Livingston’s history dates back to 1699 when 101 Newark settlers wanted to move westward. They set up a committee to negotiate from Lenni Lenape Native Americans for the purchase of the Horseneck Tractwhich today includes Livingston and eight other northern municipalities. Between 1698 and 1702, the rules for property ownership were unclear. There were many disputes between settlers and the English proprietors. For some unknown reasons, the Newark settlers did not obtain a grant from the proprietors before negotiating with the natives. They finally obtained the deed directly from Lenni Lenape in 1702 for £130. The settlements began until around the 1740s as the dispute between the proprietors and the settlers continued.
The dispute came to a breaking point in September 1745 when the East Jersey proprietors began to evict a settler only six months after a house fire in Newark completely destroyed the original deed, which was the only evidence of the purchase. During that period, William Livingston who was one of the few landed aristocrats joined the settlers against the proprietors. Livingston owned land around today’s south western corner of the Township of Livingston. His land, like other settlers, was levied with quit rents in the amount 40 shillings per acre. He defended many settlers who were jailed for refusing to pay the quit rents.
This series of events caused the settlers, led by Timothy Meeker, to form a group to riot against the British government. The Horseneck Riots lasted for 10 years from 1745 to 1755. The group was also one of the first colonial militia which had periodic battles for 32 years leading up to the Revolutionary War as the group joined the Continental Army in 1776.
After the Revolutionary War, more permanent settlements took place with the first school built in 1783. In 1811, a petition was filed to incorporate the township from about 100 people who lived in seven distinct areas: Centerville (separated to become Roseland, in 1908), Cheapside (now Livingston Mall), Morehousetown (now Livingston Circle), Northfield (now Northfield Center), Squiretown (now the Cerebral Palsy Institute of New Jersey on Old Road), Teedtown (now Livingston Center), and Washington Place (now near the border with Millburn). On February 5, 1813, the township was officially incorporated. The first town meeting was held on the same day and they decided to run the township by a Township Committee system.
During the 1800s, lumber and farming were major industries in the town. Shoemaking and dairy became major industries during and after the Civil Warrespectively. However, the population grew slowly because it was not easily accessible. Mt. Pleasant Avenue – which was one of the first turnpikes in New Jersey – was the only primary access to the town through stagecoaches.
The population grew quickly after the 1920s when automobiles became more accessible. As a suburb of Newark, the town experienced many housing developments especially after World War II with its peak in 1970 of more than thirty thousand residents. During this growth period, many services were organized including volunteer Fire Department in 1922, first regular Livingstone Police chief in 1929, a Planning Commission in 1930, two hospitals opened in 1959 and 1960, new public library in 1961, and new municipal complex in 1963.
Today, around 28,000 people live in this suburban community, which lies around an hour from New York City. Its school system, which had last been nationally recognized in 1998, and other programs have been drawing new residents to the town. Its population has maintained a level of diversity while the residents continue the tradition of community volunteerism.
Arts & Culture
Livingston is the home of several performing arts organizations:
- Livingston Symphony Orchestra is a group of community-based performers which was formed in 1960. The symphony orchestra is currently directed by Istvan Jaray, an internationally renowned artist who appears regularly in concert halls across Europe, Canada and the United States. It holds many performances during each season.
- Livingston Community Players is a community-based theater organization. There have been many productions in the recent years. The performers are from the local community and other places in New Jersey. Past productions, including The Sound of Music, Oliver!, and Annie, received Perry Awards from New Jersey Association of Community Theatres.
- Children’s Theatre of Livingston is a local organization that provides performance opportunities for Livingston children grades 2 to 8. The children are trained in acting roles and staging staff. It has annual performance since the first season in 2007.
- New Jersey Ballet is a major ballet company based in Livingston. The company is recognized nationally and internationally with tours in many countries in Europe, Asia and North America. Livingston is also the headquarters of New Jersey School of Ballet which offers many classes in Ballet, Jazz and Tap.
Livingston has many local artists in varied forms. Local artists have support from Livingston Arts Association which is an organization formed in 1959 to promote art in the community including large scale exhibitions, demonstrations, and workshops. The organization is also a member of Art Council of Livingston which has a gallery at Livingston Town Center. The Arts Association includes numerous organizations in addition to the Arts Council of Livingston, including the NJ State Opera Guild – West Essex Chapter and Livingston Camera Club.
There are many studios at Riker Hill Art Park with more than 40 working artists in various media including pottery, fine metalwork, glass, jewelry, paintings, fine arts, sculpture and photography. Many studios offer art classes for adults and children.
Parks & Recreation
There are more than 470 acres (1.9 km2) of wooded parks with passive hiking trails in Livingston. Additional 1,817 acres (7.35 km2) are zoned to be preserved in its natural state without public access. This brings to about 25% of total land in the town that is in its natural conditions with habitats of eight threatened or endangered species.
There are many smaller parks and open space areas dedicated to recreation and sports, mostly centered around the town’s public schools. These include two swimming pools, ten little league baseball diamonds, four full baseball diamonds, eight full soccer/lacrosse fields, one full football field, three basketball courts, sixteen tennis courts, eleven playgrounds, a jogging track, a dog park, and a fishing/ice skating pond. The township is planning to build inter-connected mixed-use paths, biking and hiking trails to connect those parks and open space throughout the township.
Livingston has an active open space trust fund that continues to acquire more lands for preservation and recreation. As of 2003, there were 842 acres (9% of total land) that were protected from development. There were additional 2,475 acres (10.02 km2) that could be protected by the fund.
Riker Hill Complex
Riker Hill Complex (also referred to as Riker Hill Park) is a 204.68-acre (0.8283 km2) parkland located along the border of Livingston and Roseland. The complex is managed by Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs of Essex County. It comprises three parks, Riker Hill Art Park – a former Nike Missile control area site, Walter Kidde Dinosaur Park – a National Natural Landmark, and Becker Park which were acquired between 1969 and 1977. Although a large portion of the complex is located in Roseland, the county designated Livingston as the host community as the Riker Hill Art Park is the only functional and publicly accessible park at the present time. The art park located atop of the hill is the home of many studios in multiple disciplines of art and craft.
The recreation department under the Senior, Youth and Leisure Services program offers many programs for residents ranging from pre-school courses, children games, crafts, and dance; to a dozen of youth and adult sports programs. Livingston residents can also apply for memberships of public golf courses at Francis Byrne Golf Course in West Orange and Millburn Municipal Golf Course in Millburn Township. Additionally, there are many independent sports organizations such as Livingston Little League, Livingston Jr. Lancers (football and cheerleading), Livingston Lacrosse Club, and Livingston Soccer Club.
An Essex County park complex is located one mile (1.6 km) from Livingston with Turtle Back Zoo, Richard J. Codey Arena (an ice hockey/ice skating arena), and natural trails in South Mountain Reservation.