Local Color

The Chatham Library Was Once the Site of a Luxury Hotel

The Fairview House used to stand where the Library of the Chathams is located Credits: Chatham Historical Society
The Fairview House used to stand where the Library of the Chathams is located Credits: Chatham Historical Society

DID YOU KNOW that the Library of the Chathams sits on a site formerly occupied by a luxury hotel? And that the hotel’s livery stable stood facing Passaic Avenue, near where Memorial Pool currently sits?

Chatham was a popular destination during the Resort Era, which spanned from the 1880s through the start of World War I. The Fairview House opened its doors as a summer hotel for the well-heeled seeking a picturesque setting and healthy country air. Prior to the Fairview House, Chatham had several hotels and boarding houses serving travelers passing through town. But it was the prestigious Fairview House that put Chatham on the map as a resort destination.

William Martin, a summer resident of Chatham with a mansion atop “the hill” (Fairmount Avenue), had the hotel built by Chatham’s premiere carpenter Merrit B. Lum. It was a sprawling, grand hotel, three stories tall with two levels of porches running the full length of the front. The white-shingled structure was anchored on either end by grand gables, surrounded by tall pine and maple trees. Approximately, 150 guests could be accommodated at a room rate in the 1890s of $3 per night.

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Wealthy New Yorkers traveling through Chatham on their way to visit friends on Morristown’s “Millionaires Row” would stop at Fairview House to break up the trip and change out horses. Guests of the hotel typically arrived in their own coaches, stabling their horses in the hotel’s livery stables. Others arrived by train coming from New York City, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Newark.

The hotel offered horses and carriages for hire. A typical day trip for hotel guests would be a carriage ride through the woods to Morristown to get some ice cream. Guests also relaxed on the banks of the Passaic River and canoed on Parrott’s Pond. Other popular pastimes included euchre tournaments, lawn tennis, and bowling. Guests interested in more leisurely pursuits passed the time rocking contentedly in the many rocking chairs lining the hotel’s front porches.

On summer Saturday nights, Fairview House treated hotel guests to music and dance-filled parties called “hops.” Local residents often found their way into these festivities. Occasionally, Chatham residents held hops and euchre tournaments off-season at the hotel as charity events.

One of the country’s first big movie stars, Clara Kimball Young, created a buzz in Chatham when she and fellow castmates of Thomas Edison’s first film stayed at the Fairview House while filming in a wooded area that is now Canoe Brook Country Club.

In the early 1900s, the popularity of the Fairview house began to wane with the advent of the motorcar.  Cars allowed the well-to-do easier access to more sophisticated destinations. The formerly splendid hotel became rundown and more of a local watering hole than a retreat for out-of-towners. With the start of World War I in 1914, the Chatham Red Cross used the Fairview House dining room as its headquarters, returning bustling activity to the dying hotel.

In March of 1918, a fire started in the barroom of the Fairview House. Bitter temperatures and high winds made it a difficult fire to fight. The fire was contained but the bar was destroyed. The Red Cross’s operations were relocated to the Fish & Game Club. 

Prohibition delivered the final nail to the coffin for the Fairview House, when residents voted to make Chatham a “dry” town. All establishments serving liquor were given 30 days to shut down.

At the end of World War I, there was a strong stirring among the Chatham community to build a memorial honoring the 137 residents who served in the war. Around the same time, the Fairview House and surrounding property were put up for sale for $25,000. In February of 1919, Chatham resident Charles M. Lum proposed that the former Fairview House land, comprising about 5-3/4 acres, be purchased to create a Memorial Park to include an athletic field, a playground and a site to build a public library. 

Funds were raised through popular subscription, and Memorial Field was dedicated to Chatham’s World War I veterans on July 5, 1920. Further funding for the library came from a Lum family friend who in his will left $30,000 to the Chatham Library in memory of Charles Lum’s father, Frederick Harvey Lum, the first mayor of Chatham. The dedication ceremony for the Chatham Library was on May 10, 1924.

Ninety-three years later, the Library of the Chathams still sits proudly among the tall trees, it’s walkway welcoming residents up from Main Street; children still play on the playground and athletic fields of Memorial Park; and both the Chathams still honor their veterans with a ceremony each Memorial Day.

Local color is written by Sharon Knightly, who grew up in Chatham Township and returned years later with her husband, Jack, to raise their family here.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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