NOTE: The Borough of Far Hills is planning for its 100th anniversary #farhills100, with Council President Karner and the mayor’s wife, Janis Vallone, spearheading “what will be a great community event on May 15,2021 with a parade and picnic for Far Hills residents.”
The festivities will begin with a parade starting at the Far Hills Train Station, continuing down to Peapack Road and ending at the monument in front of our municipal building. Mayor Vallone will read a Proclamation commemorating this great event. A time capsule will also be buried which will include articles, photos and comments submitted by you, our residents. Following this ceremony, we invite you to join us for an elegant catered country picnic at the J. Malcolm Belcher Fairgrounds. Residents are invited to send in photos, memories and stories that we can all share and will be proudly displayed in our 100th Anniversary Commemorative Poster.
Far Hills and Bernards Township
Many people weren’t around when Far Hills was actually part of Bernards Township. On March 28, 1921 a bill was introduced to the New Jersey State Legislature Far Hills bill was “introduced, heard and first and second readings, referred to committee, voted out, and passed by the Senate.
In a local referendum on May 12. 1921 Far Hills voters approved the incorporation of the borough. The Mr. Local History Project honors the incorporation of the Borough of Far Hills, their founding families, and what history books state is Elizabeth Schley’s recognition and the final designation of the “far hills” ranked as the richest town in New Jersey in 2021.
Far Hills was a popular study by former historian Anne O’Brien. MLH Project has extracted and expanded on her efforts to document the history of Far Hills.
The Borough of Far Hills in the Somerset Hills of New Jersey was set off from Bernards Township and incorporated as a political entity in 1921 by means of a special act of the New Jersey Legislature and a successful local referendum in which 117 votes were cast in favor of, forming a borough and 15 votes were in opposition.
Some of the earliest settlers to this area were the Wyckoffs, who farmed the upland meadows and the bottom lands along the Raritan river. The Millers employed the water power of the streams for industrial use. Zachariah Smith built a saw mill and brush block factory on the North Branch shortly after 1800. Eighty years later it was still in operation under his grandson, Oscar Smith.
Further south on the river, in the area known as Forge Hollow and later as Hub Hollow, William Ludlow was a shoemaker and his son, Charles, had a saw mill and woolen factory which were succeeded by the Ludlow Family’s hub factory.
Evander H. Schley, anticipating a land development demand and for country estates, he set his broker eyes on the area. Schley, as a bachelor, bought several thousand acres of farmland, some of it sight unseen, in Bedminster and Bernards townships in the 1880’s. Then, one day in 1887, Evander’s brother, Grant, and his wife, Martha Elizabeth Baker Schley, came out from New York City by horse drawn carriage to have a look at Evander’s farms. Elizabeth is said to have exclaimed on the beautiful vista of those “far hills”, thus coining the name for the first time. It stuck.
They both liked the area so much that they bought 1,500 acres on the North Branch from Evander, including the hills which since have been known as Schley mountain. On the knoll above the river the Schleys built Froh-Heim, a rambling country house with Japanese accents, and all the auxiliary buildings required for an estate which was to be a working farm as well.
Through Grant Schley’s efforts, the Delaware, Lackawanna and the Western Railroad built an extension line from Bernardsville to Gladstone. Service began in 1890. A train station was constructed at Far Hills, around which a rural commercial center soon developed.
Among the lands which Evander Schley acquired was a half interest in David Dumont’s farm. In 1899, Schley and Dumont drew up a subdivision plan and offered lots for sale in what was to become Far Hills village. A unique clause was written into each deed prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages on the premises.
Far Hills a Dry Town
Some may wonder why there isn’t a bar serving alcohol in the Borough of Far Hills. Well, there’s a reason. With the incorporation of Far Hills being right in the middle of the prohibition era, you guessed it, Far Hills was going to be a dry town as part of its incorporation as a borough.
he Eighteenth Amendment (Amendment XVIII) of the United States Constitution established the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. The amendment was proposed by Congress on December 18, 1917, and was ratified by the requisite number of states on January 16, 1919. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933. It is the only amendment to be repealed. So Far Hills was a dry town from the beginning.
Schley’s Community Development
On lands set aside for community uses, Grant Schley paid for the costs of building a village school, a church, a firehouse, a social club and a recreational area. Flood plain lands along the river were drained, graded and seeded for a fairgrounds for agricultural and sporting events.
Automobiles began to appear on local roads about 1906 and Charles Welsh installed a gasoline pump at his livery stable. It is well remembered that Percy Pyne and C. Ledyard Blair had the first cars and how frightened the horses were of the machines. Electricity came to Far Hills about 1910 and telephone service began about 1912.
The Gilded Age: Natirar Estate in Peapack/Far Hills, New Jersey
Catherine “Kate” Macy and Walter Graeme Ladd began acquiring property in the Somerset hills in 1905. Macy was a Quaker heiress to a whaling/oil/shipping fortune; her father’s business partner was John D. Rockefeller.
Far Hills Separation from Bernards Township
Rising taxes led the 200 residents of Far Hills to decide to separate from Bernards township and to incorporate as a Borough. The local property tax rate jumped from $2.72 in 1919 to $3.53 in 1920. Both the villagers and Far Hills estate owners objected to having to share the costs of road upkeep in the 60 square mile township with its population of 5,100 and also to the school taxes for educating the township’s 800, of which only 90 were from Far Hills. Further, they protested the lack of police protection.
New Jersey Senate Bill 332, authorizing the incorporation of the Borough of Far Hills was introduced into the Legislature by state Sen. Clarence E. Case. Fifty residents went to Trenton to cheer for the favorable action. In a 30 minute session on March 28, 1921 the Far Hills bill was “introduced, heard and first and second readings, referred to committee, voted out, and passed by the Senate.” The Assembly concurred a week later. In a local referendum on MAY 12. 1921 Far Hills voters approved the incorporation of the borough by a vote of 11 7-15.
Far Hills Race Meeting will Celebrate its 100th Running in 2021
Lured by the magnet of the interstate highways in 1971, AT&T acquired 225 acres in Far Hills and an adjoining 140 acres in Bedminster, lands once part of Grant Schley’s Froh-Heim and constructed a corporate headquarters for its Long Lines Division near the river in Bedminster. AT&T pledged to keep the Far Hills lands open space forever and to continue to make the race course available for the Essex Fox Hounds Race Meeting.
Image coming soon. Our first keepsake honoring a historic event. Pre-Order now. Click Here. Estimated to be available in March 2021.
In November 1921 the Essex Fox Hounds Race Meeting, which previously had been held in Bedminster, moved to Froh-Heim. More than 2,000 people came to see the fourth running of the New Jersey Hunt Cup Race – it rained.
Far Hills Train, Schools,Government
In 1931, electric trains replaced the old steam powered engines on the DL&W tracks. The borough adopted its first zoning ordinance in 1932. With the exception of village lands, the whole of Far Hills was zoned for a 25 acre minimum lot size. In 1947 the Zoning Ordinance was revised, reducing the 25 acre zone to a 10 acre minimum lot size.
Local students in K-8 started attending Bedminster schools in the fall of 1967 until 1984 when they were shifted over to Bernardsville and the Somerset Hills School District.
Finally, you cannot forget the civil servants that ran Far Hills over the years. The position of Mayor has been a place for many a man who’s left their mark serving the community.
Far Hills is governed under the Borough form of New Jersey municipal government, which is used in 218 municipalities (of the 565) statewide, making it the most common form of government in New Jersey. The governing body is comprised of the Mayor and the Borough Council, with all positions elected at-large on a partisan basis as part of the November general election. A Mayor is elected directly by the voters to a four-year term of office.
The list of Mayors of the Borough of Far Hills is as follows:
- LOUIS VERNON LUDLOW – June 13, 1921 to December 31, 1923 (2)
- REEVE SCHLEY – January 8, 1924 TO December 31, 1937 (13)
- J. MALCOLM BELCHER – January 3, 1938 to December 31, 1965 (27)
- EDWIN BURKE – January 10, 1966 to December 30, 1970 (4)
- JOHN WETZEL – January 4, 1971 to May 15, 1974 (3)
- EDMOND P. ROCHAT, JR. – June 10, 1974 to December 31, 1978 (4)
- HENRY ARGENTO – January 9, 1979 to December 31, 1982 (3)
- HARRY HOFFMAN – January 3, 1983 to June 2, 1986 (3)
- WILLIAM C. LAYTON, JR. – June 16, 1986 to December 31, 1994 (8)
- CARL J. TORSILIERI – January 2, 1995 to December 31, 2010 (15)
- PAUL J. VALLONE – Jan. 7, 2011 to Present
Far Hills History in Photos
Over the years we’ve been collecting some of our favorite historic photos of Far Hills, New Jersey. Just click on one to begin the slideshow.
- The 15 richest towns in New Jersey
- Mr. Local History honors Far Hills
- Retrospective: J. Malcolm Belcher & The Far Hills Fairgrounds
- History of the Far Hills Race Meeting
- Taking Jacobs Ladder to the Devils Tomb (Grave)
- The History of the Founder of Far Hills estate
- J. Malcolm Belcher and the Far Hills Fairgrounds
- The Official Far Hills 100th Anniversary Committee
Sidebar Find: The Far Hills Inn
While doing our research we did find this former treasure called the Far Hills Inn. While named Far Hills, it was actually not in Somerville, nor Far Hills, but in Bridgewater on what was just North of State Route 29 (now Route 22) and Route 31 (now Route 202). The Bridgewater BMW is now at the same location.
The Mr. Local History Project Honors Two Far Hills historic icons Accepted into the New Jersey Historic Village Collection – Get Yours Today
The above history was originally written by Bedminster Township Historian ANNE O’BRIEN, which appeared in the Bernardsville News on October 23, 1987. Mrs. O’Brien died on October 10, 1987. The Mr. Local History Project provided additional research, photos, clarifications, and a general update to her work. We miss you Anne!