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Home | About Us | Branches | Stafford Branch | Community Profile
Stafford Branch Community Profile stafford branch


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 of Ocean.

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 Creek/Eagleswood section.

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 Stafford 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.


Stafford 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.


Large retail chain stores, the food/accommodations service industry, health care and the educational sector dominate Stafford Township’s economic picture. Southern 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 Business Park.


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.

New Jersey Transit operates buses along Route 9. Ocean 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.

Community Organizations

There 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 and units.

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.

Recreation and Entertainment

The 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 technology lab.

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.

The Southern 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 and concerts.

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 parks.

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.

Community Life

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.

The Stafford 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 more diverse.

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 urban areas.

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.


The 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 on Sundays.

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 Direct.

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.

Information Services, Stafford Branch

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