Land Area: 128 square miles
County Seat: Newark
Year organized: 1682 (1675 for Court purposes)
Bounded by: Newark Bay, and the
counties of Union, Morris,
A Brief History
Believe me, I understand, that this is a greatly simplified history but I hope that it will suffice until something "more meaty" is prepared. I especially know that the settlement of Newark by the group from Branford, Connecticut is much more complicated and is just glossed over in my account. I will attempt to provide links to the works of others that will go into more detail.
Essex County is the third smallest of all the counties, and is a transportation center, not only for New Jersey, but, with Port Newark and Newark Airport, for the nation and the world.
Essex County is only 20 minutes by car (if there is no traffic) from the center of Manhattan. Essex is in the Northeastern part of the state and, as such, is part of New Jersey's most highly developed and highly populated section. The county is bordered by Newark Bay and by five counties: Union, Morris, Passaic, Bergen and Hudson. The land rises from sea level at Newark Bay and in the Meadows, and climbs into the Watchung Mountains, which are two ranges which cut the county in a general north-south line near the western county border. The first range is known as "First Mountain," and rises in Montclair, West Orange, South Orange and Milburn; "Second Mountain" is in Verona, Caldwell, Livingston and Milburn.
Considerable areas of the county have been preserved by the Essex County Park Commission, whose acquisition of parklands dates to 1895 and has been a major factor to the county's attractiveness and growth since then.
Essex County had its start in Newark; with the first settlers being headed by Robert Treat and arriving from Branford Connecticut in May 1666. Treat and his group negotiated with the Indians and purchased their land. The settlers purchased all the land that is now Essex and Union Counties for some wampum, gunpowder, beer, axes, lead, clothing, and 32 gallons of whisky.
Ten years later, the settlers secured deed to the land all the way to the top of Orange Mountain for two more guns, three coats, and 13 containers of rum. Initially the town was know as Milford but by this time the name had changed to Newark.
In 1682, the East Jersey Legislature established Essex County and by that time Newark had a church, an inn, a ferry, a cornmill, and a sawmill.
As time went on more people moved out of Newark into the western portions of the county. Settlements built up around farms and were given the names of the original farmers. Some of the communities were Speertown (now Upper Montclair), Doddtown (now in East Orange), Camptown (now in Irvington) and Morehousetown (now Livingston).
Rev. Aaron Burr, Sr., came to Newark in 1727 to head Old First Church. It was during this time and because of Rev. Burr that Newark was selected as the second site for the College of New Jersey. The college moved permanently to Princeton in 1756.
Apparently the wealthy of Newark were not in favor of the Revolution and, so the city's sympathies were badly split. It was so bad that when Washington let his troops into the city; his reception was lukewarm; prompting Thomas Pain to sit in one of the parks and write about it. Pain's work was entitled "The Crisis".
Soon after the Revolution, the first hatters, leather tanners, and shoemakers set up shop in Orange and Newark and within twenty years there wares were sold as far away as Savannah, Georgia.
The county population in 1800 was about 20,000. But this began to change after 1800, as the turnpikes were built. The turnpikes were between Newark and Elizabeth, Belleville, New Brunswick, Springfield and Pompton.
In 1806 Newark Township was split into wards; called Newark, Orange, and Bloomfield. Newark became a city in 1836. The Morris Canal, the Morris and Essex Railroads and Newark Bay, combined, to make the city the center of an industrial area.
As Newark grew and prospered the farmers in the outlying areas grew tired of paying taxes for city improvements. This resulted in the formation of other municipalities. Orange split away from the Newark, in 1806; Bloomfield, in 1812; and Clinton Township, in 1835. Then Belleville separated from Bloomfield, in 1839; Irvington from Clinton Township, in 1852; and Milburn from Springfield, in 1837. Union County was severed from Essex County in 1857. Orange became a town in 1860; South Orange split from the town of Orange, in 1861 and East Orange and West Orange incorporated in 1863.
During the revolution Essex County provided troops for the Union cause. The county was deprived during this period of its Southern markets and the area's industry turned away from the mercantile industry to government contracts. Some firms paid salaries to men who volunteered for military service, and a 1,400 bed army hospital was opened in Newark.
Census figures in 1870 showed that 143,839 people lived in the county, with 105,000 of them in Newark. The chief industries were shoes, clothing, leather, carriages and machines and there were 45,000 workers in the city with about 15,000 doing garment piece work at home.
Inventions and Inventors
During the 19th century, inventors came to Essex County and provided much to its industrial might. Seth Boyden produced the first patent leather in the country right in the city of Newark. He discovered how to manufacture malleable iron in Essex County, and trained many of the county's early leaders of industry.
Thomas A. Edison moved his activities from Menlo Park to West Orange in 1887; John W. Hyatt moved his celluloid making to Newark in 1870, and D. Edward Weston's pioneering in electrical instruments led to another important Newark firm.
Banking and Insurance Industry
Newark Banking and Insurance Company opened its doors in a private house on Broad Street in 1804. In 1812, the State Bank of Newark opened its doors; followed by Mutual Benefit Insurance Company in 1845. In 1875, John F. Dryden founded the Prudential Insurance Company in Newark.
All this business activity in Newark led to a demand for nearby housing, and in the 1890's the communities surrounding Newark began to assume their role as suburbs.
In 1895, the Essex County Park Commission was formed and became the first county park commission in the United States. Their foresight has resulted in a boon for the county and stands as a monument for all future generations. The committee was formed to save some of the land in its natural state. South Mountain Reservation, Branch Brook Park and Weequahic Park are among the parcels of land saved from development for future generations.
The Age of the Automobile
By 1900, more than two-thirds of the county's population still lived in Newark. In the suburbs only Orange and East Orange had more than 10,000 inhabitants. But the automobile changed all that. Unfortunately the demand for roads stretched the finances of the outlying municipalities. In 1908, after a decade of "discussions", Caldwell Township split into North Caldwell, West Caldwell, Caldwell Borough, Verona, Cedar Grove, and Essex Fells.
The Roaring Twenties
During this period, Newark prospered. Factories, banks, and insurance companies expanded, department stores made large profits and the construction skyrocketed. The 34-story Raymond Commerce Building and the 35-story National Newark Building were built at this time.
The Depression and World War II
As might be expected, the depression of the '30's hit Essex County hard. More than 600 factories closed their doors, the bread lines lengthened, and business in general ground to a halt. I am sure that a whole history could be written on this era but space and time prohibit my expansion of this period. Needless to say, the war effort of World War II brought needed relief for this industrial area.
The current economic life of Essex County still centers in Newark but the city's population had ceased growing. Those who work in Newark, generally, prefer to live elsewhere and, improved transportation has made that easy. The mountains and valleys to the west of Newark have long since lost their crops and cattle farms and have become covered with housing developments, condominiums and shopping centers.
I am not sure about recent history in this city; so, I will stop here. I must read up on Essex County and the city of Newark in recent times. The book that I am using was written in 1964 or so and many things have changed in Essex County since then.
Diane Ward Sives
The information for the above report
was taken from the New
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