Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bog Iron in the Company Town of Allaire

Bog Iron in the Company Town of Allaire
Written by NJ Historian

Once a prosperous and important hub of industry, Allaire Village in Farmingdale, New Jersey was an early company town. Since the late-1950s, it has transformed into a well-known historical site, enthralling visitors from throughout the state and country and giving them the opportunity to experience this restored community first-hand by interacting with costumed interpreters representing townspeople performing daily chores and crafts or visiting with tradesmen such as blacksmiths and bakers.

The remains of the blast furnace at Allaire Village.
The area around Allaire Village included a sawmill and small iron forge in the eighteenth century. In 1813, the Monmouth Furnace was built, which would supply bog iron to many different industries in the young United States of America. Between 1813 and 1821, the title to Monmouth Furnace was transferred several times until it became the property of William Newbold. At that time, the property consisted of a dwelling house, fourteen or fifteen other houses, a furnace, saw mill, outhouses, and other outbuildings in addition to ore beds and water privileges. The property was rented to Benjamin B. Howell of Philadelphia. Mr. Howell garnered the interest of James Peter Allaire, a trained brass founder, in the property. In correspondence with Allaire, Howell indicated that there were four kinds of ore to be found on the property; stone, seed or shot, shell, and loom ore.

After inspection of the property, Allaire purchased the 5,000 acre tract in Monmouth County, which included the Monmouth Furnace, in 1822. Allaire, born July 12, 1785 in New Rochelle, New York, had found much success early in life. He was one of the leading steam engine manufacturers of his time. Between 1804 and 1806, he cast the brass air chamber for Robert Fulton's "Clermont" and in 1819 cast the cylinder for the "Savannah," the first American steamboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean. By 1820, Allaire was producing over fifty percent of all marine engines manufactured in America. His need for raw materials, particularly iron, was increasing. The best quality pig iron was imported from Britain, but high tariffs made it impractical to use. Purchasing the Howell Furnace site was a logical choice, as it would produce pig iron (raw blocks or blocks of iron) and cast iron needed to meet demand.

James P. Allaire (1785 - 1858)
Between 1827 and 1830, between sixty and seventy brick buildings were built at Allaire, including a furnace. In just a few short years, Allaire transformed the Howell Works into an almost self-sufficient community, with its own housing and food supply for the workforce, a post office, school, and company store. At its height, over 400 were employed at the Howell Works - with duties ranging from skilled workers such as colliers, ore raisers, carpenters, fillers, furnace foreman, chief surveyor, master mason, and blacksmiths to unskilled laborers such as woodchoppers, firemen, charcoal carters, ware dressers, finishers, teamsters, stage drivers, brickmakers, store clerks, and gardeners. Many employees were housed in four sets of row homes built near the church and in an unmarried men's dormitory next to the mansion. A large number of workers were immigrants of western European descent. A canal approximately three miles long, was built to increase water power to the mills in the village by diverting water from nearby streams. It also functioned as a transportation route for ore in barges brought to the furnace from the fields of Farmingdale.

Interestingly, bog ore is a renewable resource when mined properly. Bog ore is produced when rain water leaches out humic and tannic acids and carbon dioxide, which is produced as a part of the natural life-cycle of microorganisms in the soil. After a period of twenty-five to thirty years, the chemical changes of the soil complete and the surface soil hardens into a sold mass. If the ore bed is left undeveloped and unpolluted, the beds can be mined indefinitely.

An early view of Howell Works, circa 1850s.
Allaire constructed many impressive buildings. In 1836, the ironworks consisted of a casting shed, bridge house, blast furnace, and wheelhouse (for machinery). The pig iron produced at Howell Works would be transported by wagons, carriages and carts to the steamship docks in Red Bank, New Jersey where it then made its way to the Allaire Works in New York City. There it would be remelted and used to make parts for steamships. However, not all iron left the premises. Most of the buildings at Howell Works had iron sills and lintels which were made on the premises.

In 1836, Allaire's wife, Frances Duncan, died at the age of thirty-two. Allaire remarried in 1846 and upon his death in 1858, left the majority of his estate to his second wife, Calicia Allaire Tompkins. After her death, the estate transferred to their only son, Hal. Hal Allaire left the property largely unchanged and lacked the funds to fully maintain it. As the abandoned buildings gradually fell into disrepair, the site became known locally as "Deserted Village."

The remains of the row houses, now part of the Visitor Center and Museum, July 12, 1936.
The property remained in the Allaire family until 1901. It was purchased by W. J. Harrison who sold it in 1907 to Arthur Brisbane, a Hearst newspaper editor and America's first syndicated newspaperman. Brisbane leased the Deserted Village to the Monmouth Council of Boy Scouts for twenty years. The Boy Scouts restored the General Store and the two remaining row houses, preventing further damage and decay. Brisbane sought to preserve the natural and cultural beauty of the site and after his death in 1936, his wife, Phoebe, donated the property totalling 1,200 acres, to the State of New Jersey to be used as a park in 1941 in his memory. From 1941 to 1957, most of the buildings sat unused and abandoned. In 1957, a group of local residents established an organization for the restoration and maintenance of the old Howell Works Company site, which they renamed Allaire Village. Since then, Allaire Village, Inc. has worked in conjunction with the State of New Jersey to operate, restore, and interpret the site to the 1830s period.

Here is a small sampling of some of the many buildings found at Allaire Village:

The Church
The southern half of the church building at Allaire was built in 1832 as a school and expanded in 1836 to become an Episcopal Church. Like most church structures, it also functioned as a community hall and school when services were not taking place. All of the children living at Howell Works were required to attend school up until the age of twelve, as per James P. Allaire. He was a strong believer in education and financed the cost of operating it. Many visitors wonder why the bell tower is located at the rear of the building rather than the front. Simply, it was built that way in 1836 because the original 1832 section could not support the weight of it. Rather than reframe the building, it was placed unconventionally at the rear. The building was restored in the 1930s by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

The Church at Allaire Village.
The General Store
The General Store is the tallest remaining structure at Allaire (it was once the third-largest during the site's heyday). This four-story building functioned as a retail and wholesale store, the largest in New Jersey, when it was built in 1835 at a cost of $7,000. A freight elevator was installed in the building. The store stocked local goods from the community but also brought in goods from New York City. The store's goods included meat, fish, and dairy products stored in the basement; hardware, flour, coffee, wine, liquor, groceries, ironware, and other goods on the ground floor; and a wide range of furniture on the second floor. The top floor held bulk items and was also used a storage area. The Store also contained the Howell Works Post Office and an apothecary. It has been recorded that customers came from up to forty miles away to purchase goods at the store.

Blacksmith Shop
Built in 1836, this large brick shed-like structure contained four forges. The on-site blacksmiths were responsible for shoeing the horses, repairing and making parts for wagons, carts, and other tools. By 1900, only three walls remained. The roof had collapsed and was replaced by a new frame during Brisbane's ownership. During restoration, all the walls were repaired and a new period roof was installed.

Mansion and Dormitory Ruins
The framed eastern end of the mansion was built before the Monmouth Furnace, circa 1790. It was expanded by James P. Allaire for his family. In 1833, a three-story brick dormitory was added for unmarried male workers. There is evidence that suggests the home may have been occupied by the manager of Howell Works for a short time. In 1962, the dormitory side of the structure was heavily damaged during a hurricane and never rebuilt. The foundation and lower portion of the walls remain in an effort to show visitors what existed. The rest of the mansion was restored and opened to the public in 1997.

Additional photos of my trip to Allaire Village on Pinterest

For More Information
Allaire Village, Inc.
Allaire State Park

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I've been there many times, but this is the first time I've found out where bog iron comes from! The antique train ride is a lot of fun for kids.

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