History of Chatham Township

Morris County, New Jersey


Located on the southern edge of Morris County with neighboring communities Summit, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Long Hill, Harding, Madison, Florham Park, and Livingston.


20,000 years ago the melting, retreating Wisconsin Glacier left glacial Lake Passaic behind in the curves of the Watchung Mountains. Chatham is build on that former Lake Passaic. The only identifiable land was a long island formed by the top of the hill at Fairmount Avenue. When the ice melted in the area, Lake Passaic drained into the sea.

6-7,000 years ago the Minsi group of the Lenni Lenape ("Original People") Indians.

1680 Sir George Carteret paid the Minsi the equivalent of $55 for what became Chatham.  The Minsi called it Fishawack. 

early settlement  -- settlement was on both the north and south sides of the Passaic River. 

1730  --  Essex County farmer-merchant John Day built the first bridge.  The village became known as Day's Bridge. 

1738 Morris County carved out of Hunterdon County.

1740 Morris County divided into three townships: Morris, Hanover, and Pequannock.

1740  --  Jacob Morrell built a house (still standing) at 63 Main Street.  It is Chatham's most significant early building. 

1773 the area was named Chatham in honor of the English Prime Minister, Sir William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (who had championed American's civil liberties)..

Revolutionary War troops were active in the area.  The village only had about 25 buildings.

1780 or 1781  --  William Day built a house (still standing) on Main Street soon after he married Nancy Bonnel, thereby uniting two of Chatham's most important early families.

1781 (June to November)  --  19 year old Captain Charles Asgill was held prisoner while awaiting his execution as a response to the British execution of an innocent Monmouth County captain.  (The Continental Congress decided to free the British captain.)

1781 (August)  --  General George Washington stayed in the Jacob Morrel House on Main Street for two or three days while gathering troops for the march to Yorktown, Virginia.

1790  --  residents on the south side of Main Street now lived in Morris Township, while those on the north side lived in Hanover Township. 

1801 the Morris Turnpike was built connecting Elizabeth to Springfield to Chatham to Morristown.   William Day built a tavern to serve the travelers.

1806  -- completion of the Morris Turnpike. 

1806 the New Jersey Legislature created Chatham Township from parts of Morris, Hanover, Florham Park, Madison and Chatham. The Township has maintained its "committee" form of government ever since its founding.

1806  --  the Chatham Academy built on Main Street near the town center. 

1828-1873  -- Dr. Joseph M. Ogden was pastor of the Village Church of Chatham. 

1832  -- Village Church of Chatham built.  (Served until 1904.)

1837  --  the new Morris & Essex Railroad came to town. 

1837  --  William McDougall, the town photographer, had a store and home on Main Street.

c. 1850  --  Hudson Minton's general store and post office erected on the corner of Long Hill Road (now Fairmount Avenue) and Main Street. 

late 1850s  --  William A. Martin, wealthy merchant, built a Victorian mansion atop Fairmount Hill. 

1855  --  Helen Budd Gibby left Chatham to attend the new Trenton Normal School.  She returned to teach school. 

1861-1865 Civil War. Five Pollard brothers served in the Union Army.

1863  --  Thomas Phipps died of disease in Virginia during the Civil War.

1865  --  Benjamin P. ("Squire") Lum built a carriage house behind the home of his son, Benjamin Jr.

Post-civil war period the trains brought tourists to Chatham and took Chatham residents into New York City and back.  The Fairview House on Main Street (the site now occupied by the town library) could handle more than 150 guests. 

1867  --  wealthy 29 year old George Shepard Page came to Chatham.  He bought the Bonnell mills and converted them into a felt roofing-paper factory.  He also bought several hundred acres of land, owned a grocery store and was Stanley's postmaster.  (George Page's mother's family name was Stanley.)

1870s & 1880s center of the rose growing industry.

1873  --  the Chatham Academy building (still standing)  moved from Main Street to Summit Avenue to make way for the Presbyterian chapel. 

1874  --  the Phillipsburg Manufacturing Company built the high bridge over the Passaic River in Chatham. 

1874  --  George and Maria Ely Vanderpoel had Harvey Lum built them a 14-room summer house.

1875  --  the town library opened at old Nelson Kelley's grocery store. 

1880s  --  Frank Kelly, second mayor of Chatham, developed houses on what became known as Kelley's Elbow (today's Center Street  headed north from Main and then turned ninety degrees to Passaic Avenues).  (Most of the houses still stand.)

1882  -- the Vanderpoel summer home destroyed on New Year's Eve.  They had a second house built that became known as the Castle. 

c. 1890  --  James T. Wagner of the Chatham Borough Council occupied the old William Bonnell homestead at the corner of Watchung Avenue and River Road. 

c. 1890 photo  --  Hudson Minton's general store and post office operated as a town social center. 

1896  --  an unsightly railroad lot northeast of the railway station transformed into Reasoner Park (named for railroad superintendent Andrew Reasoner). 

1897 Chatham borough seceded from Chatham Township and incorporated as a borough.  Frederic K. Lum became the borough's first mayor. 

1897  --  the Wolfe Building built on Main Street.  The building provided a home and office for Dr. Wolfe, rental stores and a large meeting hall.

1899  --  the Methodist church and parsonage on Center Street dedicated. 

1900 Madison and Florham Park seceded from Chatham Township.

beginning of the 1900's population of 1,800 residents in Chatham Borough and about 500 in the Township.  The tourist trade continued with the flourishing of large resort hotels.

1904  -- the Ogden Memorial Presbyterian Church erected and replaced the Village Church of Chatham. 

1909  --  Main Street bridge completed.   

1910  --  the borough's major industry was growing roses with eleven rose growers operating 70 green houses.

1912  --  first trolley came to Chatham. 

1914 photo --  at this time Jacob Snook was proprietor of Snook's boarding house.

just before WWI  --  the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad elevated its roadbed through town. 

1917  --  Woman's Club of Chatham founded.

1914-1917  --  WWI;  in chronological order, Eugene P. Hubbard, Van Horn D. Wolfe, Paul Van Fleet. Frederick P. Parcells and Fred R. Pihlman died in France.  Louise Page became a volunteer Army Nurse in 1917.

end of World War I  --  tourist trade had switched to other places such as the Jersey Shore and the Adirondack Mountains.

1920 photo  -- Dr. William J. Wolfe of  Dr. Wolfe's Pharmacy (at the corner of Main and Passaic) showed off his fancy new electric-powered Milburn car.

1921  -- founding of the Chatham Community Players. 

1928  --  the Wolfe Building demolished. 

1933  -- the William Pitt Inn built. It became one of New Jersey's finest dining places.

1934 (June 21)  --  commuter Addison Day became a local hero on his last train trip (after riding more than one million miles in commuting cars).

1936  --  noted photographer Richmond H . Ross settled in Chatham. 

1941-1945  --  World War II;  Chatham lost 21 sons in the war. 

1947  --  William McDougall's 1837 store demolished. 

1955  --  820-seat St. Patrick's Church built. 

1960s  --  Ray Ellis, prominent watercolorist, occupied the first floor of the Day/Smith/Crane house (still standing) at 76 Main Street.

1960s --  closing of the ever popular Whalen & Berry's 5 cents to $1 dollar store.

1965  -- it is believed an arsonist burned down the old William Day tavern on the old Morris Turnpike. 

1967  --  the Community Players acquired the Legion Hall on Passaic Avenue as their permanent home.

1977  --  ABC television aired the documentary, The Class That Went to War, based on Chatham High School's class of 1964 and its struggle with the Vietnam War.  The documentary was primarily the work of Richard Gerdau, a 1964 graduate of Chatham High School.   (Chatham lost four of its citizens in the war.)

1984-1987  --  Mayor Jacqueline Marvin-Maucher became Chatham's first woman mayor.

1985  -- William Pitt Inn destroyed by fire. 

1992  -- finally, Route 24 completed, relieving some of the traffic flow onto Chatham Main Street.

1996 population of about 17,500 people in the Chathams.

Chatham Borough and Chatham Township today are residential communities with 8,000 people. Some of the companies in or near Chatham are: AT&T, Exxon ,BellCore, Prudential, Lucent Technologies, American Home Products, Schering-Plough, Atlantic Mutual, and Novartis.


John T. Cunningham.  1997.  Images of America: Chatham.  Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press.

Morris County Municipalities: Chatham, New Jersey Overview; http://www.westfieldnj.com/whs/history/chatham.html