Millburn Through the Ages

May 1, 2020

New Jersey was one of the first states in America; it was one of the original 13 colonies, and the time of its colonization is largely forgotten save for a few history textbooks. As a state, we are not as commercial as New York nor as political as Pennsylvania. Nestled among the two, New Jersey, its towns, and their histories go largely unnoticed. That is, until now.

Millburn was originally inhabited by the Lenape Native Americans who dug paths from streams around the gentle, curving landscape. They did not know how vital these rivers would be towards colonists later on. First they were used for strictly agricultural purposes. Later these creeks would be utilised through mills, mills for which the town was surprisingly not entirely named for.

The first mill to be made in Millburn was used for making banknotes in 1790 after the Rahway River was dammed. There were also paper mills, such as the Diamond Mill which was converted into what is today called the Paper Mill Playhouse. However, it was the hat mills and the finishing of the Morris and Essex Railroad in 1835 that sparked a residential surge in the town. In the early 1800s, Millburn started developing into a quaint, Victorian residential community with locals working at mills and factories.

Going farther back in time to the Revolutionary War, Millburn has some history with it as well. The local South Mountain Reservation has a large stone with a plaque. This is called Washington Rock, and the stories say that Washington himself stood there and watched the British’s advance. The Parsil House and its cemetery off of White Oak Ridge also date back to that time. A Continental soldier, Nicholas Parsil, is buried there after having died in the war efforts.

It was only in 1793, a short three years after the first mill’s founding, that Millburn became separate from the colonies of Elizabethtown and Newark. At the time of its disconnection, Millburn was still yet to become an individual town. Instead, it was part of the larger town of Springfield. They too would eventually split in the year of 1857 becoming parts of the Essex and Union Counties, respectively. 

The year that Millburn joined Essex County, it also got its name. It cycled through many different names, including but not limited to Rum Brook, Vauxhall, Milltown, and Millville before being finalized at Millburn. The Scotsmen that inhabited the town derived it from Scots word for river, ‘burn,’ to remind them of home. It is said that there were debates on whether to write it with one or two l’s, but they eventually decided on two. So, Millburn roughly translates to ‘Mill River.’ And, no, it is not ‘honey burn’ if you decide to google translate it. Scottish Gaelic is a different dialect.

 We now jump forward a few decades to the year 1872. 100 acres of land are purchased by the Wyoming Land and Improvement Company to make the first speculative real estate development in the state of New Jersey. They called this new development ‘Wyoming’ for obvious reasons. Later on, a certain Stewart Hartshorn bought an additional 1552 acres with intents to make his ideal village town, Short Hills.

Though there wasn’t much information on the history of the Middle School, there were some fun facts on Millburn High School. Historically, their yearbooks have been called ‘Millwheels.’ They even had a school newspaper called the HiLighter, much like the Millburn Penpoint today. 

Millburn’s history went from Native Americans to colonists to a war to Scotsmen to where we are today, a commuter town and a melting pot of cultures. Only time will tell what happens next.

If you’d like more information on the town and its history, I highly suggest checking out the following links: https://twp.millburn.nj.us/202/History, https://www.mshhistsoc.org/index.php, http://millburnlibrary.org/site/1915www_/MillburnHistoryeBook.pdf

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