In recognition of New Jersey’s 350th Anniversary, The Roxbury Historic Trust has been developing an exhibit on Innovation in Roxbury, which includes the first telephone switching system, its many iron mines, explosives industry and diversity with Lenape. The exhibit has been established at the King House Museum, one of three buildings at the Museums at Drakesville Historic Park in Ledgewood. Established in 2002 by two groups, The Roxbury Historic Trust operates the King House Museum and the King Canal Store; while the Roxbury Township Historical Society owns and operates the historic “Silas Riggs Saltbox” House, dating from the years just after the Revolutionary War. Learning about the innovators from the early years in Roxbury is just one way to recognize the importance of history and NJ’s 350 year anniversary. “The Museums join New Jerseyans across the state in celebrating NJ’s 350th Anniversary which draws attention to the themes of Innovation, Diversity, and Liberty,” as stated in an article prepared by Roxbury Historic Trust. “If you don’t learn your history, you are guaranteed to make all the mistakes people have made in the past,” says Miriam Morris, president of the Roxbury Historic Trust for the past four years. The importance of celebrating NJ’s 350 years is that “the history is disappearing all the time. By the time we get to the 400’s, there will be quite less.” Morris says, “New Jersey is so rich in history” with all of its “inventors and artists and amazing people.” Recognizing the 350 years is a way “to remind ourselves it’s really a wonderful state. If you value it, that’s the whole difficulty, very many people don’t value history. “Something has to be said about knocking things down and moving on, but you need to learn as much as you can from history,” says Morris. Incorporated on Dec. 1740, Roxbury’s original borders encompassed a much larger area. The towns of today, including Washington Township, Chester Township, Chester Borough, Mt. Olive, Netcong Borough, Mt. Arlington, and parts of Stanhope and Hopatcong Borough made up the original territory of Roxbury. By 1890, borders had changed leaving Roxbury Township with 22 miles and six distinct areas including Lower Berkshire Valley, Kenvil, Ledgewood, Landing, Port Morris and Succasunna. “Little by little, things were chipped away,” says Marge Cushing, president of the Roxbury Historical Society. “It was much larger.” The proprietary State of New Jersey was established in 1664 and Morris County in 1739, which the county was then broken down into townships with Roxbury being the fourth one established following Hanover, Pequannock and Morris townships. Before Roxbury became a designated township, the earliest settlers to the area were the Rogerines, a persecuted religious sect from Connecticut who sought refuge in 1702 just south of Lake Hopatcong, which back then was called Huppachung, according to Cushing. In 1775, they headed west to Pennsylvania. Prior to the Rogerines, the Leni Lenapi Indians had migrated into the area from Canada and Siberia thousands of years earlier. They “fished in the flowing waters, hunted and gathered nuts and berries in the rolling fields, and made yearly expeditions to the Jersey shore,” Cushing quotes in the book “Old Homes of Roxbury Township.” As early as 1708, the Leni Lenape Indians turned over a large tract of land, what is now Roxbury, to a group of business people, British entrepreneurs from New York and NJ in exchange for 30 British pounds, blankets, kettles, axes, guns, gunpowder, shirts, liquor and knives. Although the Leni Lenape Indians disappeared in 1750 from the area, they left behind their place names such as Hopatcong which meant “honey water of many coves”; Musconetcong, “water of the big bass or pike”; Lackawanna, “stream that forks”; Leni Lenapi, “original people”; and Sucasin, the Indian name for iron ore or black stone, which explains why the Indians referred to the area as “Suckasunning” which became Succasunna, sites Cushing. “A discovery of Leni Lenape Indian remains was discovered in the churchyard in 1960 and a marker was erected there this year attesting to the fact that the graveyard was a much earlier Indian burial ground,” says Cushing, who has been exploring Roxbury’s history for the past 40 years. NJ was divided into east and west, according to Cushing. Forging and mining was popular on the east, but British entrepreneurs, who were in Hanover, “wanted to come west to look for more iron ore. They saw iron ore oozing out of the mountains.” Others soon followed, such as farmers to provide food for the miners, explains Cushing. Early forges produced wagon wheels, axes, kettles, forearms and nails. When the War of Independence erupted, these forges such as the Minard LeFever’s forge in Berkshire Valley, supported the nation’s defense by providing them with firearms, gunshot and cannon balls, explains Cushing. British artillery captured after General Burgoyne and the Continental Army’s defeat in Saratoga, NY, in 1771, was stored in the building on the grounds of the Presbyterian Church in Succasunna, notes Cushing. The United States government contributed bell metal of one of those cannons to be used in the casting of the Centennial Bell for Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Presbyterian Church was also used as the quarters for six of George Washington’s soldiers sick with smallpox during his winter encampment in Morristown from 1777-1778, as well as the Daniel Cary Stone House down the road. Both the churchyard and Cary property served as burial grounds for those soldiers who died from smallpox during that time. Following the revolution, the iron industry flourished, as well as raised livestock, crops, orchards, sawmills and gristmills. Many flourished to the area for farming and business, and to escape the congestion growing in the eastern part of NJ and NY. As improved modes for transportation were needed, the Morris Canal was engineered in 1827, with the initial excavation for the canal made at Ledgewood, notes Cushing, and eight miles through Roxbury. The “brain wave” was that Lake Hopatcong would use the canal to get coal across to Pennsylvania for steel manufacturing, explains Morris. Silas Riggs helped to work the canal and mules. “He really got into it back in the day. It’s fascinating how these people were early adopters of new technology and new ideas.” Cushing writes, “The entire township was influenced by the canal’s presence for it snaked through just about every section,” thus the names for Landing and Port Morris were derived. Canal stores were established, such as the King’s Store on Main Street in Ledgewood, one of the town’s museum buildings. Use for the canal decreased when the railroads came in the 1800s, increasing travel in several hours verses five days, she explains. The rail service carried city dwellers to the “tranquil shores of Lake Hopatcong” in the late 1800s. “By 1890 Roxbury was ‘the’ gateway to the busy resorts of Lake Hopatcong, which remained one of the region’s most popular summer destinations for over 50 years,” as stated on the town’s historical website. Local explosives plants, such as Hercules Powder Works, would supply dynamite for the mines and railroad building, also attracting more people to the area for employment. Theodore King, in which the King House Museum and King Canal Store is named after, was involved in the dynamite industry, explains Morris. He owned an ice house on Lake Hopatcong and used the ice to help when the dynamite would explode. As the township grew, so did the number of churches, in all different affiliations, and schools. More and more roads were paved especially in 1930 and Hillside Ave. in 1940, notes Cushing. The different sections of Roxbury were comprised of the “little villages” in Succasunna; Port Morris for the “port on the canal”; Landing for the “landing where the boats came in”; Kenvil after a man named “Cainsville”; Ledgewood which was originally Drakesville but got its name from the big “ledge” where there was mining on Emman’s Road toward Main Street; and Succasunna, which the British called Succasunny as derived from the Indian name Sucasin, meaning black stone, describes Cushing. For more information on the history of Roxbury, The Museums at Drakesville Historic Park, at 211 Main Street in Ledgewood are free and filled with rich history. Both Museums and the surrounding Ledgewood Historic District (formerly called Drakesville) are listed on the New Jersey State and National Registers of Historic Places. Recently added is a new exhibit at the King House Museum that highlights some important innovations with close connections to Roxbury Township. Diversity is featured in the Hidden Faces exhibit about the Lenape people during their period of hiding from the Europeans through the 1800s and 1900s. Also innovative is that Morris County Tourism bureau has Roxbury as an upholder of Liberty because of the explosives industry. Another innovation is the technically innovative mountain-climbing Morris Canal, excavated in Ledgewood by Silas Riggs in the 1820’s. The Canal used water-powered inclined planes to traverse the steep terrain of the NJ Highlands. Planes 1, 2, and 3 East, and Lock 1 East were located in Roxbury. Another innovation features Roxbury as an early site for dynamite manufacture because of the local deposits of diatomaceous earth left by the retreating glaciers. Over the years, Hercules Powder Company in Kenvil- a major local employer until it closed in 1996- contributed to innovations in explosives, supporting industrial, recreational, and military applications of energetic materials. Also highlighted is the first transistor-based Electronic Switching System, #1 ESS, developed by Bell Laboratories and installed in a telephone exchange office in Succasunna in 1965. The ESS digital logic technology revolutionized the method of communication through features such as call waiting, three-way calling, and call forwarding. The AT&T National Emergency Communications Center at Roxbury’s Veteran’s Park on the ridge overlooking Emmans Road, was a cold-war-era microwave relay station, nuclear hardened and capable of surviving a detonation as close as five miles away. Another innovator is Arnie Staloff of Roxbury and then Kenvil, who introduced options on foreign currency at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange in the 1970s, which are financial contracts that give the holders the right to buy or sell an underlying asset at a specific price and time period. Other highlights of the exhibit reveal that the structural shell of the Ledgewood Baptist Church, built in 1917, is an early use of steel-reinforced concrete; that early innovative use of Portland cement was recently discovered at the King Store Museum when in 1885 Theodore King had the store stuccoed to resemble cut stone masonry that still looks “good in 2014.” This summer, the King Store’s windows and exterior doors will be restored to near original condition, with funds by a grant from the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust and matching funds from the Roxbury Township Open Space Committee. The Museum is open the following Sundays, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., July 13, Aug. 10, Sept. 14, Oct. 12, Nov. 9 and Dec. 14. Special events include: annual Ice Cream Social on July 13; and the Pathways of History Tour, a two day tour of 17 historic places on Sat. Oct. 11 to Sunday Oct., 12. The well-received “It’s All about Iron” theme will be repeated on Living History Day, Sunday, Oct. 12; a Silent Auction and Dinner on Sat., Nov. 8; and a Salt Box Supper and Historic King House Christmas, in conjunction with the Roxbury Township Historical Society on Friday, Dec. 5. For more information, go to www.roxburynewjersey.com/trust.htm throughout the year; or call (973) 927-7603. Volunteers are welcome.
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