Caldwell, originally part of the area called Horse Neck, was settled in the early 18th century by pioneers, farmers and traders, who moved westward from Newark and through the Passaic Valley from the "Dutch" areas of Bergen County. While it was thought that the way had been cleared by Newark’s 1702 purchase of this Horse Neck Tract from the Lenape Indians, clear land titles were clouded by the counterclaims of the Proprietors. The resulting Horse Neck Riots of the 1740s were among the earliest American challenges to Royal authority. The first three dozen families who settled in this area encountered a forested, isolated area with no roads.
Local hamlets clustered around churches and schools. Rev. James Caldwell helped the first settlers organize the First Presbyterian Church at Horse Neck. After Rev. Caldwell’s murder in 1781 the parish area was named Caldwell in his honor. In 1798 the entire Horse Neck Tract was designated Caldwell Township. Early on Caldwell included portions of Livingston, Roseland and Essex Fells.
The 19th century saw dramatic changes take place, many resulting from the construction of the “Big Road,” Bloomfield Avenue. Israel Crane's company pushed the toll road through to Caldwell by 1808 and it became the main link with the markets in Newark for all that lay to the west.
As early as the 1850s some city folks were finding that the beautiful western slopes of the Second Mountain of the Watchung chain, with abundant pure water and equally clear air, were a delightful place to spend their summer months. In time, Caldwell would be promoted as the "Denver of the East." To accommodate the influx of seasonal visitors, hotels and boarding houses multiplied and became a dominant aspect of both the economy and the ambience. The Monomonock Inn, opened in 1901, ultimately came to be the largest with 100 rooms. Before it was razed in 1942, it was located on a hill on the east side of Prospect Street between Bloomfield Avenue and Academy Road.
In addition Caldwell ‘s economic base was bolstered by farming. A major farming area, there were supporting mills and stores. With the arrival of the railroad in 1891, the area was firmly linked to population centers to the east.
And not to be overlooked was Caldwell's most conspicuous contribution to the Nation - the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, born in the manse or parsonage of the First Presbyterian Church in 1837.
The Caldwells have grown, the dirt roads have been paved, the railroad abandoned, and most of the lodging homes are gone, but the beauty of the Caldwells remains. Various communities recognize their past through their remaining historic landmarks. Although the Caldwells have lost a number of their early and most fascinating sites, some survive and stand their ground firmly as silent testimonials to an almost forgotten era. Many of the people of the Caldwells made significant contributions in molding our communities, and some paid the ultimate price while defending the liberties and freedom of our nation.
Text adapted from Images of America: Remembering the Caldwells by John J. Collins, SC: 1998.