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Another Overlooked Hot-Spot of History

By Walker Joyce

I grew up in New Providence, but now I live in Chatham Township, directly across the Passaic River from where I came of age. Like NP, my new address is loaded with significance regarding state history, and therefore our nation’s.

Blessedly, CT’s leaders and the Historical Society have eschewed NJ’s neglect of its past and embraced local lore: they’ve invested in road signs that commemorate and therefore help preserve the town’s rich story.

This effort is especially evident in the hamlet of Green Village, which overlaps portions of both Harding and Chatham Townships and dates back to the 18th century. A quick visit will confirm its significance in our legacy.

Let’s take a stroll down the main drag, appropriately called Green Village Road. We’ll begin at the tiny post office, built during the Eisenhower Administration. What’s with the berg’s name? Who or what is being honored? Surely not the location, as all the surrounding real estate is equally lush and forested.

In fact, the village was named for Ashbel Green, a former president of Princeton University. Prior to that honor, this favorite son served as a sergeant in the militia during the Revolution.

He then attended Princeton’s ancestral school, known as the College of New Jersey, and studied under one of its pillars, the Scottish preacher, the Reverend John Witherspoon.

Witherspoon was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, a pivotal member of that body’s Independence caucus, and a signer of the Declaration. He’s worthy of an entire column, and eventually that will be written!

Green was the valedictorian of his class (of 1783), and went on to become the third Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. He returned to become Princeton’s eighth president in the epochal year of 1812, and served for a decade.

An early advocate of Emancipation, he freed his own slave Betsey Stockton in 1817, and she went on to become one of the first female missionaries to serve overseas. His grandson Robert Green was a New Jersey Governor in the late 19th century.

So, it certainly seems right that a village now bears his name.

Amble on down the central street and you’ll find the home of Elias Boudinot, marked by one of the aforementioned street signs. The house was built in 1760 by one of George Washington’s generals, William Alexander, better known as Lord Stirling and another hero whose name would adorn a town.

Mr. B. eventually bought the house, which remains in private hands today. One of the aforementioned road signs commemorates the Boudinot connection. He’s a forgotten Founding Father, as he was first a delegate and then briefly the president of the Continental Congress.

He was a colonel in Washington’s army, and after the war served in the United States Congress. Washington appointed him to head the first national Mint, so you might call him the Father of Our Money! Elias was also a prominent lawyer, a trustee of Princeton, a passionate Presbyterian and an early champion of blacks and American Indians.

Quite a resume for a man hardly anyone remembers!

Across the street and down a block or so is the Cockrem Farm, also designated by a handsome sign. This 1800 spread was originally occupied in 1800 by John Cockrem, the first of 3 generations to own and work the property. His son Philip became the postmaster and ran a prosperous wagon-building company in town. He was one of the biggest contributors to the construction of the local Methodist Church, which still stands.

In 1956 Helen and Arthur Fenske acquired the farm, and remained there for the rest of the century. She was destined for prominence too, as she spearheaded the grass roots effort to block a jetport that would’ve decimated the entire region. As such, she preserved what the others built and became an icon of the modern environmental movement.

There’s one more sign in the village green, describing the town’s origins as a center for grist, grain and saw mills. It marks the town center, just past the old-time firehouse, amid other vintage houses. This spot evokes a Norman Rockwell setting, and completes the amazing amount of history contained in less than a mile!

Green Village is a lovely destination to explore in any season.