History

The History of Mendham Township, New Jersey

This year Mendham Township celebrates its 275th Anniversary. Incorporated in 1749, it was one of the first townships in Morris County. Originally, parts of Chester, Randolph, and all of Mendham Borough made up Mendham Township.

European settlers began arriving to Mendham Township in the late 1600s and early 1700s. At that time the only other inhabitants were the Lenape Indians who local history records as being a gentle people. It’s estimated that almost 90% of the Lenape population perished because of diseases brought to them by the European settlers. The remaining Lenape soon found that their way of life was no longer sustainable here, and after tensions arose between the settlers and the Indians, the Lenape peacefully relocated. There are varying accounts as to where they went.

In 1713 an English settler named James Wills purchased the land that was to become Ralston. The Wills Family proceeded to sell this land to various settlers. As word spread of the abundant resources to be had in Mendham Township more and more settlers began to arrive.

In the 1720s a settlement was established along what is now India (Indian) Brook by David Bainard and Eliab Byram. Both were religious men and services were held in a log meeting house built in the 1730s near the Ralston Curve. This was to become The First Presbyterian Church (Hilltop Church). Ebenezer Byram (Eliab’s father) and John Cary led the relocation from Ralston to its present site on Hilltop Rd.

The Levi Lewis Family settled along India Brook in the 1730s. According to the Ralston Historical Association newsletter (Summer 2006) in an interview with his great, great, great, great granddaughter Wilma Sagurton, Levi Lewis built his house, a forge, a sawmill, three dams, planted a large orchard, and started a tannery.

Life was not easy for the early settlers. They had to be self sufficient and quickly made use of the abundant resources Mendham Township had to offer. Remnants of the early iron mines, grist mills, saw mills, and limestone kilns can still be seen today.

The early settlers came here to make a better life that was free from religious tyranny and had more tolerant societal norms. In the 1700s New Jersey was still under British rule. Discontent among many of these early settlers foreshadowed the larger overall quest for freedom that resulted in the Revolutionary War. The settlers became increasingly intolerant of having to answer to a foreign government while working so very hard to survive and assimilate into their new life.

Morris County was formed with jurisdiction over all land and civil affairs which were administered through Morristown, as the County Seat. Shortly after that, Mendham Township was officially founded on March 29, 1749.

 

 

Ralston Nesbitt Mill
Condict-Guerin House in Washington Valley

Mendham Township Historical Timeline

1700

Original People

The Leni Lenape had lived in the Northeast for over 10,000 years. They formed a hunting, fishing and farming society which followed seasonal changes. Around 6,000 BC their ancestors migrated into what is now New Jersey.  The northern clans became known as the Minsi or Munsee. In the 1700s Europeans begin to travel into the area and trade with the Minsi.

1708

Deed with Leni Lenape

Deed with Leni Lenape

Deed between West Jersey Proprietors and Minsi Indians of the Leni Lenape Tribe.

1710

Iron ore discovered

Europeans found iron which could be harvested off the ground. The Minsi called this black stone – Succasunna. The abundance of iron ore was evident in the area including the later Dickenson Mine (Mine Hill) and Lewis mines (Combs Hollow).

1713

Roxiticus

Prior to 1713 there are no records concerning Mendham Township.
Englishman James Wills bought land from the West Jersey Proprietors in the area called Roxiticus, an Indian name for “meeting place,” which was on a branch of the Raritan River.
Joseph Latham also acquired land from West Jersey Proprietors that included present day Dover, where iron ore was plentiful.

1720

Farming

1720s Europeans started farming, often on old native fields, and later planted apple and peach orchards. The Drake family settled and created Drakes Clearing (Route 24 left side near Mendham).

1722

Pitney Farms

Pitney Farms

James Pitney purchased land and built Pitney Farms.

1730

New Settlers & Construction

The first settlement of white men (thought to be Scotch and Irish Protestants) was at Indian Brook above the village. Squire Pitney permitted a few Minsi to remain on his property.

1730

Lewises

Entrepreneurs Levi and Eliphalet Lewis moved to the area later called Combs Hollow to farm and mine.

1730

Iron forges and limestone

In the 1730’s Jackson built a forge to processes iron (Dover) and shipped it to Paterson. Limestone outcroppings were available for farmers who created lime kilns to render it usable in farming.

1738

Meeting House

The Roxiticus Meeting House was built. It was called “God’s Barn” because it was a simple log cabin structure, with no lighting or heating. The first pastor was Eliab Byram. The exact location is still to be determined.

1739

Morris County

Morris County was separated from Hunterdon County by legislative action of the Provincial Legislature.

1739

Drake Manor

Drake Manor was constructed (Cold Hill Road, Mendham).
Apple Jack was the most popular farm product.

1740

New Settlement

Settlements were made in the area called Waterville (later renamed Brookside).

1740

Waterstreet

Waterstreet had abundant waterpower for local mills. A & J Byrams built woolen fulling and dyeing mills. The Stevens Woolen Mill was on the eastern side. One mine was located in the area.

1740

Church revival

A “great revival” took place in Bernards Township. Soon after disagreements arose in the Roxiticus congregation over church policy and the decision led to the formation of two churches: the First Presbyterian Church and the First Congregational Church.

1740

Prominent Families

The prominent names in Mendham: Jacob Cook, Joseph Beach, James Pitney, Caleb Baldwin, Joseph Thompson, Ebenezer Condict, Nathan Cooper, Henry Wick, Robert Cummins, Henry Axtell, Stephen Dod, Jacob Drake, Ephraim Sanders, James McVickers, Henry Clark, Elias Howell, Zebulon Riggs and Benjamin Hurlburt.  Prominent family names in the eastern portion of the township: Beach, Loree, Tingley,  Condict, Turner, Cary and Smith.  Prominent family names near Washington Corners: Riggs, Vance, Bedell and Day.  On the mountain the early settlers were Connet, Smith, Clark, Pool, Style, Cozad, McIlrath, and Bonnel.

1740

Black Horse Inn

Black Horse Inn

Ebenezer Byram renovated an old farmhouse into the Black Horse Tavern. It was located on a main route between New York City and Easton, PA. The Black Horse is touted to be the oldest continuously operated inn in the USA.

1742

Mendham named

The settled area was originally called “Black Horse.” Ebenezer Byram is credited with renaming it Mendham. The origin of the name is still unknown, perhaps referring to the village of Mendham in Suffolk, England.

1742

Roxiticus Grist Mill

Edmund Martins operated the Grist Mill in the Roxiticus area.

1745

Hilltop Church

Hilltop Church

One of the Roxiticus congregations created by the doctrinal dispute was the First Presbyterian “Hilltop” Church of Mendham, established (at 20 Hilltop Road). About the only other structure in the area at the time was the Black Horse wayside inn. Eliab Byram was the first pastor; Mendham grew around this Church.

1745

Brookside Grist Mill

Jesse Smith built a grist mill near Waterstreet. Powered by water channeled from the Dismal Brook, it was located on the trail from Roxiticus and New Hanover.

1747

First Congregational Church

After the split from the Presbyterian faction of the Roxiticus worshipers, the second group of congregants established their own organization that would lead to the First Congregational Church of Chester.

1749

Mendham Township incorporated

Mendham Township was incorporated March 29, 1749, by Morris County Court as one of the first townships in the County. It was originally over 50 square miles and included communities which later separate: Randolph, Dover, Mendham Borough, Mine Hill, a section of Chester Township, Wharton, & Victory Gardens.

1750

Brookside Saw Mill

Henry Clark built a sawmill in Dismal Glen (Brookside)

1750

First Presbyterian Church

The First Presbyterian Church of Roxbury was built along today’s Pleasant Hill Road (now Chester Township). The Hilltop Presbyterian congregation had sought to establish another Presbyterian church in a location further west.

1753

Jackson Forge

Hartshorne Fitz Randolph, who owned a farm nearby, purchased the Jackson Forge at a sheriff’s sale. Jackson was forced into bankruptcy by the British Parliament Iron Act.

1756

Society of Friends

With their numbers increasing and the group of Friends flourishing, Mendham Preparative Meeting, Religious Society of Friends was established (hereafter Mendham Meeting).

1758

Quaker Meeting House

Friends Meeting House

With the approval of the Woodbridge Meeting, John Vail, Robert Schooley, Hartshorne Fitz-Randolph and Jacob Laing were named to find a site, decide on the type of building, compute the cost and raise the funds. Quaker Meeting House and Cemetery was built on Robert Schooley’s property, in what was then Mendham Township.

1770

Mendham thrives

By the 1770s Mendham was a thriving village, with farmers, blacksmiths, tanners, cobblers, coopers, tradesmen and others. With the advantage of a abundant water supply, there were seven grist mills and three sawmills, including the Ledell Mill, Pleasant Valley Mill (Ralston) and Ludlum gristmill (Brookside).  There were less than 300 residents.

1775

American Revolution

During the American Revolution Mendham Minutemen served and citizens provided food and livestock to the military, collected food and clothing, and paid heavy war taxes. Lebbeus Dod became artillery captain and established an armory for the repair and making of muskets behind his home. John Logan operated the Grist Mill and, appointed commissary to George Washington, supplied food to Jockey Hollow encampment.

1775

Anti-Slavery

Hartshorn Fitz Randolph, Isaac Hance and Henry Moore of Mendham Meeting along with other anti-slavery advocates founded the first anti-slavery society in NJ.  It was called the “New Jersey Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.”  Members and supporters, including members of Mendham Meeting, protested slavery in peaceful ways, including refusal to purchase products produced by slave labor.

1775

Smallpox Epidemic

Hilltop Church was used as a barracks and hospital for the soldiers. A smallpox epidemic killed many soldiers.

1778

Post-War

Post-war problems worsened due to the devalued currency and failure of the new government to reimburse wartime expenditures.

1780

Mendham Forges

By the 1780s-90s there were several forges including the Mendham Forge (Ralston), Rushes Forge, Rye Forge on the Whippany River (in Brookside near the eastern end Main Street) and the Willets Forge.  In 1777 there were 100 forges in Morris County.

1785

Ralston

John Ralston purchased the Logan Grist Mill at sheriff’s sale.

1785

Ralston General Store

With his partner Hugh Nesbitt, Ralston built a General Store which was a thriving trade business until 1893.

1793

First Schoolhouse

The first Mendham schoolhouse was built (no longer standing).

1795

Axtell’s Academy

Rev. Henry Axtell, D.D. established the first “Academy,” approximately on the site of the present Hilltop School.

1796

Ralston Nesbitt Family

John Ralston’s daughter Mary Ann marries Hugh Nesbitt.

1796

Chester separated

Chester separated from Mendham.

1800

Connet Mill

Connet from Chatham built a gristmill at the site of the former Smith Mill in the Waterstreet area (Brookside). He later used a Bartley turbine powered by water for his mill.
James McGrath operated a blacksmith shop across the street from the Connet Mill.

1800

Mail service

In the early 18th c. mail service began with a post office (Mendham center).

1801

New Jersey anti-slavery law

New Jersey passed a law providing for the gradual emancipation of slaves, with Hartshorne Fitz Randolph as a key sponsor

1805

Randolph separated

The northern half of Mendham splits off and becomes Randolph Township, named after Hartshorne Fitz Randolph. Mendham is now approximately twenty-two square miles.

1806

Washington Turnpike

A company was formed to build a turnpike from Easton to Morristown over the stagecoach route.

1808

La Penserosa

La Penserosa

Eliza Ralston Arrowsmith’s elaborately embroidered portrait of a woman reading is framed.

1812

Blacksmiths

William Burd operated a blacksmith shop in Ralston and then moved it to the site of the later Gunther Garage. Nathaniel Tingley operated a black smithery to reshod pack horses. Job & Lewis Loree operated a blacksmith shop on Washington Valley Road, which was later moved to the center of Waterstreet.

1813

Lightning strikes

On Sunday, May 16, 1813, Martha Drake was killed instantly by lightning as she sat in Hilltop Church. She was 33 years old.

1816

Tannery

Charles Thompson operated a tannery operating in Waterstreet.

1816

Hilltop Church rebuilt

First Presbyterian Hilltop Church was taken down and replaced with new larger edifice.

1818

Cotton and Woolen Mills

John Ralston bought the 469-acre Wills Plantation and started cotton and wool manufacturing.

1819

John Ralston dies

John Ralston dies.

1820

Phoenix House

William Phoenix purchased the Inn across from Black Horse Tavern and operated it until 1857.

1820

Upper Lewis Mine

The Upper Lewis mine was operated during the Mexican American War.

1827

Mary Ann Ralston Nesbitt

Mary Ann Ralston Nesbitt took over her husband’s business after his death.

1830

Ralston Mill Purchase

The Leddel family purchased Ralston mill and operated it until 1906.

1830

Glass Factory

Knighton operated a glass factory for a time on Waterstreet until he was forced into bankruptcy in 1842.

1830

Ralston Schoolhouse

Ralston Schoolhouse was built on land donated for Dr. John Leddell. It had one classroom for grades 1-4 and was in use until 1940.

1833

Methodist Episcopal Church

The Methodist Episcopal Church was built.

1835

Hilltop Church fire

Hilltop Church was destroyed by fire in February.

1841

Connet Saw Mill

Earl Connet opened a sawmill.

1848

Nesbitt Grist Mill

The Nesbitt Grist Mill was built by Mary Ann Ralston Nesbitt and her son John Ralston Nesbitt. It produced milled wheat, oats and corn. Milling ended in 1904.

1849

Brookside religious services

First religious services in Brookside were held in second story of an early school.

1850

Union Schoolhouse

Union Schoolhouse

A second one-room schoolhouse, Union Schoolhouse, was built on land donated by Mary Ann Ralston Nesbitt and Eliza Ralston Arrowsmith. It operated from 1851 to 1928.

1850

Bockoven Saw Mill

In the mid 1800s Bockoven operated a sawmill powered by a turbine with India Brook water. John March built carriages (Mendham center).

1853

Morris County Map

1853 Morris County Map

1853 map of Morris County showing Mendham, Chester (parts of which separated from Mendham in 1796) and Randolph (which separated after 1805).

1854

St. Joseph Church

St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church was built.

1857

Julia Phoenix

Julia Phoenix took over her father’s Inn after his death and operated it as a boarding house until 1907. This was one among several boarding houses, suggesting an increase in housing for non-property owners, such as millworkers, shop workers and others. Today it serves as Mendham Borough Town Hall.

1859

Second Presbyterian Church

Second Presbyterian Church was created after a split in congregation, where a number of members had been slave owners, over “colored Brother” in the pulpit.

1859

Hill Top Church rebuilt again

The fourth and present Hilltop church was erected on its present site.

1859

Brookside General Store

Brookside General Store opened.

1860

Brookside School

Brookside School

The Brookside School, a one-room schoolhouse, was built where the present Municipal Building is located. In 1899 it was divided into two classrooms with entrances on the sides of the building. It operated until 1923.

1860

House of Worship

A house of worship was dedicated. Three years later a parsonage was built across the street, now a residence. The church was demolished in 1900, and the Bailey Funeral Home was built on its foundation walls.

1860

Tannery Mills

A tannery was operated in the 1860s by Joseph Babbitt to the north of Mendham center. The Days mill (Tingley Road, Brookside) was built by George Connet and operated by Ephraim Day and his son, Charles.

1860

Civil War

Soldiers from Mendham served in the Civil War 1860-1865. Wounded patients were housed at the Pitney Homestead.

1863

Methodist Episcopal Church Parsonage

The first parsonage of the Methodist Episcopal Church was built in West Main Street (now privately owned).

1865

13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution ending slavery was finally ratified by New Jersey in December 1865.

1868

First Detailed Map

First Detailed Map

First detailed map of Mendham by Beer’s Atlas Company. The village had 81 principal buildings of which 61 are still standing.

1869

Iron mining

The Connet family permitted the mining of an iron vein to rear of their property on Water Street. Records show mining for iron, copper, mica, hydraulic cement and limestone in Mendham.

1870

Methodist Episcopal Church parsonage

A new parsonage for the Methodist Episcopal Church was built on the adjoining lot.

1870

Brookside blacksmithing

Lewis Loree moves his blacksmith shop to Brookside next to the chapel. His apprentice, William A Ward, added a wheelwright shop to the business.

1872

St. Mark’s Church

The building of St. Mark’s Church was instigated in 1872. Prior to this services were conducted in the upper rooms of Mrs. Dodd’s School House.

1876

Washington Corners School

Washington Corners School

Washington Corners School operated until 1913. It was converted to a dwelling in 1925.

1882

Postal Village

Brookside was noted as a postal village. The Post Office itself was operated in various locations depending on the post master.

1886

Rev. Levi Johnson purchased from Mary Hillard a house for the use of the vicar. In 1930-31 the church purchased the building in which Mrs. Dodd had her school and later enlarged it for a parish house.

1888

Rockaway Valley Railroad

Rockaway Valley Railroad

Rockaway Valley Railroad, “Rockabye Baby,”  was built to service the peach farms of Hunterdon County and to transport coal for lime kilns. It was extended from Whitehouse to Mendham in 1891 and to Whatnong (Morris Plains) in 1892.

1890

Bars

In the late 1800s-early 1900s, there were up to eleven bars located in Mendham Township, most of which were part of Township homes. One of these, the Red Top Tavern, was located next to the Dismal Brook on Cherry Lane until women of the temperance movement pushed it into the stream.

1890

Wagon Repair Shop

Henry Gunther opened a carriage/wagon repair shop which was converted to an auto garage in 1912 and over time became a very early Chevrolet Dealership.

1892

Old Methodist Episcopal Church

Old Methodist Episcopal Church was bought and moved by the Township of Mendham for use as the Town Hall. It is now used for the Borough Fire Department.

1893

Methodist Episcopal Church

A new church was built and used by Methodist Episcopal and Presbyterian congregations.

1893

Ralston Post Office

Ralston Post Office

Ralston General Store became the local Post Office, operating until 1941.

1898

Brookside Union Chapel

Brookside Union Chapel

The Brookside Union Chapel was built and dedicated the following year on March 8. In its infancy it was serviced by ministers from area churches. It was destroyed in a raging fire on December 20, 1942.

1900

Community of St John Baptist

The Community of St John Baptist bought land in Mendham.

1904

Presbyterian Church

The Second Presbyterian Church was disbanded and reunited with The Presbyterian Church in Mendham.

1906

Mendham Borough separates

Mendham Borough was separated from Mendham Township so that it could form a water company.

1908

Tiger Distillery

Tiger Distillery

Thomas Laughlin bought the Nesbitt Mill, converting it to a distillery to produce Tiger Apple Jack and peach brandy.

1908

St. Marguerite’s Orphanage

St. Marguerite’s Orphanage

St. Marguerite’s Orphanage was built by the Community of St. John Baptist.

1913

Rockaway Valley Railroad ceases

The Rockaway Valley Railroad, which passed through the middle of Mendham Township, ceased operation. The Peach blight of 1895, along with frequent derailments of the narrow rail line, caused its decline. Its tracks were sold as scrap metal during World War I (1914-1917).

1915

CSJB Convent

CSJB Convent

The Community of St. John Baptist built the Convent and moved from New York City.

1916

Brookside Engine Company No. 1

Brookside Engine Company No. 1 was formed to serve the Township.

1918

Brookside village

Benjamin Natkins began to redevelop Brookside into a residential village, replacing the industrial past.

1919

Prohibition

The Cider Mill in Ralston was closed due to the beginning of Prohibition with the Volsted Act.

1920

Elementary School

The various schoolhouses were consolidated in a new Elementary School in Brookside.

1923

Community Club of Brookside

Community Club of Brookside

Frederick Garrabrant Kiser opened the Community Club of Brookside after moving a derelict schoolhouse across the Whippany Brook in Brookside Center. Rental space was available. The Community Club of Brookside was founded and continues to serve the residents of Mendham Township.

1929

Fornaro Cider Mill Purchase

The Cider Mill in Ralston was purchased by the Fornaro Family and operated as a still until 1938. The family continued the operation as an adjunct to their new restaurant and speakeasy across the road.

1929

Brookside Community Church

Brookside Union Chapel was renamed Brookside Community Church.

1929

St. John Baptist School

St. John Baptist School moved from New York City to Mendham.

1930

Pitney Greenhouse

Pitney Greenhouse

The greenhouse at the Pitney home in Morristown was moved to the Pitney Farm Estate.

1939

Dan Beard Cabin

Named after the first National Scout Commissioner, this cabin was originally part of a Boy Scouts’ Service Camp that was constructed for the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. It is now sits on a former film studio lot at the Schiff Nature Preserve.

1941

Union Schoolhouse Residence

Union Schoolhouse Residence

The Union Schoolhouse, built in 1851 and operating until 1929, was renovated into a private residence. It was remodeled again in 1988.

1942

Brookside Community Church fire

Brookside Community Church was destroyed by fire.

1942

Ralston Engine Company No. 1

Ralston Engine Company No. 1 was formed.

1945

Ralston Historical Association

Ralston General Store building was acquired by the Ralston Historical Association.

1947

The Village Nursery

The Village Nursery

Mildred Trotman opens The Village Nursery School in her home in Brookside. It operated through 1968.

1948

New Brookside Community Church

The new Brookside Community Church was dedicated.

1959

Brookside Community Church addition

Brookside Community Church addition

The Brookside Community Church dedicated the new addition, built to conform to architectural style of main structure.

1960

First Aid Squad

Mendham Township First Aid Squad was formed.

1961

Our Mendham

Our Mendham was published from the collected weekly series written by Ella W. Mockridge, which appeared over 14 months in the Chester Mendham Tribune.

1964

Ralston General Store Museum

The Museum was created by the Ralston Historical Association to highlight local history and display a collection of vintage artifacts, photographs, maps, and manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries.

1973

Ralston Historic District

The Ralston Historic District was created as the first Registered Historic District in Mendham Township. It was expanded in 1997.

1990

Historic Preservation Committee

The Morris County Freeholders proposed the construction of a major correctional facility in the Washington Valley area. This focused public attention on the historic resources in the area, leading to the formation of the Township Historic Preservation Committee.

1992

Washington Valley Historic District

The Washington Valley Historic District was created, receiving registration from the State and National Registers of Historic Places. It was the first historic district created in cooperation with an adjacent municipality (Morristown).

1995

Brookside and Combs Hollow Historic Districts

Brookside Historic District and Combs Hollow Historic District are registered in both State and National Register of Historic Places.

1999

250th Anniversary

250th Anniversary

Mendham Township celebrates its 250th Anniversary, commemorated in this poster by Lucille Hobbe.

2000

Tempe Wick Historic District

Tempe Wick Historic District was registered in both State and National Register of Historic Places.

2003

Cider Mill converted to Museum

The Fornaro family sold the Cider Mill in Ralston to Mendham Township with the stipulation that it be preserved as a museum.

2008

Ralston Cider Mill Museum

Ralston Cider Mill Museum

Renovation of the Ralston Cider Mill building and machinery was initiated by Ray Nadaskay and the Historic Preservation Committee. It opened in 2008 as the only operating Cider Mill Museum in New Jersey.

2012

Ralston Antiques

Ralston Antiques

A federal inlaid mahogany sideboard ca 1795 owned by the Ralston Family sold at auction for $25,000. 

2019

Pitney Farm razed

Pitney Farm razed

Pitney Farm house was razed after a fire destroyed sections of it. The only remaining structures are the Seed House and Walled Garden. Seven remaining acres of the estate were deeded as Open Space.

2022

Pitney Seed House

Pitney Seed House

Renovation of the Pitney Farm Seed House is being undertaken by the Historic Preservation Committee.