By Henry M. Holden
The Mount Olive Township Historical Society’s (MOHS) mission is to discover, collect and preserve Mount Olive Township’s history. The society shares that history with all interested persons, through programs, publications and exhibits.
“The M0unt Olive Township Historical Society emerged from concerned residents meeting with the director of the Mount Olive Library in September 1997,” said Thea Dunkle, president of the Mount Olive Historical Society, and the Township historian. “During this meeting we decided that Mount Olive Township had a rich historical past, and it was time to collect and preserve the history for the people to enjoy and reflect on old times.
“With the dedication of the founding members, the Mount Olive Township Historical Society held its first open meeting in October 1997.”
Currently Drakes Brook Park, is their new home. “A portion of the building, formerly used by the Blue Atlas Nursery, was offered for our use,” said Dunkle.
Cemeteries, if properly documented, can tell the story of a people and their culture. Thea Dunkle knows this well and
has devoted years to this end. There are seven cemeteries that contain the early settlers and founders of the township: Mount Olive Baptist Church, Mount Olive Union Cemetery, Flanders Methodist Church, Stark Cemetery, Flanders Hillside Cemetery, the Pleasant Hill Cemetery, in Chester, and the recently rediscovered Drakestown Old Burial Ground, located in the old Drakestown schoolyard adjacent to the Mount Olive Township border.
“Then there is Saint Michael’s Cemetery,” said Dunkle. “It’s abandoned on Old Ledgewood Road. “The land was donated by the Brady family and it is on a very steep hill that probably could not support farming.
“It was attached to the Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, in Hackettstown, and they turned it over to Saint Michael’s in the late 1800s, but it is closed today.”
There are six headstones visible on the property according to Dunkle. “There is little known about it, but I found about 95 people buried there without headstones,” said Dunkle.
“The area was poor with a lot of miners and children, and they did not have the money for the headstones. “The cause of death in so many cases was infant mortality, disease, mining accidents or train accidents,”
Dunkle went to the library and sat before the microfilm reader for weeks. “I read the newspapers from 1885 to March 1950, and I wrote down the name of every person mentioned that had died. Then I went to Trenton and got the death certificates for those people.”
Dunkle said that the only common clue to where they were buried was the listing “Catholic cemetery,” said Dunkle. “Well, we only have one Catholic cemetery in the township.
“What I have found since 1997 is a unique situation in our township. Each of two founding families, the Salmons and the Stephens, had several children. Four of their children married into four of the children in the other family and they branched out and married into the Budd, Wolfe, Sharp, Yager, and Wagner families. So, the Mount Olive Union Cemetery is mostly people from those founding families.
“When I was starting to do the genealogy of the founding families, I found that records for the cemeteries were not well cared for or maintained. Often records were destroyed in housefires or no records were kept, so I ran into some dead ends.”
Dunkle began walking through the cemeteries in the area searching for clues. She started writing down the inscriptions on the headstones. “Limestone grave markers get pitted with acid rain and they are extremely hard to read” she said.
“Then I started reading some of the old newspapers in the libraries looking for clues to put this challenge in perspective. I received several grants to document the cemeteries in Mount Olive. I found some hand-written lists in libraries or given to me.
“I was able to identify many people who were buried by reading various newspapers and finding their names. I went to Trenton and got death certificates to verify that the person was buried in that spot. I also went through a lot of the newspapers to see if I could find a death notice or an obituary.”
When Dunkle put the death certificates and obituaries back-to-back, she found dozens of graves that could be identified. Often the family had a copy of the burial certificate but not the death certificate. The towns were not mandated to keep death records then. Later they changed the laws.
“I was able to identify a lot of the early people who were buried in church yard cemeteries. Often, if they had a large piece of land, a farm for example, people would take a small piece of that land and use it as a cemetery to bury their family members.
“The Mount Olive Union Cemetery at one time was two separate cemeteries separated by a wrought iron fence, and a
rock wall. The land was donated by the Stephens and Hulse families. They had a rock wall separating the Mount Olive Presbyterian Church. The church stopped church services in 1959, because not enough people were attending. Later the church burned down. I was told that they merged two church cemeteries into the Mount Olive Union Cemetery.”
Thea Dunkle is still searching cemeteries because “people are still being interred,” she said. “I am still updating our records, and Trenton has expanded the number of years that a death certificate can be claimed.
“I go down periodically. I could only get up to 1940 before, and now they have released the certificates up to 1959. They hold back the certificates thinking there is a possibility that the people are still alive, and they want to make sure that there is enough time to pass.
“After 9/11 they came out with a new ruling regarding death certificates so I really can’t go to the Town Hall and request that certificate unless I can prove absolutely that I am a relative of the deceased.
The definition of a landmark is an object (such as a stone or tree) that marks the boundary of land or a conspicuous object on land that marks a locality.
Morris County has had a historic site marker program since 1975. Several hundred historic sites now have their significance briefly described on cast aluminum signs painted in burgundy and pale grey with the county seal in gold.
The New Jersey Register of Historic Places is closely modeled after the National Register of Historic Places Program. Both Registers have the same criteria for eligibility, nomination form, and review process, and provides a degree of review and protection from public intrusion.
Mount Olive Township is bordered on the north by Washington Township and Sussex County, on the east by Roxbury Township, on the southeast by Chester and on the west by Warren County. As a result, some historic places span more than one township.
Mount Olive Township certainly has numerous historic sites that dot the Township. These sites weave together the threads of Mount Olive Township’s history from the colonial era through the twentieth century. Locations marked include forges, iron works, taverns, schools, mills, historic districts, churches, homes, and mansions.
According to Rita L. Hilbert, former director of the Mount Olive Public Library, a founding member of the Mount Olive Township Historical Society, and author of Images of America, Mount Olive, Flanders was the largest village in the township. Settled in the early 1700s, it grew up around the Methodist Church and later the Presbyterian Church.
Flanders, situated in an area of farms, mills, and iron mines attained its greatest prosperity in the nineteenth century. Following the Civil War, Flanders became a railroad depot for the shipment of iron, firesand used in making fireplace bricks, and agricultural products. Dairy production continued into the twentieth century. A creamery, built in 1909, provided the first pasteurization of locally produced milk. In 1980, Flanders was placed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Budd Lake Community was once an industrial hamlet where mills and an ice-works operated in the mid-1800s. The community became a thriving summer resort area by 1880. During the 1930s local night clubs hosted famous big bands. After World War II the community continued to grow as a summer resort stop but slowly new permanent residents began to settle in the community. The 1874 Budd Lake chapel was built on land donated by John Budd and remains a focal point in the community. In 2007 the Budd Lake Community became a historic site compliments of the Morris County Heritage Commission.
The Budd Lake Prehistoric Site
The wetlands of the Budd Lake Bog act as a sponge, collecting large supplies of water that are slowly released throughout the year. The Bog is one of three Natural Heritage Priority Sites. The other two are Budd Lake Outlet, near the municipal beach, and Bridge to Nowhere along the Musconetcong at the Township’s border with Byram and Stanhope. In 1993, the Prehistoric Site was placed in the National Register of Historic Places.
This settlement was named after the Bartley family who built forges and mills in the early nineteenth century. A descendant, William Bartley, established the Wm. Bartley & Sons Foundry in 1861. The foundry manufactured farm machinery, steam engines, and turbines. Occasionally it also produced steel truss bridges for county roads. By 1875, Bartleyville included a school, post office, general store, and worker’s housing. The railroad, which still runs through this area, gave the foundry and local farmers access to wide markets. In 2001 Bartleyville was placed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Mount Olive Village
In 1768, on land donated by James Heaton, the Mount Olive Presbyterian Church congregation was organized, the
same year as the Schooley’s Mountain Baptist Church. The two congregations jointly erected a log meetinghouse, which they shared until the 1850s.
The Baptist Church was the second church organized in the township. For over four decades, Presbyterians shared the log church with three other Christian denominations.
As the congregations grew, building a new place of worship on the same site became necessary. This second church, a wood framed structure was completed around 1818. Mount Olive Academy was built in 1837, after an 1820 stone school on the same site collapsed. The Academy functioned as a public school for many years.
In the mid-1850’s, the Baptist, and the Presbyterians congregations each built their own houses of worship. The churches stood on either side of the 1837 Mount Olive Academy. The Baptist Church was the third building on the site. The first was the log church, the second a wood frame building in the early part of the 19th century.
In 1889 the Schooley’s Mountain Baptist Church changed its name to the Mount Olive Baptist Church. Today the church is closed, and signage on the front of the building calls it the “Meeting House.”
Mount Olive Academy School and Baptist Church are now municipally owned to prevent anyone from putting a modern building in the middle of the historic buildings.
Today, a vacant piece of land stands where at one time was home to the Presbyterian Church (built in 1857).
“What stands there today, is a small cemetery, with a few soldiers from the Revolutionary War, and probably more than a few from the Civil War interred there, since there are a lot of headstones missing,” said Dunkle.
In 1970, Pax Amicus, a theater group, purchased it. In 1983, it was sold again, renovated, and became a private residence until a fire destroyed it in 2011.
According to Dunkle, “The Baptist Church renovations are just about complete, and we are hoping to have a dedication ceremony soon, depending on the COVID-19 issue.”
In 2003, the Baptist Church, cemetery, school building and the land where the Presbyterian once stood were placed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Drakestown, in Washington Township, arose after Ebenezer Drake bought 200 acres in 1759. An early public house closed by the mid-1800s, but by 1837, there was a school, store, and post office to serve the local farm families. In 1855 the Methodist Church became to center of the community, but the store, the post office and the school were in Mount Olive Township.
Thea Dunkle argued for a joint monument marker. “I had to convince Washington Township to put the marker up. This is the first time the two townships worked together for one purpose. We decided to put the marker at the church since there is parking available. In 2004 Drakestown was placed in the National Register of Historic Places.
“The school has been closed for decades and the church was abandoned in 1970 as the Baptist and Presbyterian congregations moved up the road to newer buildings. (The Presbyterian church which had gone into private ownership was destroyed in a fire in 2011.) Both buildings have been closed and the Township is working to reopen the buildings to the public when they are safe for people to congregate inside. “The Academy will be renovated but we don’t know when that process will start. This area is all part of the first settlement in the area,” said Dunkle. “All the villages came after this.
Dunkle discovered the earliest grave marker in the cemetery is Elizabeth Cozad. She died in 1812, in her late 80s. Think of what she saw and lived through. She was probably in her 40s during the American Revolutionary war, and she may have witnessed part of the War of 1812. Imagine if she had kept a diary what she could have passed down to us.
Flanders Drakestown Road Stone Arch Bridge
The two-span stone arch bridge across the south branch of the Raritan River was constructed in 1860. It had extensive deterioration and required major repairs for public safety. The structure was the oldest of its type in Morris County until it was modernized in 2017. Stone masonry and capstones from the original bridge, including some original stones that included carvings of the names of area residents, were used in the project. The efforts successfully made the bridge retain as much of its original look as possible. In 2018 a new historic interpretive panel was placed outside the Town Hall and a marker on the bridge, both compliments of the Morris County Heritage Commission.