by Amy Curry, Executive Director
April 6, 2021
Today, most intrepid travelers on State Route 287 would have a hard time imagining life, let alone the daily commute, without the road. But 287 isn’t an ancient roadway, it was installed as part of the expansion of the federal highway system in the 1960s and, while promising convenience, its installation came with great local distress. Fifty-five years ago the power of the federal Bureau of Public Roads and struggle of Morristown residents to preserve their town intact became national news.
The Saturday Evening Post cover of April 9, 1966 featured news of the release of “Stagecoach,” Bing Crosby’s last movie, as well as articles on the KKK, Papa Hemingway, and the Tomb of Jesus. But inside, nearly six pages, with photos, were dedicated to Morristown’s struggle as 287 approached the town. Former Morristown Mayor J. Raymond Manahan responded angrily “They’re tearing the heart out of Morristown,” as local residents, like Mrs. Thomas (Betty Throckmorton) Cooke, Mrs. Garrett (Judith) Hobart IV, and several other ladies, sat in the scoop of bulldozers to protest the demolition of over 100 homes, some the finest vestiges of the areas 19th century grandeur (rumor has Mary Crane Hone among them).
Despite pleas from Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, whose department includes the National Park Service and, therefore, Morristown National Historical Park, and protest marches at the state and federal level, no changes were announced. As early as 1960, the route for 287 was determined, just not confirmed to local residents.
The highway department “was not supposed to pay attention to community planning, preservation of historical shrines, or… desires of the towns it cut roads through.” The original interstate highway law mandated only that “economic effect” of a road on a community be considered. By 1963, when the new Bureau of Public Roads directive stated “planning decisions are reflective of and responsible to… the needs and desires of the local community,” the route for 287 received final approval and local residents were given one year to sell and get out.
Today, 287 is one of NJ’s busiest and most critical roadways, handling 30% more vehicles daily than intended. But, next time you find yourself sitting in traffic through its Morristown section, remember the hardships faced and battles waged by local residents to preserve a community we can now only read about.