2017 is the 250th (Semiquincentennial ) Anniversary of Toms River. Plans include special events throughout the anniversary year including the rededication of Huddy Park on June 24, 2017 and many other special events sponsored by community groups such as the Toms River Business Improvement District, Ocean County College, Toms River Regional Schools, Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission, Toms River Chamber of Commerce, Ocean County Historical Society, Downtown Toms River, Friends of Ortley Beach, and Ocean County Library.
The village of Toms River was christened in 1712, when a road was laid from Metedeconk over a bridge crossing the Goose Creek River, which soon changed its name to match the village. The origin of the name and the year of the village's original settlement were unsolved mysteries for many years. Some said it was named for Captain William Toms, others credit Old Indian Tom. Most believed it was named for Thomas Luker, who came to the area around 1700 and married Princess Anne, daughter of the local Indian Chief. Only in 1992, with the dedication of a small footbridge in Huddy Park to his memory, was Thomas Luker officially recognized as the source of the “Tom” in Toms River. Over 40 of Luker’s direct descendants and their families attended the ceremony where Ocean County Historian Pauline Miller laid to rest the other stories. It was one of many events celebrating the 225th anniversary of Dover Township.
Dover Township, incorporated June 24, 1767, was carved from the southern section of Shrewsbury Township in Monmouth County. The Toms River area thrived, and its earliest settlers, of English origin, supported themselves by lumbering, charcoaling, whaling, fishing, farming, and iron making. Access to the Atlantic Ocean was important, as during this time Cranberry Inlet (now the Chadwick Beach area) was open. Toms River was ranked as a leading port until a major storm in the early 1800s closed the inlet.
At the time of the Revolutionary War, the village had fifteen houses. The port area was a base for many privateering vessels which raided British or Tory craft, confiscating their cargoes. It housed an extensive salt works established by the Continental Congress. The windmill-powered facility was designed to supply the salt necessary to manufacture gunpowder and to flavor and preserve foods. A company of militia was sent by George Washington to guard the marsh flats at Shelter Cove and a block house was constructed to protect the salt works. On March 24, 1782, a band of Tories, led by British officers, burned the town and attacked the poorly-defended blockhouse. They took Captain Joshua Huddy prisoner, and later hanged him. This incident, and the subsequent demands for retribution, delayed the signing of the peace treaty ending the war until 1783.
By 1850, Toms River had grown to fifty houses, and was selected as the site of the county seat for the newly-created Ocean County. After the Civil War, wealthy New York merchants began spending summers in Toms River, and the arrival of the Central Railroad in 1866 and the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1880 brought hordes of vacationers to the community. Toms River's reputation as a resort contributed to its growth during the period 1910-1920, and by 1930 the population numbered 3,970. During World War II, many came to the area because of its proximity to Lakehurst Naval Air Station and Fort Dix. With the opening of the Garden State Parkway in 1954, commuting time between Toms River and northern New Jersey was dramatically reduced, which encouraged people to establish homes here while retaining their jobs in other areas of the state. The population of Dover Township in 1950 was 7,707 and grew to 17,414 residents by 1960; by 1970 the population had grown to 43,751; by 1980 to 64,455; by 1990 to 76,371; and by the 2010 census to 91,239. Today’s Toms River Township comprises the neighborhood sections of Toms River, East Dover, West Dover, North Dover, Pleasant Plains, Silverton and the beach areas of Ortley, Normandy Beach, and a portion of Pelican Island.
The Great Nor’easter of 1992 struck all of Ocean County hard: river and bay fronts as well as the ocean front felt the gales of freezing rain and 100 mile per hour winds and experienced extensive flooding and storm damage during the early hours of December 11, 1992. Perhaps the biggest and happiest event of the 1990s, however, was Toms River East Little League’s victory in the Little League World Series in 1998. Celebrated by a parade, proclamations, congratulation signs on dozens of businesses, and the renaming of Route 37 as Little League World Champions Boulevard, it was an event no one in town will soon forget. One member of that Little League Champion team, Todd Frazier, went on to play for the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox and won the 2015 MLB Home Run Derby.
Starting in 2002, a Business Improvement District was formed as part of the downtown revitalization effort. Known as “Downtown Toms River,” the business organization hosts events such as the annual New Jersey Chili & Salsa Cook-Off and the New Jersey Ice Cream Festival, along with weekly summer Cruisin’ events, which allow aficionados to showcase their classic cars. In 2005 a weekly Farmer’s Market was initiated.
Following a referendum on November 14, 2006, Dover Township officially became Toms River Township. The new name represents the identification of residents with the Toms River heritage. The Toms River Seaport Society, founded in 1976, hosts an annual Wooden Boat Festival and in 2011 moved the Maritime Museum to its new building on Hooper Avenue.
On October 29, 2012, Toms River was changed forever by Superstorm Sandy. A high-pressure system over the North Atlantic combined with a dip in the jet stream caused Hurricane Sandy to take a sharp left turn and make landfall near Brigantine. The storm had with winds of over 80 mph, a footprint over 900 miles wide, the lowest pressure ever recorded north of North Carolina, a storm surge of over 12 feet and maximum rainfall of 13 inches. The Toms River area felt the full impact of the storm, with one of the worst hit areas being the Ortley Beach section of the township. Toms River is on its way to a full recovery, although there are still areas which still in the rebuilding process.