Highland Park: A Little Town on the Cusp of Big Things

In This New Series, the Middlesex Chamber and Convention & Visitors Bureau Looks at the Gems of Each of the County’s 25 Towns

Highland Park, nestled between Middlesex County economic drivers New Brunswick and Edison Township, has managed to carve out an identity unique to Middlesex County since being incorporated in 1905. Inhabited by an eclectic mix of Rutgers University staff and faculty, as well as by working families working in the region and between Trenton and New York City, Highland Park is known for its walkability, its neighborhood character, and for a downtown that is home to many small, independently-owned shops and boutiques.

Because of this character, as well as a diverse mix of market-rate housing options and quality public schools, as well as easy access to NJ Transit rail and bus lines, Routes 1, 287 and the New Jersey Turnpike, Highland Park has emerged as one of region’s most attractive communities for families moving into Central Jersey.

While the town has devoted significant resources toward building up its downtown and strengthening its long-term economic development prospects, part of that draw also results from Highland Park's proximity to other markets and commercial hubs. As a bedroom community of New Brunswick, Highland Park is a just a quick, scenic walk across the Albany Street Bridge, providing walkable (and bikeable) access to the Hub City's myriad restaurants, entertainment, and arts venues. A look toward the north allows for easy bus and auto access to the Shoppes at North Brunswick, as well as Menlo Park Mall in Edison.

And although convenience to area amenities is key, the town boasts a considerable "Buy Local" ethos that is behind most of the town's economic development policy-making decisions. Its public-private economic development nonprofit, Main Street Highland Park, is the marketing and economic development force that shines a light on the downtown - a successful campaign to get people out of their cars and walking, and shopping the downtown. Roughly 22,000 cars drive through Highland Park's main strip, Raritan Ave. (Route 27) and the town's marketing campaign, "Park It Highland Park," is illustrative of the philosophy of creating a walkable downtown that provides long-term, sustainable economic development benefits.

Throughout the year, Highland Park features several marquee events, including its annual arts festival - Arts in the Park - as well as its spring fair, a farmer's market that operates eight months out of the year, as well as weekly outdoor movies (pictured above). To wrap it all up, the town is enveloped by two of the county's finest parks, Donaldson Park and Johnson Park, replete with bike paths, jogging routes, playgrounds and majestic views of the Raritan River.

From Highland Park's industrial development in the 19th and 20th centuries that included such businesses as Johnson & Johnson, The John Waldron Machine Company, and the Janeway & Carpenter Wall-paper factory to its current commercial zones along both Raritan and Woodbridge Avenues that are filled with many small family businesses, the trends of local autonomy and control that shaped Highland Park in the past continue to this day.