West Caldwell is a township located in the West Essex area in northwestern Essex County, New Jersey. It is located approximately west of Manhattan and northwest of Newark. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 10,759, reflecting a decline of 474 (-4.2%) from the 11,233 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 811 (+7.8%) from the 10,422 counted in the 1990 Census.
West Caldwell was originally incorporated as a borough by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 24, 1904, from portions of Caldwell Township (now known as Fairfield Township). In 1981, West Caldwell became a township to take advantage of federal revenue sharing policies.
New Jersey Monthly magazine ranked West Caldwell as its 60th best place to live in its 2010 rankings of the "Best Places To Live" in New Jersey.
Caldwell, West Caldwell, and several neighboring towns were all originally one town known as the Horseneck Tract. In the early 18th century, a group of settlers left Newark and purchased a large tract of land northwest of their home city for the equivalent of a few hundred dollars from the Lenape Native Americans. This piece of land extended west and north to the Passaic River, south to the town center of what would become Livingston, and east to the First Watchung Mountain, and was called Horseneck by the natives because it resembled the neck and head of a horse.
What was then known as Horseneck contained most of the present day northern Essex County towns: West Caldwell, along with Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, North Caldwell, Roseland, and Verona are all located entirely in Horseneck, and parts of what are today Livingston, Montclair, and West Orange also were contained in the Horseneck tract. After the Revolutionary War, Horseneck changed its name to "Caldwell Township" in honor of a local war hero and pastor, James Caldwell, who used burning pages from his church's bibles to ignite the ammo in soldiers' cannons and helped to drive the British out of Horseneck.
By the late 1880s, Caldwell had become quite a developed and populated town, however the vast majority of the development, residents, and businesses were located in the center of the town along Bloomfield Avenue, its main connecting route with Newark and New York City. The outskirts of town remained farms and swampland in many places. This bothered the people living in the center of town and in 1892, Caldwell's center area decided to form its own municipality, naming itself Caldwell Borough and leaving the outskirts of town remaining as Caldwell Township.
Caldwell Borough 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 ritzy, 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 borough known as West Caldwell in 1904, leaving only the one square mile of original downtown Horseneck development as the borough of Caldwell. Caldwell Borough became Caldwell Township in the 1980s. To this day, the towns of Caldwell and West Caldwell remain by far the most urbanized, densely populated, and ethnically, racially, and income-diverse in the West Essex area. The town is home Grover Cleveland Park (also partially located in Caldwell and Essex Fells), a county park named in honor of the President of the United States who was born in the neighboring town of Caldwell.
Additionally, West Caldwell contains a number of smaller parks and land preserves, such as Memorial Park and Francisco Park. Hatfield Swamp, located in the western section of the town along its borders with the towns of Fairfield, Roseland, and East Hanover, is a protected preservation that usually very little building is allowed to be done on.
Though today the Caldwell area is considered to be a suburb of both Newark and New York, 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. Bloomfield Avenue is located in the center of town, and is home to many of the locally owned stores of the town. West Caldwell has several stores and strip malls, and two public town pools, Cedar Street Pool and Westville Pool. The town is generally a safe place with few violent crimes and only two murders in its history.