Boonton Ironworks

The Boonton Iron Works is an abandoned pig iron furnace complex that contained rolling and slitting mills for producing nail rods and bar iron along the Rockaway River in Boonton, New Jersey.







History

Early Development

The Boonton Ironworks is an abandoned pig iron furnace complex located along the Rockaway River in Boonton, New Jersey. Established in 1825, the Ironworks symbolized the rise and fall of northern New Jersey’s iron industry. During its early years, rich iron veins in the region were being mined, and iron manufacturing operations were developing. Small colonial villages, built around furnaces and forges, experienced increased investment and often faced overly optimistic economic expectations.

The development of the Boonton Ironworks, along with the Morris Canal and later the Morris & Essex Railroad, directly contributed to the growth of the Town of Boonton. After 1876, Boonton Ironworks entered a prolonged decline, mirroring the near-total collapse of the iron industry in northern New Jersey.

The first record of iron operations in the Old Boonton area dates back to around 1747-48, when Obadiah Baldwin was noted to be operating an ironworks. 2 In 1759, David Ogden, a lawyer from Newark, purchased property in Boonton and may have operated a forge either concurrently with Baldwin’s operations or at the same location. Ogden might have been the first to name the area around 1760, after Thomas Boone, the Royal Governor of the province at the time. The name “Boon-Town” was recorded when Samuel Ogden, David’s son, referred to it as such in 1771.

Samuel Ogden became the resident manager of the ironworks at Boonton in 1765, the year he graduated from King’s College. 2 Within five years, Ogden purchased the ironworks from his father, acquired land on the opposite bank of the Rockaway River, and began expanding operations by constructing a rolling and slitting mill, likely to complement a forge. He purchased machinery from England and hired two experts to erect and operate it, maintain forge fires to reheat the iron before rolling and slitting, and construct a dam, flume, and water wheel to harness the river’s power. Ogden’s firm produced bar iron for rudders, grist mills, and saw mills; share moulds; square and flat iron; and cart, wagon, and chair tires.

After the American Revolution, Samuel Ogden leased the ironworks to John Jacob Faesch, who managed the property until he died in 1799. 2 Faesch’s sons attempted to continue operations, but declining markets and the exhaustion of timber used for fuel led to their failure. Both sons died young, and by 1821, the site was sold at auction to Israel Crane of Bloomfield and William Scott of Powerville. Scott, an industrialist who operated a gristmill and forge, constructed a new road around 1822 from the east side of the river in Old Boonton to his operations in Powerville.

New Jersey Iron Company

The original center of the Town of Boonton was located along the Rockaway River, which served as the place of art least forges operating in the 18th century due to the availability of water power, Morris, Sussex, and Warren Counties’ significant iron ore deposits, vast forests, and limestone outcroppings. 2

After the route of the Morris Canal bypassed old Boonton in the late 1820s, some industrial operations remained in the 19th century. However, most of the new industrial activity, including the Boonton Ironworks, was developed near the Morris Canal. By 1890, the Jersey City Water Supply Company had purchased much of old Boonton to construct a reservoir built between 1902 and 03.

The Boonton Ironworks and the Morris Canal both began construction in the Boonton area in 1829 and commenced operations in 1831. 2 In preparation, the Morris Canal Company acquired property in Boonton from William Scott, along with the rights to dam the Rockaway River above Boonton Falls. In exchange, Scott received the right to use the canal as a raceway to power any mills built in the ravine below, provided the water eventually returned to the canal. A gatehouse between the canal and the pond above the dam controlled the water flow from the river into the canal, while a floodgate allowed water from the canal back into the river.

By 1830, Daniel Wetmore, a New York iron merchant, had acquired property in Boonton from William Scott and others. 2 By the following year, he had sold it to the New Jersey Iron Company, which he formed with other investors. The company constructed puddling furnaces and a rolling mill between the canal and the river at a cost of $283,000. Experienced ironworkers and machinery were brought from England, with the first shipload of families and equipment arriving from Staffordshire in June 1830 and a second shipload later that year. Operations began in May 1831 under the supervision of Wetmore and William Green, utilizing the canal to divert water into a retention pond to power the rolling mills. The ironworks relied on the canal to bring iron ore to the site, and transport finished goods away.

Initially, all operations were conducted within the rolling mill building, but the ironworks expanded significantly. 1 2 The facility focused on producing sheet and bar iron. A charcoal pig iron blast furnace was constructed in 1833. 2 By 1840, the New Jersey Iron Company successfully puddled iron using anthracite coal, believed to be the first instance of this achievement. At around this time, the production of cut nails was added to the ironworks, with a factory built near the top of an adjacent inclined plane of the Morris Canal.

In 1848, an anthracite-fueled iron furnace, the second in the state, was built under the supervision of Samuel Thomas, son of Davis Thomas, a Welsh ironmaster who introduced hot blast manufacturing to America in 1840 at the Crane Iron Company in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. By this time, the ironworks controlled its own iron mines, making it nearly self-sufficient except for coal supplies.

Fuller, Lord & Company

In 1851, the New Jersey Iron Company was forced to close due to tariffs and a decrease in the market price for nails. 2 During its operation, the company had produced 6,000 to 8,000 tons of bar iron or 100,000 casks of nails annually. In 1852, the ironworks property was sold at auction to Dudley B. Fuller, a commission merchant for the company, and John Durand, both of whom were creditors. Fuller then formed a partnership with James Couper Lord, and the new company, Fuller, Lord & Company, was informally known as the Boonton Ironworks.

In its first year, the company consumed 11,600 tons of Jersey magnetic ore, 23,000 tons of anthracite coal, 3,000 tons of limestone, and 6,600 tons of pig iron. 2 It employed 600 workers, paid $22,000 per month in wages and produced 6,500 tons of nails and railroad spikes.

In 1866, a stone arch bridge was constructed over the Rockaway River to carry a pipe that provided a continuous water supply to the ironworks. 1 2 This supply was separate from the water from the canal, which was used to power the waterwheels and turbines. An industrial spur of the Boonton Branch of the Morris & Essex Railroad was added in 1867, followed by a second anthracite coal-fueled blast furnace in 1868.

The 1868 Beers Atlas of Morris County shows the ironworks as comprising an anthracite coal-fueled blast furnace, a foundry, an annealing house, a blacksmith shop, a rolling mill, a nail plate mill, a sawmill, a drying house, two nail factories, a storehouse, dumping sheds, a scale house, coal sheds, a keg storehouse, and an office building. 2 The facility was served by the Morris Canal and an adjacent inclined plane, as well as by a spur of the Boonton Branch of the Morris & Essex Railroad.

By the early 1870s, the Boonton Ironworks reached its peak, producing over 200,000 kegs of nails per year. 2 It had expanded to own portions of iron mining operations in Hibernia, Mount Hope, Beach Glen, the Hope Mine, the Mount Pleasant Mine, and the Swede Mine.

Sanborn Map
Boonton Iron Works at its peak in 1886. Source: Sanborn Map & Publishing Company.

Decline and Closure

Following the deaths of Dudley Fuller in 1868 and James Couper Lord in 1869, the Boonton Ironworks began a slow decline. 2 The economic panic of 1873 and a fire that August further reduced the mill’s output. The discovery of iron in other parts of the United States and the market’s shift from cut nails to wire nails also curtailed production.

The Boonton Ironworks operated until 1876. 2 Portions of the facility were leased intermittently afterward, but full operations never resumed.

Subsequent Industries

The estate of James Couper Lord retained ownership of the ironworks’ various properties from 1876 until it donated the land and ironworks to the Town of Boonton in 1929. 2 Attempts to restart operations over the years were unsuccessful.

In 1879-80, the blast furnaces were repaired, and members of Lord’s family attended a ceremonial test lighting. 2 During the 1880s, Joseph Wharton leased portions of the property and attempted to revive the ironworks. However, correspondence from 1886 indicated a dispute with Wharton and that the furnace was not operational that year. The land was also put up for sale.

In the same year, the Boonton Iron & Steel Company agreed to lease the rolling mill for five years. 2 Despite these efforts, the property did not sell, and the blast furnaces, nail factory, and other related buildings were torn down in the 1890s. Other structures were abandoned. By 1892, the Lincoln Iron Works and the Boonton Iron & Steel Company were leasing the rolling mill with puddling furnaces, the New York Agricultural Works was leasing the iron foundry and an adjacent building, the Wrought Iron Paint Company was leasing a few small buildings, and the Interchangeable Tool Company, W.C. Boone Manufacturing Company, and Loando Hard Rubber Company occupied buildings near the lower nail factory.

The Boonton Iron & Steel Company continued to operate until 1913. 2 By 1921, four industries occupied the site: the Paige & Jones Chemical Company, which produced varnish used in printer’s ink, Clarion core oil, and Clarion cutting oil; George Benda, Inc., which manufactured bronze powder called “Bendalin” for gilding radiators and other applications; Louis Sacks Iron Foundry (opened in 1909), which made iron lasts for shoemakers and repairers; and the Hubbard Oven & Manufacturing Company, which began operations in 1919 in the old rolling mill and made portable baker’s ovens.

The former Boonton Iron Works in 1916. Source: Sanborn Map & Publishing Company.

The estate of James Couper Lord remained the owner of a large portion of the former ironworks property on the north side of the Rockaway River until 1925 when the Jersey Corporation, a group of electrical power companies that had been leasing part of the ironworks since 1912, purchased the remainder. 2

Grace Lord Park and Redevelopment Efforts

In 1929, the estate of James Couper Lord deeded a large park space on the south side of the river to the Town of Boonton in honor of Grace Lord Nicoll, James Couper Lord’s daughter. 1 2 The deed stipulated that the property was to be used as a public park, named Grace Park.

During the 20th century, Grace Lord Park featured a bandstand and a swimming beach. 2 By 1949, the Town of Boonton had acquired the core of the former Boonton Ironworks property, with the exception of two industrial lots.

The area encompassing the stone arch bridge, Boonton Ironworks, and a railroad bridge was purchased through Greenspace funds in the late 1970s and was added to the park.  1 In 2019, a $50,000 New Jersey Historic Trust grant helped fund a National Register nomination for the Boonton Ironworks Historic District. In 2020, a $320,000 grant from the Trust helped fund the stabilization and restoration of the stone arch bridge.

The Boonton Iron Works site was listed as the Boonton Ironworks Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places on July 14, 2023, for its significance in engineering, industry, and transportation.


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Sources

  1. Boonton Ironworks Historic District.” New Jersey Historic Trust.
  2. Hickey, Margaret M., and Patrick Harshbarger. Boonton Ironworks Historic District. National Register of Historic Places, 13 Dec. 2022.

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