Essex Fells was part of the Horseneck Tract, which was an area that consisted of what are now the municipalities of Caldwell, West Caldwell, North Caldwell, Fairfield, Verona, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Roseland, and portions of Livingston and West Orange.
In 1702, settlers purchased the 14,000 acres (57 km2) Horseneck Tract — so-called because of its irregular shape that suggested a horse's neck and head — from the Lenni Lenape Native Americans for goods equal to $325. This purchase encompassed much of western Essex County, from the Orange, or First Mountain in the Watchung Mountain range to the Passaic River.
In the late 1800s, Philadelphia developer Anthony S. Drexel realized the impact of train travel on residential development and sent Charles W. Leavitt to the northern New Jersey area near the end of the Caldwell line. Leavitt, Drexel and Drexel's son-in-law John F. Fell formed the Suburban Land Company and purchased 1,000 acres of land from the estate of Revolutionary War General William J. Gould. In order to create their residential development the group commissioned noted architect Ernest W. Bowditch. The community's name was derived by taking "Essex" from the name of the county and adding "Fells" from the name of John F. Fell which also means hill or down.
Based on an ordinance passed in 1928, commercial activity in the borough is limited to a single three-story building constructed to look like a house and two small workshops on a dead end. As of 2000, Essex Fells had 750 houses, most of which were custom built, with many occupying lots several acres in size. The borough has no apartment buildings, condos, office buildings or traffic lights. The only units available for rental are in carriage houses and other ancillary structures.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Essex Fells borough had a total area of 1.418 square miles (3.673 km2), including 1.412 square miles (3.657 km2) of land and 0.006 square miles (0.015 km2) of water (0.42%).
The 2010 United States Census counted 2,113 people, 728 households, and 597.7 families residing in the borough. The population density was 1,496.3 per square mile (577.7/km2). The borough contained 758 housing units at an average density of 536.8 per square mile (207.3/km2). The racial makeup of the borough was 94.56% (1,998) White, 1.09% (23) Black or African American, 0.00% (0) Native American, 2.18% (46) Asian, 0.00% (0) Pacific Islander, 0.24% (5) from other races, and 1.94% (41) from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 1.99% (42) of the population.
Out of a total of 728 households, 42.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 73.4% were married couples living together, 6.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 17.9% were non-families. 16.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.90 and the average family size was 3.26.
In the borough, 29.9% of the population were under the age of 18, 4.3% from 18 to 24, 18.0% from 25 to 44, 31.6% from 45 to 64, and 16.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43.8 years. For every 100 females the census counted 94.6 males, but for 100 females at least 18 years old, it was 95.6 males.
The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $182,031 (with a margin of error of +/- $16,894) and the median family income was $202,917 (+/- $46,038). Males had a median income of $120,417 (+/- $32,492) versus $72,500 (+/- $12,065) for females. The per capita income for the borough was $94,423 (+/- $11,353). About 0.9% of families and 0.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 0.9% of those under age 18 and 0.0% of those age 65 or over.
As of the 2000 United States Census there were 2,162 people, 737 households, and 605 families residing in the borough. The population density was 1,534.0 people per square mile (592.0/km2). There were 761 housing units at an average density of 540.0 per square mile (208.4/km2). The racial makeup of the borough was 96.95% White, 0.46% African American, 0.19% Native American, 1.02% Asian, 0.14% from other races, and 1.25% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.20% of the population.
There were 737 households out of which 40.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 75.3% were married couples living together, 5.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 17.9% were non-families. 15.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.93 and the average family size was 3.28.
In the borough the population was spread out with 29.7% under the age of 18, 3.6% from 18 to 24, 24.5% from 25 to 44, 27.5% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 96.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.6 males.
The median income for a household in the borough was $148,173, and the median income for a family was $175,000. Males had a median income of $100,000 versus $52,266 for females. The per capita income for the borough was $77,434. About 0.3% of families and 1.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 0.9% of those under age 18 and 0.6% of those age 65 or over.
Grover Cleveland Park, the seventh-largest park in the Essex County park system, is a heavily wooded park covering 41.48 acres (167,900 m2) in the western section of the county along the Caldwell-Essex Fells border.
Essex Fells Pond, or also known as "The Pond" by Essex Fells residents, is a popular destination in the winter. Located on Fells Road, "The Pond" attracts people of all ages, typically during the months of December through March. Popular activities include ice skating, pond hockey, and figure skating.
Essex Fells is governed under the Borough form of New Jersey municipal government. The governing body consists of a Mayor and a Borough Council comprising six council members, with all positions elected at-large on a partisan basis as part of the November general election. A Mayor is elected directly by the voters to a four-year term of office. The Borough Council consists of six members elected to serve three-year terms on a staggered basis, with two seats coming up for election each year in a three-year cycle. The Borough form of government used by Essex Fells, the most common system used in the state, is a "weak mayor / strong council" government in which council members act as the legislative body with the mayor presiding at meetings and voting only in the event of a tie. The mayor can veto ordinances subject to an override by a two-thirds majority vote of the council. The mayor makes committee and liaison assignments for council members, and most appointments are made by the mayor with the advice and consent of the council.
As of 2016, the Mayor of Essex Fells is Republican Edward P. Abbot, whose term of office ends December 31, 2017. Members of the Essex Fells Borough Council are Council President Patricia H. Wahl (R, 2016), Edward Davis (R, 2017), Gregory J. Hindy (R, 2016; elected to serve an unexpired term), John A. King (R, 2017), Glen W. Koechling (R, 2018) and William B. Sullivan (R, 2018).
In November 2014, the Borough Council appointed Greg Hindy to fill the vacant seat expiring in December 2016 that had been held by Jane McWilliams, unitil she resigned from office. In the November 2015 general election, Hindy was elected to serve the balance of the term of office.
Essex Fells is located in the 11th Congressional District and is part of New Jersey's 27th state legislative district.
New Jersey's Eleventh Congressional District is represented by Rodney Frelinghuysen (R, Harding Township). New Jersey is represented in the United States Senate by Cory Booker (D, Newark, term ends 2021) and Bob Menendez (D, Paramus, 2019).
For the 2016–2017 session (Senate, General Assembly), the 27th Legislative District of the New Jersey Legislature is represented in the State Senate by Richard Codey (D, Roseland) and in the General Assembly by Mila Jasey (D, South Orange) and John F. McKeon (D, West Orange). The Governor of New Jersey is Chris Christie (R, Mendham Township). The Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey is Kim Guadagno (R, Monmouth Beach).
Essex County is governed by a directly-elected County Executive, with legislative functions performed by the Board of Chosen Freeholders. As of 2016, the County Executive is Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. The county's Board of Chosen Freeholders consists of nine members, four elected on an at-large basis and one from each of five wards, who serve three-year terms of office on a concurrent basis, all of which end December 31, 2018. Essex County's Freeholders are Freeholder President Britnee N. Timberlake (District 3 - East Orange, Newark's West and Central Wards, Orange and South Orange; East Orange) Freeholder Vice President Brendan W. Gill (at large; Montclair), Rufus I. Johnson (at large; Newark), Lebby C. Jones (at large; Irvington), Patricia Sebold (at large; Livingston), Rolando Bobadilla (District 1 - Newark's North and East Wards, parts of Central and West Wards; Newark), Wayne L. Richardson (District 2 - Irvington, Maplewood and Newark's South Ward and parts of West Ward; Newark), Leonard M. Luciano (District 4 - Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Livingston, Millburn, North Caldwell, Roseland, Verona, West Caldwell and West Orange; West Caldwell), and Cynthia D. Toro (District 5 - Belleville, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Montclair and Nutley; Bloomfield). Constitutional elected countywide are County Clerk Christopher J. Durkin (West Caldwell, 2020), Sheriff Armando B. Fontoura (Fairfield, 2018) and Surrogate Theodore N. Stephens II (2016).
As of March 23, 2011, there were a total of 1,696 registered voters in Essex Fells, of which 347 (20.5%) were registered as Democrats, 847 (49.9%) were registered as Republicans and 499 (29.4%) were registered as Unaffiliated. There were 3 voters registered to other parties.
In the 2012 presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney received 70.0% of the vote (829 cast), ahead of Democrat Barack Obama with 29.3% (347 votes), and other candidates with 0.7% (8 votes), among the 1,197 ballots cast by the borough's 1,749 registered voters (13 ballots were spoiled), for a turnout of 68.4%. In the 2008 presidential election, Republican John McCain received 64.6% of the vote (829 cast), ahead of Democrat Barack Obama with 34.1% (437 votes) and other candidates with 0.9% (11 votes), among the 1,283 ballots cast by the borough's 1,661 registered voters, for a turnout of 77.2%. In the 2004 presidential election, Republican George W. Bush received 68.8% of the vote (900 ballots cast), outpolling Democrat John Kerry with 29.9% (392 votes) and other candidates with 0.9% (15 votes), among the 1,309 ballots cast by the borough's 1,621 registered voters, for a turnout percentage of 80.8.
In the 2013 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 81.3% of the vote (590 cast), ahead of Democrat Barbara Buono with 18.6% (135 votes), and other candidates with 0.1% (1 vote), among the 736 ballots cast by the borough's 1,789 registered voters (10 ballots were spoiled), for a turnout of 41.1%. In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 68.5% of the vote (688 ballots cast), ahead of Democrat Jon Corzine with 22.3% (224 votes), Independent Chris Daggett with 7.9% (79 votes) and other candidates with 0.5% (5 votes), among the 1,005 ballots cast by the borough's 1,682 registered voters, yielding a 59.8% turnout.
On a local level, Essex Fells has elected a Republican mayor in every vote held since becoming a borough in 1902.
The Essex Fells School District serves public school students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade at Essex Fells School. As of the 2014-15 school year, the district's one school had an enrollment of 348 students and 29.1 classroom teachers (on an FTE basis), for a student–teacher ratio of 12.0:1. In 2016, the school was one of ten schools in New Jersey recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education, a recognition celebrating excellence in academics.
Students in public school for seventh through twelfth grades attend the West Essex Regional School District, a regional school district serving students from Essex Fells, Fairfield, North Caldwell and Roseland. Schools in the district (with 2014-15 enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics) are West Essex Middle School (grades 7-8; 581 students) and West Essex High School (grades 9-12; 1,070 students).
As of May 2010, the borough had a total of 16.99 miles (27.34 km) of roadways, of which 15.31 miles (24.64 km) were maintained by the municipality and 1.68 miles (2.70 km) by Essex County.
NJ Transit provides service in the borough to and from Newark on the 29 and 71 routes.
People who were born in, residents of, or otherwise closely associated with Essex Fells include:Bob Bradley (born 1958), former coach of the United States men's national soccer team.
Willis Carrier (1876–1950) "Father of the modern day air conditioner".
Don Criqui (born 1940), sportscaster for CBS Sports.
Ian Eagle (born 1969), sports announcer.
Connie Francis (born 1938), singer.
Henry G. Morse (1884-1934), architect.
Brian Rafalski (born 1973), former NHL defenseman who played for the New Jersey Devils.
Scott Stevens (born 1964), former NHL defenseman who played for the New Jersey Devils during his career.
Johnny Sylvester (1915–1990), lived here when promised by Babe Ruth that he would hit a home run in the 1926 World Series Babe Ruth made a famous visit to the ailing Sylvester at his home in Essex Fells on October 11, 1926.
John C. Whitehead (born 1922), former Chairman of Goldman Sachs who also served as the 9th U.S. Deputy Secretary of State.