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Summit and Hemmingway, a “Killer” Connection

by: Sue Adler
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Town Well Cast, but Doesn’t Fit the Bill

There’s a scene in Ernest Hemmingway’s short story, “The Killers,” where a hit man in a diner asks what town he’s in.  He’s already mentioned that the town is “hot” and is told the name is “Summit.”  Legend has it that the Summit Diner, built in a style known as O’Mahony. at Union Place and Summit Ave.provided the inspiration for this encounter.  While the old fashioned diner with 20 stools and 8 booths certainly looks the part, there is a problem with the tale.  Hemmingway wrote his story in 1926.  The Summit Diner was built in 1938.  Hemmingway is also on record as saying the Summit he meant was a town outside Chicago.  Still, the ham, egg, and cheese sandwiches at the Summit Diner are mighty good.

Perhaps, the best response to this comes from another film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.”  “When truth becomes legend, we print the legend.”  In any event, Summit is situated on a mountaintop.  The town of just over 20,000 is perched on a ridge of the Watchung Mountains.  Even this citation is in some dispute as some say the town was named after Summit Lodge built by James Kent in 1837.  In any case, the New Jersey legislature declared it a township on March 23, 1869.  The town was incorporated as a city on the 8th of March in 1899.  Those facts come from historical records about which there is no dispute.

A Compact Town in a Choice Location

Summit encompasses just over six square miles near the center of Essex County,New Jersey.  It lies about twenty miles west of Manhattan Island making it within easy commuting distance of New York City.  Millburn and Chatham lie to the north although they are in Morris County. Berkeley Heights and Springfield are to the south.  Not to be confusing, but the town’s main street is Springfield Avenue.  What would Hemmingway have said about that?

The central business district is nice and level, but most of the houses are set into the hillsides.  The area is lush with trees, and homes in the region tend to be attractively landscaped.  New Jersey Transit provides a direct link to the financial district of New York City so the locale is popular with Wall Street traders.  About one fifth of the work force here is involved in the financial industry.

A History on the Move

While the purchase price is not known, the land that comprises Summit was sold by the Lenape Indians to European settlers on October 28, 1664.  Back then the place was referred to as “Turkey Hill.”  During the Revolutionary War, it was called “Beacon Hill” because bonfires would be lit along the highest points to serve as signals.  For most of the 19th Century, it was part of Springfield Township.

Railroads reached the region as early as 1837.  Later in the century renowned architects began building view homes along the tops of the hills.  The view of New York City from here is still grand.

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