Catching Up with Morris County’s National Historic Landmarks
Morris County is home to four National Historic Landmarks. In this blog we report on how they are faring during the time of Covid. Turns out that Covid plus Tropical Hurricane Isasis have been impacting them…a lot. Here is the current operating status of each site:
Historic Speedwell: Closed until further notice.
Morristown National Historical Park: Indoor sites closed. Outdoor sites open. FREE to the public
Stickley Museum: Closed until further notice.
Thomas Nast House: Private home, but may be viewed from the sidewalk.
Click on the site’s name below to learn more. Also, be advised that some sites offer virtual learning opportunities, and that, in all instances, you should check their websites for changes to the days and hours of operation before you go. —- Carol Barkin
Historic Speedwell, a National Historic Landmark since 1974, preserves the restored estate of Stephen Vail, proprietor of the Speedwell Ironworks from the early to mid-1800s. The Morris County Park Commission acquired the 8-acre property in 2002 and opened it to the public in 2003.
The estate’s Factory Building houses an exhibit that tells the story of Morristown resident, Alfred Vail, and co-inventing partner Samuel F.B. Morse, working to perfect a working electromagnetic telegraph, which was then demonstrated to the public in 1838, launching the age of instantaneous communications. Think of their work as the precursor to the cell phone in your pocket. This historic Morristown site is now closed, and the earliest opening date will be April 2021.
Morristown National Historical Park, was placed on the National Register in 1966, and is one of the most distinguished Revolutionary War sites in the country. In fact, it was the nation’s first “national historical park” and is owned and operated by the National Park Service. It consists of four discontiguous units: Washington’s Headquarters and Fort Nonsense in Morristown, Jockey Hollow in Morris Township and the NJ Brigade/Cross Estate in Harding.
With 27 miles of hiking and biking trails in Jockey Hollow, this area welcomed old and new visitors to the park during shelter-in-place. So popular was it for recreation, the park had to control visitors by closing some parking lots from time to time. On July 24th the park added outdoor visitors services and portable restroom units, plus a cellphone tour. But on August 4th Tropical Isasis blew through and there was damage to the park. In fact, the Passaic River Trail Bridge remains closed. Those wishing to hike it should go to the NJ Brigade Area.
“As visitors safely enjoy grounds, roads and trails, we hope that as they explore the park, they enjoy our new cell phone tour, learning about the Ford family and the winter encampment of 1779-1780”, said Tom Ross, superintendent of Morristown NHP. “As a reminder, please continue to follow recommended social distancing practices at all times. Many of the park’s hiking trails are narrow and we strongly encourage healthy hiking etiquette by wearing a face covering when you can’t socially distance on the trails and paths.”
The Jockey Hollow Visitor Center, the New York Brigade Comfort Station, the Wick House and Herb Garden, the Ford Mansion and Washington’s Headquarters Museum remain closed until further notice.
Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, interprets the life and work of Gustav Stickley, founder of the American Arts and Crafts movement. You may be familiar with his “Craftsman” furniture style, also known as Mission. His Log House home and the grounds were his country estate, and he lived here with his family in the years 1908-1915. Notably, he ran a school for boys here, training them in different crafts.
When the pandemic forced the closing of the museum, work continued on the new Education Building, and Stickley opened its 30 acres in Parsippany-Troy Hills to the public for passive recreation. The museum staff offered online classes and programs, flash gift shop sales, and some member-only events. But then disaster struck once again. Executive Director Vonda Givens told us, “we were hit hard by Tropical Storm Isasis on August 4 and currently both the museum and grounds are closed.”
The historic Log House Annex was demolished by a falling tree, among other heartbreaking destruction. The staff soldiers on with virtual programming including an online exhibit.
The online classes being offered cover topics relating to the Arts and Crafts movement, decorative arts, and more. The online classes have become very popular and provide a source of much needed income. Stickley Online Learning Class Schedules
Thomas Nast House-Villa Fontana was the home of German-born Thomas Nast. He lived here from 1873 to 1902 with his wife and five children. He was an editorial cartoonist whose drawings in Harpers Weekly contributed to the downfall of Boss Tweed-Tammany Hall. He also created several iconic images such as Santa Claus, the Democratic Donkey, the Republican Elephant, Columbia, and Uncle Sam. The home, which dates to the 1860s, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
The property is a private residence. When you walk by it, note the gazebo and the fountain which were there when the Nasts were in residence. We have listed Villa Fontana on our Historic Morristown Walking Tour brochure and on our Tour App.
The property owner told us that “he has seen a lot of folks taking the walking tour with our brochure.” Here is a link to the downloadable Historic Morristown Walking Tour. Tour
This tour is also printed in our new Official Morris County Visitors Guide. Request a Guide
Want to know more about Thomas Nast? Of his estimated 8,000 works, a significant portion of them are in the collection of the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum across the street at 45 Macculloch Avenue. The museum was closed during Covid but has now re-opened for small group, in-person gallery tours. Currently, they have an exhibit on “Columbia: Thomas Nast Illustrates the Moral Conscience of America”.
Our four Morris County landmarks are part of our area’s unique history. They are just some of the reasons that people want to visit us. Thought you’d want to know that they are all standing, and even though they are challenged, they will be back to enlighten us and remind us of the contributions Morris County made to our nation’s history.