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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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."