Morristown Through the Years (History in Pictures)
Morristown, NJ, settled around 1715, host to George Washington and the Continental Army through the rough winter of 1779-80, and officially incorporated as a town in April of 1865 has undergone significant changes throughout the years.
Let’s examine how the landscape of our beloved town has changed over time (with the help of some old photos) by exploring vital historical landmarks in our neighborhood.
Bethel Church of Morristown:
The Bethel Church of Morristown was the first church to be established by African Americans in Morris County. The founding members, led by Mrs. Frances Jane Freeman Ray, withdrew their membership from the Presbyterian Church in 1840 when the church split into two congregations. Bethel was incorporated in 1843 under the jurisdiction of the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination, which was founded in 1816 by Bishop Richard Allen in the City of Philadelphia.
Of Special Note:
- The exposed beams running the entire length of the church are symbolic of a ship
- In 1912, founder Mrs. Frances Jane Freeman Ray was interred at Evergreen Cemetery at the age of 100
- In 1897, Estelle Walker, a member of Bethel, was the first African American female to graduate from Morristown High School
Fosterfields Living Historical Farm:
Tours begin May 5, 2022, and are offered Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The site is closed Sunday through Wednesday. Pre-register at tinyurl.com/Fosterfields2022.
The fascinating 213-acre Fosterfields Living Historical Farm transports visitors back to the late 1800s when it was Charles Foster’s gentleman’s farm. Costumed docents answer questions and do their farm chores the old-fashioned way while teaching visitors about raising animals and growing vegetables. Explore the 1920s farmhouse and the Foster family’s 1854 Gothic revival-style mansion, The Willows (which was built by Paul Revere’s grandson).
This New Jersey State and National Register Historic Site bridge the gap between history and modern life in an interactive way. The intriguing Caroline Foster, Charles’ daughter, donated several personal belongings to the museum, including her personal vintage car collection (now the interactive Transportation Exhibit).
Of Special Note:
- Caroline Foster lived here for 98 of her 102 years
- She hand-built the Temple of Abiding Peace on the property as a personal retreat space
- Charles Foster bought the farm from General Joseph Warren Revere, a grandson of Paul Revere
- Ms. Foster bequeathed her estate to the Morris County Park Commission at her death in 1979
This seven-acre National Historic Landmark has established its place in world history several times over. It was here in 1838, at the start of the Industrial Revolution, that Samuel F.B. Morse and Alfred Vail demonstrated a perfected electromagnetic telegraph to the public. The Factory Building (“The Birthplace of the Telegraph”) is now a three-story, interactive telecommunications museum.
Stephen Vail, proprietor of the Speedwell Iron Works from the early to mid-1800s, completely renovated his family estate in 1844. The home’s original furnishings, period antiques, and artwork make it easy for visitors to picture the Vail family’s life back then.
Historic Speedwell has several 18th-century buildings, some of which were moved to this seven-acre site after being saved from demolition. The exquisite park across the street has the remains of the ironworks, a waterfall, and a lake with a walking trail.
Of Special Note:
- The Visitors Center has an exhibit on the S.S. Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean
- Many of the ship’s parts were designed at Speedwell Iron Works by iron master Stephen Vail
- There are guided tours, special events, programs, and exhibits at this bucolic and peaceful location
- Managed by the Morris County Park Commission
Loyola Jesuit Center:
Loyola Jesuit Center is a private spiritual retreat center on a leafy hill overlooking the town of Morristown. The Center has been providing retreats since 1927. Housed in a 1906 Gilded Age mansion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, the formal gardens behind the mansion are also a respite from busy lives.
The 20 serene acres of Loyola Jesuit Center provide a welcoming, peaceful oasis where visitors can unplug from the distractions of the world and plug into their relationship with God. Loyola has a wide variety of offerings, based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, designed to meet people where they are now in their spiritual lives and move them deeper as they are called and ready.
Of Special Note:
- The main mansion was originally Spring Brook House, the home of the Robert Dumont Foote family was built c. 1906
- The first retreat took place at Loyola over the weekend of June 10, 1927, with 30 men who formed Loyola’s retreat group number one – the Pioneers group.
- Daily mass is offered Monday – Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Macculloch Hall Historical Museum & Gardens:
George Macculloch, the father of the Morris Canal, built this 20-room Federal-style mansion in 1810 on his 26-acre farm and orchard. It is the oldest brick residence on its original foundation in Morristown. Today, the Macculloch Museum is home to an unprecedented, unique collection of original prints and drawings by Thomas Nast, the famous 19th-century political cartoonist. (Nast, who created the image of Santa Claus as we know him today, once lived across the street).
Explore the museum’s 10 preserved historical rooms that showcase six generations of the family’s beautiful 18th and 19th-century furnishings. The impressive gardens behind the house are said to be the first in Morris County, dating back to the early 1800s. There are 45 varieties of roses, some unique to this garden.
Of Special Note:
- The museum has the first known modern image of “jolly” Santa Claus by Thomas Nast
- The wisteria trellised over the back porch was a gift from Comm. Matthew Perry on his return from Japan in 1857
- Local folklore claims the first Jersey tomato was grown here in 1829 by George Macculloch
Morristown & Morris Township Library:
The Library has been part of the community’s cultural fabric since 1792 when its first circulating library had 96 books for 97 members. Today, the Library holds more than 250,000 volumes of books, DVDs, audio, eBooks, eMagazines, periodicals, streaming services, a museum pass program, a lending Library of ‘Things’, and other materials.
The Library hosts regular programming for children and adults and its historic building features WWI memorial ironwork by Samuel Yellin, a huge golden eagle from the former library and the former Morristown Armory, stained glass window medallions, and a monumental 8’ x 12’ 1867 painting by local 19th century Morristown resident and political cartoonist Thomas Nast. The North Jersey History and Genealogy Center, based in the Library, is an important local resource with free genealogical databases and reference books.
Of Special Note:
- The stained glass medallions depict Columbus’s ships and the monograms of five American poets
- The eagle in the Reference Room was the only remainder from the Morristown Armory fire of 1920
On March 25th, 1740, Morris Township was created by the State Legislature. The Township was named for then-Colonial 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 and the children were sent to attend Morristown schools.
The 1830s saw improvement in transportation as the Morris Turnpike was built, the Morris Canal was completed in 1831, and seven 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.
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, Morris Township.
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.
This was the location of New Jersey’s first mint, operating from 1786 through 1788 on property long known as Wheatsheaf Farms (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 horsehead, year, and the words “NOVA CAESAREA” on the other side.
Things to do:
Morris Township is home to many parks and historic sites. The Morris County Park Commission runs many of them including Mennen Sports Arena, Lewis Morris Park, Seaton Hackney Stables, the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Loantaka Park, Patriots Path, Fosterfields Living Historical Farm, and Central Park of Morris County.
The township’s Rec Department offers many events throughout the year, including summer concerts at the Ginty gazebo. You can swim at Ginty or Streeter Pool and at Sunrise Lake at Lewis Morris Park in the summer months.
Morris Township is also home to the Morris Museum, New Jersey’s second largest museum, located in a beautiful Gilded Age mansion. The museum is also New Jersey’s only Smithsonian Affiliate. Nearby is the Folk Project, also in a Gilded Age mansion. They present concerts on Friday evenings and contra dancing on Saturdays.
The Westin Governor Morris Hotel in Morris Township is home to one of New Jersey’s best restaurants, the Blue Morel.
Morris Plains Museum:
Follow Morris Plains’ journey from its humble origins in 1685 as one sawmill to the bustling suburb it is today. The Morris Plains Museum covers the town’s three centuries of local history through its collections of permanent and rotating exhibits, costumes, maps, artwork, Native American artifacts, newspaper microfilms, and recorded oral histories. The museum also has original editions of the Farmer’s Almanac, which was headquartered in Morris Plains from 1907 to 1933.
- View caricatures from political cartoonist Homer Davenport, who moved to Morris Plains in the early 1900s.
- Learn about local blacksmith Lawrence Monahan’s band (established in 1888) and see their instruments, uniforms, sheet music, and photographs.
- Take in the unusual history of Greystone Park (formerly the New Jersey State Insane Asylum), which opened in 1887 on 400 acres of farmland. Morris Plains Museum
The museum also offers guided tours and a variety of educational programs throughout the year.
Of Special Note:
• The museum was founded in 1974 and originally located in the Morris Plains Library
• Julia Beers, born in 1862, was the town’s first historian and its first librarian
Morris County Historical Society at Acorn Hall:
Acorn Hall, the headquarters of the Morris County Historical Society, was built in 1853 as a modest private residence but was modified and enlarged by Augustus Crane between 1857 and 1860.
Acorn Hall passed through four generations of Crane and Crane-Hone families until it was donated, fully furnished, to MCHS in 1971. Noted for its original 19th-century furniture, finishes, and fine and decorative arts, Acorn Hall is one of the best-preserved examples of 19th-century cultural history in NJ.
Acorn Hall also houses two galleries where MCHS displays rotating exhibits on local and NJ history featuring the organization’s collections and archival holdings.
The Morris County Historical Society recently unpacked an artistic gem hiding in plain sight — a stained-glass window crafted by the New York studio that once rivaled Louis Comfort Tiffany’s.
The Gallery Gift Shop features books on Morris County and local history, reproductions of Morris County’s earliest maps and atlas prints, prints of local historic landmarks signed by Lucille Hobbie, and unique gift items.
The Morris County Historical Society regularly hosts cultural exhibits and special programming at Acorn Hall.
Of Special Note:
- Acorn Hall now reflects its 1860-1880 paint scheme in colors true to the Augustus Crane period
- Acorn Hall is on the NJ Women’s Heritage Trail honoring its last resident, preservationist Mary Crane Hone
- Acorn Hall was featured on the cover of Old House Journal magazine, as well as in the Tim Janis movie, Buttons
Morristown National Historical Park:
Few places evoke the spirit of patriotism and independence, represent individual and collective sacrifice, or demonstrate the resolve, tenacity, and determination of the people of the United States to be free as does Morristown.
The historic landscapes, structures, objects, and archeological and natural resources at Morristown are tangible links to one of the most defining events in our nation’s history. Here the Continental Army under Washington’s leadership emerged as a cohesive and disciplined fighting force. The Morristown experience is fundamental to American history and remains a source of inspiration for Americans and the world.
Ford Mansion at Washington’s Headquarters
The well-preserved Ford Mansion was originally built in 1772. It served as General Washington’s military headquarters for six months during the winter of 1779-80. Today, visitors can tour the mansion and grounds to view the home’s intricate furnishings and astounding 18th-century décor much as it was in Washington’s days.
The Ford Mansion is one of the park’s two original structures. This historic mansion is set on 16 acres of land along with Washington’s Headquarters Museum.
Washington’s Headquarters Museum
The winter of 1779-80, the most severe of the century, brought great suffering to the Continental Army in Morristown. General Washington demonstrated his leadership by holding the army together and creating a cohesive, united front. It was one of his greatest triumphs, and history fans can learn all about it at Washington’s Headquarters Museum through an introductory video and four exhibit galleries, including the interactive “Discover History Center.”
Jockey Hollow Visitor Center
There are approximately 27 miles of walking trails in beautiful Jockey Hollow. The staffed visitor center has a furnished full-scale soldier hut display, information on the natural aspects of the park, and a large wall mural depicting the 1779-1780 encampment. Visitors can then hike up to the replica soldier huts to see them in person.
The 1750 Wick House in Jockey Hollow is one of two original structures in the park. The Wick House is set up today just as it was when it served as the headquarters for Major General Arthur St. Clair in the winter of 1779-80.
Washington’s troops built this fort in the spring of 1777, on what was then called Kinney’s Hill. Its purpose was to protect the main roads leading north and south in order to preserve Morristown as a military storehouse. Seven exhibits and a small monument now commemorate the structure, which was never used.
Cross Estate Gardens
During the American Revolution, this area hosted the New Jersey Brigade during the winter encampment of 1779-80. Part of the National Park, the Cross Estate Gardens interpret the early 20th-century home and gardens of Julia Appleton Newbold Cross who hired landscape architect Clarence Fowler who redesigned this serene property.
Experience the grandeur of a lifestyle that no longer exists by walking through these formal, walled gardens. Take the path bordered by mountain laurel and stroll beneath the wisteria-covered pergola for a perfect afternoon.
Of Special Note:
- In addition to George Washington, the Ford Mansion was also home to Alexander Hamilton in 1779-80
- Watch Morristown – Where America Survived to learn more about The Hard Winter of 1779-80
- The exact origin of the nickname “Fort Nonsense” is unknown
- Washington’s army cut down 600 acres of trees on the Wick property to build huts and use as firewood
- Morristown NHP is an anchor location for the Crossroads of the American Revolution Natl Heritage Area
Passaic River Coalition at Willow Hall:
The Passaic River Coalition is an environmental nonprofit organization focusing on the watershed and lands of the Passaic River Basin communities, serving the entire length of the Passaic River, from the Highlands to Newark Bay.
The coalition is actively engaged in the historic preservation of Willow Hall, George Vail’s 1848 historic country villa. Willow Hall is on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.
Willow Hall is open for tours by appointment (email@example.com), as well as public event offerings on environmental and historical topics. The grounds, part of Green Acre's open space, are open for public passive recreation from dawn to dusk.
Of Special Note:
- Willow Hall is one of the earliest NJ examples of a cottage design by architect Andrew Jackson Downing
- The building is Italianate with Gothic Revival elements
- Willow Hall is nestled on 6.1 acres along the banks of the Whippany River
The Morristown Green:
The Morristown Green has been the heart and soul of Morristown since it began appearing on maps in 1715. Over the course of its fascinating 300-year history, The Green has been a military parade ground, a jail, a public execution ground, and common pastureland, but today it is best known as a favorite gathering place for Morristown residents and visitors.
Several statues within the park depict Morristown’s historical importance. One features George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Marquis de Lafayette meeting to discuss the French tall ships King Louis XVI of France sent to support the fight for independence. Another serves as a memorial to the Civil War.
Of Special Note:
- The park is privately owned and operated by the Trustees of the Morristown Green
- Site of Washington’s first encampment in the winter of 1777, when he stayed at Arnold’s Tavern
- The park underwent an award-winning renovation in 2007
- The Morristown Green is one of only two remaining “greens” in NJ; the other green is in Newark
The Stickley Museum:
The Stickley Museum and grounds remain temporarily closed. They invite you to experience the museum online. Please explore the collections and current online exhibition “Things Wrought by the United Crafts: An Expression of Modern Life.” Or check out a variety of ongoing classes (including many archived courses) and Member programs.
This 30-acre National Historic Landmark is the centerpiece of Gustav Stickley’s early 20th-century country estate. “The Log House,” as it came to be known, is one of the most significant landmarks of the American Arts and Crafts movement.
The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms has been restored to its original 1911 appearance, and it now serves as a historic house museum. It is the only house Stickley ever designed and lived in with his family.
Stickley combined the roles of designer and manufacturer, architect, publisher, philosopher, and social critic. He is best known today for his straightforward furniture, sometimes called “mission” or “Craftsman” furniture.
The park-like estate includes meadows, wooded areas, walking trails, a pond and stream, and several support buildings including a massive stone stable, three cottages, a calf barn, and the ruins of a dairy barn.
Guided tours take visitors through Stickley’s dream home and provide an in-depth look at his life and work. The museum also offers a variety of educational programs throughout the year including lectures, workshops, family days, and holiday programs. The last tour begins at 3:15 pm each day.
Of Special Note:
- The North Cottage, an original Stickley bungalow, allows visitors to fully experience Arts and Crafts living through touchable furnishings
- Gustav Stickley, an artistic visionary of his time, is best known as the creator of Craftsman (Mission) style furniture
- Video available at the museum, view the: Trailer
- Learn More about the 30th-anniversary celebrations
Several Revolutionary names came through the 1760 Schuyler-Hamilton House (originally the Jabez Campfield House), but it is probably best known for the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Schuyler – A Match Made in Morristown!
During the winter of 1779-80, the household included Dr. John Cochran, who was assigned to General Washington. Dr. Cochran’s wife knew her niece Betsy had met Hamilton the previous summer, so when she learned he was stationed at Washington’s Headquarters, she had her niece move in. By April, she and Hamilton had done enough courting at the Campfield House to “reach an understanding.”
Since 1923, the house has been owned and preserved by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Visitors can learn about Colonial-era medical practices inside the doctor’s office. The museum has several antiques, paintings, and historical memorabilia on display.
Of Special Note:
• Since 1923, the house has been owned and preserved by the local Daughters of the American Revolution
• The Campfield family lived here for 56 years
• Betsy Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton married in Albany, NY in December 1780
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church:
St. Peter’s Church, constructed over 24 years beginning in 1887 by the firm McKim, Mead, and White, is one of the finest examples of neo-gothic architecture in the United States. Modeled on classic English-medieval parish churches. The Norman-style bell tower has 119 steps, and a carillon with 49 bells–one of the largest in the country.
The altar, installed in 1892, is dedicated to Bishop George Doane, the Second Bishop of New Jersey. In the chapel, a banner depicting “The Good Shepherd” is based on the one in the Catacombs of Rome; the background fabric is from a parishioner’s wedding dress. The Italian marble altar was installed in 1926, and the unique niche pulpit is a similar style to many 14th-century English parish churches.
A 19th-century Tiffany-stained glass window was installed in 1890. Since it didn’t complement the Gothic-style windows, St. Peter’s hired the Whitefriars Glass Works in England, who followed 14th-century glass production methods and created windows reminiscent of the Golden Window of Wells, widely recognized as the finest example of 14th-century stained glass. The windows were installed from 1910 to 1926.
Of Special Note:
- The church’s historic graveyard dates back to the 1830s
- Each of the tower’s 47 bells have come from England, starting in 1922
- Listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, part of the Morristown Historic District
The Presbyterian Church in Morristown:
The Presbyterian Church in Morristown began as a gathering place along the Morristown Green in 1733. King George II of England issued the church a charter in 1738 and by 1742, Reverend Timothy Johnes was enlisted as its first pastor.
When a smallpox epidemic broke out during the Revolutionary War, the church served as a hospital. A window in the church sanctuary depicts the time George Washington received the Sacrament of Holy Communion during an outdoor service. In 1816, the church deeded land to The Trustees of the Green for the purpose of creating a common area, which is now the Morristown Green.
The graveyard, which was officially founded in 1733, has 1,640 interments on record, the earliest dating back to 1731, including 71 Revolutionary War soldiers. The graveyard serves as a valuable historic record of local Colonial-era life.
Of Special Note:
- In 1840, a controversy split the congregation, resulting in the South Street Presbyterian Church in 1841
- In 1816, the church deeded land to a group of trustees for the purpose of creating a common area
- The graveyard contains many fine and varied examples of tombstone art spanning 300 years
The Seeing Eye:
The Seeing Eye is the oldest existing guide dog school in the world. The organization was established in 1929 and headquartered in Morris County as of 1931. Its mission is to enhance the independence, dignity, and self-confidence of blind people through the use of Seeing Eye dogs. The organization breeds, raises, and trains puppies to become guide dogs, while also training the blind in how to handle and care for their dogs.
The Seeing Eye welcomes students, groups, and individuals to visit the campus and learn more about the world’s oldest guide dog school through the Seeing Eye Public Visit Program. The program includes a presentation by an instructor with a Seeing Eye® dog and a question-and-answer session with a Seeing Eye graduate.
Public programs are held every Thursday and once a month on Saturdays. The program begins at 10 a.m. and concludes at approximately 11:45 a.m. Reservations are required. While there is no fee to visit, donations are greatly appreciated. To book a tour, please call 973-539-4425 ext. 1775, or email visit@SeeingEye.org to inquire about available dates and make a reservation.
Of Special Note:
- The Seeing Eye breeds German shepherds, Labrador, and Golden retrievers, and Labrador Golden crosses
- Poodles are bred for students who are allergic to shedding dogs
- The Seeing Eye supports and conducts research on canine health and development
The Town of Morristown:
With the Historic Morristown Green serving as its community core location, Morristown is a socially and ethnically diverse community offering a wide range of amenities to residents and visitors alike.
A state-designated “regional center,” Morristown is the County Seat of Morris County and the home of both Morristown Memorial Hospital and a wide range of cultural facilities including MPAC-the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
George Washington really did sleep here; Morristown served as his headquarters for two different winter encampments during the Revolutionary War (1777 and 1779-80). For this and other reasons, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Morristown one of its “Dozen Distinctive Destinations.”
George Washington put Morristown on the map in January 1777, when he and 3,000 troops marched into the then-village of 250 people and made it his winter headquarters. He stayed in Jacob Arnold’s tavern while his troops stayed in villagers’ homes and barns. He returned to Morristown for the winter of 1779-80 with 13,000 soldiers, who survived a brutal winter in huts in Jockey Hollow while Washington stayed at the Ford Mansion in town. Both sites are part of the Morristown National Historical Park (NPS).
Things to do:
In and around Morristown are a wide number of historic attractions and museums– Washington’s Headquarters, Fort Nonsense, the Schuyler-Hamilton House, the Morris Museum, Macculloch Hall Museum and Gardens, the Morris County Historical Society at Acorn Hall, Historic Speedwell, Fosterfields Living Historical Farm, Frelinghuysen Arboretum and the Morris Museum. Try some of the 75 fine restaurants and bars.
Annual events bring thousands to Morristown, such as the Mayor’s Jazz and Blues Festival in August, the Morristown Festival in the fall, and the month-long winter holiday festivities between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Morristown rings in the new year with First Morris-a night dedicated to the arts and family entertainment.
There is also MPAC, a performing arts venue with over 200 events each year. Morris Arts, a local arts organization, sponsors summer concerts on the Green, Meet Me in Morristown in the summer, and Pumpkin Illumination for Halloween. A relatively new event takes place in October-the Morristown Festival of Books, a one-day opportunity to hear and meet renowned authors.
The Tourism Bureau offers historic walking tours from May to October and July 4th programming with its partner, Morristown National Historical Park. [Morris Tourism's Calendar of Events]
Morristown is known as “The Military Capital of the American Revolution”.
Morristown Minute has been approved for the 2022 Local News Fund!*
Our reporters will be dedicating time and resources to investigating the roadblocks to mental health accessibility in our town.
*The 2022 Local News Fund is a program administered by the Local Media Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with the Local Media Association. The program’s purpose is to allow independent and family-owned news organizations to solicit tax-deductible donations from their communities for journalism projects focusing on critical local issues. Contributions to this program are tax-deductible to the full extent of U.S. law; please consult a tax advisor for details.