The mission of the Summit Historical Society is to PRESERVE and EDUCATE. We PRESERVE records, documents, books and artifacts relating to the history of Summit and surrounding area. We PRESERVE the Carter House, the oldest house in Summit. We EDUCATE the community through encouraging the compilation and dissemination of information about Summit’s history, developing educational programs and maintaining the Carter House as a public museum dedicated to the history of Summit.
The Carter House
The Carter House, the current home of the Summit Historical Society, is believed to be the oldest existing building in Summit. Property along the Passaic River, on what is now River Road, was deeded to Benjamin Carter in 1740. He built a cottage on the site in 1741 and over the years it was enlarged to its current size. When Benjamin Carter died in 1760 he left nine children. One of those children, Sarah, married John Bonnel and moved into the house and probably carried out the first enlargement of the house. In the mid-1980's, it became known that the founder of a local firm called Aircast, Glenn Johnson, had purchased the circa-1741 structure on River Road and planned to knock it down to construct a commercial building. He was approached by local historians about preserving the house, and agreed to hold off on demolition while they raised the money to move the building about a quarter-mile up the road, onto a parcel of land leased to the volunteers by the city. In 1986 the home was moved to its current location on Butler Parkway. Not only did the late Mr. Johnson donate the house, he also funded a portion of the cost of the move and for the rest of his life remained a staunch friend and supporter of the Summit Historical Society.
Today, the former private-home is fully refurbished. The first floor contains an exhibit room, a Victorian-style library where the shelves are lined with hundreds of local history books, an early 1800's-style dining room, a modern kitchen facility, a Colonial-era kitchen that includes an enormous hearth and bee hive oven. On the second story is a private caretaker's apartment.
The Society has recently added an addition at the rear of the Carter House. In the addition is the May Room that is devoted housing our archives of Summit history. Research facilities, including microfilm equipment, Internet access and an ample research area are available.
Read More about the Carter house (pdf)
The City of Summit
Summit sits in the northwestern part of New Jersey's Union County, and included within its borders are elevations that rise to more than 500 feet. Long known for the beauty of its tree-lined streets, its vibrant downtown and the quality of its schools, the city's roots date to the years prior to the American Revolution. It is believed the first settlers began to arrive during the 30-year period between about 1726 and the 1750's, and built along or near established means of access: the Minisink Trail (Morris Turnpike, now Route 24), the road from Springfield to Turkey (now Springfield Avenue) and Stony Hill Road (Morris Avenue, Ashland Road and Mountain Avenue). By the early 1740's, Benjamin Carter had acquired land and built a house near the Passaic River.
Today, that house has been moved to 90 Butler Parkway, where it is owned and maintained as a headquarters and museum by the non-profit, all-volunteer Summit Historical Society. When the American Revolution broke out, Summit still was not a standalone community but remained a region of several farms with a few small clusters of development including some mills and forges along early roads and the river. In the 1830's the railroad made its way up "The Summit of the Short Hills," and present-day Summit was on its way to being created. By the mid-1800's, the easy commute to Newark and New York had helped forge the region's reputation as a summer resort for city dwellers, and over the years, many of those visitors built year-round homes in town. Today, a number of those Victorian "cottages" still exist, recalling the community's heyday as a spot beloved for its fresh air and cool breezes.
Three grand hotels and a number of small inns and rooming houses welcomed guests and future residents. In 1869, with a population of about 1,100, Summit Township was created, with the town center around Union Place and Maple Street growing. In 1899, the town incorporated as a city. In 1904 the present railroad station was constructed, and by then, Springfield Avenue had become the main commercial thoroughfare. As Summit continued to gain a reputation as a desirable commuter city, streets were lined with architect-designed houses in the eclectic styles of the period, including Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival. The landmark high school building, now the middle school, was constructed in 1923, and one historian noted that it "hinted to those just passing through of the architectural treasures tucked away in residential neighborhoods."
Following World War II, the city experienced its second great building boom. The mansions on New England Avenue were razed to make room for apartments, and the Canoe Brook Parkway neighborhood saw the construction of hundreds of split level houses for families who had decided to call Summit their home. Today, Summit remains a desirable residential community still known for its architectural beauty, the quality of its schools both public and private, its varied houses of worship, its attractive and successful retail district, and the ease of the commute from the city to New York.