Stafford was originally peopled by the Lenni Lenape
tribe of the Delaware Nation. In 1735, James Haywood,
Perry Paul and Luke Courtney of Staffordshire, England
purchased area land. They sailed to America in 1743
and settled in Manahawkin, the town center of Stafford.
“Manahawkin” is translated by some as
“good corn land” and by others as “where
the land slopes”, but this remains a controversial
issue in local history circles.
In Haywood’s time, Stafford was actually
part of Shrewsbury Township in Monmouth County,
despite the distance between them. In 1749 Stafford
was legally separated from Shrewsbury and granted
a “royal patent” by King George II.
In 1850 it became part of the newly named county
In addition to Manahawkin, Stafford then included
the towns of Ocean (now Waretown), Union (now Barnegat),
Eagleswood and Long Beach Island. By 1889, these
four communities had separated from Stafford. Currently,
Stafford Township includes the communities of Manahawkin,
Cedar Run, Mayetta and most of Warren Grove, with
Stafford as the legal municipality.
Early settlers were typically from the British
Isles. Many of their surnames, or variant, are still
evident – Cranmer, Sprague, Pharo, Cox, Parker,
Shourd, Shinn, Hazelton and dozens more.
Stafford settlements of the 1700’s were clustered
by the bay or by sawmills near the cedar swamps.
Jarvis (Gervais) Pharo, who founded West Creek in
1705, designed the working boat made for shallow
bay waters, now called the “Garvey”
and still in common use throughout the area. Clamming,
oystering, boat building, cedar cutting and milling
were the mainstays of local economy and the waterways
were crucial for moving people and product.
As early families intermarried, small settlements
were formed bearing their names. Shinntown, Cranmertown,
Parkertown and Spraggtown were all within the West
Farming became at least a part-time occupation
for many. As land was cleared for settlements, former
Indian trails were broadened into sandy roads for
the transport of people and goods, eventually becoming
stage routes and highways.
In Manahawkin, the Old Stone Store and gristmill
were built about 1750 on the creek south of Manahawkin
Lake, soon becoming a town center. Today, a reconstruction
of the store is located near its original site.
In 1797, John Lippincott established the Stafford
Forge, west of West Creek.
In 1880 cranberry culture was introduced by John
“Peg Leg” Webb, and in time became an
important industry for the area. As noted in Stafford
Township Online, “One of the most famous early
bogs, now hidden in the forest at the end of Oxyccocus
Road, belonged to historian/explorer/writer Nathaniel
Holmes Bishop. It was added to the Forsythe Wildlife
Refuge earlier this year.” Another notable
location was the Stafford Forge Cranberry Plantation
Bog, built on the site of the old iron forge.
Religion played a central role in local development.
In 1758, James Haywood built then-Shrewsbury’s
first house of worship – a “Free Church”
used by the predominant Anglicans and Quakers, and
by Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist circuit preachers.
This became Manahawkin Baptist Church and eventually
the Manahawkin Cultural Center, now owned by the
Township Historical Society. Located opposite
the library, this well-restored building is used
for concerts, weddings and lectures. In this former
church there are reputed to be bloodstains left
by soldiers wounded in a Civil War skirmish.
The Center is symbolic of the special efforts made
in Stafford over the past decade to preserve the
town’s history in a practical and visible
way. Community Development block grants, Green Acres
funding and community donations have been used to
save or reconstruct Stafford’s oldest structures
and to refurbish others as gift shops in the “Manahawkin
Historical District” on Rt. 9.
It wasn’t until 1957 that Southern Regional
High School opened its doors. Before that time,
small schools in Tuckerton and Barnegat served all
area high school age students. In the same year,
fundraising began for the Southern Ocean County
Hospital. Determined supporters raised over $900,000
and SOCH opened in 1972 with 54 beds. Since then
it has grown into a full-service acute-care facility
with health centers in Lacey and Little Egg Harbor.
Township covers 55 square miles of land in south-central
Ocean County, New Jersey. It is bordered by Barnegat
Bay and Long Beach Island to the east, Barnegat
Township to the north, Eagleswood Township to the
west and south. Stafford has 12.2 miles of bay frontage.
Of Stafford’s acreage, 44% falls under the
jurisdiction of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management
Plan, and the balance under the Coastal Area Facility
Review Act (CAFRA). The New Jersey Division of Fish,
Game & Wildlife, NJ Natural Lands Trust and
NJ Parks and Forestry holds approximately 5% of
Stafford’s total area.
Communities within Stafford include Manahawkin,
Cedar Run, Mayetta and most of Warren Grove. Moving
counterclockwise from the western boundary, housing
areas include Warren Grove, Fawn Lakes and Atlantic
Hills (adult communities), Ocean Acres (by far the
largest development), Deer Lake Park, Manahawkin
center, Mallard Island (a.k.a. “Mud City”),
Beach Haven West (bordering Barnegat Bay), Village
Harbour, Colony Lakes, Mayetta, Cedar Run (including
Cedar Run Apartments for seniors) and Perry’s
Lake (adult community bordering shopping centers).
The 2000 Census lists Stafford’s total housing
units as 11,522. In the four years since that time
the number has climbed, but township administration
has reemphasized plans to cap population at 30,000.
retail chain stores, the food/accommodations service
industry, health care and the educational sector
dominate Stafford Township’s economic picture.
Ocean County Hospital (SOCH) is the largest
single employer in Stafford Township. The Southern
Regional School District, which encompasses
a middle school, high school and an adult school,
is another top employer.
The Manahawkin section of Stafford Township, particularly
along Route 72, is the shopping hub of southern
Ocean County. Residents from surrounding communities
including Barnegat, Eagleswood and Tuckerton shop
in Manahawkin where major retail establishments
include Wal Mart, Home Depot, Kmart, Pathmark and
Shop Rite. Commercial projects still under development
include a Holiday Inn, Kohl’s and Sears (slated
to move into the Kmart space), and the Stafford
Major arteries in Stafford Township are the Garden
State Parkway, NJ Route 72, US Route 9 and Ocean
County Route 539. There is a full interchange connecting
the Parkway North and South to Route 72 East and
West. There are many other heavily traveled roads
within the township including Nautilus Drive in
Ocean Acres, Mill Creek Road in Beach Haven West
and Bay Avenue (NJ Route 180) in downtown Manahawkin.
Auto travel is the most popular mode of transportation,
despite bus service. Many residents do no own vehicles
and foot or bicycle traffic is a common sight not
only within the old town center, but also along
the shopping centers of busy Rt. 72.
Jersey Transit operates buses along Route 9.
County Area Transit (OCAT) offers a bus route
connecting Stafford to Little Egg Harbor, Tuckerton
and Barnegat with multiple set stops within Stafford
Township. Stafford Township Dial-A-Ride is a free
bus service operating within Stafford Township only.
Buses run from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Patrons must
call to arrange pick-up. This is a very popular
service, used by approximately 1,850 riders per
month. Many library users take advantage of this
service. Ocean County Handicapped Elderly Transportation
Service (OCHETS) is available to all senior and
disabled residents requiring medical transportation,
and also provides limited shopping transportation.
Virtually all areas of the township are affected
in some way by the growing Route 72 commercial center,
added to the ever-larger numbers of vacationers
traveling the Stafford corridor from the Garden
State Parkway to Long Beach Island. The sheer volume
of vehicles, especially in the summer months, makes
traffic a constant consideration. The “McKinley
Avenue extension”, running parallel to Rt.
72, eases travel somewhat among the shopping centers
and gives residents an optional route.
are a wide variety of community organizations active
in Stafford Township. The township-owned Mill Creek
Community Center in Beach Haven West is the home
for many of these activities, particularly those
geared toward seniors. Approximately 25 clubs and
organizations use the spacious meeting room and
kitchen on a regular basis. Groups range from a
large bridge club to the SOCH (Southern Ocean County
Hospital) Auxiliary to the Old Guard and the Senior
Squares Social Club.
Other large groups of note are the local chapter
of Deborah, Pine Shores Art Association, Ocean Acres
Civic Association, Stafford Township Historical
Society, Village Harbor Civic Association and the
Friends of the Stafford Library.
There are seven Stafford Township Athletic Associations
(basketball, Little League, Pop Warner football
and cheerleading, roller hockey, soccer, softball
and wrestling) all of which have numerous leagues
Active in the township are also many church groups,
a variety of PTA and ParentNet groups tied to the
Southern Regional and Stafford school districts,
increasingly popular investment clubs and Girl Scout
and Boy Scout troops.
Stafford Recreation Department arranges a variety
of activities for all ages. Some, such as the popular
exercise classes, are held at the Mill Creek Community
Center. A Recreation Advisory Committee meets regularly
to offer community input.
Preservation of open space has become a priority
as the township reviews its master plan. Over the
past several years, Stafford has allocated approximately
35% of its project-building budget to providing
new parks. The township’s ten parks now include
the following: In the downtown area A. Paul King,
Manahawkin Lake and Beach Avenue parks; in the shopping
center area Doc Cramer Park; in the Beach Haven
West area Jennifer Bay Beach and Mill Creek parks
and in Ocean Acres, Lighthouse, Nautilus and Ocean
Acres Lake parks. Within these parks, improvements
in recent years have included additional playing
fields and courts, a skateboard park, space for
the community-built “Planet Playground”,
drainage projects, a pedestrian bridge, walking
trails, and so forth. Green Acres grants and low-cost
loans aided in funding.
Though Stafford is not home to any Ocean County
parks, many residents take advantage of the Park
Department’s many nature-based activities,
including hiking, canoeing, kayaking and birdwatching.
Likewise, the St.
Francis Community Center on Long Beach Island
offers a broad array of activities and excursions,
and Stafford residents use those services.
As Stafford is close to both the ocean and Little
Egg Harbor and Barnegat Bays, water sports are popular.
Residents of Beach Haven West have lagoon access
to the bay and can keep watercraft. Many others
rent bayside boat slips or transport smaller craft
to launching areas.
A multiplex movie theater and vintage bowling alley
are also located in Stafford Township, as well as
fitness centers on Rt. 9 and Rt. 72.
The Stafford Township Historical Society owns and
maintains the Cultural Center on Rt. 9 opposite
the Stafford Library. Formerly a Baptist church,
the Center was built in the 1700’s. Over several
years, the Society arranged for low-cost and donated
repairs. Now it is well and frequently used. The
acoustics are excellent for concerts and lectures,
and it is a popular site for weddings.
Stafford Library offers a constant array of programs
for various ages. These include story hours, crafts,
slide lectures, demonstrations, reading incentive
programs and contests, volunteer opportunities,
and concerts (many of them held in the Cultural
Center). Most popular with seniors are the public
Internet classes, held in the library’s 8-terminal
The Southern Regional School District offers a
wide variety of entertainment for the community.
Of course, the various athletic teams are a draw
– football, basketball, volleyball, baseball,
track, soccer, and golf, swimming and wrestling
events. The district has a statewide reputation
for excellent music programs, which include seven
in-school concert bands/orchestras, three jazz bands
and the state championship marching band. A community
intergenerational orchestra was formed as well.
Southern is also renowned for its annual drama presentations,
which play to sold-out crowds.
Regional Adult School offers nearly 100 enrichment
classes each semester in subjects ranging from Oriental
cooking to Web Design. Day and weekend trips to
Broadway plays, museums, shopping and sports events
are extremely popular. By midsummer each year, at
least three buses for the Radio City Christmas show
are booked. Many of the local service groups sponsor
bus trips as well, typically to plays, casinos and
exhibition gardens. Some groups, like Deborah, sponsor
longer out-of-state trips as well. Stafford’s
nine churches offer a variety of social, as well
as religious, activities including occasional trips
Important local events include Founders Day, held
early each June and featuring a parade, music, contests,
a craft/vendor fair and fireworks. The Manahawkin
Good Ol’ Days Festival offers crafts, concerts,
old-time demonstrations and memory talks, and is
held Labor Day weekend in the area of the downtown
The Manahawkin Historic District includes the downtown
parks, library, Cultural Center and a several gift
shops. Community development block grants made it
possible to renovate some of the older structures
and the shops are especially popular at the holidays.
The 2000 Census showed that Stafford grew by 9,207
residents since the 1990 census (at 22,523 total
population) – a gain of 69.1%, which places
it among the fastest growing communities in Ocean
County. Left unchecked, growth could approach 70,000
in a few short years. However, the township’s
master plan has been repeatedly revised to limit
growth and preserve open space, with a population
threshold now set for less than 30,000.
Existing growth is evidenced by three major shopping
centers, an ever expanding hospital and medical
support system, three long-term car /assisted living
facilities, four adult communities, a huge regional
middle/high/adult school complex and a greatly expanded
general housing development.
Township School District is made up of four
elementary schools housing grades K-6. There are
also two private/parochial schools in Manahawkin.
Total K-6 enrollment in the public schools for 2003
was 2,368, a 98% increase from the 1990 enrollment.
Southern Regional School District is a large regional
school system housing 7-12 grades in two schools,
a middle school and a high school. 2003 enrollment
figure for these grades is 3,768, and 52% increase
over the 1990 enrollment. Stafford Township is also
the location for a satellite campus of Ocean County
College, slated for expansion in the next few years.
Stafford’s tax rate in 1990 was 1.49 per
$100 valuation. The rate for 2000 was 2.45, a change
of .95%. The average rate for the period was 2.07.
Stafford’s 2003 rate was 2.410.
Stafford’s population is widely diverse in
background, education and employment. Residents
range from a dwindling number of area natives to
the newly arrived. Stafford is not, however, racially
diverse. The 2000 census shows the population to
be 96.8% white, with Latinos being the next largest
population at 2.4%. The population is slowly becoming
The township is a magnet for both families and
seniors. Many who once had just a vacation home
here now reside in Stafford year-round. The township
continues to have a great influx of residents from
northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania’s more
While seasonal house rentals are still popular
in the Beach Haven West section, along Stafford’s
12.2 miles of bay frontage, apartment rental throughout
the township are scarce. A small number of subsidized
senior apartments are available. Most of the new
housing is concentrated in the Ocean Acres development
and in new condominium complexes located in the
downtown area of Manahawkin.
newspaper most focused on Stafford events, issues
and featured residents is the Beacon,
which is published weekly with a circulation of
5,500. The Asbury
Park Press (168,000 daily and 240,000 Sunday
circulation and published by Gannet, as is The
Beacon) will occasionally include major Stafford
news and events. The Press
of Atlantic City does include some Stafford
news, limited school sports coverage and obituaries.
It has a daily circulation of 77,800 daily and 97,100
The Sandpaper provides some of the best
in-depth coverage for area issues and features.
This is a free weekly (less frequent in winter)
with wide area distribution. The seasonal Beachcomber
is popular, including a good events listing and
short area history features. Other free publications
with wide readerships are the Banner, Islander,
Leader (published monthly by the Times-Beacon),
the weekly Mailbag and the monthly Stafford
Newsletters and directories are abundant such as
Shore Heritage from the Ocean County Historical
Society, the bulletins from St. Francis Community
Center and Southern Regional Adult School.
Local radio stations include WBBO 98.5 FM with
“Top 40” selections and a WYRS 90.7
FM which is a Christian station covering many local
events. WJRZ FM of Toms River occasionally covers
major events in southern Ocean County, as well.
Southern Regional High School maintains the SNN
(Southern News Network) cable station year-round,
covering school and community events. In the summer
SNN tapes and broadcasts segments on summer programs
for all southern Ocean County Library branches.
Stafford Township also broadcasts community events
and meetings on cable channel 69.
Services, Stafford Branch