History of Chatham Township

Ages ago Chatham Township was the southerly edge of a glacial field. A large, deep lake covered what is now the Great Swamp. The same glacier gave the township many of its other distinguishing features: the Passaic River along the entire southern border, the wooded ridge parallel to the river and the gentle rolling hills that offer an expansive view over and beyond the Great Swamp.

The first white settlers arrived around 1710, attracted by the fertility of the soil and the rich iron ore deposits in the region. During the Revolutionary War, the entire area shared in the activity of the Morristown encampment.

In 1806, the Township of Chatham was incorporated and included the areas that are now the Borough of Chatham, Madison and Florham Park. It was named Chatham in honor of Sir William Pitt, the elder Earl of Chatham, who had spoken in favor of the colonists in Parliament.

These areas were connected by turnpikes and toll roads originally built by private corporations to transport their goods to market. Local residents later built Shunpike Road to avoid paying tolls.

The most important transportation development was the coming of the Morris and Essex Railroad in 1837. This led to sharp increases in the population, which resulted in incorporating Chatham, Madison and Florham Park as separate boroughs.

  In the late 1870s and 1880s Chatham Township became a center of the rose-growing industry. The speciality of the Louis M. Noe Greenhouses was the American Beauty rose with a stem five feet long. At Christmas, he sent them to European royalty. Queen Victoria received 50 of them on her golden anniversary.

After a five-year construction ban during World War II, home-hungry families invaded the township, and large farms gave way to luxurious home sites. Former rose farms became two major shopping centers at the corner known as Hickory Tree, named for a hickory tree planted during President Madison's term.

In 1959 the Port Authority zeroed in on the "Great Swamp" as the ideal location for a major metropolitan airport. Through the efforts of Chatham and neighboring municipalities, the swamp was secured by donation as a wilderness area. This part of the township is now open space where joggers, hikers and nature lovers can see the land as it was.

The Great Swamp wilderness, together with its proximity to metropolitan New York, make Chatham an attractive place to live.

Learn more about the history of Chatham Township by visiting the Chatham Township Historical Society here.