History isn't clear how the borough came to be named Hawthorne. One theory is that the municipality was named after the author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The other is that it was derived from the hawthorn bush, a thorny vegetation that had to be cleared from the cow pastures in the farmland community.
Once inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Indians, also known as the Delaware, Hawthorne was settled in the 1700s by Dutch immigrants who were to become the borough's pioneer farmers.
This settlement was first part of Manchester Township, a region that was later separated into Hawthorne, Haledon, North Haledon, Prospect Park, Totowa and most of the First Ward of Paterson.
There is evidence that Major General Lafayette was encamped here during the Revolutionary War.
At the turn of the century, residents began taking the progressive step of emancipating themselves from Manchester Township. That decision for Hawthorne residents was made at Nelke's Hotel which used to be located at the northeast corner of Goffle Road and Rea Avenue.
The municipality was incorporated by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 24, 1898. Dr. Sylvester Utter was elected the first mayor of this community. The early years were marked by an atmosphere of inexperience and indecisiveness. Around 1908, a house building program began that developed Hawthorne into a suburban community.
The 1916 souvenir journal, printed to attract new home buyers to the borough, boasted that Hawthorne has a municipal water system, electrically-lighted streets, a post office with carrier delivery, 30 miles of macadam roads, uniform concrete sidewalks, garbage collection and disposal, ideal natural playgrounds, five churches, five public schools, one parochial school and convent, free public library and fire protection with automobile fire apparatus. That was five years after residents voted to adopt the commission form of government. Reuben Macfarlan, Arthur Rhodes and Sylvester Utter were elected as commissioners in 1911 with Macfarlan filling the position of mayor.
The commission form, designed to bring government closer to the control of the people, served residents with a "pay as you go' philosophy for over 70 years.
In the mid 1980's, fueled by environmental concerns related to the departure of two large chemical companies, a movement began for a charter change. The work of a charter study commission culminated in a vote to adopt the mayor/council form. This created four wards to give residents a representative in each area of the community and the right to directly elect their mayor. The first election under the mayor/council form was held in 1989.
In 110+ years of history, the borough has had only 16 mayors, with Mayor Louis Bay, 2nd holding that office for 40 years spanning 1947 to 1987. He was succeeded by Mayor Anthony Ross, from 1988 through 1993; Mayor Paul Englehardt from 1994 through 1997; Mayor Fred Criscitelli from 1998 through 2005; and Mayor Patrick J. Botbyl from 2006 through August of 2008. Richard S. Goldberg assumed the duties of Acting Mayor upon Mayor Botbyl's resignation, was elected to fill out the remaining mayoral term through the end of 2009, and then was elected to a full four-year term beginning January 1, 2010.