Florham Park

NJ Counties Online - Serving Your Community

Thursday November 3, 2005

NJ Morris Home
2004 Grad Grid
Photo Feature
Photo Feature 2
Feature Archives
Local Sports
Game of Week
Pro Sports
Sports Archives
Arts & Entertain
Dining Out
Recipe Exchange
Local Business
Real Estate
Contact Us
Ad Rates
Events Calendar
Sports Calendar


Florham Park Official Home Page

Florham Park Public Library

Fairleigh Dickinson University

College of Saint Elizabeth

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Calvary Presbyterian Church (USA)

To better serve you

We invite all readers to suggest related links or public information that will inform and improve the content of our pages.

e-mail us:

webmaster@njcountiesonline.c om


Florham Park History
As seen in the Florham Park Centennial Book
by Eleanor Weis

Although we are celebrating our 100th year as the Borough of Florham Park, this community's history goes back in time to 1708. That year, young John
Campfield of Newark ventured west on horseback and settled here, on what is now Hanover Road, with only Lenni Lenape Indians as his neighbors. At about the same time, John Hopping arrived from Elizabethtown with his family, a daughter and eight sons, all of whom settled here. The growing settlement was always a legal part of a larger township; first Whippany; then Hanover Township (1718) which ran from the Passaic to the Delaware River; then Chatham Township (1806) until Florham Park was founded on March 20, 1899. From 1708 to 1899, the settlement here was known by many different names. Hoppingtown was the first, due, I'm sure, to the numerical superiority of John Hopping's eight sons and their progeny. In 1802, the townspeople, seeking a fresh image, chose the name Columbia. When the population reached 350 in 1877, the people changed the name to Afton (from the song "Flo Gently Sweet
Afton") so they could have their own post office. It opened April 7, 1879 in George Lanning's store at 195 Ridgedale Avenue. Lanning was the first Postmaster. After the Revolutionary War, which visited great hardships on the people here, the little settlement grew into a prosperous farming community. Broom corn became a staple crop and almost every farm house was turned into a broom
factory during the winter months.High quality brooms became our trademark and the doorsteps of Newark, New York City and Trenton, as well as the surrounding rural areas, were swept clean with Hoppingtown brooms. As a matter of fact, Hoppingtown was better known as Broomtown around the end of the 18th Century. In the first half of the 1800's, flat wire brooms were made here with such enthusiasm that for a long time they brought more money into the lower part of the County than any other branch of business. Obviously, the farmers of Columbia were great entrepreneurs. From 1770 to 1870, the second most prosperous industry here was the making of whisky, rum, and hard cider. At first, the stills were operated by the preachers to augment their meager salaries. Liquor was considered to be one of the good creatures of God and was used by the people generally. By 1840, according to James H. Woodruff, a prominent resident of Columbia and a deacon of the Hanover Presbyterian Church, "drunkenness in and out of the Church was the greatest sin of the times." The whole community, with rare exceptions, were unwittingly being trained for drunkards. Though they
lamented drunkenness and despised the drunkard, they were filling up the ranks themselves. In 1870, this problem was solved when Chatham Township,
including Columbia, voted to go "dry," in spite of much lobbying by the large liquor companies.
A few years after the "dry" vote, John Whitehead in his book, The Passaic Valley, N.J., described Afton as "a quiet peaceful neighborhood, where are lived contented lives and where the saloon is not permitted to open its doors and invite the unwary to scenes of vice and dissipation. The people are moral, industrious, church going, God fearing, and law abiding." By 1890, although farming was still prevalent here, other industries were flourishing. Edgar Hopping, the White Brothers, Arthur Ruzika, Charles Totty, William Vert, Frank Abrahamson and others had hundreds of thousands of  square feet of greenhouses filled with roses which they shipped around the world. A prosperous paper box factory on Greenwood Avenue run by Florham Park's first Mayor, Jesse S. Keys, produced 50,000 boxes a day. A carriage-making business started in 1880 and operated by William Tunis, became one of the leading industries after the turn of the Century. The Hancock Cider Mill and Nathan Felch's dealership in McCormick & Deering farm equipment, all prospered in this bustling community. During the last two decades of the 19th Century, the southeastern part of Morris County became an attractive vacation resort for New York's high society millionaires. Although Morristown was the hub of their extravagant estates, Afton attracted the Hamilton McKeon Twomblys who were reported to be worth $70,000,000. The Twombleys were the center of the lavish social life of the 200 millionaires who made Morris County their home during the spring and fall seasons. Hamilton McKeon Twombly and his wife, Florence Vanderbilt (frequently referred to as the "uncrowned dowager queen of American Society"), built their 100 room mansion on 840 acres in Afton. Although the entrance to the estate "Florham" was in Madison, all of the buildings, the 750 acre farm, the gardens, and the greenhouses were in Afton. Today, the mansion and surrounding buildings belong to Fairleigh Dickinson University and the farm area to Exxon Research. In 1883, before the Twomblys settled here, Dr. Leslie D. Ward, a Newark millionaire who was born in Columbia in 1845, purchased over 1,000 acres of rolling hills in Afton and built a summer home here. It burned in 1895, and he replaced it with a lovely three story stone mansion which in later years became Braidburn County Club, forerunner of Brooklake Country Club. Dr. Ward, who helped establish the Prudential Insurance Co., lived quietly on his "Brooklake Park" estate where he had a 12 acre lake for boating and fishing, a farm, and hundreds of acres of virgin forests where wild game was plentiful. Dr. and Mrs. Ward did not participate in the high flying social activities of the New York "400". Both the Wards and Twomblys opened parts
of their estates to the public. These two very different millionaires were supporters of many town projects but they felt their Chatham Township property taxes were too burdensome. The Twomblys actually paid $7,802, including the County Tax of $3,839, and the Wards who were only taxed on the private part of their estate, paid $656, with $317 going into County coffers. Looking for a better deal, they petitioned the State of New Jersey to create their "own" town. The Governor signed the bill making the Borough "legal" on March 20, 1899, and the Mayor and Council met that same night. "Where had these local office holders come from, you might ask?" Before the Borough was even created, the eager residents of Afton, after much politicking, nominated and elected a bi-partisan mayor and council that were destined to serve as the only illegal government the Borough would ever have. The name the residents chose was a blend of Florence and Hamilton Twombly - "Florham"-and "Park" came from Dr. Ward's "Brooklake Park". The Twomblys, to celebrate the acceptance of this name, opened "Florham" to the
people of the Borough for a feast, fireworks and music on July 4, 1899. Over 600 people attended, eating food fit for royalty and watching $2,000 worth of fireworks light up the sky. The new Borough had a population of 800 with 170 legal voters. The assessed valuation was $813,000, including the two estates, and the tax rate was $1.69 per $100 assessed value. So the two millionaires apparently succeeded in their mission to seek a better tax rate; the new Borough became known as "the wealthiest town with the lowest tax rate in America." This paradise didn't last very long however. In 1906, the County decided Florham Park's assessments were out of line and increased them by 100%. The shocked Council appealed the case to the County Tax Board and won a eduction of 50% for the Twombly and Ward estates and a 10% increase for the rest of the residents. Assessment inequities continued to plague the Borough through half of the 20th century. Finally, after 190 years this busy community had become an independent Borough not withstanding that "there was no large center of population or shopping area, no municipal building, no railroad, no water system, no electricity, no telephone exchange, and no high school." What it did have was an active Volunteer Fire Department and truck house; Little Red School House; Calvary Chapel; Post Office; and St. Elizabeth's College, which opened its doors in 1899; St. Elizabeth's Academy, which predated Florham Park by many years; two stores; and all the industries mentioned earlier. It also had a unique population of industrious and creative people who made Florham Park a very special town. In 1907, Lloyd W. Smith, a millionaire investment banker who was born here in 1870, purchased Boxwood Hall (still standing on Smithfield Lane) and 220 acres on both sides of Ridgedale Avenue. He ran a prosperous farm with abundant peach and apple orchards as well as strawberries, raspberries and vegetables, which he marketed. Some of his apple trees can still be found throughout the Afton Village and Briarwood sections of town. Smith was one of the Borough's most remarkable citizens and he played an important role in both the County and National arenas. As early as 1740, Hoppingtown had its own schoolhouse. Over the years and through all the name changes, the frugal residents battled against every improvement or addition to the school system. Fortunately, in the end, the desire for a good education always won out. In 1922, a building boom stunned the "old timers" after 450 acres of the Ward Estate were sold for development. Although much of the land was swampy, it was touted as the "Colorado of the East" with 435 "little estates for less than rent." The roaring 20s and prohibition hit the Borough with a bang and illegal stills, frequently located in greenhouses, flourished. A sophisticated night club,
"Canary Cottage", originally started by Dr. Ward's nephew, drew famous guests from far and wide. Later, it became part of a string of roadhouses operated by a loosely-formed crime syndicate. As the building boom continued, Florham Park still maintained its rural status with numerous dairy and poultry farms. A wild animal farm called "Scotsward" on Hanover Road (currently Prudential Insurance Co.) supplied wild animals to zoos and circuses. It also provided considerable excitement to the community when a huge kangaroo escaped and startled motorists on Hanover Road after dark.
As it grew, Florham Park gradually became a 'bedroom community' with a majority of breadwinners commuting daily to Newark and New York via the railroad. By 1956, the Planning Board's careful zoning for industrial areas began to attract blue chip corporations starting with Automatic Switch, Strahman Valve, and Esso (Exxon) Research and Engineering. Other well known industries such as Ohaus Scale, Prudential Insurance Co., Metropolitan Life, and Sandoz Data
Center made up a substantial industrial base. Over the years the, Borough Government, Fire Department, and First Aid Squad were dependent on willing and able volunteers to keep things running. Those volunteers are largely responsible for making this community such a special place. Today Florham Park has a population of 8521, exclusive of the two college populations, and a total of 6064 registered voters. Today, the tax assessment for the Borough is $1,358,871,000, and the tax rate is $1.64 per $100 of assessed value - five cents less than in 1899! Florham Park, in its first 100 years, has blossomed into a well rounded
suburban community having a lovely municipal building; an excellent library; two well-equipped fire houses; a water utility system; three public schools and Holy Family School; a municipal pool; extensive recreational facilities; and six houses of worship. It is host to Fairleigh Dickinson University and St. Elizabeth's College and Academy; four shopping centers; two assisted-living facilities; a post office; seven banks; and hundreds of industries, both large and small. Most importantly, it still has active volunteers who keep the wheels turning and keep Florham Park a very special place in which to live.

In recognition of creativity, integrity and excellence on the Web

Search NJ Morris County Online

Enter  Key Word (s) To Search Our Site, It Works Like Alta Vista But Faster.

    All Photos and pages Copyright 2000 - 2009, NJ Counties Online, Inc.

Web Page designed and built by NJ Counties Online, Inc.