Morristown, a village of 250, was a center of iron supply for the American Revolution. Even though it lay only 30 miles west of the main British force in New York City it was protected by a series of parallel mountain ranges. It was these twin luxuries of a defensible position in close proximity to the enemy which twice brought General George Washington to camp his main army here, first in 1777 and again in 1779-1780.
After the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, Washington’s army was too worn down to continue an offensive and trudged into winter quarters at Morristown. The 5,000 soldiers swarmed the tiny town seeking shelter in the few public buildings, private homes, barns and stables then in existence. Steadily Washington rebuilt his flagging troops, overcoming desertion and incipient food shortages. his greatest foe, however, was disease. An outbreak of smallpox threatened to decimate the small army and Washington ordered the little known and, to many, horrifying procedure of inoculation. Some indeed died but most of his troops did not contract the deadly pox.
Washington again brought his army to Morristown at the end of 1779, this time a seasoned, battle-hardened group that had just driven the British back into New York. But nothing could have prepared the Continental Army for the worst winter of the eighteenth century. Twenty-eight blizzards pounded the slopes and whipped through the wooden huts. The quartermaster could not keep the army clothed, and many times the sun came up and went down without any food being issued to the men. Only the respect for Washington kept the army from open mutiny. It is this Revolutionary heritage that permeates Morristown today.
The town was settled in 1715 and was designated the county seat when Morris County was cleaved from Hunterdon County in 1739. The county was named for the popular Governor of the Province, Lewis Morris, who championed benefits for the colonists. In the 1800s, with the coming of the Morris Canal and then the railroads, Morristown boomed as the financial center for the iron industry. When the trains came back after delivering iron ore they were carrying New Yorkers out of city seeking a respite from the urban environment. This exchange would shape the character of the town for decades.
Morristown has been an active participant in the urban renewal game. Those buildings that were not torn down were often dressed in utilitarian facades. When thought was involved, Colonial Revival architecture was most often employed. Our walking tour will begin on the town green, whose buildings, typical of Morristown, do not collectively call to mind any particular time in the town’s nearly 300-year history...
Today the Morristown Green is a shady oasis of two acres where you can come and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life for a little while. Historically, however, it was the source of that hustle and bustle. In the early days the Green was used to pasture animals and as a training ground for the local militia. The training picked up in the first months of 1777 when George Washington brought the Continental Army to winter in Morristown. The General used the second floor of Arnold’s Tavern at what is now 20 Park Place as his headquarters. Every house and building within musket shot range filled up with his officers and men. Beginning in 1755 and lasting until 1827 the courthouse and jail occupied the western corner of the Green and that included a pillory and scaffold out front. Through the 1800s the Green evolved into more of a park. The Civil War monument, Soldier at Rest, arrived in 1871; other memorials include a statue commemorating the meeting of George Washington, the young Marquis de Lafayette, and young Alexander Hamilton.
WALK THROUGH THE GREEN BACK TO THE CHURCH.
Church on the Green
57 East Park Place
The Presbyterians organized in Morristown, then called West Hanover, in 1733 and by 1738 the congregation had a charter issued by King George II of England and a small meeting house. In 1742, the congregation called the Reverend Timothy Johnes as pastor and he would oversee the history of the church for most of the rest of the century. During the Revolutionary War George Washington attended services here a few steps from his headquarters in the Arnold Tavern. Mostly the building was used as a hospital trying to deal with an outbreak of smallpox. The original meetinghouse gave way to a larger structure when Johnes departed in 1794. By 1840, a social, theological and leadership controversy split the congregation. One faction left and founded the South Street Presbyterian Church in 1841. The congregation that remained on the Green became known as The First Church and built the existing Church on the Green in 1893-94. The adjoining graveyard was first used in 1731 and includes the graves of several scores of Revolutionary War soldiers and pioneers in the town. A portion of the Georgian steeple from the second church can be seen in the burial ground.
TURN RIGHT TO WALK CLOCKWISE AROUND THE GREEN.
United States Post Office
1 Morris Street
In the early days of Morris County, mail was left at various coffee-houses in the area. When George Washington brought his army to Morristown the sleepy burg of about 250 people suddenly had the need for a post office. Mail would arrive from Philadelphia and Fishkill, New York and be distributed once a week. The military post office was disbanded after the war and Morristown was not listed among the original 75 post offices established by the United States government in 1789. The post office was back in business by 1792 and began a peripatetic existence around town. In 1904, $35,000 was appropriated for land at this site to construct a much-needed new post office. The two-story brick building was constructed by 1915 with nods to the Colonial heritage of the town that include the symmetry, six-over-six upper floor windows accented by keystone lintels and a roof balustrade. Its dominant architectural feature are the quartet of Corinthian pilasters that define the entrance.
United Methodist Church
50 South Park Place
This is the third Methodist meeting house for the Morristown Methodists, that first came together in 1827. The building was constructed of local puddingstone, purple clay peppered with round pebbles, and dedicated on March 22, 1870. S.D. Hatch brought the Norman style to the Green with his design, financed by a $100,000 donation from George Thomas Cobb, who made his fortune in the New York iron trade. Morristown-born Cobb was elected as a Democrat to the United States Congress during the Civil War and was the town’s first mayor from 165-1869. After a unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1869 he was killed in a train accident in West Virginia in 1870. The church seen today is a reconstruction after a ferocious 1972 fire claimed everything but the tower and front wall.
AT SOUTH STREET TURN LEFT AND LEAVE THE GREEN.
Young Men’s Catholic Association
13 South Street
Most of the downtown commercial district buildings have been altered for 21st century use without regard for their 19th century heritage. This building, constructed in the 1880s, housed club rooms upstairs for the Young Men’s Catholic Association and provided retail space along the street level. If you look up, you can still capture some of its ornate origins.
First National Iron Bank
22 South Street
Henry Cooper Pitney began the study of law in Morristown after his graduation from Princeton in 1848, becoming one of the most respected jurists in the state culminating in his appointment as Vice Chancellor of New Jersey. He was one of the organizers of the National Iron Bank in 1865 and served as the institution’s president. This Neoclassical vault began serving the bank in the first decades of the 20th century. Look on the side of the building to see an antique burglar alarm from the firm of O.B. McClintock, specialists in the manufacture of bank alarms and free-standing town clocks. it dates from 1927.
Church of the Redeemer
36 South Street
Refugees from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church banded together in 1852 to found the Church of the Redeemer. The next year they were able to construct a wooden church at Morris Avenue and Pine Street. In 1885 the meeting house was hauled to this site; it would burn in 1917 to be replaced with the current stone Gothic revival church. In 1926 a stone parish hall followed and in 1935 came a stone rectory.
Lewis Condict House
51 South Street
This land was the property of an early settler, Silas Condict, a member of the Continental Congress. He sold 11 acres to his nephew Lewis for ｣1,400 pounds and built this house in 1797 after graduating from medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. Lewis Condict is said to have introduced a new British vaccine against smallpox by inoculating his two-year-old daughter on the front stoop. Later he was in on the creation of the Morris and Essex Railroad and the town’s first railroad station was built right behind his house on what is now Maple Avenue. The house has been shepherded into its third century by the Woman’s Club of Morristown.
South Street Presbyterian Church
65 South Street
The first rift in the Morristown Presbyterian congregation in 1840 resulted in the formation of the South Street Presbyterian Church. Their first church was destroyed by fire in 1878 and replaced with a stone building in the then-popular Romanesque Revival style, built on designs from Josiah Cleveland Cady. The South Street congregation returned to the fold in 1926 and the impressive sanctuary now does duty as classrooms and offices.
83 South Street
This farmhouse is thought to have been built in the late 1700s when not many brick houses were being built in Morristown. It has been heavily altered through the years as it has served as a residence, most prominently by the Wood family, home for a non-profit organization and retail space.
100 South Street
When the Community Theatre opened in 1937 with a screening of the Carole Lombard-Frederic March comedy Nothing Sacred movie-goers were greeted by a quartet of 40-foot Greco-Roman Corinthian pillars. the movie house flourished for a few decades before struggling into the 1980s when it went dark. The building deteriorated, the lobby ceiling collapsed and mushrooms sprouted in the balcony. In 1994 rehabilitation began, first with volunteers and then multi-million dollar backing. Today the Community Theatre sports an annual operating budget in the millions. hosts top-name acts and boasts some of the finest acoustics in New Jersey.
Joint Free Library
1 Miller Road at South Street
The first books in Morristown were lent in 1792 from a collection of 96 books. That private library would be joined in town by others until 1875 when an beautiful High Victorian Gothic building was erected on South Street near the Green by stockholders who paid $3.00 per year for the privilege of borrowing books. The library was able to offer free lending to the public in 1906 but on February 12, 1914 fire raced through the building and destroyed most of the 30,000-book collection. Grinnell Willis, a retired textile merchant, paid for this resplendent Gothic library building that replaced the Lyceum on December 13, 1917. The original entrance was through the tower on Miller Street. In 1929 Willis funded an addition that contained the Children’s Wing and when he died a year later he left the library an endowment of $200,000 which helped the library continue to expand around the corner property. If the library is open it holds an abundance of eclectic treasures inside. There is an original Thomas Nast cartoon, Swinging Round the Circle, that was part of his show that toured the United States in 1867; a massive golden eagle in the Reference Room that was the only relic to survive from a fire that consumed the Morristown Armory in 1920; a balcony guard rail that was crafted by famous Philadelphia metal worker Samuel Yellin that lists World War I veterans on brass panels; and plenty of literary stained glass windows.
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
South Street at Miller Road
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church was incorporated on January 1, 1827 but Morristown had entertained an active Anglican community back before the Revolutionary War. A congregation calling itself St. Peter’s began holding services around town in 1791. Ground for the new stone church was broken in May 1828 and that building did fine service until the 1880s when the celebrated New York firm of McKim, Meade and White were retained to design a new sanctuary. Work was begun on April 11, 1887 and would be completed in four stages over the next 24 years; church leaders insisted that no stone be laid unless it was paid for. The tower carillon, originally containing 37 bells cast in England, was dedicated April 13, 1924. Today it numbers 49 bells, many the gifts of parishioners.
110 South Street
Theodore Vail was born in Ohio in 1845 and his father Davis brought the family to Morristown in his second year to take a job at the Speedwell Iron Works. Vail was educated locally but his business career began fitfully as he had trouble sticking with any job path very long. His cousin Alfred had been instrumental in the development of the telegraph and he worked in telegraphy for a bit. He went out west to farm with his father and then took a job as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Railway System. Before he qualified for a day of vacation he had developed a mail delivery system that shaved as much as two weeks off a letter’s journey - a system the U.S. Postal Service still uses today. In 1878 he joined up with Alexander Bell and became General Manager of the fledgling Bell company and in 1885, as the fledgling telephone industry shook itself out, he became the first president of American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). His philosophy of customer service before profits clashed with the company board and he left two years later. The next two decades would find Vail in South America developing hydropower, in Colorado investing in gold mines and here and there promoting electric railways. He was called back to a stumbling AT&T in 1908 and set the company on the course that would make it a corporate giant in the 20th century. When he retired in 1919 it was said that “Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and Theodore Vail invented the telephone business.” About this time Vail began work on an Italian Renaissance Palazzo in his childhood hometown that would house his art collection and family inventions on the first floor and provide living space on the second floor. Vail, however, died in 1920 before his palace could be completed. In 1922 the building was acquired by the Town of Morristown and put to a decidedly more pedestrian use as offices. Today the Vail mansion has been resurrected as a unique residential center.
TURN RIGHT ON MADISON STREET.
The Catholic Church of the Assumption
Maple Avenue at Madison Street
Thanks to untimely fires and the thirst for bigger and better, this highly decorated Victorian Gothic church from 1872 is the oldest in Morristown. It too suffered the ravages of fire in the 1980s but was restored. The Catholic Church of the Assumption was formed in 1845 by Irish immigrants where it served for many years as the heart of “Little Dublin.”
TURN RIGHT ON MAPLE STREET, AN AVENUE LINED WITH BRACKETED VICTORIAN HOMES. TURN LEFT ON MILLER STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON MACCULLOCH AVENUE.
Villa Fontana (Thomas Nast House)
50 Macculloch Avenue
Thomas Nast was born in Bavarian army barracks in what is now Germany in 1840. His family emigrated to New York City when Thomas was only six but when he began what would be a 25-year stint at Harper’s Weekly in 1861 drawing cartoons and caricatures his work was still strongly influenced by German tradition and political culture. His scathing political cartoons against the New York City political machine of Tammany Hall and William Magear “Boss” Tweed led to physical threats that Nast took seriously enough to move his family to Morristown in 1872. He bought Villa Fontana that had been constructed in 1866. Nast became a fixture about town just as his depictions of of Santa Claus, the Republican elephant, the Democrat donkey, and Uncle Sam became fixtures in American culture.
49 Macculloch Avenue
Henry Miller, a long-time commander in the United States Navy, built this summer Victorian cottage clad in fish-scale shingles in the 1870s. He called it “the Kedge” after the traditional fisherman anchor of the age. It was known around town for life-size chess games played in the courtyard with costumed guests moving around the board. The house has been enlarged for year-round occupancy through the years.
Macculloch Hall Historical Museum
45 Macculloch Avenue
George Perrot Macculloch was born in Bombay, India, grew up in Scotland, emigrated from London in 1806 and made his most landing contribution in northern New Jersey. A farmer and businessman, Macculloch was fishing on Lake Hopatcong, the state’s largest lake, in 1822 when he was struck by the idea that water from the lake could fill an artificial waterway to link the Passaic and Hudson rivers. He brought together a team of private investors, received a charter from the State of New Jersey and set about constructed his dream. By 1831 the first trip was taken on the Morris Canal, then 90 miles long from Newark to Phillipsburg. Mules pulling 25-ton barges would complete the journey in five days. The cargo would be mostly hard anthracite coal coming from the newly opened mines of northeast Pennsylvania. The canal was a marvel of the age. The waterway needed to overcome an elevation gain of 1,674 feet - the most of any canal in the world. To achieve this required 23 lift locks and 23 larger inclined planes. The Morris Canal would thrive for several decades and survive for 90 years. This Federal-style brick mansion was the centerpiece of Macculloch’s 26-acre gentleman’s farm when it was completed in 1819. It stayed in the family for five generations until it was sold in 1949 to local philanthropist W. Parsons Todd who restored Macculloch Hall as a home for his collection of fine arts, which he made available to the public.
Admiral Rodgers House
40 Macculloch Avenue
Brooklyn-born Christopher Raymond Perry Rodgers was a career Navy man whose resume included service in the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War, as Superintendent of the Naval Academy, and as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Squadron. The distinguished records fits well with his family pedigree which includes uncles Oliver Hazard Perry, naval hero of the War of 1812 in The Battle of Lake Erie, and Matthew Perry who compelled the opening of Japan to the West in 1854. The Gothic Revival house was built for the Rodgers family in 1852 when he 33 years of age. The wisteria gracing the front porch is believed to have been brought back from Japan as a gift from his uncle after his famous expedition.
TURN RIGHT ON OAK STREET. TURN RIGHT ON MAPLE AVENUE.
43 Maple Avenue
This well-preserved Italianate house was purchased in 1864 by Henry C. Pitney, Vice Chancellor of New Jersey, the President of the National Iron Bank, Director of the Library and Lyceum, and President of the Morris Aqueduct.
TURN AND WALK BACK TO OAK STREET. CONTINUE TO DEHART STREET AT THE NEXT BLOCK. TURN RIGHT.
17 DeHart Street
This house was built in 1807 and used by Monsieur Louis Sansay, a French dancing master, who brought gracious manners to town by directing a popular dancing school in his home. After a pastor in the Presbyterian Church denounced dancing as a sin the dancing school went bankrupt.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO MAPLE AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT.
The Canfield House
5 Maple Avenue
When the Morris and Essex Railroad first chugged into Morristown it ran down what is now Maple Avenue and this became the town’s first commercial district. In the mid-1800s the topography prevented the line from continuing and it was re-routed to the other side of the Green. This house was built around 1800 for Israel Canfield who ran a general store.
TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET.
The Independent Hose Company
15 Market Street
The Independent Hose Company was organized in 1834, and became Morristownｴs first incorporated fire department in 1867. The fire house, believed to have been built around 1870, is shared between the Independent and Washington Hose Companies.
WALK OUT TO PARK PLACE. FOR THE LAST TWO STOPS ON THE TOUR TURN LEFT AND WALK DOWN WASHINGTON STREET.
First Baptist Church
51 Washington Street
The Baptists were the second congregation to organize in Morristown, back in 1752 with 17 members. Beginning in 1771 they spent more than 120 years on the Green before moving into this stone Romanesque Revival building in 1892.
The Morris County Courthouse
Washington Street and Court Street
Architect-builders Joseph M. Lindsley of Morristown and Lewis Carter of Chatham crafted one of New Jersey’s finest Federal-style public buildings for the county courthouse when it left the center of the Green in 1827. The land cost $100. The red brick is trimmed with brownstone quarried in the neighborhood. Above the entrance is a gilded statue of Justice - it is unusual because in Morris County, justice is not blindfolded.
TURN AND WALK THE TWO BLOCKS BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT ON THE GREEN.