Pictures courtesy of Manfred Saul
By: Kimberly Redmond
Hanover Township has a history rivaling that of Philadelphia or Boston.
But, unfortunately, many people don’t realize how storied the Morris County community is.
And that’s where the Hanover Township Landmark Commission comes in.
“We are attempting to get the word out about this incredible history we have here that people can take pride in,” said Michael Czuchnicki, chairman of the Hanover Township Landmark Commission.
For more than 40 years, the commission, a nine-member body appointed by the mayor and council, has been working to identify, protect and preserve local historical sites.
The Hanover Township Landmark Commission was formed in 1976 when the town officially accepted responsibility for the historic Whippany Burying Yard, the oldest cemetery in Morris County.
Czuchnicki, who has served on the commission for the last decade, said, “What no one realizes – and what’s shocking to me – is how little people understand just how much Hanover Township did or how many things we were first with. The list of things done here is incredible.”
Founded in 1676, Hanover Township was the first colonial settlement in northwest New Jersey and it originally encompassed all of Morris County, as well as parts of Sussex and Warren counties.
Initially 500 square miles, Hanover Township has been whittled down it its present size of 10.8 square miles. Whippany, a district within the township of Hanover, is 6.9 square miles and Cedar Knolls, another district within the township, is 3.9 square miles.
Up until World War II, Hanover Township was mainly an industrial town known for its paper mills and iron works. But after the war, the township’s makeup changed to become more suburbanized.
Besides being the first village, Hanover Township blazed the trail in several other areas.
In 1715, an iron forge – now known as “the Old Iron Works” – was built on the banks of the Whippany River and was the first industry to flourish in Morris County. For 200 years, the area was home to over 100 blast furnaces and forges – with countless companies – making products out of ore.
The church, known as “the First Presbyterian Church” was the first in the area, the township established the first school in Morris County and the Whippany Burying Yard was the first colonial cemetery in northwestern New Jersey. Another first occurred in 1927, when there was a demonstration of long distance television with a transmission from Whippany to New York City using radio.
Another significant first occurred during the American Revolution, when locals formed the first military company in Morris County.
“Our history goes back 300 years,” Czuchnicki said. “And the area is a reflection of the United States. What many people don’t know is that besides Boston and Philly, Morris County was also a Revolutionary Hot Spot.”
During the Revolutionary War, the county served as the military capital of the Continental Army from 1777 to 1780, when Gen. George Washington made Morristown his headquarters and the area as winter quarters for his troops. The French Army and Continental Troops frequently marched in the township during the war, however no battles were ever fought in Hanover Township.
But the town did play host to many important historical figures during the war. Just a few of those guests included: Gen. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benedict Arnold.
“It all started here,” said Czuchnicki, adding that’s a big reason why the commission leads guided tours of the Whippany Burying Yard to mark the Fourth of July.
In the cemetery, which is located on Route 10, there are eleven Revolutionary War soldiers and some who fought in
the Civil War, as well as many other citizens from prominent families, including Abraham Kitchel (an early settler and original judge of Morris County) and Colonel Joseph Tuttle (commander of the Morris County Militia).
Recently, Czuchnicki said, the commission learned that a local resident whose ancestors were among the first settlers in Hanover Township has been able to trace their roots all the way back to Charlemagne, the medieval emperor who ruled much of Western Europe between 768 to 814. From there, she was able to follow the lineage to another key leader: President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush.
“From an emperor to two presidents, we are connected,” Czuchnicki said, adding the area’s history is a valuable one that “still surprises me.”
In addition to tours, the Hanover Township Landmark Commission has created markers with military information about soldiers buried there as a way to honor the veterans. They’ve also compiled brochures about the yard’s history and written guided walking tours people can take of the grounds.
Some of their other activities include: Conducting surveys of sites in town to determine those of historic significance, coordinating for historic walks and tours, placing historical plaques on significant sites and buildings, producing brochures to illustrate a burying yard tour, coordinating changing exhibits in the municipal building showcasing important organizations in Hanover Township and conducting seminars to educate local children and adults.
The Hanover Township Landmark Commission has also worked to arrange the publication of maps and brochures about historic sites and buildings in the municipality. They also indexed many.
One of the booklets, “Journey Through Old Whippany,” contains photos of historic homes, town landmarks and other historical markers within the township. Another publication, Leonardo Fariello’s “A Place Called Whippany,” includes the aboriginal history of the area, colonial history and background on the villages of Whippany, Monroe, Malapardis and Cedar Knolls (which make up modern day Hanover Township).
The Hanover Township Landmark Commission also has an archive, which is located in the Hanover Township Community Center Building at 15 N. Jefferson Avenue in Whippany.
In the archive, which is open by appointment only, some of the treasures include: maps from the 1800s, the original township charter from 1740, tax ratable abstracts from the 1700s and yearbooks from the early 1900s.
Later this year, the Hanover Township Landmark Commission aims to launch a non-profit organization, according to Czuchnicki.
“We are a government entity – a landmark commission – so we can’t do fundraisers, but we are just about to announce the creation of a 501c3 to help us do things of value, like rebuilding the iron forge,” Czuchnicki said.
The Hanover Township Landmark Commission is also working to designate the center of Whippany as a historic district nicknamed “Wi-Hi” (a combination of Whippany and Historic), but the town first needs to adopt the name.
“It is inspiring to know who was here, what they did and why they did it,” Czuchnicki said. “People have been smart in the past and they did things of great value.”
For more information about the Hanover Township Landmark Commission, visit www.hanovertownship.com/Landmark-Commission.