The history of the Hilltop area (located within the host communities of Verona, Cedar Grove, the Caldwells) has experienced intense human use since the 1600’s. Agriculture dominated through the 1800’s, which was gradually superseded by institutional use (Essex County penitentiary, tuberculosis treatment sanatorium, mental hospital, leaf composting site). Steady population growth in the 1900’s prompted high-density development, converting former forests and fields into suburban housing.

Local activists began campaigning to save the Hilltop as open space in the 1980’s, when the County began to consolidate and close its facilities. Plans for the Hilltop area went through many iterations before adjacent portions were sold to developers, and the remaining acreage purchased with Green Acres funds in 2001 and set aside as the Hilltop Reservation.

1930 Aerial of the Hilltop Area Showing Forest Cover and Open Fields (Credit: Mike Van Clef)