Photography by Jared Kofsky
As it winds through Morris County, Route 53 is lined with office buildings, small shopping plazas, and residential developments. However, at the western edge of Parsippany-Troy Hills, there is a small community just off of this two lane highway that looks more like an outdoor living history museum than a suburban hamlet.
Known as Mount Tabor, at first glance, this village appears reminiscent of Ocean Grove, the popular Jersey Shore town known for its quaint Victorian homes. That is because Mount Tabor is, in a sense, a countryside version of that community. Both villages were established in 1869 as camp meetings by Methodist leaders, according to Hidden New Jersey.
The Newark Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church chose this site in what was, at the time, a remote corner of Morris County owned by the Dickerson family, to construct Mount Tabor. Then, the Mount Tabor Camp Meeting Association (MTCMA), which still owns most of the community’s property, was developed.
According to the Mount Tabor Historical Society, tents were placed to be used during the 10-day camp meetings that were held in the summer, which “consisted of a heavy schedule of religious services, prayer meetings, and uplifting lectures.” Soon after, the new settlement transformed itself into “a summer resort community,” and the many cottages were constructed.
As the years went on, Mount Tabor became its own municipality with residents all year long. However, the community became part of the neighboring Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills in 1980 in response to a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court that Ocean Grove being its own municipality was unconstitutional, violating the required separation of church and state. In 2015, the Mount Tabor Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Unlike other picturesque hillside communities, or Ocean Grove, there are no antique stores, boutiques, restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, or hundreds of tourists every weekend in Mount Tabor. The fact that it remains preserved as a residential village with close to 400 households makes it quite unique. Visitors to Mount Tabor will find that most streets that are open to cars are one-way since they are quite narrow, while a few are open only to pedestrians.
For example, one block closed to vehicles is West Trinity Place, a scenic street that runs alongside the center of the community, Trinity Park, from Simpson Avenue next to the historic 1885 Mount Tabor Tabernacle, which also contains the Mount Tabor Volunteer Fire Department, the United States Post Office and the MTCMA, to Morris Avenue.
Along the street is the 1873 Richardson History House, which is run by the Mount Tabor Historical Society. Open on the second Sunday of each month from 12:00pm to 4:00pm, according to Skylands Visitor, it contains a museum and a bookstore.
Just across the park is the Mount Tabor branch of the Parsippany Library, which is housed in a quaint octagonal building known as the Ebenezer Pavilion. The library was founded with 150 books by Dr. Henry Coit, who is best known as Newark’s first pediatrician and “the father of certified milk,” according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Another feature of the community is the outdoor staircase that climbs the hillside that is known to residents as the Golden Stairs, which, according to the Parsippany Historical and Preservation Society (PHPS), “were built by the Victorian gentlemen of Mount Tabor for the ladies as a precautionary measure against accidents,” and “the stairs erected on Searing Place enabled them to negotiate the hilly area with ease.” Plus, on the other side of the neighborhood, the private Mount Tabor Country Club, which was founded in 1900, includes a nine-hole golf course.
Despite its size and population, the community is conveniently located and there are often events in the area. For example, concerts periodically take place at the Tabernacle, and there is an annual house tour held in the fall of historic properties in Mount Tabor. In addition, for 148 years, ‘Children’s Day’ has been held each year, which includes a concert, fireworks, a parade, and other activities.
Plus, just down the hill and a few minute walk from the community is a shopping plaza with a Foodtown supermarket, as well as the Mount Tabor Train Station, which is served by New Jersey Transit’s Morris and Essex Lines to Newark, New York, and Hoboken. According to the PHPS, “the station was built to bring Methodists from the large industrial cities in northern New Jersey to the annual camp meetings for enjoyment of the fresh air, cooler temperatures, beautiful countryside, and religious activities.” Interstate 80 and the vibrant downtowns of Morristown and Denville are also just a short drive away.
The MTCMA describes the community as “a place like no other.” A walk around Mount Tabor will make you understand why.