Photos by Jared Kofsky
Walking along Main Street in Boonton can feel like being transplanted to a community in the mountains of Pennsylvania or upstate New York. The town’s narrow hilly streets, businesses, landmarks, and parks are quite uncharacteristic for Northern New Jersey, though the view of One World Trade Center towering over the Second Watchung Mountain in the distance to the east and the NJ Transit train station near Division Street are reminders that it lies in the midst of suburban Morris County.
Incorporated 150 years ago, Boonton was once a very industrial community, and featured the Boonton Iron Works, a trolley that traveled along Main Street, and the manufacturing plant of Boontonware plastic dishes.
Some signs of the town’s past can still be seen throughout the community. Built in 1898, the former home of Adelaide Kanouse and Dr. John Taylor at 210 Main Street is now home to the Boonton Historical Society Museum, which is open for tours on Sunday afternoons and is currently hosting an exhibit about how Boonton’s centennial was celebrated. Just up the block lies one of the oldest operating theaters in the state.
Open since 1919, the historic Darress Theatre, which has also been called the State Theater, describes itself as “is one of the few surviving vaudeville stages in the country.” Today, it regularly hosts events for the community, such as the Magic on Main series, screenings of films about Boonton’s history, plays, and comedy shows. There is also an art gallery on the theatre’s third floor.
Next door, the Boonton Holmes Public Library building has stood on Main Street since 1849. It was once the home of James Holmes, who founded the Boonton National Bank, which still stands across the street. In his will, Holmes left his house to be used as a library, which opened in 1894 and still serves the community to this day.
Other historic structures in Boonton have seen new use, such as the old train station which now contains the Boonton Station 1904 Restaurant and Tavern, the Maxfield’s on Main Music House and Kitchen in the former 1896 Maxfield Hose & Engine Co. No. 1 firehouse, and the Boonton Opera House, which was recently rehabilitated into iMedia offices.
In addition, the Main Street corridor is lined with a wide variety of businesses, from the Heavenly Temptations cafe and gift shop to the Time’s Tin Cup Studio Arts and Artifacts antique shop to the Speakeasy Art Gallery. Plenty of dining options are available, such as Chili Willie’s Mexican Restaurant, Sazon Latino, Uzbekistana, and the Boonton Coffee Co. There are also events regularly hosted by the Boonton Main Street organization like the Boonton Farmers’ Market, World Flavors of Main, Music on Main, and the Boonton Ghost Walk.
However, what is likely Boonton’s most unique feature is that its downtown area is built on a steep hill overlooking the surrounding region and a raging gorge. Just a few minute hike from Main Street lies Grace Lord Park, a picturesque nature reserve that once contained the Boonton Iron Works, but today is home to a gazebo, a lake, a playground, hiking trails, a Wednesday summer concert series, industrial remains, and mostly notably, the scenic Boonton Falls. A hike through the park to view the Rockaway River as it cascades down the hillside is a world away from the bustling downtown just a few yards up the hill.
The community is served by NJ Transit’s Montclair-Boonton Line, though service only runs on weekdays, operating inbound in the mornings and outbound in the afternoon and evenings. During other times, Lakeland provides bus service to Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, and NJ Transit operates buses to Morristown and Wayne.