FLORHAM PARK, NJ - Morris County is full of history. If one were to visit each district, they would find a rich story behind the development of even a single building. And for the weekend of September 21st and 22nd, residents of Florham Park and history got to flock to the Little Red Schoolhouse, located on Ridgedale Avenue.
“This a great opportunity to see a lot of historic sites in one weekend,” said Patrick Dolan, borough resident and a member of the Florham Park Historic Preservation Commission. “Some sites aren’t open as often so this is like their only chance.”
The weekend occasion was part of the annual Pathway of History Tour, which is a self-guided tour organized by a coalition of local history groups, and features over a dozen historic sites around Morris County. This tour has been held for about 10 years and often increases its number of historic sites every year. This year’s Pathway tour marks the fourth year that Florham Park was part of the list.
“This is a great event to cooperate with other historic sites,” said Suzanne Herold, Florham Park resident and commission member. “It’s nice to have a couple of weekend events which provides a window for people to visit and learn history.”
And for that weekend, it was the Little Red Schoolhouse that became the center of historic interest in Florham Park.
Built at a cost of $2,250 in 1866, which is 33 years before Florham Park was incorporated as a borough, from portions of Chatham Township, the Little Red Schoolhouse was known then for giving class in just one room until it was closed in 1914. It later served as a municipal building before being converted into museum in the 30s. The building was eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Over the years, the schoolhouse is known for its Italianate one-story, red brick masonry, with its steep roof, tall windows and elaborate arches. In 1978, the schoolhouse was moved back 50 feet from its original spot to accommodate a then-expanding Columbia Turnpike. Recently in 2017, the building saw exterior restoration, including roof replacement, new paint and restored windows. Today, the building remains iconic in the borough, appearing on the town flag, letter head, website, and even first responder vehicles.
Within its doors, the museum featured a variety of artifacts from the 1800s and 1900s, vintage furniture, old maps of the borough, quilts, broom-making equipment and farming tools that speak to the borough’s rural origins. There was even a replica of a classroom with desk and chalkboard from the early 20th century.
“It’s very nostalgic here at the museum,” said Renee Scheck, who came all the way from Wisconsin with her fiancee Dan FitzGerald to revisit the latter’s hometown. “To think that they taught school here is amazing. The dresses, the antiques and the quilts are fascinating. There’s big history here and time does indeed fly!”
Fitzgerald himself agreed that time had indeed flown since he was last in his native Florham Park back in 1974. “To see all the growth and development in town, it takes you back,” said Dan FitzGerald.
“We used to come down for school field trips in kindergarten or first grade. This really brought back the nostalgia of our families and founders.”
And such nostalgia continued for some history lovers as they continued the Pathways tour that weekend. Such nostalgia also inspired the Florham Park Historic Preservation Commission to continue their effort in preserving history. These efforts include repairing electricity of the building and preparing construction documents for interior restoration.
“The key is to preserve the history for our youth so they may see how the town of Florham Park developed,” said John Winters, borough resident and commission member, who was happy to see about 60 people attend the open house. “It didn’t just pop up!”
And truly when one looks at the reactions of the kids from Florham Park, such preservation efforts are not in vain
“It’s really cool here,” said 11-year-old Maggie Dolan, daughter of Patrick Dolan, who visited the schoolhouse with her nine-year-old sister Ally, and her grandmother Kate O’Rourke. “I like to see the clothes and how people dress back then. It all gives you a really good point of how people lived in the 1900s.”
For more information on the Florham Park Historic Preservation Commission, visit their website at http://www.florhamparkhistoricpreservationcommission.org/, or on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FlorhamParkHPC/.