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08/23/04 - Posted from the Daily Record newsroom
A community that looks after its own

MORRIS TWP. -- In the early 1960s, Route 24 was just a plan, Park Avenue was a bumpy, two-lane road, and in a patch of woodland near the intersection of both were the beginnings of a little community unto its own, called Cromwell Hills.

Joan and Ray Gebhardt had bought their home there, and they clearly remember that their first winter could have been a bit warmer. A truck had pulled up to their house and quickly sank into the deep drifts in one memorable snowstorm.

"He (Ray) had to ski down to Consumer's Market," Joan Gebhardt said.

That didn't deter them, though. There were plenty of reasons to stay, as the Gebhardts and others who have moved into the quiet neighborhood in Convent Station have learned.

But the biggest reasons, many Cromwell Hills residents say, are their neighbors.

"There is a degree of cooperation and collaboration and giving a darn in this neighborhood," longtime resident Ed Finn said. "People envy it."

"This neighborhood is definitely like a throwback," Cromwell resident Karen Hersh said. When she moved here 12 years ago, she quickly discovered that she had joined a small community that looked after its own.

Cromwell Hills has its own civic association, its own pool and a public playground in walking distance of most of its 187 homes. There are only two roads leading into the neighborhood from Park Avenue -- Chimney Ridge Drive and Powder Horn Drive -- isolating it from the traffic of the surrounding communities.

The development, which sits on about 116 acres of land, began as two model homes at Powder Horn Drive and Park Avenue. At the time, homes in the neighborhood cost $30,000. Today they fetch prices around $600,000.

The growth of the neighborhood in the beginning was slow because of a proposal to build a jetport in the nearby Great Swamp that never came to fruition, resident Tom Tierney said.

The neighborhood really came together, residents said, through the construction of the pool that is available to civic association members.

The pool was built after several residents who wanted to build pools on their properties instead chose to buy a three lots of land for $21,000 from the Boyle Company of Elizabeth, which had realty rights to the development. The pool was opened in 1964.

The pool since has become the focal point of the community. Most of the neighborhood uses it, and youths from the neighborhood comprise its swim team, which competes against other small local teams.

Across the street from the pool is a public playground and field, called Green Field. A small hump in the land next to the park's basketball courts exists as a reminder of the pump-house of the developments' own former waste disposal plant.

Many homeowners purchase a bond along with their homes to become members of the pool.

Neighbors estimate that about 10 to 12 homes are bought and sold each year. None of them have been replaced, though many have had additions and alterations.

Finn's house was new when he bought it in 1964, when he moved to Cromwell Hills from Cleveland. However, the neighborhood actually was his second choice, which he accepted after a prospective house in another, neighboring development was sold.

"I underestimated how nice it was," Finn said.

The neighbors have had to come to one another's aid on occasion, such as when they rallied together in the neighborhood's early days to oppose the construction of Route 24, saying that it would bring traffic and noise.

While the highway has long since been built, the din of traffic from the highway seems muted, even at rush hour. The only audible nuisance comes from the occasional plane or helicopter passing overhead as it makes its way to or from nearby Morristown Airport.

The positive aspects of the community outweigh the negatives, residents said.

Brian Smith, who had lived in England, moved to Cromwell Hills in 1975. He had lived in Convent Station once before, on Crescent Drive, but when he returned to the United States he thought the community with the pool would be a good place to raise children.

"It's a very fun neighborhood, but it's a responsible neighborhood, and a friendly neighborhood," Smith said.

Linda Roche, acting president of the Civic Association, said she didn't even know about the pool when she stumbled upon the neighborhood in her home search 11 years ago, but fell in love with her house, and soon after, with the closeness of the neighborhood.

"The neighbors make sure you know what is going on," Roche said.

Each of the residents receives a directory to the other homeowners in the Civic Association. Roche said she would like to revive a newsletter that residents once had.

Karen Hersh remains happy with her home.

"It's nice," Hersh said.

"If you leave your house, you know your neighbors are watching your house and watch out for you."

Several of Cromwell's current residents were born and raised in the neighborhood and returned as adults to buy homes.

"We kept saying we wanted a place that's like Cromwell, and we didn't find it," said Tierney's son, Butch, who moved back to Cromwell Hills four years ago to raise his own family.

"When we had twins, we had meals delivered to us for four months," Butch Tierney said. "Some from people we didn't even know."

Butch Tierney, 39, had moved several times before returning to Cromwell Hills.

"I'm here for a long time," he said. "There's no better place to raise kids in my mind."


Rob Seman can be reached at rseman@gannett.com or (973) 428-6631.
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In 1969, Ed Finn wrote an article similar to the above one about the history and making of the Cromwell pool. Read it.

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