New Vernon Historic District
The New Vernon Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The New Vernon Historic District depicts an 18th-early 19th century crossroads village whose focal point was nearby Morristown. Its basic early house type — the small 1-1/2 story three-bay frame house — represents the culture of its 18th century English settlers. These English settlers stayed briefly elsewhere (a generation in New England or Long Island) before settling in Morris County. The house type suggests an English vernacular house modified for new world conditions and can be found in other English settled areas in Morris, Essex, Monmouth and Union counties. In New Vernon, this house type persists through the 19th century.
This vernacular English culture is further manifested in the New Vernon Presbyterian Church, a fine example of a meeting house form with Gothic and Federal detailing and a focal point of the District.
New Vernon's earliest annals are somewhat enshrouded in mystery. The county, including this part of it, was an unbroken wilderness at the beginning of the 18th century. It was around 1700 that the county probably first saw white inhabitants. The honor of first settling it goes to the Dutch, who in 1695 bought from the Indians a large tract of land lying between the Passaic on the south and the Pompton on the north, and between the mountains on the east and west, and who actually settled the northeastern portion of it at Pompton Plains about five years later. In 1710 Hanover was settled and shortly afterwards Morristown — both by New England People. New Vernon then was doubtless a desolate wilderness, covered by forests.
The New Vernon area was settled shortly after Morristown — indeed was part of Morristown. At the time of the Revolution there were only two hundred and fifty inhabitants in the village of Morristown. Travelers from the south were really in Morristown when they reached New Vernon and could be as well entertained at the Conger Tavern, as the Arnold Tavern in the center of the village of Morristown. New Vernon was at first part of Hanover Township, and when Morristown broke away from Hanover, New Vernon went with it. Both places were surveyed at the same time — Morristown for John Kay and New Vernon for John Alford and James Bullen. John Alford, of Midford in Middlesex County in the Province of New England, had a proprietary title to most of the land on which the village is located.
In 1715 John Reading (later a Royal Governor of the State) surveyed a good part of New Jersey and, according to one of the oldest discovered deeds in the area, the land of John Alford. Reading was Alford's attorney for the transaction.
There were various attractions, real or imaginary, that drew the early settlers to this wilderness, and those who came laid claim to everything in and out of sight. The deed from Alford to Lindsley, mentioned the following as included in the conveyance: "Mines, Minerals Woods, Underwoods, Timber Trees. Pastures feeding Way Waters Watercourse Springs Swamps. Marsh Land. Meadow Ground, fowling, fishings, huntings, hawkins and all other Royalties franchises Powers Emoluments Commodities Hereditaments and appurtenances."
John Lindsley, Jr. was one of the first settlers of New Vernon. He was the oldest son of John Lindsley, who, with his father Francis Lindsley and forty other families founded Newark in 1664. Francis Lindsley had been an officer in Cromwell's army. The Lindsley landholdings were located in the general vicinity of New Vernon, although there do not appear to be any buildings extant.
Adjoining the Lindsley farm on the north was Stephen Tuttle's land, bought on 4th of October 1727. John Lindsley's name appears as witness on Stephen Tuttle's deed and Stephen Tuttle as a witness on John Lindsley's. Stephen Tuttle was probably the third son of Stephen Tuttle and Ruth Fitz Randolph, who settled at Woodbridge in 1695, coming from Connecticut. Stephen Tuttle, Jr., did not remain in New Vernon long, but returned to Connecticut. There he married a Sarah Stanley in 1735, and six months later was killed by lightning.
Other Tuttles of the same family, though not the same branch, moved to New Vernon later. Among these was Joseph Tuttle, grandfather of Dr. Joseph F. Tuttle, President of Wabash College. Joseph Tuttle was a blacksmith and left a record humble yet honorable. None of the standing buildings in the New Vernon Historic District are associated with the Tuttle lineage.
Another family here in an early day was the Fairchilds. Caleb Fairchild's name first appears in 1730 as a witness on a quit claim deed from Jotham Clark to John Lindsley. He certainly lived in this neighborhood shortly afterwards, as is evident from deeds and church records. There is some uncertainty but he appears to have been the father of Joseph Fairchild. Joseph Fairchild, born in 1724, was a carpenter and probably built the dwelling in which he was recorded living in 1771-72. (Lee's Hill Road) Adjacent is possibly the Fairchild barn, converted into a house in 1921.
At least as early as 1743, the Conger family settled nearby and soon built a house which was long known as the Conger Tavern. No longer extant, the Conger Tavern was located at the intersection of Blue Mill Road and Sand Spring Road, just east of the village.
The Canfields owned property just about where the village stands. Abraham Canfield came from Newark and settled in New Vernon in the mid-18th century. He came as a young man and married shortly before or after his arrival. The house in which he lived, and probably built, was in ruins as early as 1893, but foundations of this building are still in evidence .
Abraham Canfield kept a country store, a blacksmith shop and a cider mill. B.O. Canfield, a merchant of Morristown, and a grandson of Abraham Canfield, stated before his death that his grandfather "traded in iron and iron ore, hammering out bar iron, blooms and octagon iron. He brought in the iron ore from Dover, carrying it in raw hides on pack horses, and that the ore was made into iron by the forges of the neighborhood." (Murgatroyd, Rev. E.R. Annals of the village and of the Presbyterian Church of New Vernon, New Jersey, 1893, p.11.)
It is possible New Vernon was called Passaic in the mid-18th century. Reverend John Gano, minister of the First Baptist Church of Morristown about 1752-56, spoke of having appointments to preach at Morristown, Basking Ridge, Mendham and Passaic. In all liklihood Passaic was the New Vernon area. The place of worship was probably in a private residence since there was no Baptist Church nearby. The name of Passaic was afterwards dropped and property located here was considered to be in Morristown, and people living here considered themselves living in Morristown. No distinction seems to be made in records of the 18th century.
Although farmsteads were scattered throughout the area from the mid-18th century, New Vernon probably did not develop as a village until the turn of the 19th century. The name New Vernon may have been designated shortly after the Revolution. If there was an academy here as early as Abraham Canfield's time (1789, date of his death), and a store and a tavern, and one or two blacksmith shops, it is most likely the name was applied then. It is not a nickname, but one plainly chosen by the people, apparently in commemoration of Washington's presence during the revolution.
The first documented reference to New Vernon was the Palladium of Liberty, a newspaper printed by Jacob Mann of Morristown. The reference was in a death notice in the issue of Thursday, April 7th, 1808, and reads "At New Vernon, on Wednesday the 6th ultimo, Mrs. Mary Sturgis. Aet, 41 years." There is an interval of four years and New Vernon is mentioned again, on Thursday, April 2, 1812: "On Friday last, by the Rev. Samuel Fisher, Mr. Ebenezer Lindley of New Vernon to Miss Phebe Byram near this town." Then it begins to appear in documents in the possession of people living here as; in 1815 in an inventory of the effects of Abner Fairchild; 1816, in the diary of Uzal Tomkins. Soon afterwards it became the usual designation.
Gordon in his Gazetteer in 1834, wrote "New Vernon, post town of Morris Township, Morris Co. 4 miles S.W. from Morristown, 217 N.E. from W.C. and 51 from Trenton; contains a store, an academy, and 4 dwellings." That was somewhat incorrect, as they omitted the church, built 1833, and oral accounts indicate as many as 14 houses.
As early as 1789 the educational needs of New Vernon were met by the building of an Academy (Village Road). There was a saw mill, just below Daniel W. Tunis' house where the water was dammed back and an artificial pond formed. The fall of water obtained in this way was employed for running a turning mill. There was a cabinetmaking shop and several cooper shops scattered around. In connection with this was a weaving establishment. On the Daniel Tunis place, opposite the house, was a shoe shop and tannery. A tannery was also located on the manse property. There were blacksmith shops and forges at the head of Silver Lake. There was a cider mill or distillery opposite the manse.
Before the organization of the New Vernon Presbyterian Church the people went to church in Basking Ridge, Morristown, or had occasional meetings in the academy (ca.1789). Reverend Albert Barnes of the Morristown Presbyterian Church considered the place of sufficient importance to make a regular appointment here; and in the upper room of the academy building, the people on hard benches, the young preacher read to his audience from the Bible and expounded its doctrines.
As a result of a general population increase and religious revivalism the New Vernon Church was organized on the 26th of June, 1833, with thirty-three members. The Hon. S.B. Axtell, in his History of Passaic Township, wrote "With good academies at New Providence, Basking Ridge, New Vernon and Morristown, it is not surprising that the people of this township should be exceptionally intelligent," and, speaking of the academy at New Vernon, added "where was long kept up of the best schools in this section of the State." The New Vernon Academy is still extant although no longer on its original site.
Construction of the Presbyterian Church in 1833 and the Methodist Church (no longer extant) in the 1850's stimulated limited growth in New Vernon, but the village did not burgeon as did many communities benefiting from the railroads. While the lack of a railroad was the primary factor in the retardation of New Vernon's growth in the 19th century, the village organized the New Vernon Land Company in 1920 which insured a continuance of the rural atmosphere considered desirable by the local inhabitants.
Consequently, the development of Harding Township, did not seriously affect New Vernon until the 1950's when its maximum growth period commenced. Still a small 19th century crossroads village, the rural atmosphere is being constantly challenged as Harding Township goes through the last quarter of the 20th century. Historical designation should provide some degree of protection and pride in those residents trying to maintain its integrity.
Gazetteer of New Jersey. Thomas Gordon. 1834.
Map of Passaic Valley, 1845. John Littel.
Beer's Atlas of Morris County. E.R. Robinson. 1887.
Mueller's Atlas of Morris County. 1910.
Map of Morris County, New Jersey. J. Lightfoot and Samuel Geil 1853.
Daniel Tunis Account Books 1790-1842.
† Terry Karschner, Historic Preservation Specialist, Cultural and Environmental Services, State of New Jersey, New Vernon Historic District, Morris County, NJ, nomination document, 1981, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.