Morris County is home to four important National Historic Landmarks. They include the Gustav Stickley homestead, the Morristown National Historical Park, the Thomas Nast home and the factory building where the telgraph was demonstrated successfully for the first time. We are very proud of our history of innovation which has contributed to the growth and development of America, especially in the arts and communications. The National Landmarks are The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, Morristown National Historical Park, Villa Fontana and Historic Speedwell.
333 Speedwell Avenue, Morristown, New Jersey 07960
The site is open April to June on Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and July to October Wednesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays Noon to 5 p.m.
This National Historic Landmark site preserves part of the Homestead Farm of Stephen Vail, owner and proprietor of the Speedwell Ironworks in the early 1800s. Historic Speedwell includes Stephen’s home and the Factory, where his son Alfred worked with Samuel F.B. Morse to perfect the telegraph in 1838. The site also includes three historic houses moved from the center of Morristown when they were threatened with demolition in the 1960s.
The site has been owned and operated by the Morris County Park Commission’s Division of Historic Sites since September 2002. The seven-acre site is bordered by the Whippany River which runs through a natural gorge into Speedwell Lake which was dammed to provide power to the Speedwell Ironworks. Stephen Vail, as well as his sons Alfred and George, were early American industrialists and inventors. This was a locally prominent family who ran one of the largest businesses in Morristown in the early 1800s.
Stephen was the sole owner of the Ironworks by 1815. Local blast furnaces supplied pig iron from iron ore mined from the surrounding hills. The Speedwell Ironworks specialized in industrial pieces such as pipes, tools, and parts needed in the budding railroad industry. The Ironworks made most of the machinery for the S.S. Savannah---the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Stephen purchased property on the eastern side of Speedwell, including a factory for cotton weaving. He was also appointed a judge. In time, the Factory lot and the adjoining farm became known as Judge Vail’s Homestead. Stephen’s son George took over the Ironworks, and later moved to Trenton as a New Jersey assemblyman, then to Washington, D.C. as a congressman. In 1858 he served as U.S. Consul to Glasgow. His handsome home, Willow Hall c. 1848, sits across from his father’s homestead, above Speedwell Lake. Like his father, George was appointed a local judge.
In 1837 Stephen’s son Alfred returned to Speedwell with Samuel F.B. Morse who he had met in New York City. With the Vail family’s support, the two worked in the Factory Building to develop and perfect the electro-magnetic telegraph, the first useful application of electricity for telecommunications. Their invention revolutionized communications, allowing instant communication across distances.
The Factory Building interpretation tells the story of early communications and has recently been restored and filled with new, state of the art, interactive exhibits. Historic Speedwell also features the Wheelhouse, the Granary, the 1849 Carriage House, the Vail Home, the Gabriel Ford Cottage, the L’Hommedieu House, and the Moses Estey House.
Park Fees and other Visitor Information
Historic Speedwell charges an entrance fee of $5.00 per adult, $4.00 for Seniors and $3.00 for children. School groups can be accommodated for $125 per class. Fees are paid at the L’Hommedieu House which serves as the site’s Visitors Center and gift shop. Guided tours are available of the Vail Home, Factory Building and Wheelhouse. The last tour begins at 3:30 p.m.
Begin your visit at the L’Hommedieu House Visitors Center, where you will find a changing exhibit gallery, the Friends of Historic Speedwell Gift Shop, and you will be able to watch the award-winning Orientation DVD – Speedwell A Uniquely American Story. The L’Hommedieu House is a 1820s historic home moved to the site in the late 1960s when its original downtown Morristown location was threatened.