole golf course.
Nearby the country club is the Montague Mini-Mall, with an assortment of small businesses that serve area residents with everything from their morning coffee and paper to pizza, a bank, and a Laundromat.
Children attend kindergarten through sixth grade at the Montague Elementary School, which has expanded to meet the needs of a growing population.Middle and high school students are bused to the Port Jervis schools, a short drive away.
Montague Day is an annual September event with games, contests, food and entertainment.
The Minisink Church pavilion is the site of many church activities and suppers.The church itself is historically significant and the congregation plays an active part in the community, providing auctions, plays and concerts.
The Delaware River Toll Bridge connects Montague to Milford, Pennsylvania, and all the services offered by that community.Except for the river, there is not much that separates people in these two states.Many people live in Montague and work in Milford or own a business there.
A few miles south in Branchville, New Jersey is the 200 acre YWCA/YMCA Camp Linwood, providing a day camp, as well as many educational programs for youth.
Montague has come a long way from its early days when residents joked that it had more cows than people.
*1990 Census Figure