Established in 1922, Harding Township was named for then-President Warren G. Harding. Its location 45 minutes from New York City belies the pastoral scenery; where horses, sheep, and cows graze in meadows and open fields. There are about 50 miles of bridle trails winding throughout Harding Township, which are maintained by the Harding Township/Green Village Bridle Path Association. This atmosphere is ensured for future generations since 40% of the township is protected open space.
New Vernon and Green Village are two sections of Harding, in southeastern Morris County. Forbes magazine ranked New Vernon as "one of the 25 most expensive zip codes" in the country in 2006.
Green Village is an unincorporated area within both Harding Township and Chatham Township. Located just north of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Green Village has its own post office and fire station.
Beginning in the 17th century, Dutch and English settlers created open acreage out of the wilderness to form pastures for cattle as well as orchards and fields. They later built mills along the area's streams. The absence of major roadways, railroads or canals kept the area agricultural from the 1600s through the early 1900s. Even the Great Swamp and the slopes near Jockey Hollow were used by hardworking local farmers for wood supply. During the Depression era of the 1920's many families lost their farms.
During that time period, six wealthy Morristown businessmen formed the New Vernon Land Company. They purchased large parcels of land, built manors, enlarged old farmhouses, and added landscaping to the grounds in order to retain the area's rural flavor. An unusual private land preservation effort began with the New Vernon Neighborhood Restrictive Agreement, formed by several estate owners who convinced their neighbors to place restrictions on their land. This voluntary effort to limit development and save over 1,000 acres across Harding Township influenced zoning codes for decades.
Harding's attempts to maintain its natural environment included a grassroots effort to keep the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge from becoming an airport in the 1960s. A group of residents purchased the land to keep the New York Port Authority from building a jetport on the site. Half of the 7,000-acre wildlife refuge is in the southeastern corner of Harding Township and is home to deer, wood ducks, red foxes, the endangered bobolink, and other birds and animals. The refuge sponsors nature programs, field walks, and educational events throughout the year.
In the opposite corner of the township is the bulk of Jockey Hollow, a 1,200-acre National Park. During 1779-1780, over 10,000 of George Washington's soldiers endured the Revolutionary War's most severe winter at Jockey Hollow. Today it offers interactive programs, lectures, history, and approximately 27 miles of walking trails.
Protecting its native terrain is integral to residents, since Harding is situated within the 55-square-mile environmentally-sensitive Great Swamp Basin which acts as a drainage area. While there are a few businesses and townhouse developments, the township has managed through zoning to keep out large-scale corporate campuses and apartment buildings.
Today Harding and New Vernon are surrounded by suburban towns, shopping centers, and major highways. Yet its peaceful quality continues, thanks to the foresight and commitment of past citizens.
There is a small retail area known as The Country Mile along Mt. Kemble Avenue/Route 202 with several shops, services, and businesses. The past is preserved in an L-shaped state and national historic district of New Vernon along Village and Lee's Hill Roads; many of the businesses there operate in character-filled antique buildings. More extensive shopping needs are available minutes away in Morristown, Madison, Chatham, Summit, and Bernardsville.
There are many opportunities to get involved in the community, ranging from the volunteer fire department and first aid squad to the recreation association, civic association, garden club, library, and the Harding Land Trust; a citizen group dedicated to protecting open space.
The Harding Township Civic Association is a private volunteer organization fostering public interest in government and promoting mutual understanding between citizens and public officials. For over 50 years, the Civic Association has been staffed by volunteers who attend township meetings and report on them in their Thumbnail publication, which is mailed to every home in Harding Township.
Every year the Association also sponsors the Township's Memorial Day Parade where a distinguished citizen of the community is honored, and winning essays from the annual student essay contest are heard.
The Recreation Association sponsors sports leagues and activities for children. There are four community parks and fields, and two tennis courts.
The newly constructed, 3-story Kemmerer Library is a community-based Association Library with approximately 7,000 volumes.
Among the biggest annual events are the New Vernon Volunteer Fire Department's Country Auction held in early autumn under a big tent. Unique finds range from white elephant items to antiques, cars, musical instruments, and lawn tractors.
The Harding Township School on Lee's Hill Road serves public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade. In 2001, a $7 million addition was built to house a new gym, stage, and band room. Although local residents are drawn to the small class sizes here, about 50% of local families send their children to private schools in the area.
Public high school students attend Madison High School in Madison. Upper grades can attend Morristown's Villa Walsh Academy, the Delbarton School, the Morristown-Beard School, or a variety of other private high schools in neighboring towns.
Commuting to Manhattan by car takes about an hour and 15 minutes, mainly along Route 24. Rail commuters drive five to ten minutes to train stations in Madison, Convent Station, Morristown or Basking Ridge and ride New Jersey Transit's Midtown Direct line to Penn Station, a trip of about 50 minutes.
The rush-hour commute to midtown Manhattan takes about 70 minutes on Lakeland Bus Lines from Madison to Port Authority Bus Terminal.
A network of local highways includes Routes 512 and 24, Interstates 78 and 287.
New Vernon has been home to considerable estates, farmsteads and equestrian properties set on large parcels for over 200 years. There are also a number of more modest Capes, Colonials, custom homes, townhouses, ranch style homes, and historic properties in the area. Prices range from entry-level housing below $500,000 to multi-million dollar listings. Zoning for new construction specifies that lots can be no less than three acres in most parts of Harding Township.
Many homes were built in the 18th century and the occupants often are descendants of the original owners, a testament to the area's strong roots. With all that history, there are always ghost stories. Reports of disembodied boots ascending the staircase of an old Colonial on Mount Kemble Avenue where Revolutionary War general Anthony Wayne once slept are alternately believed and dismissed.
A fine example of historic land preservation is found at Hartley Farms in Harding. This planned residential community contains traditional homes set amid 171 acres of woods, meadows and hayfields near the village of New Vernon. Listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places, it is the former estate of Marcellus Hartley Dodge, owner and chairman of the Remington Arms Company, and his wife, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge. The Dodges moved to Hartley Farms the same year they were married, 1907. Presidents Wilson, Hoover, and Eisenhower were all visitors to the estate, although not during their presidencies. The Hartley Farms estate has the distinction of being the largest individually-owned historic district in Morris County, and is third in size in New Jersey.
In the Mount Kemble Lake section, a Summer resort community developed in 1928, seasonal cottages on smaller lots have been converted to year ‘round homes. Amenities include a sandy beach for swimming, row boating, and monthly social events at the community clubhouse. There's also a community garden, tennis court, and playground.
Tunis-Ellicks Farmhouse: The Harding Township Historical Society is preserving the 1790 Tunis-Ellicks farmhouse and gardens, located across from the New Vernon Post Office at the corner of Millbrook and Village Roads. Partially decorated with period furniture the house is open to the public several times a year. A 19th century "tramp house" is also on the property.
Two gardens on the property contain 125 types of herbs and perennials; the "parlor garden" of raised beds grows plants that would have been used during the 1800s by a family for food, decoration, and medicine. The Sarah D. Ortman Park adjacent to parlor garden showcases native New Jersey plantings.
Glen Alpin: The circa 1840 Glen Alpin mansion is described by the National Register as "one of New Jersey's great Gothic Revival Houses." The estate's handsome sixteen-room stone mansion includes nine baths, a guest cottage, a six-car garage, eight fireplaces, hand painted murals, a library, a music room, and a glass conservatory. In October 2004, the 9.5-acre property was purchased by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program, Morris County Preservation Trust Fund, Harding Township, Harding Land Trust, and Morris County Park Commission. Harding Township owns and manages the property, while the Harding Land Trust retains a six-acre conservation easement.
Fun Fact: Glen Alpin is also known as "The Princess House," but it's not because of the whimsical fairy tale architecture. In 1940, the former Doris Mercer moved in after a life that included work as a chorus girl in New York, marrying and later divorcing retail millionaire Sebastian Kresge, and briefly being wed to a Persian prince. She lived there until her death in 1963 at the age of 74. Against the prince's wishes, she retained her royal title throughout her life: Princess Farid-es-Sultaneh.
Size: 20 square miles
2000 Census Population: 3,180 (Harding Township)
Location: Morris County
Distance from New York City: About 27 miles
Distance from Newark: About 20 miles
Distance from Philadelphia: About 78 miles
Parks: Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Jockey Hollow National Park.
Local Historic Sites: Tunis-Ellicks Farmhouse, Glen Alpin Gothic Revival mansion.
Mass Transportation: Train stations in nearby Madison, Convent Station, Morristown or Basking Ridge provide service via New Jersey Transit's Midtown Direct Line to Penn Station in about 50 minutes. Local bus service offers a 70-minute trip from Madison to Port Authority in midtown Manhattan. Local roadways include Routes 512 and 24 and Interstates 78 and 287.
Housing: Antique farmhouses, antique Colonials, luxury real estate, estate properties, horse farms, townhomes, Cape Cods, modern, contemporary and a variety of other architectural styles.
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