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Suburban History

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Native Americans lived in the area for hundreds of years, traversing paths that have today become some of the area’s major thoroughfares. The first white settlers arrived about 1720 in the locale now known as New Providence. The level ground and fertile soil, plus an abundance of water from creeks, ponds, and a river, made it good for farming. The area was initially called “Turkey” after the large flocks of wild turkeys that roamed the countryside.

During the Revolutionary War, the region was important strategically for the Colonial Army as a lookout point. High on the ridge known as Hobart Gap (now near Hobart Avenue in Summit), General Washington’s troops kept watch on the British forces camped to the east in the valley below and on their ships in Lower New York Bay. They signaled back to the encamped soldiers in Morristown by means of bonfires lit on the tops of the various ridges along the Watchung Range, which cuts through the area.

After independence was won, and life went back to a more normal routine, a regional government was formed in 1793. It encompassed the area of present-day Springfield, Summit, New Providence, and Berkeley Heights, and was called Springfield Township. Growth continued, and by 1809, Springfield Township was divided into Springfield Township and New Providence Township. New Providence Township was made up of present-day Summit, New Providence, and Berkeley Heights.

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In 1869, Summit seceded from New Providence Township. The railroad had brought tremendous growth to Summit, and disputes of town management led to the separation. The Borough of New Providence and the City of Summit both incorporated in 1899. Present-day Berkeley Heights remained part of New Providence, eventually incorporating itself as a separate township in 1952.

Summit initially developed as a resort area for well-to-do New Yorkers, who came in the summertime for the higher elevation and cooler and fresher air. Hotels and guesthouses were built, followed by lovely “cottages” constructed by the summer residents.

Eventually, those summer vacationers became permanent residents and the town grew, in large part because of improved transportation in the region, by both trains and trolleys. Silk mills were established in the northern part of the town and were staffed by immigrants from the Middle East. By the early to mid 1900s, the downtown had grown and become a regional shopping center.

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The Berkeley Heights area was known through the late 1800s and into the 1900s for its small farms, where much of the produce that supplied the region was grown. New Providence during this time was famous for its large greenhouses, located near the train line in the Murray Hill area, where roses and gardenias were grown, to be sold by florists in the northern New Jersey area.

The region’s proximity to New York City, a major financial and cultural capital, contributed to the area’s growth. Today, it remains a blend of communities, each with its own character and uniqueness, but with an overriding friendliness and suburban charm that bind the area together.

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