Founding Families

In 1713 John Wills, a surveyor for the West Jersey Proprietors, was deeded 862 acres in Roxiticus. This property extended on both sides of the Indian trail, later known as King ‘s Highway, the Washington Turnpike and then State Highway 24. Ten years later his son James built a house there. The Wills family graveyard can still be seen at the entrance to the Oak Knoll division. Other recorded property owners of the time were Charles Brockden, William Penn and Col. John Evans.

In 1722 James Pitney acquired 196 acres and with his wife Susannah built a house and farm near the “Pitney Oak,” which served as a surveyor’s mark on Mendham Road. Pitney expanded the acreage in 1770, adding a distillery and forge. His descendants continued to live on the Pitney land through 2013. Despite efforts to save the Pitney Estate, the main house burned down in 2016 and much of the property was turned into a housing development. A portion of the land was acquired by the Township in 2021 and the Mendham Township Historic Park at Pitney Farm was built with Green Acres funding. The only remaining structures are the Walled Garden, maintained by volunteers, and the Seed House, which has been renovated by the Historic Preservation Committee. A windowpane from the main house has been preserved in the Township Archives. On it, the mother of Civil War soldier Joseph S. Watkins etched a record of his death on March 31, 1862. Watkins was the great grandson of Mahlon Pitney and the son of Phebe Pitney Watkins.

In the 1730’s Levi and Eliphalet Lewis moved to Mendham and built grist and saw mills along India Brook. They provided essential grain and timber, and later iron ore produced in their forges and three mines. Their descendants lived in Mendham through 2010.

In 1738 a meeting house was built in Roxiticus. It was a simple log cabin called “God’s Barn.” Its pastor was Eliab Byram, a Harvard graduate and son of the prominent clergyman Ebenezer Byram. The elder Byram founded the 3rd Church in Massachusetts but became a dissenter of the “New Lights Movement” and was persuaded to move with his wife Hannah to Mendham in 1742. They lived for a time in a farmhouse along the thoroughfare between Newark and Pennsylvania. Because of its location it was remodeled into the Black Horse Inn, which still stands today. Byram picked a site on a hilltop a short distance from the Inn for the construction of the First Presbyterian Church by master builder was John Cary. Eliab Byram was the first minister. Ebenezer is credited with naming the area Mendham, after his ancestral home in Mendon, England.

By the 1740s prominent residents in the Roxiticus area included Jacob Cook, Josiah Beach, 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, Benjamin Hurlburt. In the eastern part of the Township were families of Beach, Loree, Tingley, Condict, Turner, Cary and Smith. The settlements were sustained by countless unnamed inhabitants, including farm, mill and mine workers, tin smiths, blacksmiths, wagon makers, tanners, cobblers, coopers, tradespeople, apprentices, servants and slaves.

Mendham Township was incorporated by the Morris County Court in 1749. It originally covered 50 square miles, including Randolph, and portions of Chester. The Township continued to thrive with more homes, farms and businesses. In 1750 Henry Clark Sr. built a dam and sawmill at the head of Dismal Brook.

In 1770 John Logan took over the feed and flour mill built in 1742 by Edmund Martin in Roxiticus. Logan supplied food and flour to General Washington’s army at Jockey Hollow. He went into bankruptcy when the Continental Congress failed to pay their bill. The mill was sold in 1786 at a sheriff’s sale to John Ralston, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. Ralston married Logan’s daughter Margaret and they lived in the Manor House built by her father. Ralston went into partnership with his neighbor Hugh Nesbitt, opening a General Store in 1785. Their business traded extensively in iron, peach brandy, hats, Applejack and other goods with companies in New York and in exchange for goods such as indigo, molasses, cotton, tobacco, silver buckles and silk handkerchiefs from Augusta, Georgia. John Ralston died in 1819.

Hugh Nesbitt’s nephew married Ralston’s daughter Mary Ann in 1818. When he died 9 years later, his wife, left with three children, took over the family business and acquired more real estate. In 1848 she built the Nesbitt Grist Mill in partnership with her son John Ralston Nesbitt. It continued operations through 1904 when John Nesbitt died. In 1910 Thomas Laughlin moved his Tiger Apple Jack Distillery into the Mill, which was later operated by the Fornaro Family from 1929 until 1938. Restoration of the Mill began extensively in 2004 and now serves a privately funded museum.

The General Store was in business until 1893, then as a local post office until 1941. It was acquired by the Ralston Historical Association and opened as a museum in 1964, which it still operates. The Grist Mill and Ralston Manor House are now private residences. Descendants of the Ralston Nesbitt families lived in the area until 1995.

Many of the earliest historic houses throughout Mendham Township are still standing, including those in Mendham Borough, which split off from the Township in 1905.

Byram Portrait
Margaret Logan Ralston

Donate Funds or Items to the Mendham Township Historic Preservation Committee

The Committee is always on the lookout for stories, papers, photos, or just about anything else related to Mendham Township, New Jersey.