Thursday, March 28, 2013

Victory Gardens: a tiny town with an interesting past

Our tour of tiny enclaves continues with Victory Gardens, which is not only the smallest and most densely populated, but the youngest municipality in Morris County. Created by an act of the state legislature in 1951, the borough also has the distinction of being perhaps the only New Jersey community whose electorate voted against seceding from its host municipality, but got cut adrift, nonetheless.

How did this confusing turn of events happen to be?

As you might have guessed from the name, Victory Gardens was born during World War II as housing for workers who were employed at nearby Picatinny Arsenal and other private defense contractors manufacturing war goods. It was built quickly: the Federal government determined the need shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and within six months, it had constructed 300 housing units, streets and supporting infrastructure on about 90 acres of land in Randolph. The community was named for the victory gardens that loyal Americans were planting on their own property to free up farmers' crops for the war effort.

The influx of new people in Randolph seems to have caused some discomfort among longtime residents, which was allayed somewhat by the Federal subsidies that came to the town in exchange for the new construction. However, the climate changed after the government payments ended along with the war. A great many Victory Gardens residents were Democrats in what was otherwise a very Republican area, which made some Randolphers uneasy. Looking toward separating the newer community from its host, Randolph officials held a referendum in September 1951, and voters narrowly agreed that Victory Gardens should be spun off.

This has to be the most cost- and space-efficient
war memorial out there. 
Only problem was, the folks in Victory Gardens overwhelmingly wanted their neighborhood to remain in Randolph. Out of 513 votes cast in Victory Gardens, just 30 approved of the secession plan. Cast from their municipal home, the community approached neighboring Dover with the idea of affiliating there, only to be turned down. Thus, they were on their own.

Victory Gardens continues, looking a lot like a housing development off of South Salem Street, not far from Route 10. Its compact homes are clustered on streets named after a few presidents, most of whom are predictable (Washington, Roosevelt) and a few that aren't (Polk, Garfield). A condo complex was added to the town in the late 80's, but the community remains small, at around 1500 residents.

In researching, I found three other defense-related communities in New Jersey -- Audubon Park and Bellmawr Park in Camden County, and Winfield Park in Union County. They differ from Victory Gardens in that they were created by the Mutual Ownership Defense Housing Division of the Federal Works Agency. All still exist today. We'll be taking a look at Winfield, specifically, in a future Hidden New Jersey report.

2 comments:

  1. Again, interesting and well written. I see the scenario as a British murder mystery set in the late 40s.
    Mike Hayward
    Agoura Hills, Ca

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  2. I used to live in Victory Gardens as a kid at 372 Washington Ave in front of the Victory Hills East Apt. complex. The NJSP is there all the time for drug busts, capturing fugitives 1 who was wanted for murder. There was a request from VG Coucil to have Randolph Police provide police coverage but the cost was too much. There was a fire dept which I was a member of for a short time as a teen but I guess it's now defunct. Townhouses were built behind the firehouse sometime in the early 90's where a dirt field was once. I have yet to go back there as an adult, but I imagine it's gotten worse.

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