Created by an Act of the State Legislature on March 15, 1738 separating it from Hunterdon County, the county derived its name from Colonel Lewis Morris, then Governor of the Province of NJ. The county is known as the "Military Capital of the Revolution", and each of its 39 municipalities played some part in the war effort and contains something of historical importance to this day. Preserving this proud heritage falls to the Morris County Heritage Commission, Historical Society and numerous other groups.
In 1680 Sir George Carteret paid the native Lenape the equivalent of $55 for land that included the area of Chatham. John Day established a tavern that became well-known among travelers. There were several mills south of the Day’s Bridge and the village became a center for residents of outlying areas. People came to barter goods, have their grain ground, and lumber sawed. They visited the all-important blacksmith to have their horses shod and they attended to church.
By 1750 the main street of Day’s Bridge stretched for three-quarters of a mile along the river. Names associated with Chatham appear: Samuel Lum, Nathaniel Bonnell and David Vanderpoel. These men settled in the area before the Revolutionary War and made substantial contributions to Chatham’s early history.
On November 23, 1773, the following notice appeared in the New York Journal or Advertiser:
“Whereas the inhabitants of a certain village, situated at Passaic River, on the main road that leads from Elizabeth-Town to Morris-Town, found themselves under a considerable disadvantage from the place’s not having a particular name.... the principal freeholders and inhabitants assembled together on Friday, the 19th inst., and unanimously agreed to call it Chatham.”
The new name was chosen to honor the English Prime Minister, Sir William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. Pitt was revered as a champion of the American colonies in their struggle with England because he opposed King George Ill’s tax policies. The name Chatham means “a village of cottages,” and the area was just that as the Revolutionary War began.
Growth During the Nineteenth Century
With the war ended, Chatham settled back into peaceful pursuits. The population grew, but the economic base of the town, which stretched west and south for considerable distance, remained the bridge and the mills along the river.
In 1867, a wealthy industrialist, George Shepard Page, took Chatham by storm. He bought several hundred acres of land, including the Bonnell family mill sites on the Passaic River. He built a mansion on Hillside Avenue, known as Dixiedale. Page converted old mill sites to roofing paper factories and persuaded the Lackawanna Railroad to stop at his factories. He also convinced the U.S. Government that Stanley, as his land was known, needed a post office with G. S. Page as the first postmaster.
The character of Chatham Borough still reflects its early roots. The town grew as real estate developers purchased land and built homes for commuters in the early part of the 20th Century. Within the Borough’s 2.4 square miles, there are residential areas reflecting the wide range of housing styles popular in America in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a charming central business district on Main Street,
There are numerous annual events which Chatham Borough celebrates and preserves its small town character, including the Fishing Derby at Kelley’s Pond, the Fishawack Festival, the Fourth of July Parade, and the Green Fair. In addition, a Farmers’ Market operates at the Railroad Station from late June to mid-November, providing shoppers with the opportunity to buy New Jersey grown produce, locally-baked goods, meat and fish, and other foodstuffs.
Photo of Great Swamp