Chatham Township fulfills a desire by noted historian John T. Cunningham to write the stories of all four communities that have sprung from the old and original Chatham Township. Cunningham has written more than 45 books, 2,500 magazine articles, and 18 documentary films, one of which won an Emmy in 1985 for his saga of immigrants: Dreams of Distant Shores.
Chatham Townshipby John T. Cunningham
The once-expansive Chatham Township was reduced to only a fraction of its size after Florham Park, Chatham Borough, and Madison Borough split from the township between 1889 and 1899. Its present, smaller size, however, does not reflect its vast history. Few municipalities possess such dramatic events, colorful figures, or community spirit. For instance, when the Newark Evening News reported that the powerful Port of New York Authority would take over 10,000 acres of the Great Swamp and spend $220 million to create an international jetport, people of the township and outraged citizens in a wide area surrounding the Great Swamp began to fight back. Although the Port Authority promised jobs, prosperity, and progress, their efforts were in vain. Instead of a jetport, the land now consists of 7,500 protected acres, one of the largest National Wildlife Refuges ever created so close to an urban center. Stories like this from the twentieth century are quite large in scope. Stories of prosperous farms, huge rose-growing greenhouses, and times enjoyed in simple, bucolic settings make up the township's history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Chatham Township is an embodiment of these historical stories and images. There was a time when the marshes of the Great Swamp were hunting grounds for huckleberries, when a Noe family horse pulled milk carts through the streets, and even, it was whispered, when the massive, three-story, Greek Revival Boisaubin mansion was used as a stop along the Underground Railroad. One of the most notable stories is of a lady known as Madame Bey, who opened a camp for prizefighters, making Chatham Township a sports page dateline known throughout the country.
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