History of Florham Park
Before European settlers arrived in the early 1700s, Lenni-Lenape Indians were prevalent in Florham Park; in fact, Park and Ridgedale Avenues were originally old Indian trails. Other early residents included John Canfield from Newark, and John Hopping, an English sea captain. With nine children, the Hoppings were one of the area’s largest families. During the Revolutionary War, William Canfield and Silas Hopping, descendants of those original families, joined George Washington’s army. Back then, Florham Park was a small agricultural community consisting of farms and fields. In the off-season, many barns were used to produce brooms, giving rise to the town’s name of Broomtown. Other early names included Hoppingtown for the Hopping family, Afton and Columbia.
By 1877, Florham Park’s population was 350. At this time, George Laning opened a general store at 195 Ridgedale Avenue, which also served as the community’s post office. The second story “hall” hosted town meetings, cultural events and civic activities. A few years later in 1880, William Tunis began a carriage production company, which became a leading industry in town.
Florham Park was officially established in March of 1899 when it broke off from neighboring Chatham Township. Two local millionaires spearheaded the effort in order to reduce their tax burden. These citizens were also early supporters of the community, contributing greatly to many civic and charitable groups. Dr. Leslie Ward was a medical doctor and vice president of the Prudential Insurance Company, and Hamilton Twombly was a Wall Street investor. Twombly’s wife was Florence Vanderbilt, the granddaughter of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. The Twombly’s English manor, called Florham, sited on 840 acres, was one of the country’s finest Gilded Age homes.
The borough’s new name also originated from the Twombly and Ward families. Florham is a combination of the first syllables of the names of Florence and Hamilton Twombly. The word Park came from Dr. Ward’s Brooklake Park estate overlooking a sparkling lake which was created by a dam.
On July 4th, 1899, the Twombly’s celebrated Florham Park’s new name by opening their Florham estate to 600 people who enjoyed plenty of food, drinks and $2,000 worth of fireworks. Today, the Twombly’s grand estate is part of the Florham Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University and is called Hennessy Hall. The mansion was inspired by a wing of Britain’s Hampton Court Palace designed by Sir. Christopher Wren, and the grounds were conceived by celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also was responsible for designing New York’s Central Park.
Dr. Ward’s Brooklake Park was built in the late 1800s as a summer home. Set amid meandering hillsides, it included a golf course and a saw mill which supplied the lumber to construct the elaborate main residence. Originally set on 1,000 acres, Dr. Ward’s estate is now part of the private Brooklake Country Club. Both the Twombly and Ward mansions are a vivid reminder of the borough’s history as a countryside retreat for some of America’s wealthiest residents.
During the first part of the 20th century, Florham Park remained a mainly rural town. After World War II, Florham Park evolved into a bedroom community, aided by rail service into Newark and New York City. By 1956, the local planning board’s thoughtful zoning for industrial areas began to attract major corporations such as Automatic Switch, Strahman Valve and Esso (Exxon) Research and Engineering. Other well-known companies such as Prudential Insurance, Metropolitan Life and Sandoz added to the borough’s corporate identity. Today, The Green at Florham Park corporate center on Park Avenue contains BASF’s headquarters and the training facility for the New York Jets. Future plans call for a hotel and residential development.
Florham Park’s historical society and museum are housed in the circa 1866 Little Red Schoolhouse at 203 Ridgedale Avenue, listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. While local historians insist that Florham Park’s first teacher Geneva Prudden rarely used it, she kept a horsewhip handy to deter bad behavior among students.