History of Summit

Union County, New Jersey

Summit, on the Second Watchung Mountain,  is located northwest of Springfield, southwest of Millburn, and northeast New Providence.


located amidst the Watchung Mountains (at around 450-foot elevation).


1664 purchase of the land from the Lenni Lenape Indians in the historic Elizabethtown Purchase. The land extended from the Raritan to the Passaic Rivers, and westward for over thirty miles.

1710 earliest settlers arrive. One of the major advantages was the Passaic River (now the western border of Summit Township). Summit was "Turkey Hill" and nearby New Providence was plain "Turkey."

1747 the town's oldest house built. It now houses the Summit Historical Society (90 Butler Parkway).

Revolutionary War and post-War period -- Summit was considered a part of New Providence and called the "Heights over Springfield."

1830s  --  the original railroad route from Newark to Morristown bypassed Summit.

1837 the railroad arrives via "The Summit" hill after local sawmill owner Jonathan Crane Bonnel offered the Morris & Essex Railroad Company free right-of-way if the trains came through Summit. 

c. 1837 population about 300.

After 1837 the area changed from a farming community to a quasi-capitalist one.

1851  --  the Parmley Place built for New York dentist Dr. Samuel Parmley. (It later, 1893, became the Hotel Beechwood.)

post Civil War Summit became a summer resort area. Wealthy people built extensive summer estates.

1868 The Blackburn (later the Grand Summit Hotel) built. It became a popular summer retreat. (And it is still a popular destination.)

1869 Summit separates from New Providence and becomes the "Township of Summit".

1871-1873  --  Jayme Riera built the Park House hotel.

1880-1910 Hudson River School painter Whorthington Whittredge lived in Summit. The Worthington Court and Whittredge Gardens Apartments were constructed on land he had once owned.

1883  --  the town's Democratic paper, the Summit Record, founded by Newton W. Woodruff.

1884  -- after losing a fortune, Jayme Riera sold the Park House hotel to William H. De Forest.

1887-1893  --  the Summit Gazette publish.  William F. Byland was editor. 

1888  --  Gustave Amsinck was Summit's wealthiest resident. His home, complete with a lake, was at 63 Prospect Hill.  (The house burned down in 1916.)

1891  --  Summit's first library opened, but it was neither public nor free. 

1892  --  William H. De Forest bought the Summit Rubber Company building in order to manufacture all grades of silk on 100 looms.

1893  --  the Parmley Place enlarged to become the Beechwood Hotel for 250 guests. 

1894 the future Summit Opera House erected. (It currently houses the restaurant Winberries and several other businesses and residences.)

1899 the City of Summit was incorporated.  The Village Green was then known as Bonnel Park.  The Bonnel family once owned a major part of the center of Summit.

by 1900  --  Summit residents were now commuting to New York. 

1901  --  a group of summer residents bought land straddling Summit and Short Hills and declared it to be their "land of pleasure in the sea of suburbia."  The following year the golf club opened.  A1905 postcard shows the stately Canoe Brook Clubhouse.

early 1900s  --  Pastor of Central Presbyterian Church, Rev. Theodore White, was a leading actor in the opening of the Neighborhood House (518 Morris Avenue) that served many of the ethnic groups residing in North Summit. (The pastor's daughter Mary Ogden White (1863-1938) helped operate the Neighborhood House, while also being a president of the Fortnightly Club, an ardent suffragist, and an activist for the town's public library.) 

1902  --  Dr. Eliot Gorton and Dr. Thomas P. Prout founded the Fair Oaks Sanitarium in the Manley home (built 1880) at 26 Locust Drive.

1904-1905  --  the present rail station built. 

1906 30-bed private Overlook Hospital founded..

1911  --  Summit's first free public library opened on Maple Street on land donated by the Bonnel family's Summit Home Land Company.. 

1912  --  Caxton Brown (president of the Union County Park Commission) of Shadyside Avenue bought 76 acres at River Road and the Morris Turnpike for the purpose of development.  The following year the Prospect Hill Corporation offered for sale the Canoe Brook Estates. 

1914 Overlook Hospital went public.

1914  --  the opening of the Lyric Theater (at 23 Beechwood Road). 

1923  --  Citizens Trust Company founded. (Moved the following year to 30 Maple Street.)  James D. Hood was the first president.

1924  --  the Summit Record merged with the Summit Herald.

1925 Summit was the first city to bury utility wires underground.

1926  -- sculptor Edith Baretta Parsons's 7-foot Angel of Peace dedicated in Bonnel Park (now the Village Green) to honor those who lost their lives in World War I.

1928  -- the Grand Summit Hotel built to replace the old summer resort, the Blackburn.

1938  -- death of activist Mary Ogden White.

1939  -- Fair Oaks Sanitarium building razed (and replaced by garden apartments). The Sanitarium moved to 19 Prospect Street.

1951  --  the Lyric Theater burned down. 

1964  -- the old library replaced by a new one built next door.

2000 more than $4 million dollar beautification and utility overhaul for the downtown area of the city.

2003 newly renovated and expanded Summit High School dedicated.

Reeves-Reed Arboretum 12.5 acres of formal gardens and woodlands and placed on the New Jersey Registers of Historic Places.


E. Robin Little, Summit's Story (A Chronicle for the City of Summit on the Occasion of its Fiftieth Anniversary), City of Summit, April 11, 1949.

The Official City of Summit Website. http://www.ci.summit.nj.us/aboutsummit/history.cfm

Edward S. Olcott, 20th Century Summit 1899 - 1999, Howell and Williams, Summit New Jersey, 1998.

Patricia E. Meola. 1998.  Images of America: Summit.  Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press.