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200 Years of History

Jefferson Township in the northwest corner of Morris County was founded in 1804. Shaped like a parallelogram, it encompasses approximately 45 square miles. The Rockaway River flows almost the whole length of the township between Green Pond and the Bowling Green Mountain Range. Nestled amid the highlands lies Lake Hopatcong. Hopatcong is an Indian name from the language of the Lenni-Lenape Indians of the Delaware Tribe. The selection of the name Jefferson suggests that our ancestors sought both to honor the great Philosopher of American Liberty and to hold the vision of freedom for the future.

One of the earliest settlers was Humphrey Davenport, who came from England. He purchased land as early as 1720 at Newfoundland. The next settlement was made in c.1776 by a group of 8 trappers and/or hunters. One settler named Slack had his farm near Little Pond (now part of Lake Hopatcong). William Headley came from Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania. The Hurd family came from Randolph Township near Dover, arriving c1800 in the area now known as Hurdtown. William Wood came in 1804. Colonel John H. Stanburrough in 1806.

James L. Hurd kept a public house (tavern) at Hurdtown (sometimes called New Partners in 1820). At that time a forge was operation, manufacturing bar iron extracted from the abundance of iron ore deposits. Some of the other industries of the time were the making of charcoal and the harvesting of ice. In 1837, the hot blast furnace was introduced and prosperity followed. On the rocky soil once stood quiet farms and noisy mines linked by dirt roads. As more of the land was cleared, farms and mines were divided by split rail and dry stone walls.

Railroads were built and, by the turn of the century, they brought urban summer escapes from the already crowded cities to the east. To the verdant hills and sparkling lakes, to grand hotels and rustic cottages, came theater celebrities, citizens of note, and ordinary families seeking respite from the cites' summer heat. Summer resorts, campsites and hotels flourished in the township; and the ice and iron industries offered gainful employment close to home. In 1830 Berkshire did a larger business than Dover.

There were two major roads dating from the early 1800's. The Union Turnpike (a toll road) connected Jefferson Township to Sussex. Today it is Route 15 South and Route 181. The Longwood Road, now Berkshire Valley Road, connected to Passaic County. After the first World War, the automobile and paved roads brought more summer residents to more summer cottages, and growth continued. After World War II, the ever-expanding metropolitan population pushed beyond the older suburbs as young families sought new homes.

The Ringling Manor estate and grounds were once used as the winter quarters of the Alfred T. Ringling Circus. The manor house and various outbuildings still remain on Berkshire Valley Road. The Manor is on the National Historic Sites Registry.

Today, as Jefferson Township enters its Bicentennial year, its population is approximately 24,000. There still remains the desire for country living intermixed with city amenities and the growing needs of a diversified citizenry. The heritage of the township runs clear and deep as do its lakes and rivers, and its prospects for the future excite the imagination.