West Caldwell was incorporated as a borough by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 24, 1904, from portions of Caldwell Township (now known as Fairfield Township). In 1981, West Caldwell became a township to take advantage of federal revenue sharing policies.
Though today the Caldwell area is considered to be a suburb of both Newark and New York, the area originally developed as its own individual, self-contained town and economy rather than as urban sprawl from a larger city. When it was formed, a few miles of woods separated downtown Caldwell from Newark or any of its developing suburbs.
New Jersey Monthly magazine ranked West Caldwell as its 30th best place to live in its 2008 rankings of the "Best Places To Live" in New Jersey.
What was then known as Horseneck contained most of the present day northern Essex County towns: West Caldwell, along with Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, North Caldwell, Roseland, and Verona are all located entirely in Horseneck, and parts of what are today Livingston, Montclair, and West Orange also were contained in the Horseneck tract. After the Revolutionary War, Horseneck changed its name to "Caldwell Township" in honor of a local war hero and pastor, James Caldwell, who used burning pages from his church's bibles to ignite the ammo in soldiers' cannons and helped to drive the British out of Horseneck.
By the late 1880s, Caldwell had become quite a developed and populated town, however the vast majority of the development, residents, and businesses were located in the center of the town along Bloomfield Avenue, its main connecting route with Newark and New York City. The outskirts of town remained farms and swampland in many places. This bothered the people living in the center of town and in 1892, Caldwell's center area decided to form its own municipality, naming itself Caldwell Borough and leaving the outskirts of town remaining as Caldwell Township.
Caldwell Borough contained what is today the towns of West Caldwell and Caldwell. Soon after, the area of Caldwell Township just to the east of Caldwell Borough between Caldwell Borough and Montclair (present-day Verona and Cedar Grove) decided to follow Caldwell's lead and incorporated itself as its own borough, Verona. Some of the already-developed eastern neighborhoods of Caldwell Township chose to become part of Montclair, as it was a rapdily developing suburb of Newark and Paterson. At around the same time, the area north of Caldwell Borough became its own town, North Caldwell. The ritzy, wooded area directly to the south of downtown Caldwell Borough became Essex Fells. Meanwhile, the farmland to the south of the western portion of Caldwell township attempted to become its own municipality known as South Caldwell. This failed, as much of developed sections of that area lied on its southernmost and easternmost borders, along the expanding Newark suburbs of Livingston and West Orange respectively. Those areas were engulfed by those two towns once they became incorporated municipalities of several small villages and developments. This left only the most rural farmland south of Caldwell Borough and Essex Fells to become its own township, Roseland. At this point, all that remained of the original Caldwell Township was a large piece of undeveloped land in the northwestern-most part of Essex County; eventually, in the early 1950s, Caldwell Township changed its name to Fairfield in order to avoid being confused with Caldwell Borough.
Immediately following the separation of the original Caldwell, the western part of Caldwell Borough generally remained less developed than downtown Caldwell Borough and contained several farms and a large area of undeveloped swampland known as Hatfield Swamp. However, two individual settlements, known as Franklin and Westville, soon formed in the western part of Caldwell Borough. As development increased and population grew in the western part of Caldwell, the town's more rural western population and more urban east often could not reconcile their differences. This led to the areas of Franklin and Westville consolidating into their own township known as West Caldwell in 1904, leaving only the one square mile of original downtown Horseneck development as the borough of Caldwell. Caldwell Borough became Caldwell Township in the 1980s. To this day, the towns of Caldwell and west caldwell remain by far the most urbanized, densely populated, and ethnically, racially, and income-diverse in the West Essex area. The town is home Grover Cleveland Park (also partially located in Caldwell and Essex Fells, a county park named in honor of the President of the United States who was born in the neighboring town of Caldwell.
Additionally, West Caldwell contains a number of smaller parks and land preserves, such as Memorial Park and Francisco Park. Hatfield Swamp, located in the western section of the town along its borders with the towns of Fairfield, Roseland, and East Hanover, is a protected preservation that usually very little building is allowed to be done on.
West Caldwell has several stores and strip malls, and two public town pools, Cedar Street Pool and Westville Pool. The town is generally a safe place with few violent crimes and only two murders in its history.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the township has a total area of 5.1 square miles (13.1 km²), or about 3,382 acres, none of which is covered by water.
There were 3,990 households out of which 35.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 68.1% were married couples living together, 7.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 22.0% were non-families. 19.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.75 and the average family size was 3.17.
In the township the population was spread out with 24.7% under the age of 18, 4.6% from 18 to 24, 27.6% from 25 to 44, 24.0% from 45 to 64, and 19.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 90.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.2 males.
The median income for a household in the township was $83,396, and the median income for a family was $94,379. Males had a median income of $67,108 versus $45,365 for females. The per capita income for the township was $38,345. About 1.2% of families and 2.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.5% of those under age 18 and 2.4% of those age 65 or over.
The Mayor of West Caldwellis Joseph Tempesta, Jr. Members of the West Caldwell Township Council are Council President Rosemarie M. Sutherlin, Dominick J. Aiello, Joseph A. Fischer, Richard C. Norgard, Richard C. Otterbein and William E. Payne.
Between sixth and eighth grades, all students in both Caldwell and West Caldwell attend Grover Cleveland Middle School, located in Caldwell. All students also attend the same high school, James Caldwell High School, located in the center of West Caldwell, which is named after the Reverend James Caldwell, the same American Revolutionary War hero that the towns are named for. In accordance with New Jersey state law that requires towns to bus students to school if they live further than 2 miles, the high school was built, in the early 1960s to ensure that it was within a 2 mile radius of all households in both towns. Previously, Grover Cleveland Middle School in the center of Caldwell had been Grover Cleveland Jr. High School and High School, but its distance more than two miles from the outer neighborhoods of West Caldwell require that several students from the Wilson School area are bused to it. For this reason, the older, non-centrally located building became the town's middle school and the current high school was built to be within reasonable walking distance to all students' houses.
The two non-defunct elementary schools are Harrison School, which has become the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education offices, and Roosevelt Elementary School, which now houses Essex County College.
Additionally, West Caldwell is home to the Essex County Vocational High School for regional students who do not wish to attend their public high schools or who wish to learn a trade.
The West Essex Campus of Essex County College is located in West Caldwell.
The Caldwells area has been home to a number of celebrities.