Living In: Harding Township, N.J.: A Historic Place That Feels Like the Country


Living in

Harding Township, N.J.: A Historic Place That Feels Like the Country

Long considered one of New Jersey’s most exclusive areas, where families remain for generations, the bucolic township is beginning to welcome change.

By Jill P. Capuzzo

Anna and Jim Nadler moved to Harding Township in 2014, from Kinnelon, N.J., to be closer to their youngest son’s private school in neighboring Morristown. In the process, they got an additional 1,100 square feet of living space, three acres of land, a lower tax rate and the sense that they had moved to a rural setting that didn’t feel like New Jersey.

“Everyone’s so spread out,” said Ms. Nadler, 55, a language tutor who regularly bicycles through town and went snowshoeing in Jockey Hollow park after a freshly fallen snow in early March. “I love that it feels like the country, but it’s sophisticated at the same time.”

With all three sons now out of the house, the Nadlers decided to downsize, but had no intention of leaving Harding Township. “This is my hometown,” Ms. Nadler said, explaining their recent decision to buy a four-bedroom house on three acres for $1.2 million, and to put their five-bedroom, 4,828-square-foot house, on four and a half acres, on the market for $1.895 million.








Morristown station




n.j. transit




Wick House

Hartley Farms




Mt. Kemble Lake



Harding Twp.






2 mileS

By The New York Times

Home to industrialists, politicians and Fortune 500 executives, Harding Township has long been considered one of New Jersey’s most exclusive areas. Some families have been in this Morris County township of 3,800 residents for generations, and they have worked to preserve the historic and bucolic nature of the place. But change is afoot.

In the last several weeks, the governing body has received final approval on its latest affordable-housing plan. It has also reached an agreement to redevelop a beloved historic estate the township once sought to preserve, and set aside a piece of land in the historic center for a proposed 120-foot cell tower.

Mayor Christopher Yates said that on March 1 — almost four years after discussions began about how many affordable homes Harding Township needed to add to satisfy mandates by the state’s Fair Housing Act — court approval was received on a plan to build 176 units, just over half the original requirement of 350. Most of those homes will be built at the southern end of Route 202, the mayor said, where zoning allows for six to eight homes on an acre, compared to the three-acre minimum zoning in most of the rest of the township.

The Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Harding Township’s southeastern corner has more than 7,700 acres of walking trails, wetlands and fields.CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

To help reach the quota, 40 age-restricted units are expected to be built on the grounds of the former Hurstmont estate, a 20-acre property that is part of a larger tract of land recently designated as “an area in need of redevelopment.” Included in this tract is the 10-acre Glen Alpin estate, a 19th-century Gothic Revival structure, described at the time as a “historic and environmental gem,” that the township bought for $1.2 million in 2004 and planned to convert into a tourist destination. But the property proved too costly to restore, and the plan was scrapped.

“The building continued to deteriorate, and the cost quickly got well beyond what the town was willing to spend,” Mayor Yates said. Now the township is hoping to sell Glen Alpin, which has been designated as a redevelopment area, to a private buyer after other land-preservation obligations with the state are met.

There is also a cellphone tower that, if approved, will go up in the New Vernon section of the township, not far from the post office, something the mayor described as simply a matter of progress.

“We’re no longer the isolated little burg we once were,” he said. “But even with all these things coming, I don’t think Harding is going to change much.”


29 SAND SPRING LANE | A Georgian revival home with seven bedrooms and seven full and two half bathrooms, built in 1938 on 32 acres, listed for $3.75 million. 908-400-2346CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

Horse-crossing signs are a common site in Harding Township, which covers more than 20 square miles. Many properties include permanent easements for the public horse trail that runs through much of the township.

Most of the homes are large and sit on lots of more than three acres, although there are two townhouse developments — Shadowbrook and Harding Green — along Route 202. In the Mount Kemble Lake community, 96 bungalows and cottages, some dating to the 1920s, sit on the banks of the lake.

There has been little new construction in Harding in recent years, the newest being 20 large homes at Hartley Farms, each on a three-acre lot surrounded by open space, as part of a 25-year plan to develop a portion of a 171-acre estate once owned by the Dodge family.

Many of Harding’s homes have their own septic systems and wells. The minimal public water service, along with volunteer-staffed public services and the absence of a high school, helps keep property tax rates significantly lower than those in surrounding areas.

Because the post offices that serve the township are in neighboring towns or in New Vernon — a desirable, unincorporated community in the center of Harding, which virtually anyone can use as a mailing address by renting a postal box — virtually no one receives mail addressed to Harding Township.


76 EAST LAKE TRAIL | A three-bedroom bungalow with two full and one half bathrooms, built in 1965 on a half-acre, listed for $850,000. 973-723-5700CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

“Most people who live in town have a post office box,” said Gerry-Jo Cranmer, an agent with Turpin Realtors. “It gives them a good excuse to stop by and chat.”

The entry point for a home in most parts of Harding is north of $1 million.

As of mid-March, there were 37 homes on the market, with an average asking price of $2.3 million. The highest-priced listing was just under $5 million for a 7,215-square-foot house built in 1990 on six and a half acres; the lowest was a three-bedroom 1932 colonial on a half-acre, listed for $499,000. There is also a 20-room house on 32 acres owned by the family of Peter Frelinghuysen Jr., a former congressman who died in 2011, on the market for $3.75 million.


77 PLEASANTVILLE ROAD | A five-bedroom house with four and a half bathrooms, built in 1988 on 3.27 acres, listed for $1.48 million. 973-214-1411CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

According to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service, 45 houses sold in Harding Township in 2018, at an average price of $1.527 million; in 2017, 56 homes sold, at an average price of $1.395 million.

Jennifer Pollaro, 39, who moved to Harding Township in 2010, said she likes to take her daughter, Eleanora, 2, and son, Frankie, 4, on guided nature walks in the 7,768-acre Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, and to the weekly story hour at the all-volunteer Kemmerer Library.

“We love the big, wide-open space here, where you’re not on top of each other,” she said. “The properties are large and provide privacy, but we also have big backyards where we can have great summer parties.”

Volunteerism is big in Harding. Along with the library, the two fire departments, in New Vernon and Green Village, are staffed entirely by volunteers, as is the first-aid squad in New Vernon. The Harding Land Trust, a nonprofit group, focuses on land preservation and water protection.


New Vernon is the historic center of Harding Township, with a small commercial area and the central post office, a popular gathering spot for residents.CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

The New Vernon Volunteer Fire Department holds two big fund-raisers every year — an auction in September and a lobster-and-steak dinner in June — that draw so many visitors, there isn’t enough room for them all to park, so they have to be bused in, said Tawnya Kabnick, an agent with Coldwell Banker, who lives in the Mount Kemble Lake area.

There is little commercial activity in Harding, but Bernardsville, Basking Ridge, Madison and Morristown are all about a 10-minute drive away.

The Harding Township School serves 315 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade. With so few students, residents say, it operates almost like a private school, with abundant individualized attention.

After that, students can attend Madison High School, which offers 18 Advanced Placement courses to its 830 students. In the 2016-17 school year, students scored an average of 621 in the reading and writing portion of the SATs and 616 in math, compared to state averages of 551 and 552.

But many Harding families opt instead for one of the prestigious private schools in the area, including the Pingry School, in Basking Ridge; Morristown-Beard and the Delbarton School, in Morristown; and the Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child and the Kent Place School, in Summit.


The 1,400-acre Wick farm, now part of Jockey Hollow-Morristown National Historical Park, served as an encampment site for George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

Driving into Manhattan, about 35 miles east, during rush hour can take over an hour.

Harding does not have its own train station, so commuters take New Jersey Transit trains from stations in Bernardsville, Morristown, Madison or Chatham. Travel times and costs vary: A direct train from Chatham to New York City takes about 50 minutes and costs $10.75 one way or $310 for a monthly pass; a train from Bernardsville with one stop takes 80 to 100 minutes, and costs $15 one way or $436 a month.

During what has been called the “hard winter” of 1779-80, Henry Wick’s 1,400-acre Jockey Hollow farm served as campgrounds for George Washington and the Continental Army, which cut down some 600 trees to build cabins and provide fuel for fires. More than 100 soldiers died and are buried on the property north of the Wick House — which is also where Mr. Wick’s daughter, Temperance, hid her horse from mutinous soldiers who tried to steal it from her, thus becoming a young hero of the Revolutionary War.

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Published at Wed, 27 Mar 2019 09:01:23 +0000