On March 25th, 1740, Morris Township was created by the State Legislature. The Township was named for then-Governor Col. Lewis Morris. The first schoolhouse was built in 1776. 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.
The 1830s saw improvement in transportation as the Morris Turnpike was built, the Morris Canal was completed in 1834, and two years later, the Morris and Essex Railroad opened, 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.
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. Where in 1838, Alfred Vail and Samuel Morse sent the first telegram. Bricks were made on Mt. Kemble Avenue before 1800, until Robert Foote purchased the brickyard in 1906 then built the Springbrook Country Club.
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 to 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.
Delbarton "Old Main"
One of the results of this change in Morris Township’s population was the Morris County Golf Club, created by women in 1894. The golf club held one of the earliest golf tournaments in the country in 1898.The millionaires brought the first cars to the township and had their private and public roads leading to them paved.
In 1899, the township hall, 24 by 30 feet and one story tall with a 12-foot ceiling was built on Mendham Road, near Burnham Park pond. The township didn’t have its own fire department until 1910.In 1922, the township hired its first uniformed police officer, Thomas Dwyer. However, there were constables in the township as early as 1777.
In 1940 there were still many farms and only a few businesses, like those in the Hillside and Fairchild sections. The police department only had two police cars and they drove 44,584 miles.
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 became Allied Signal Inc. after being home to Dr. George Marshall Allen’s Physiatric Institute from 1920 to 1931.
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 off of Punch Bowl Road. The first low-income housing, The Oaks on Whippany Road, was provided in 1984. This growth means there are no more farms.
Honeywell, bought Allied Signal Corporation in June 1999. Mennen moved to Morris Township, from Newark, NJ, in 1953 and expanded its complex in 1957. Mennen employed 1,000 at its Morris Township headquarters when it was sold to Colgate Palmolive at the end of 1992. The first William G. Mennen Sports Arena was built in 1973 on land donated by Mennen Company and named for its former executive.
An August 1976 Daily Record article titled The Millionaires Now Are Companies, Not People described the changes in property ownership along Madison Avenue particularly near Punchbowl Road.According to a Jan. 29, 1978, Daily Record article titled Morris Township Looks to ‘Boom Year’ in ‘78, the township expected to receive plans for 92 housing lots in the Wheatsheaf neighborhood off of Sussex Avenue. The township expected to have 350 new homes built on James Street and Blackberry Lane in 1978, and another 90 single-family homes off Blackberry Lane built on the Easley tract.
The year 1982 saw the opening of the 195-room Madison Hotel, then owned by Peter, Richard and Bob Keller.
The Madison Hotel
First Energy Corporation, formally known as GPU and before that as Jersey Central Power and Light, is another major employer in the township.With the population and commercial growth of the township came the township’s first independent bank in 1969 as the First Morris Bank at Madison Avenue and Kahn Road opened for business. The bank moved to 250 Madison Ave., in July 1970.
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.
Seaton Hackney Stables
In 1990, the Township was about 58 percent residential, 29 percent commercial and 13 percent parks and open space. Route 287, completed in the 1980s, has five entrances and exits in the township. 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 last decade and a half has seen some change in Morris Township. However, 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.
This was the location of New Jersey’s first mint, operating in 1786 through 1788 on property long known as Wheatsheaf Farms, but originally named “Solitude,” when a skilled British machinist named Walter Mould was making money. The owner of the property was John Cleves Symmes, a member of the state Supreme Court and the father of the wife of U.S. President William Henry Harrison. Silver and copper were mined there and later became coins called penze or horsehead pennies, with a shield and the Latin words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” on one side and a horse head, year and the words “NOVA CAESAREA” on the other side.