The town was inhabited by the Lenni Lenape Indians, settled by Quakers, and served as a supply point for Washington’s army during its winter in nearby Jockey Hollow. Many of the descendants of our original settlers still live here on roads that bear their family names. The township’s historical landmarks include the Liberty Tree that began growing in 1720, the 1869 Bryant Distillery (famed for its apple jack!), and the 1924 Millbrook School, now rehabilitated and in use as offices. One of our oldest streets, Gristmill Road (a must see in spring when the apple trees bloom), is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Many of Randolph’s early settlers were Quakers. Several were farmers who grew grain, flax, and hemp, and raised cattle and sheep. Some mined iron ore or operated forges. By the mid-1700s, a significant Presbyterian population had also settled here. The pacifist Quakers and the patriot Presbyterians coexisted uneasily during the Revolution. The Quakers felt persecuted, since New Jersey law required those refusing military service to pay a fine of fifty shillings a month or risk confiscation of their property.
In 1713, New Jersey’s first iron mine was registered and it was located in Randolph. The iron mines in the township supplied the Revolutionary forces with necessary ore for tools and weapons. The iron industry, which continued to thrive for the next 200 years, played an important part in the development of Randolph. Situated upstream of the Black River, the South branch of the Raritan River, the Whippany River, and the Rockaway River, the iron hills of Randolph attracted settlers and its streams provided power for industry.
Before the Revolution, water-powered industries were operating in Combs Hollow and in the Quaker community of Millbrook, also known as Mott Hollow. By the early 1800s, small industries along the Mill Brook were processing textiles and manufacturing hats, rope and barrels. Mott Hollow’s oil mill, which produced linseed oil from flax, was one of only two in Morris County in 1821.
Once part of Mendham, a separate Randolph Township was incorporated on November 13, 1805. At that time, it included the areas that are now Dover, Wharton, Mine Hill and Victory Gardens. Taking its name from Hartshorne Fitz-Randolph, a Quaker who was one of the first settlers and largest landowners, the township adopted the Fitz-Randolph family’s coat-of-arms as its official insignia in 1972.
Following the Civil War, local industries declined, as less expensive products from larger urban manufacturers became readily available. Despite a brief boom in iron mining around Ironia in the 1870s, Randolph reverted to a largely agricultural economy. Inexpensive land attracted newcomers. Jewish families, disillusioned with urban life, came here from New York City around 1900. They established farms and a vital community that exists today. At this time, Randolph also started becoming a popular resort community. Two of its largest resorts, Ackerman’s Hotel and Saltz’s Hotel, survived into the 1970s.
Randolph saw little growth and some decline in population during the early 20th century. In the 1940s, the population began rising sharply, a trend that continued for fifty years. Route 10, which became a state highway through Randolph in 1931, contributed to the influx, especially when it was widened later in the century. Despite this, substantial tracts of undeveloped land remained, including the hills and fields that became the campus of County College of Morris in 1968.
Though Randolph’s landscape continued to change, especially during the 1990s when much development occurred, it still has many acres of open space and parkland. Throughout the municipality, old farmhouses, mills and other historic structures remind of us Randolph’s heritage as an agricultural and rural industrial community.