Morris Township History


On March 25th, 1740, Morris Township was created by the State Legislature. The Township was named for then ­Governor Col. Lewis Morris who was the last Colonial governor of the State of New Jersey.  


Prior to the Revolutionary War, the local population grew to 250 persons, mostly farmers who left Elizabeth, NJ, Long Island, NY and Connecticut seeking land and resources.  The first schoolhouse was built in 1776 on Hanover Avenue.  One of the first taverns was on Hanover Avenue, known as Puff’s Tavern.  Remarkably, it still stands.


During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington brought the Continental Army twice in winter to the area.  In 1777, about 3,000 soldiers were in the area, mostly in Loantaka, billeting wherever they could, in fields and farmers’ barns. Washington stayed at Arnold’s Tavern on the Morristown Green.

For the second winter encampment (1779-1780), about 10,000 soldiers built a log cabin city at Jockey Hollow, five miles south of Morristown.  Washington stayed at the Ford Mansion in Morristown for nearly six months.  General Henry Knox, during the same winter, set up the Park of Artillery with 1,000 soldiers who set about repairing wagons, artillery, and other war necessities.


There was enough population growth between 1810 and 1814 that three one-room schoolhouses were built. The four schoolhouses, Mt. Kemble Avenue, Hanover Avenue, Mendham Road, and Washington Valley were closed in 1913. Then children were sent to schools in Morristown. Three of these schoolhouses remain and two are pictured here.


The early 1800s saw improvement in transportation as the Morris Turnpike was built, the Morris Canal was completed in 1819, and train service began in 1834, enabling township farmers to move their produce to the urban markets further east, and for city dwellers in overcrowded and industrialized centers to move west to Morris Township amongst other places.


In 1860, five years before the town separated from the township, there were 3,426 people living in Morristown and 2,598 in the township. Morris Township’s 256 farms produced wheat, rye, oats, corn, hay, tobacco, and butter. However, the township was not just farmland. The Speedwell Iron Works was in operation from 1815-­1876.  This is where, in 1838, Alfred Vail and Samuel Morse successfully demonstrated the electromagnetic telegraph for 400 observers.


Bricks were made on Mt. Kemble Avenue before 1800 by the Prudden family and then the Armstrong family.  Robert Foote purchased the brickyard in 1906, then built the Springbrook Country Club with the former clay pits becoming water hazards on the new golf course.

The Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth started the Academy of St. Elizabeth, at the behest of Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, in 1860. The academy was the first all-girls secondary school in the state. Later, in 1896, the Sisters opened the first four-­year college for women, the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station.

The Township continued to collect taxes from town and township residents for roads and schools after the town had separated from the Township on April 6, 1865.  The final separation of Morristown from Morris Township took place on February 18, 1895.  

An important era, particularly for Morris Township, began in 1870 and ended in 1929 with the Stock Market Crash. The Gilded Age, a term coined by Mark Twain, marked a period of incredible industrialization and economic growth, especially in the northern part of the country. New York City’s ultra-wealthy looked for summer retreats from their incredibly polluted metropolis. Morris Township with its rolling hills and fresh air was a desirable location. By 1896, an estimated 54 millionaires lived in the Morristown area. Six years later there were at least 91. They built their mansions along Madison Avenue, Normandy Heights Road, Normandy Parkway, Mendham Road and Sussex Avenue.


The Morris County Golf Club was founded by women in 1894.  The golf club held one of the earliest golf tournaments in the country in 1898. It still operates today, off Punch Bowl Road.  The first clubhouses burned down.  


The township didn’t have its own fire department until 1910.  The first firehouse was built on Mt. Kemble and was operational from 1914 to 1971.


When the Gilded Age mansions burned down or were razed, the farms became residential developments and the homes along the main thoroughfares became office buildings.  From 1940-­1990 the township’s population tripled, with the greatest growth between 1960 and 1970. During the 1960s, 16 estates were demolished and replaced with subdivisions.

Otto Kahn’s estate, Cedar Court, became Allied Signal Inc., then Honeywell, after being home to Dr.  Frederick Allen’s Physiatric Institute from 1920 to 1931.  Now it is a large townhome complex along Columbia Road.  Garden­-style apartments were also built in the township in the sixties: Madison Avenue’s Township Village, Lindsley Arms on Whippany Road, and Old Forge East and West on Speedwell Avenue. The first townhouses were built in 1981, at Liberty Green on Punch Bowl Road.


The first low-­income housing, The Oaks on Whippany Road, was built in 1984.  Senior housing was built in the 1990s between Hanover Avenue and Ketch Road.  In 1982 the 195-­room Madison Hotel opened in Convent Station. The Governor Morris Inn, now the Westin Governor Morris, opened at 1 Whippany.

Four county parks–Lewis Morris Park, Loantaka Brook Reservation, Seaton Hackney Farm and Sunrise Lake—were created within Morris Township’s boundaries between 1957 and 1979.  Additionally, former Gilded Age mansions were adapted and given a future:  the Willows at Fosterfields is now a living historical farm, Delbarton and Villa Walsh are schools, the Foote mansion is Loyola House of Retreats, Whippany Farm is now Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Twin Oaks is now the Morris Museum, and Gateways is the Morristown United Unitarian Church.

As of 2010, there were 22,306 people living in the township, which is 10,000 more than there were in 1960, and roughly 20,000 more than in 1900. The township, much like it was to the first settlers from eastern New Jersey and New England, is still a desirable place to live, work and play.  The township continues to appreciate its remaining historic properties, while also committed to smart growth.