The rolling hills and valleys of the Watchung Mountains and the abundance of hardwood forests, streams and productive farmland first attracted early settlers to the Caldwell area. In 1701, a group of colonists from Newark purchased nearly 14,000 acres from the Sagamore Indians for the equivalent of $325. This area, comprising most of northern Essex County, was known as “The Horseneck,” due to its unique configuration. But clear title to the land was disputed several decades later, resulting in The Horse Neck Riots, one of the earliest American challenges to British authority. Verona, known locally as the Vernon Valley, was originally part of the Horse Neck Track but officially changed its name to Verona when it applied for a Post Office site in the late 1800s. With its growing population pushing for control of its own schools and services, Verona seceded from Caldwell in 1892.
Caldwell soon became the commercial and residential center of the Horseneck Tract and was incorporated in 1892 as the Borough of Caldwell. The city was named to honor the Reverend James Caldwell who earned fame as “the fighting parson” in the American Revolution. Caldwell, NJ also boasts other historic significance: it is the birthplace of Grover Cleveland (1837), who served as both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.
By the mid 1800s, the Caldwell area became a major link with the markets in Newark, as well as a summertime destination for city folks who came to enjoy the clean air, pure water and beautiful scenic vistas. Touting itself as “The Denver of the East,” Caldwell’s agrarian economy was considerably bolstered by its influx of seasonal visitors. With the arrival of the railroad in 1891, the area was firmly linked with population centers to the east and west. Though it has transformed from an isolated farm community into the first-class residential and commercial area it is today, the North Essex area still reflects the charm and friendliness of its early beginnings.
Ranging in size from the 1.2-square mile Borough of Caldwell to the city-size Montclair, each community provides its own essential services. Excellent fire and police protection, schools, parks and recreation, senior citizen services, and village governments serve the populations well. While all nine communities are primarily residential, they vary in commercial and retail development.