Historic Springfield, New Jersey
Springfield Historical Society
126 Morris Avenue
Springfield, New Jersey 07081
Springfield was first settled in the early 1700ís, the first substantiated date being 1717, when the Briant family came from Hackensack. The tombstone of William Stites, who is buried in the old burying ground on Mountain Avenue, is dated 1729. Some of the descendents of the family still live here. Other early families were the Whiteheads, Van Winkles, Denmans and Woodruffs.
The early settlers often saw groups of Indians in the vicinity, particularly the Unamis, ì People Down the Riverî, who were one of the three groups of the Lenape Tribe.
Two centuries ago the area surrounding Springfield was covered with dense forests. Only a primitive road connected Morristown and Elizabethtown until 1801, when a turnpike road was constructed between Elizabethtown Point and the Delaware River in Sussex County. To avoid paying a toll on the Morris & Sussex Turnpike, the natives built a parallel road and, appropriately, named it ìShunpike Roadî. Today, the Baltusrol Golf and Country Club is located here.
Farms, mills and lumbering provided the livelihood for the people in the area.
During the fighting in the Revolutionary War, the enemy entered the town a number of times to take away farm animals, grain and other needs, keeping the people in a continual state of alarm. It became necessary for the local populace to set up a chain of signals, the nearest to Springfield being on Beacon Hill in what is now Summit. When necessary, a cannon called ìOld Sowî was fired to alert our militia on both sides of the mountain and to warn the people to flee to a place of safety.
From the original manuscript sources, one of which is owned by the Springfield Historical Society, we find that Washington had his General Headquarters in Springfield from June 7 to June 22, 1780.
On June 23, 1780, "The Battle of Springfield" was fought. The British advanced with infantry, cavalry and several field pieces. Washington had left the area leaving General Nathanial Greene in the vicinity with Colonel Angell and his Rhode Islanders at the Rahway River vicinity. For more than 40 minutes Colonel Angell and his men fought five times their numbers to a standstill. The British slowly pushed the Militia back to the second bridge over Van Winkleís Brook on Morris Avenue, just west of the present day Mountain Avenue. During the heat of the battle, Reverend James Caldwell, Chaplain of Colonel Elias Daytonís Regiment, whose wife had been murdered 16 days before, passed out Watts Hymnals from the Presbyterian Church for use as wadding. His cry of ìGive Them Watts, Boysî, has lived on the become a Motto of that conflict.
The British resorted to burning and looting. Only four houses remained after the Battle. Still standing are: the historic Cannon Ball House on Morris Avenue (headquarters of the Springfield Historical Society, it is open to the public by appointment), the Swaim House on South Springfield Avenue and the Sayre House. The British goal of reaching Morristown was thwarted and the Battle of Springfield marked the last invasion of the British into New Jersey and removed the danger of final defeat of the Continental forces.
According to ìMelickís Story of An Old Farmî, Jonathan Dayton, a doctor born in 1732 and son of Jonathan Dayton and his first wife, was married to Keziah Miller and they lived in the Cannon Ball House. He was a Revolutionary soldier. In the same book, mention is made that the house was hit by a cannonball during the battle. After his death August 16, 1778, his widow operated a tavern stop in the house. Mrs. Dayton died in 1797.
The seond wife of the first Jonathan Dayton had a son Elias who became Colonel Elias Dayton. Elias had a son named Jonathan. This Jonathan was one of othe four men from New Jersey who helped form and sign the Constitution of the United States. Our high school was named after this Jonathan Dayton. He also served in Congress.
Postal Service was established by the government in 1800 with Grover Coe as the first Postmaster for the area. The first postmaster for Springfield was Frank Meisel. Up until that time the mail was dropped off at the general store known as Jenkins & Newman. The location is now the Taxi Stand on Morris Avenue.
On May 27, 1793, an Act was passed by the General Assembly at Trenton, forming the Township of Springfield from the Townships of Elizabeth and Newark in the County of Essex. This new township included Springfield proper, Millburn, part of Summit, South Orange, Maplewood and New Providence. This act remained in force until November 8, 1809 when New Providence was withdrawn. In 1857, the County of Union was formed. It included Springfield proper, and left Millburn, Maplewood, and South Orange in Essex County. On March 17, 1869 part of Summit Township was formed from the western part of Springfield. Since then the boundaries have remained unchanged.
The main thoroughfares in Springfield follow their colonial paths; Shunpike and Milltown Roads were followed as alternate routes to avoid tolls on the Newark and Essex Pike (Morris Ave.). The stone arches of the bridge on Morris Avenue at Van Winkleís Brook date back to 1873. One of the main roads, known now as Springfield Avenue, was originally called Seven Bridges Road since that many were needed to cross the many small streams feeding into the Rahway River.
Primarily a rural area until the 20th Century, by 1830 Springfield had a population of 1653 (93 were single men). There were 12 paper mills, one distillery, seven merchants, three taverns, five stores, and two churches. Much has changed, but much of our early history can be seen, visited, traced or felt in the Springfield of today.
Springfield Historical Society
c/o 166 Milltown Road
Springfield, New Jersey 07981