Randolph, N.J.: A True New Jersey Hidden Gem

Randolph, N.J.: A True New Jersey Hidden Gem - by Kathleen Lynn, New York Times
Posted on 08/09/2021
This is the image for the news article titled Randolph, N.J.: A True New Jersey Hidden Gem - by Kathleen Lynn, New York Times

Just 40 miles from Midtown, the Morris County township offers striking scenery, wilderness trails and housing that’s great value for your money. 


When Nina and Rob Lifshey moved to Randolph, N.J., in 2019, they were looking for good schools and a reasonable commute to their jobs — hers as a college-admissions officer in Mahwah, his as a telecommunications product manager in Basking Ridge.


It wasn’t until after they bought their four-bedroom colonial-style house for $535,000 that “I happened to discover the trails,” said Ms. Lifshey, 37, referring to the 16 miles of paths that wind through the woods and parks of this Morris County township.




As a marathoner, Ms. Lifshey runs the trails; Mr. Lifshey, also 37, and the couple’s three children, ages 4 to 12, enjoying walking them with their dog. “We’re an active family,” Ms. Lifshey said. The trail system, which dates to the 1990s and was created for about $1.5 million, laces through Randolph’s landscape of hills, ridges, ravines, streams and woods — striking scenery that makes it “a true New Jersey hidden gem,” said Danielle Hilliker, a real estate agent with Kienlen Lattmann Sotheby’s International Realty, in neighboring Mendham.


Many house hunters from outside the area start their searches in higher-profile places, like Morristown, before discovering Randolph, where prices trend a bit lower. “As a first-time buyer or maybe a family with young kids, affordability is a little easier in Randolph,” Ms. Hilliker said.


Water Park


“It’s great value for your money,” said Rick Nogueira, 50, a pharmaceutical account executive who moved to the township in 2019 from nearby Long Valley. “We got two acres of property for under $700,000.”


Mr. Nogueira and his wife, Stephanie Duarte, 40, a hospital administrator, paid $629,000 for their colonial-style home. The couple, who have a 12-year-old son and a baby daughter, appreciate Randolph for its ethnic mix of residents, which is valuable for the children. “The more diversity, the less unconscious bias,” said Mr. Nogueira, who, like his wife, is the child of Portuguese immigrants.


Brian Noonan, 54, and Mayumi Miguel, 41, veteran Broadway performers, began their house hunt in Morristown and Mendham in about 2014, when they were living in Passaic. The couple were looking for a place with good schools and lots of families with young children.


When they found Randolph, “we drove through town and looked at each other and kept nodding our heads,” said Mr. Noonan, who has appeared in “The Phantom of the Opera” and now runs an entertainment company that manages tribute acts, including The Jersey Tenors. He also recently became a real estate agent for Keller Williams.


“It blew our minds, how beautiful it was,” he said.


Randolph Beauty


The couple, who now have three young children, paid $463,000 for a ranch house in 2014, and are happy with the schools and the sense of community, Mr. Noonan said: “People look out for each other.”


What You’ll Find

Randolph’s housing market is dominated by single-family homes. Tucked among the winding roads and tall trees, you’ll find subdivisions in a mix of suburban styles: Cape Cods, split-levels, ranches and colonials.


Douglas Tucker, a real estate agent with Compass, in Short Hills, said that home construction accelerated in Randolph in the 1970s and 1980s, as communities closer to New York City became built-out and developers pushed west.


Randolph also has several historic neighborhoods, including Ironia, where iron ore was mined during the 19th century, and Millbrook, a narrow valley where early Quaker settlers operated mills powered by a stream in the early 1800s.


What You’ll Pay

Home prices and sales volume have surged in Randolph over the past year, as the pandemic pushed home buyers out of densely populated areas and into suburban and exurban markets.


According to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service, 409 homes sold in Randolph in the 12 months ending June 24, for a median price of $562,500; during the preceding 12 months, 308 homes sold for a median of $505,000.


Lower-priced houses have always sold quickly in Randolph, Ms. Hilliker said, but during the pandemic, homes at the higher end of the market have sold fast too, often with multiple offers.


The pace of sales has dramatically reduced inventory from prepandemic levels, said Marlene Ginsberg, an agent with Coldwell Banker, in Chester. As of late July, there were 41 homes on the market in Randolph — compared with 136 on the same day in 2019 — from a two-bedroom ranch listed for $300,000, to a four-bedroom colonial-style house listed for $1.575 million.


The Vibe

Residents savor the natural pleasures of parks, trails, farmers’ markets and swimming at Randolph Park Beach or, if they belong to the Shongum Lake Property Owners Association, at Shongum Lake.


Randolph Park Lake


Walking to shops and restaurants, however, isn’t part of everyday life, as Randolph lacks a walkable downtown. For that experience, residents travel to Morristown or Denville.


There are scattered businesses along Sussex Turnpike in the Mount Freedom neighborhood, and the township has rezoned the area to allow mixed-use commercial and residential development. While several developers have expressed interest, no plans have been approved yet, said Stephen Mountain, the township manager, though he said he expects some development to happen in the next year or two.


Most of the business activity occurs along busy Route 10, which runs east-west through the northern part of the township, and includes popular establishments like the Randolph Diner, Mr. Crabby’s Craft Kitchen & Bar and Black River Barn, a sports bar and family restaurant.


The Schools

The Randolph Township School District serves about 4,500 students in six schools: four elementary schools, one middle school for sixth through eighth grades, and Randolph High School, which enrolls about 1,570 students in ninth through 12th grades. The student population in the district is about 66 percent white, 16 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian and 3 percent Black.


The average SAT scores in the 2019-20 school year were 593 in English language arts and 589 in math, compared with statewide averages of 536 in each. About 93 percent of the class of 2019 enrolled in college or other postsecondary education.


Randolph is also home to Gottesman RTW Academy, a Jewish day school serving children from infancy through eighth grade.


County College of Morris, a public community college serving about 7,000 students, is also in Randolph.


The Commute

Randolph is about 40 miles west of Times Square. It is not on a train line, so commuters to New York City drive to Denville or Morristown to take New Jersey Transit’s Morris and Essex line. The trip from Morristown takes a little over an hour and costs $14 one way or $393 a month. Driving to Midtown Manhattan takes about an hour, depending on traffic. Randolph is near Interstate 287 and Interstate 80, which put surrounding counties in New Jersey and New York within commuting range.


The History

Before the Catskills became the borscht belt, Randolph was “the ‘Dirty Dancing’ of New Jersey,” said Gail M. Hari, the township historian. Beginning in the early 20th century, entrepreneurs opened hotels and bungalow colonies serving a largely Jewish clientele escaping the summer heat in New York City and Newark. In their heyday, from the 1930s to the 1960s, the hotels featured performers like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Milton Berle. In the 1940s, vacationers could catch a bus near Times Square for the trip to Randolph (which cost $1.75 round trip). As highways and cheaper airfare allowed city dwellers to venture farther afield, the vacation scene faded. But traces remain: A building that was part of the 175-room Saltz Hotel complex is now home to Rosie’s Trattoria, a local favorite.