Harding Township municipal offices are located at 21 Blue Mill Road, New Vernon, NJ 07976; phone: 973-267-8000.
The original inhabitants of Harding were the Delaware (or Lenape) Indians of Algonquin stock. Their history, in what would become Harding, is unrecorded and limited to a relatively few artifacts. Recorded history essentially begins in 1713. What is now most of Morris County was purchased from the Lenape and made part of Burlington County under the ownership of the West Jersey Proprietors. Original surveys in the Harding area were carried out in 1715 and 1717 by the first recorded landowners who included William Penn and James Logan. The general ownership of the area was disputed by factions in East Jersey and resolved in their favor in 1743. As early as the 1790s the center of what is now Harding was referred to as New Vernon, a place name for what was then considered part of Morristown. The earliest recorded inhabitants were the families Lindsley, Tuttle and Goble.
By the time of the Revolution, most of Harding's current road system was in place supporting a sparse pattern of rural development. The Morristown area, including the future area of Harding, was the focus of considerable military operations during the Revolutionary War, utilizing the road system for the movement of troops and a major encampment of the 8ontinental Army at Jockey Hollow during the winter of 1779-80.
The long period from the Revolutionary War until after the Civil War saw slow rural development of farmsteads focused around the small compact villages of New Vernon, Green Village and Logansville. That pattern of tightly clustered villages surrounded by relatively open land is still evident today. In 1866, Passaic Township (now Long Hill Township) was formed, including the area of current Harding.
The early part of the 20th century saw a new and different form of development, that of large estates for wealthy families taking advantage of transportation improvements linking the area to New York and Newark. Estate building began in Morristown in the later part of the 19th century but by the early part of the 20th (particularly the teens and early twenties) Harding had become the focus of such development. The goal of these new residents was to preserve the historic rural landscape that had attracted them to the area. A group of prominent businessmen joined forces with Marcus Northup to settle a long-standing dispute between the northern and southern portions of Passaic Township over the allocation of money for road repairs needed by the wealthy residents because of their growing fleets of automobiles. This led to the formation of Harding as a separate township in September 1922, named after President Warren G. Harding.
The new residents of the early 20th century had the resources to purchase large tracts of land, much of which became subject to the "New Vernon Neighborhood Restrictive Agreement." This agreement essentially provided Harding with an early form of zoning, albeit entirely privately enacted. The covenant stated that "there shall be no trade, manufacture or business of any description whatsoever on the properties included in this agreement, unless properly changed by new covenants, adequately adopted by the property owners concerned." Municipal zoning largely limiting development to low density residential development was first enacted shortly thereafter. As a result, little changed in Harding until after World War II.
The early development of the Harding area is of obvious significance to the township and this first stage of development was also its longest lasting historic era. It corresponds to two of the eras that the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office has listed as historically significant in New Jersey: the period of initial colonial settlement (1630-1775) and the period of early industrialization, urbanization and agricultural development (1775-1860). In Harding, it encompasses the time period from the early settlement of the area by people of European origins in the early-to-mid 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century and the advent of the estate era.
The first settlers were probably the John Lindsley and Stephen Tuttle families. In 1743, the Conger family opened a tavern near the corner of Blue Mill and Sand Spring roads. Additional early settlers included: Goble, Tomkins, Fairchild, Muir, Canfield, Miller and Pruden families. Samuel Oliver and Timothy Mills settled ca. 1754, Joseph Wood ca. 1748 and Jacob Bockhoven in 1764.
The historic resources relating to this era are found throughout the township and are still quite common, including numerous structures that make up the historic settlement pattern of the tightly clustered crossroads villages of New Vernon and Green Village, surrounded by scattered, low-density farmsteads. It is also the era during which the township's road system was established, much of which has changed little since that time.
Sites and events associated with the American Revolutionary War are a particularly significant part of Harding's history. The area in and around Harding saw significant events associated with the Revolution during the period from 1777 to 1780. The Morristown area became strategically important when Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton forced the British to fall back to New York. Washington perceived that the area around Morristown had strategic benefits for the Revolutionary Anny to monitor the British in and around New York, which was the headquarters for the British war effort against the colonies. In particular, the heights in the northern part of the township afforded long views of the area towards the British forces in New York. The Continental Army encamped in the area starting in the winter of 1777 at "Loantica," just north of present day Harding, and then again during the winter of 1779-80 on what was then known as "Kimball" (now Kemble) Mountain in Harding.
Jockey Hollow was established in 1933 by the Federal Government as the nation's first historical park to preserve the area of the encampment. Over 80 percent of the National Park is located within the township. The appreciation of the historic significance of the Park is enhanced by the preservation of historic resources in the area around it. In particular, Harding's historic road system and the historic rural landscape add substantially to the historic significance of Jockey Hollow. The US Congress has designated the Harding area part of the Crossroads of the Revolution National Area.
Additionally, historic resources associated with this era include the Peter Kemble House on Mt. Kemble Avenue, which is individually listed on the State/National Register and, home of a prominent "Tory" and the site where "Mad Anthony" Wayne negotiated with mutineers from the Continental Army, near the intersection of Tempe Wick Road and Mt. Kemble Avenue.
No consideration of the history of Harding would be complete without including its estate era. It corresponds to the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office suburban development era (1840-1940). In Harding it encompasses the later part of the Gilded Age, the period from the end of the 19th century to the early part of the 20th when prominent families of American industrialists first moved to the township having made fortunes in the industrial development of the country. They established country estates by buying up small farms and consolidating them. Among these were Howard Bayne, Seth Thomas, Jr., Henry Colgate, Warren Kinney, T. Towar Bates, and James McA!pin Pyle.
In 1920, they set up the New Vernon Land Company to buy up and control open space within the township subject to the New Vernon Neighborhood Restrictive Agreement. The subscribers to the private agreement "pledged to restrict commercial usage and division of property until 1965" and set a minimum lot size of three acres; although there was a verbal understanding that ten acres would be the minimum. The historic resources relating to this era include many surviving estates and the associated rural landscapes preserved through the efforts of this American elite.