Morris Plains

 

 

 

 

Morris Plains, Morris Co., New Jersey

In the 18th century, Morris Plains was known as Watnung Plains, or just the Plains. The first settler in this area was Thomas Pierson, who built a sawmill by Central Avenue in 1685. Pierson's descendents were still operating the sawmill 150 years later. David Trowbridge, settled the area along the Minnisink Trail (now Hanover Avenue) in the 1740's, and also owned property along what is now Trowbridge Road, just off of Granniss Avenue. Several Trowbridges, including John Thompson Trowbridge (a school teacher in the late 19th century), have been prominent in Morris Plains in the past 200 years. In 1876, the New Jersey State Asylum for the Insane, Greystone Park, opened it's doors, increasing commerce and bringing jobs to the Plains. In the years before World War I changing times finally caught up with Morris Plains. The Speedwell Avenue extension grew led in the commercial enterprises by Daniel Merchant. Between 1920 and 1940, the population of Morris Plains doubled. Morris Plains was incorporated, and the little town began to follow it's own destiny in 1926. The old Plains today is a community of 5,200. 

EXCERPTS FROM
"THE HISTORY OF MORRIS PLAINS" BY JULIA BEERS:

 In 1929, Julia Beers, a member of one of the original families to settle the Morris Plains area, wrote "The History of Morris Plains", which was published after her death in 1955. Born in the 1860's, she wrote about a Morris county that vanished a long time ago. Her book contains a lot of valuable information on the Trowbridge family, especially the location of the David Trowbridge farm. She writes:

"On the early maps of New Jersey, an Indian path is designated running from the south shore of the Shrewsbury River in a westerly direction, crossing the Raritan a little to the westward of Amboy and thence in a northerly direction to Minisink Island in the Delaware. Many branches of the Minisink Path spread out through New Jersey from this trail. The Dutch and Swedes must have traveled it long before the English settlers came to New Jersey. There are traces of Indian camping grounds, and no doubt there were Indian villages in the Watnong Mountains northwest of Morris Plains. Inaian arrowheads are found there even at this time. A perfect arrowhead of New York Brownstone tells a tale of either of attack from New York Indians, or of a visitor from that state, we hope the latter! Hundreds of years ago, or farther back than that, the Plains must have been a marsh, for the Indian camps are found among the surrounding hillsides, notably the south side. The early settlers also chose these places to build their log huts, which wer built without cellars. A cave was dug in an embankment to house produce from garden and field. The Indians camped on the many sources of the Whipponong River above Morris Plains. And that is where the white settlers built their log huts and started to make a living from the soil, which the Indians were incapable of doing.

Now descendents of those white settlers have vanished from the land and other invaders have captured the hill and plain, for "to the strong belong the spoils." New Jersey Records show that the English settlers bought and paid for all the land they acquired from the Indians. We have no doubt that Morris Plains settlers did the same, or acquired land that had been bought by the original proprietors.

The Original White Settlers: Pierson, Losey, Trowbridge, Raynor

Probably the first English settler to come to the region now known as Morris Plains was Thomas Pierson. In 1685 he established a saw mill on Thomason's Pond and a residence on the road to the present state hospital. This mill was operated as recently as the 1860s. The Losey, Trowbridge, and Raynor families may have come here about the same time, settling on the north side of the Minisink Path on the east slope of the mountain known in that day as Trowbridge Mountain. Trowbridge owned the place that Jesse Pierson purchased. Tradition tells us that Trowbridge bought this place from the Indians.

Above this tract was a road to the left called the Raynor Road. The land still showed evidence of cultivation in 1880. Whoever the Raynors were, they must have left there at an early date. Jesse Pierson built his house opposite the present TB Hospital [now Morris View Nursing Home] and turned the Trowbridge house into a wagon shed. There was a lane or Indian path that started from there and traversed the lower part of the mountain, emerging on Pigeon Hill Road. There are signs of habitation on this lane, but they must have been of very early date. We have no record of the people who may have been there. This road was used by the settlers to avoid the steep hill between the Losey and Trowbridge lands. Losey must have given the land for the present road to the Welfare House, thereby losing two acres of land. I don't know what the former hill was like. It must have been impossibe. I think the present one is nearly so. Losey's son built the house now occupied by Reeds. The road was changed for their benefit.

... Recently there was a tree uprooted by the elements on the old Losey place. In its stones were two stones, one oblique in form, the other small and square. Someone must have been buried there, probably during the Revolutionary War when Morristown, Morris Co., New Jersey was occupied by the soldiers. It might have been William Losey [named as a witness in David Trowbridge's will and father-in-law of Joseph Trowbridge] who bought the land from the Indians.

Tradition tells of three long houses built in Spring Street. These people may have been some of our early settlers who moved to the mountains north and west of Morris Plains."

Some interesting notes on what Julia wrote. The location of the David Trowbridge house, it was located along what the Minisink Trail, this is now West Hanover Avenue in Morris Township, across the street from the former Morris County Sanitarium. The Sanitarium is now the Morris View Nursing Home where Karen Ann Quinlan spent her last days. When David built his house along an Indian trail, it was common for the first settlers to build their farms along these trails, which the Leni Lenape Indians built following the routes of big game, such as the elk, deer and moose. She also writes elsewhere in her book that Trowbridge Mountain is located on West Hanover Avenue, west of Ketch Road in Morris township. The hill is very steep, especially going towards Mt. Freedom in Randolph. There are also indications from other wills and deeds from Lydia, Shubael, and Samuel Trowbridge that David Trowbridge also owned property along what is now Trowbridge Road, in Morris Plains, just off of Granniss Avenue, and in Succasunna. In her will, David Trowbridge's widow, Lydia, indicated that her house was located in Watnung Plains, the name of Morris Plains prior to the 1920's. It's location could have been Trowbridge Road in Morris Plains, because many streets in Morris County are often named after the largest tract owners along the road, such as the above mentioned Raynor Road was named after the Raynor family.

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