Boroughitis was a political phenomenon that spread throughout the U.S. state of New Jersey in the late 19th century, which led groups of residents to unite to form boroughs from within and among the many townships that were the prevalent form of local government at the time. This phenomenon was also called Borough mania and Borough Fever. The basis of the phenomenon were major changes to the borough form of local government in the state that allowed boroughs to easily obtain independence without approval from the New Jersey Legislature, allowed new boroughs to avoid school tax burdens and provided boroughs formed from more than one township to be entitled to a seat on the county's Board of Chosen Freeholders.
In 1894, the state permitted boroughs to be formed by petition, without requiring a special act of the legislature, as had been required before and since. This process was widely used, particularly in Bergen County, "that being the year the county went crazy on boroughs." Today, 56 of the 70 municipalities in Bergen County are boroughs.
Communities often were motivated by financial issues; Chatham broke loose of a township it had joined in 1806, over the financing of gas lighting in the town. The town wanted gas lighting, but the township government refused to finance it. First the community reorganized as a village (as it had been founded in 1710 under colonial English provincial rule), but, when the borough form was introduced through legislation prompted by such discontents, the citizens of Chatham immediately voted to adopt that new form of government.
This wave of municipal reformations was fomented by legislation that allowed a borough to be created by a referendum with no further legislative approval required. In 1875, only 17 boroughs had been created, and half of those had been dissolved or elevated to cities, but the prevalence of boroughs exploded, so that they are now the most common type of municipal government in New Jersey, accounting for over 200 of the 566 current municipal governments statewide.
Early in 1894, the New Jersey Legislature passed a school act which had each township constitute a separate school district. Taxpayers were required to pay off any existing debts of the old districts and all future school-related debts of the new districts. Exempted from this provision were "boroughs, towns, villages, and cities". An amendment to the Borough Act, passed on May 9, 1894, allowed for the creation of a borough from parts of two or more townships, and allowed these boroughs created from multiple municipalities to have their own representative on the County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The citizens responded to the legislation in 1894, and the shift to boroughs was in full force, as scores of new boroughs were carved from townships. The borough-formation pace slowed down when new legislation was passed mandating that boroughs could have their own school districts only if they had 400 children within their boundaries.
The formation of new boroughs continued after 1894. The borough remained the most popular form of government for new municipalities, and most governments formed into the early 20th century used the borough form.
Legislation was drafted to effectively repeal the Borough Acts of 1882, 1890, 1891 and all of their supplements. Under the Incorporation by State Act of March 26, 1896, "No borough or village shall hereafter be incorporated in this state except by special act of the legislature, and every borough or village so incorporated shall be governed by the general laws of this state relating to boroughs or villages respectively." With the formation of new municipalities now firmly returned to the hands of the New Jersey Legislature, the wave of changes met its end, by the beginning of the Great Depression.
- James, Michael S. "BOROUGH-BOOM CENTENNIAL", The Record (Bergen County), July 18, 1993. Accessed July 14, 2008. "In 1894, boroughitis in Bergen County was at its peak..."
- Cheslow, Jerry. "If You're Thinking of Living in: Montvale", The New York Times, April 1, 1990. Accessed July 14, 2008. "Why the town fathers wanted independence is unclear, said June M. Handera, the Borough Historian. At the time, so many little railroad stops were incorporating in the area that the newspapers regarded it as a disease, which they called boroughitis."
- A Centennial Review of Bergen County Borough Fever 1894-95: Part 2, Bergen County Historical Society. Accessed July 14, 2008. "On June 14, 1894, The Hackensack Republican noted that "borough mania continues to spread in Bergen County and the possibilities are that it will not be checked in some time."
- "PASSAIC COUNTY'S FIRST BOROUGH; To be Called Pompton Lakes and to Have an Election Saturday.", The New York Times, January 14, 1895. Accessed July 14, 2008. "The borough fever has broken out in Passaic County, and a petition signed by the lawful number of residents will be presented to Judge Hopper in the Passaic Common Pleas to-morrow."
- "History of Bergen County" Vol. 1, p. 366.
- A Centennial Review of Bergen County Borough Fever 1894-95: Part 4, accessed August 9, 2006
- "History of Bergen County, New Jersey, 1630-1923;" by "Westervelt, Frances A. (Frances Augusta), 1858-1942."
- "Municipal Incorporations of the State of New Jersey (according to Counties)" prepared by the Division of Local Government, Department of the Treasury (New Jersey); December 1, 1958.
- Karcher, Alan. "New Jersey's Multiple Municipal Madness." Rutgers University Press, 1998.