Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, and the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, was born in Caldwell on March 18, 1837. His father, Rev. Richard Cleveland, was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. The Grover Cleveland birthplace — the church’s former rectory — is now a museum and is open to the public.
Though today the Caldwell area is considered to be a suburb of both Newark and New York City, the area originally developed as its own individual, self-contained town and economy rather than as urban sprawl from a larger city. When it was formed, a few miles of woods separated downtown Caldwell from Newark or any of its developing suburbs.
The Caldwell-West Caldwell Public Schools system, which was consolidated in 1872, serves students from Caldwell and West Caldwell. Schools in the district (with 2005-06 enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics are four elementary schools, all of which are named after American presidents: Jefferson School (273 students), Lincoln School (231), Washington School (415) and Wilson School (257); All students attend Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell from grade six to eight (617) and move on to James Caldwell High School in West Caldwell from grades nine to twelve (845).
There are a number of alternatives for students living in the Caldwell-West Caldwell school district. Private schools in Caldwell include Trinity Academy for kindergarten through eighth grade and Mount Saint Dominic Academy for grades 9-12. Additionally, the Essex County Vocational High School is available for regional students who do not wish to attend their public high schools or who wish to learn a trade.
The area is home to Caldwell College, located on 9 Ryerson Avenue in Caldwell, and the West Essex Campus of Essex County College, located nearby in West Caldwell.
In 1702, settlers purchased the 14,000 acre (57 km²) Horseneck Tract from the Lenni Lenape Native Americans for goods equal to $325. This purchase encompassed much of western Essex County, from the First Mountain to the Passaic River. Caldwell is located in the center of the Horse Neck Tract. Settlement began about 1740 by Thomas Gould and Saunders Sanders.
The Horse Neck Tract consisted of modern day Caldwell, West Caldwell, North Caldwell, Fairfield, Verona, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Roseland, and portions of Livingston and West Orange. This land was part of the larger purchase and referred to as the Horse Neck Tract until February 17, 1787, when the town congregation voted to change the name to Caldwell, in honor of the Reverend James Caldwell who pushed for their organization’s creation.
Caldwell Township contained what is today the towns of West Caldwell and Caldwell. Soon after, the area of Caldwell Township just to the east of Caldwell Borough between Caldwell Borough and Montclair (present-day Verona and Cedar Grove) decided to follow Caldwell’s lead and incorporated itself as its own borough, Verona. Some of the already-developed eastern neighborhoods of Caldwell Township chose to become part of Montclair, as it was a rapidly-developing suburb of Newark and Paterson. At around the same time, the area north of Caldwell Borough became its own town, North Caldwell. The wooded area directly to the south of downtown Caldwell Borough became Essex Fells. Meanwhile, the farmland to the south of the western portion of Caldwell township attempted to become its own municipality known as South Caldwell. This failed, as much of developed sections of that area lied on its southernmost and easternmost borders, along the expanding Newark suburbs of Livingston and West Orange respectively. Those areas were engulfed by those two towns once they became incorporated municipalities of several small villages and developments.
This left only the most rural farmland south of Caldwell Borough and Essex Fells to become its own township, Roseland. At this point, all that remained of the original Caldwell Township was a large piece of undeveloped land in the northwestern-most part of Essex County; eventually, in the early 1950s, Caldwell Township changed its name to Fairfield in order to avoid being confused with Caldwell Borough.
Immediately following the separation of the original Caldwell, the western part of Caldwell Borough generally remained less developed than downtown Caldwell Borough and contained several farms and a large area of undeveloped swampland known as Hatfield Swamp. However, two individual settlements, known as Franklin and Westville, soon formed in the western part of Caldwell Borough. As development increased and population grew in the western part of Caldwell, the town’s more rural western population and more urban east often could not reconcile their differences. This led to the areas of Franklin and Westville consolidating into their own township known as West Caldwell in 1904, leaving only the one square mile of original downtown Horseneck development as the borough of Caldwell. Lewis G. Lockward was elected the first mayor of Caldwell. In 1929, a failed attempt to consolidate the three Caldwells was rejected by voters.