Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Exploring the History of High Bridge, NJ

Exploring the History of High Bridge, NJ
Written by William Honachefsky Jr.

The relatively small borough of High Bridge, located in the foothills of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, would, on its face, appear little different or unique from any other 30,000-plus municipalities nationwide. However, beneath the town's bucolic features lies a history that has helped shape the destiny of the United States—if not the world.

The saga began as early as 1664, when James, Duke of York conveyed the portion of the land that eventually became New Jersey to Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley, friends and advisors to the king of England and the court of Charles II. Lord Berkeley eventually sold his half to Quakers Edward Byllynge and John Fenwick in 1674, hence dividing the territory into West Jersey and East Jersey.
Thomas Street Bridge over C.R.R., High Bridge, NJ.
In 1688, the resident proprietors created the West Jersey Council of Proprietors, consisting of 100 shares, with dividends paid in real land. Soon after, the West Jersey Society was formed; it consisted of English businessmen who purchased 20 of these shares from Dr. Daniel Coxe, later chief physician to Queen Anne. Although the West Jersey Society surrendered its claims to the government of West Jersey to the Crown in 1702, due to instability and political strife. it retained title and right to the land.

English iron investors William Allen, later a Supreme Court justice and possibly the wealthiest man in Philadelphia, and Joseph Turner, a sea captain also active in politics, initially leased 3,000 acres from the West Jersey Society along the South Branch of the Raritan River in 1742 and founded Union Ironworks. The lease locates the property, "Beginning at the large black oak Marked on four sides standing about a half a Mile from the forge that now is the Course being Nearly East." The area was predominately wilderness, with abundant timber to make charcoal, deposits of high-quality iron ore, and plenty of water power to power the ironworks. In a deed from the West Jersey Society, Allen and Turner were given "Free Liberty License and Authority from time to time at all or any time or times during the Term hereby Granted to Dig Search Work for Raise and Get all such Iron Ore Lead Ore Copper Ore Tin Ore and all other Ores and Minerals whatsoever which Can Shall or May be found Digged Gotten up of raised in or upon thee said hereby demised Hereditaments and premises."

Church Street, High Bridge, NJ circa 1915.
The area was already inhabited by Native Americans, settlers, and land speculators when the Allen and Turner partnership claimed title. This led to subsequent riots between the original inhabitants—now deemed squatters—and the new partnership. In 1749, Col. John Hackett was hurriedly sent to restore order and arrests were made, bringing much-needed stability to the enterprise, but not without hardship. After the years of turmoil and chaotic atmosphere had ended, Hackett surmised, "Abut a worse thing that was, the pulling down and destroying the Furnace." Subsequently, in a 1752 deed, "the West Jersey Society in Consideration of the sum of Three Thousand Nine Hundred and Ninety seven pounds Eight Shillings Current money of New York" sold Allen and Turner the entire lease and current of the property "Containing Ten Thousand Eight Hundred forty nine Acres Strict measure Together with All and in all Manner of woods, underwoods, Trees, Mines, Minerals, Quarries, Hawking, Hunting, fishing, Fowling, Buildings, Fences, Improvements, Hereditaments, Privileges and appurtenances." This consisted of two furnaces and two forges, each with two stacks, a trip hammer, and a flatting hammer in the area of present-day High Bridge. Allen's enthusiastic statement of 1761 echoed, "Wood and water we can never want. Indeed we want nothing but good workmen."

With the American Revolution upon the area, Robert Taylor, a former schoolteacher, became superintendent of the ironworks and was charged by the Board of War with holding John Penn, royal governor of Pennsylvania, and Benjamin Chew, his attorney general at the Union, due to Taylor's support of the cause. It was not entirely dreary, as Penn and Chew were sent their own Italian fiddler to join them on their journey and were able to travel six miles from the Union as long as they returned at dusk.

The Taylor Iron & Steel Company, High Bridge, NJ circa 1906
In 1800, William Allen III petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court to apportion a commission to divide the original ironworks properties between the Allen heirs and the Turner heirs and two nieces, one of whom was the wife of Benjamin Chew. In 1803, Taylor purchased 366 acres and founded the Taylor Iron and Steel Company (TISCO) in present-day High Bridge.

In 1851, the construction of the Central Jersey Railroad Company of New Jersey brought new life to the ironworks and the community, having also installed the Nasinyth hammer in 1854. Originally part of Lebanon Township and Clinton Township, some of the area was partitioned off to form High Bridge Township in 1871. The Borough of High Bridge was formed in 1898.

Living in High Bridge meant most likely working for Taylor-Wharton Iron and Steel—or any of its derivatives—or within the support system for the employees of the company who needed clothing, commerce, medicine, transportation, and others things used in everyday life. Working for the company sometimes meant working long hours in unsafe or unsatisfactory conditions, and only through hard-fought battles with the United Steelworkers of America—championed by people such as chapter president William B. Honachefsky—were workers granted sonic of the basic protections and regulations that many take for granted today.

Solitude House, High Bridge, NJ, originally part of the Union Iron Works, later the Taylor Iron and Steel Company .
From its earliest days through the colonial era, Revolutionary era, and into modern times, High Bridge and its strong citizens have held a prominent role in the founding and building of the United States of America. With the greatest generations steadily passing away, the memories of a once-bustling factory town and community have faded. New generations of families arc arriving unaware of the importance of this special town and are unfamiliar with its incredible story within their midst while, at the same time, they are free to enjoy its open spaces and quaint atmosphere.

The preservation and adaptive reuse of historically important buildings and spaces should be on the lips and in the minds of every elected and appointed official in High Bridge. It should be emblazoned above the doors at council and planning board meetings so that they will never forget that the key to High Bridge's future lies in its past.


About the Book
The history of High Bridge is intertwined with the development of the iron and steel industry in the United States. As early as the 1700s, the framework of this little hamlet had already been created by English investors who carved up the rich wilderness of the New World, brimming with iron ore that would be essential to the county's development. High Bridge Borough evolved around the Taylor Wharton Foundry, established in 1742. With the passage of time, however, High Bridge has lost its farming and foundry roots, evolving into what is often referred to as a bedroom community. Just like the lofty trestle from which High Bridge derived its name, the city now runs the risk of being lost to time, forsaking the resilient character of the immigrants who forged a nation. This book aims to preserve High Bridges glorious history for future generations. Purchase a copy on Amazon or Arcadia Publishing.


About the Author
William Honachefsky Jr. is a lifelong resident of Hunterdon County and a passionate advocate for the protection of the state’s natural environment and historic heritage. He has served on the New Jersey 350th Commission and Union Forge Heritage Association, among others


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