North Jersey has a bad reputation for being overdeveloped and not having enough green spaces. But despite this generalization, we have some of the most beautiful parks and nature preserves in the entire state. Take the 127-acre Frelinghuysen Arboretum, voted the “Best Public Garden in NJ” by NJ Monthly readers. We stopped by for a long visit to bring you some more details about this beautiful space. Read on to learn more about the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown.
The Frelinghuysen was quite active in early New Jersey history. Frederick T. Frelinghuysen was the Secretary of State under President Chester A. Arthur. His son, George G. Frelinghuysen, was a patent attorney who married Sara Ballantine of Newark in 1881. Sara was the well-to-do granddaughter of the founder of P. Ballantine Brewing Company. Once married and living in a New York City townhouse, the couple commissioned a Boston architectural firm, Rotch + Tilden, to design and construct a summer home for the family in New Jersey. Named after the nearby river, the family titled the property Whippany Farm.
Rotch + Tilden designed the house in a Colonial Revival style, complete with Federal urns, Ionic columns, and large Palladian windows on the second floor. The home, combined with the trees and lawn, was planted in the style of an English garden. It was strictly a summer house, only used for the hot season. However, it was also a working farm, so it functioned all year round. The farm supported servants and workers with several greenhouses, barns, and smaller homes on the property. In addition, they grew various vegetables and flowers, grown strictly for use by the family in New York City. This produce was sent via train to the Freylinghuysen’s Manhattan residence.
When George passed in 1936, followed by his wife Sara in 1940, the property was left to their only daughter, Matilda. Matilda (1887-1969) was an avid gardener and joined the Garden Club of Morristown. Later in life, she turned the property into an arboretum, a botanical garden devoted to trees. When she passed, the land and house were given to the people of Morris County and officially made into a public arboretum. It was named after the family and dedicated as The Frelinghuysen Arboretum in 1971. In 1977 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1989, the park opened The Haggerty Education Center, which contains a multi-purpose auditorium and two classrooms. It is the home of local plant societies and provides horticultural educational programs for the public.
Visiting The Park Today
The Frelinghuysen Arboretum is a little-known gem for hikers, tree enthusiasts, and bird watchers. According to Morris County, Arboretums are “facilities dedicated to the cultivation of woody plants for public display and both scientific and educational purposes.” They are also considered living museums. The trees here, however, are just one aspect of this beautiful green space.
The Arboretum is public, accessible to all visitors, and is the perfect place to walk and explore. Visitors can picnic on the great lawn, stroll through the meadows, or take a short hike through the pristine woodlands. The carriage house offers tours showcasing historic horse-drawn carriages. The property hosts lectures, garden programs, and camps. Cell phone tours are offered seasonally. The Arboretum is also available for weddings and special occasions.
The Frelinghuysen Arboretum is free and open daily from 8AM until dusk. There is wheelchair accessibility to a number of gardens and scenic areas. Refreshments are available via vending machines at the Education Center. Groups can arrange for private tours of the park. Please refrain from bringing your dog, as they are not permitted in the Arboretum.