Located less than an hour from Manhattan by train or car, Morristown is the county seat of Morris County. Long known as a suburban haven with cosmopolitan flair, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Morristown to its list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations in 2002, an honor that highlights the best preserved and most unique communities in the United States. With its lovely residential neighborhoods and antique homes, Morristown boasts an elegant streetscape. The Morristown Historic District spans several main streets throughout the downtown area. Established by English immigrants in the early 1700s, Morristown was incorporated as a town by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on April 6, 1865 within Morris Township, and was formally set off from the township in 1895.
Morristown’s downtown business district hums with a mixture of small shops, banks and retail chains. Scores of restaurants do a thriving trade for the thousands who work in town, where many offices are headquarters for major facilities of Fortune 500 companies.
The historic Morristown Green was established by the town’s first Presbyterian settlers who came from England in 1715. Large, older homes on tree-lined streets, numerous houses of worship, national historic sites and desirable schools are among Morristown’s attractions.
Top name entertainment at The Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts, a three-level library, multi-screen movie theater, eclectic shopping and dining, and the highly rated Morristown Memorial Hospital are just a few of the in-town amenities.
Morristown was originally called New Hanover when it was settled around 1715 by English Presbyterians from Long Island and Connecticut. The town became the seat of Morris County shortly after its separation from Hunterdon County in 1739. Both the village and county were named for Lewis Morris, the first royal governor of the united colony of New Jersey.
George Washington and the Continental Army were encamped near Morristown from January to May, 1777. Washington had his first headquarters at Jacob Arnold’s Tavern located on the western side of Morristown Green, and made his second headquarters at the Ford Mansion on the edge of town. Washington selected Morristown for its strategic location, proximity to New York City, defensible terrain, important communication routes and a supportive local community.
During what was termed the Hard Winter of 1779-1780, Washington and his army endured blizzards, food shortages and a rebellion, conditions that made it worse than Valley Forge. These situations were compounded by extreme inflation of money and lack of pay for the army. The National Park Service at Morristown National Historical Park preserves sites in the Morristown area occupied by the Continental Army and interprets the history and subsequent commemoration of these encampments and the extraordinary fortitude of the officers and enlisted men under Washington’s leadership.
In the following century, Samuel F. B. Morse and Alfred Vail built the first telegraph at the Speedwell Ironworks in Morristown on January 6, 1838. The first public demonstration of the invention occurred eleven days later, continuing the progress of the Industrial Age.
Thomas Nast, who resided in an elegant Morristown antique home at 50 MacCulloch Avenue for 30 years, was the political cartoonist responsible for modern day images of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam. His classic version of Santa Claus was drawn in 1863 for Harper’s Weekly. Before then, most depictions of Santa Claus showed a tall, thin man, and Nast drew him as the bearded, rotund image popular today. He also rendered the Republican Party’s Elephant, the Democratic Party’s Donkey, and embellished Uncle Sam with a goatee.
MacCulloch Hall Historical Museum and Garden across the street from Thomas Nast’s house is located in the Morristown Historic District. This Federal-style brick mansion was built in 1810 for George MacCulloch, a Scottish businessman and scholar. MacCulloch is probably best known as the “father of the Morris Canal,” an engineering marvel in its time. Today the museum has three exhibit galleries within ten period rooms furnished with fine English and American decorative arts. The museum offers an ever-changing schedule of exhibits, lectures and programs.
Morristown shares the Morris School District with surrounding Morris Township. It has three schools for kindergarten through grade two, three schools for grades three through five, Frelinghuysen Middle School for grades six to eight, and Morristown High School, which is also attended by students from nearby Morris Plains.
Morristown High School offers advanced placement courses in English, history, the sciences, mathematics and foreign languages. Among its many amenities are television and radio studios and an indoor swimming pool. American poet and author Joyce Kilmer taught at the high school during the 1908-09 school year.
Local private schools include the kindergarten through grade eight Peck School, Morristown-Beard School for grades six to 12; the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic school for nursery through grade eight, and the Montessori Children’s House for pre-kindergarten to grade six. In addition, Villa Walsh Academy, a Catholic college preparatory school for girls in grades seven to 12 and conducted by the Religious Teachers Filippini, is located in Morristown.
New Jersey Transit’s Midtown Direct rail service provides a one-way trip into Penn Station in about an hour. There are two Morristown exits off Interstate 287, and Routes 202 and 124 (South Street) run through town. Nearby are Routes 24, 10 and Interstate 80.
Located three miles away in Whippany, Morristown Municipal Airport is a public airport owned by the town of Morristown.
Traditional homes on shaded streets include beautifully restored examples of Federal, Italianate, Greek Revival, and Victorian styles. These antique homes in Morristown add charm and character to the streetscape, particularly in the Morristown historic district.
In 1973, the State and National Registers of Historic Places designated a historic district in Morristown featuring homes located on all or portions of the Green Street, South Street, DeHart Street, Elm Street, Wetmore Street, Madison Street, Pine Street; MacCulloch Avenue, Maple Avenue, Colles Avenue; Farragut Place and South Park Place. The Morristown Historic District was further expanded in 1981 to include all or portions of Colles, Ford, MacCulloch, Maple, Mount Kemble, Speedwell, Western and Wetmore Avenues; Altamont Court; Catherine Lane; Blachley, Farragut, Franklin, King, Ogden, Park and Schuyler Places; Miller Road; Ann, Court, Elm, Green, High, Hill, James, King, Madison, Market, Morris, Oak, Pine, Prospect, South and Washington Streets. This expansive historic district displays fine old residences that are among the best of the best when it comes to Morristown historic homes.
There are also single-family homes in every imaginable architectural style of the past 200 years, from Colonial to mid-century modern and beyond. Recently-constructed townhomes and condominiums have appeared in nearly every corner of town, and all residents appreciate being close to shops, restaurants and conveniences in this lovely village.
The Green: Morristown’s bustling Green has been the town’s focal point for over 250 years. As today’s professionals stroll through the Green on their lunch hour, it’s interesting to note that the park was an animal pasture in the 1700s. It was also a training ground for the local militia, and in 1755 a log cabin on the Green was the town’s courthouse and jail. The Civil War monument at the Green’s northeast corner was erected in 1871. Entitled “Soldier at Rest,” it honors the men who lost their lives in the Civil War from 1861-1865. George Washington’s statue, along with those of Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, were unveiled during a $1 million renovation and improvement project in 2007 which restored plantings, refurbished walks and benches and added historical perspective to this two-and-a-half acre park.
Morristown National Historical Park: The Ford Mansion, Jockey Hollow and Fort Nonsense are all managed by the National Park Service. The park has the honor of being the first National Historical Park established in the United States.
Just south of the historic district on Washington Place is the three-acre Washington Headquarters site, with its Headquarters Museum housing Revolutionary War relics, and the Ford Mansion, an historic Morristown home where Washington wintered in 1777 and 1780 while his troops were camped in nearby Jockey Hollow in Harding Township. The park and Jockey Hollow are two of four Morristown area historic sites administered by the National Park Service. The others are the New Jersey Brigade Encampment in Bernardsville and the 20-acre Fort Nonsense site, off Ann Street in Morristown, where the Continental Army built earthen fortifications (which they regarded as busywork) in 1780.
Historic Speedwell: The 7.5-acre Historic Speedwell Village off Speedwell Avenue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the site of the 19th-century Speedwell Iron Works. This is the place where the telegraph was perfected by Samuel F. B. Morse and Alfred Vail in 1838.
Fosterfields: As the first living historical farm in New Jersey, Fosterfields uses the same tools, techniques and materials as those found in a late 1800s era farm. Providing a fascinating look at Victorian life, the farm was originally owned by General Joseph Warren Revere, Paul Revere’s grandson. The general built the Willows in the mid-1800s, a wonderful example of a Morristown historic house designed in the Gothic Revival style.
Frelinghuysen Arboretum: The centerpiece of the arboretum’s 127 acres is the circa 1891 Colonial Revival is a grand Morristown antique home built as a summer retreat and working farm for George and Sara Frelinghuysen. The couple’s only daughter, Matilda, began plans for turning the estate into an arboretum. Upon her death in 1964, the land and house was bequeathed to the people of Morris County for use as a public arboretum. The Frelinghuysen Arboretum was dedicated in 1971.
The Morris Museum: Located at 6 Normandy Heights Road, the museum was founded in 1913 to explore and celebrate the arts, sciences and humanities through exhibitions, educational programs, performing arts and special events. It also houses the Bickford Theatre.
Fun Fact: The Seeing Eye, a guide dog school for the visually-impaired, is based in Morristown. The dogs and their trainers are a common sight along Morristown’s streets.
Parks: There are numerous basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds and pocket parks throughout Morristown. Burnham Park at Burnham Parkway and Route 124 features a municipal pool and sports courts. Speedwell Park at Speedwell Avenue and Cory Road has a lake, playground and access to the trails of Patriot’s Path.
Local Sites/Attractions: The Green, Morristown National Historic Park, Historic Speedwell, Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Fosterfields, The Morris Museum, The Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts.
Major Roads: I-287, Routes 24, 202, 124
Mass Transportation: New Jersey Transit’s Morris and Essex Line stops in Morristown for a one-hour trip to Penn Station in midtown Manhattan.
Housing: Throughout Morristown, historic houses offer a variety of antique, Early American and Colonial-era homes. There is also a wide selection of luxury real estate, in-town properties, estate-caliber homes, contemporary homes, townhouses, condominiums and new construction in an appealing mix of architectural styles and price ranges.