A Brief History of Mt. Abrams
The community of Mount Abrams was founded in 1872 by Josiah Milner Abrams, a Brooklyn-born merchant who made a fortune during the Civil War by supplying the Union Army with saddles and bridles for it’s cavalry. He had grown tired of the city life, such as it was, so one day he got on the train in Hoboken and traveled due west into the untamed heart of New Jersey, looking for a little piece of paradise he could call his own.
Legend has it that when the train stopped at Lawrence Township, he stepped off to stretch his legs, and started wandering up a nearby hill. He forgot all about getting back on the train, apparently overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the place. At the top of the hill was a crystal clear lake, and beyond that, a small mountain so green that Abrams fell in love and bought the whole shebang. Luckily for him, the small mountain was insignificant enough that it didn’t have a name, so of course, he named it after himself.
He started by building a grand summer retreat along side the lake. He then built somewhat smaller but still imposing homes for each of his seven children. By the turn of the century, when he decided to retire there full-time, his little community had grown to over one hundred houses. He had sold narrow lots to friends and loyal employees, who in turn had built summer cottages with tiny covered porches, all trimmed out in the best gingerbread money could buy.
He paid to winterize his grand Victorian home, ran electricity up the hill, and did away with the ‘community’ outhouses. He lived there quite peacefully, watching his grandchildren play tennis on the lawn courts, and rowing across the lake, until he died in his sleep in 1908.
The seven children, and their numerous offspring, immediately started fighting over Josiah’s estate. It was quite vast. It was also tied up in various holdings — property, company stock, company assets, and government bonds. To make it easy, they sold the company, convinced they could all live quite comfortably on the cash, as well as the stocks, bonds, and mortgage-free real estate.
After World War I, the bottom sort of fell out of the saddle and bridle market, leaving the stock worthless. They all lived off the bonds quite nicely, but the families kept getting bigger and bigger, with more and more children did not want to actually work for a living (and why should they? Their parents certainly didn’t.) So it was decided that maybe, just maybe, they could sell off a bit of property.
The mountain behind the lake had been given to the County of Morris back when Josiah was still alive, and was now part of the county park system. No one could touch it, not even greedy and desperate relatives. But as for the rest of the hill —
And so it began. Chunks and chunks of Josiah’s property started being sold off. By then, the original one hundred houses had expanded to almost two hundred and fifty, and had become a sort of town — they had their own tiny post office and a fire truck. By the mid-forties, after the shock of the World War II had worn off and GI’s were looking for affordable homes, Mt. Abrams became quite a desirable place to live. The tennis courts were no longer there, but the lake provided the community with affordable recreation. Little Cape Cod-style houses and four-bedroom colonials grew up beside the Craftsman homes of the 20’s and 30’s.
The last bit of land, closest to the train station and what had by then become the thriving little town of Lawrence, was sold in the late seventies to a single developer, who built bi-levels and brick ranch-style homes on the last bit of Josiah’s dream. The total population of Mt. Abrams rose to almost two thousand people, living in over four hundred homes. By then there was also a town library, full-fledged fire department, and a small governing body known as the Council. Members of the Council liked the idea of keeping Mt. Abrams it’s own separate little kingdom, but things like road maintenance, and garbage pick-up forced the Council to let Lawrence Township absorb Mt. Abrams, and the Council renamed itself the Mt. Abrams Homeowners Association, or MAHA. They busied themselves with managing the Lake Association, funding the annual Founder’s Day celebration, and arguing with the Garden Club over who had to do the weeding in the several small parks scattered up the hill. So it was that Mt. Abrams became, to those who did not live there, just another lakeside community.
But those who did live there knew better.