When you think of mining, you think of places like Colorado, the Rocky Mountains, or California’s Gold Rush Country, or Alaska, or the coal mines of West Virginia or Western Pennsylvania. San Francisco was once a mining town. The last place you think of when you think of mining is New Jersey. But, in fact, the Garden State had nearly 600 mines. The only other places would you never think of as mining country are Massachusetts and Maine.
In fact, a 25-mile wide swath of iron ore stretches from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania. In the Colonial era, mining (and lumberjacking) were the chief industries in the northern Highlands of New Jersey.
Morris County had the greatest number of mines (in fact, the name of the town of Succasunna, in western Morris County means “place of the black stones” – how about that, J.D.?), but Passaic, Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon Counties were all involved in mining. The arm of the Wisconsin Glacier retreated about 10,000 years ago from this region after carving out river valleys, leaving hilly granite Gneiss stubs with rich veins of magnetite iron ore. The hard iron deposits here once lay upon the land and bizarre formations jutted up into the sky in sculptural continuations of the veins that descend down into the earth for thousands of feet.
The mines in Morris County played a major role in supplying iron for the French & Indian Wars and later for the American Revolution and the Civil War. But the mines in Ringwood, West Milford, Pompton and Bloomingdale played their share. The great link across the Hudson River during the Revolution was forged at Ringwood Manor. The iron mines and iron works would help build chains for canal barges, railroad trains and tracks, and numerous tools.
The Foundry Fathers had mining operations all through northwest New Jersey. But the iron magnates made their homes in Ringwood, West Milford’s next door neighbor. What’s more, many of the magnates were descendants of Milfordites.
Many of these men were wealthy and educated. They went on to become great heroes and statesmen, in addition to producing the munitions that would help defeat the British. Not bad for a bunch of “evil Capitalists.”
William Alexander (aka Lord Stirling) was born in New York City in 1726. He was an educated, ambitious and bright young man and proficient in mathematics and astronomy. He joined his mother in a successful provisioning business and, in 1747, married Sarah Livingston, the sister of Governor William Livingston.
During the French and Indian War, he joined the British Army, where he became aide-de-camp to Governor William Shirley. He traveled to London in 1756 to testify on behalf of Shirley, who was facing charges of dereliction of duty. While there, he claimed the vacant title of Earl of Stirling, in the Peerage of Scotland, as senior male descendant of the first earl’s grandfather, and was permitted to vote in an election of the Scottish representative peers. The British House of Lords refused to recognize his claim without proof of descent, but he continued to style himself Earl of Stirling, or Lord Stirling, all his life. The right to the earldom would have implied his right to a land grant that consisted of much of the New England coast, parts of Nova Scotia and the entire St. Lawrence River valley, given to the male heirs of the first earl; his grandson, William Alexander Duer, wrote that this was his chief reason for pursuing it. He took the nephews of the fifth, and last, Earl (Henry Alexander, 5th Earl of Stirling) into partnership on the land claim.
Satisfied by the partial acceptance of his claim, he returned to America in 1761, now using the title Lord Stirling. Stirling was appointed Surveyor-General of the Province of New Jersey and was also a member of the Provincial Council. He was one of the founders of King’s College (predecessor of Columbia University) and became its first governor.
Stirling was a socially prominent and wealthy man, having inherited a large fortune from his father. He dabbled in mining and agriculture and lived a life filled with the trappings befitting a Scottish Lord. This was an expensive lifestyle and he eventually went into debt to finance it. He began building his grand estate in Basking Ridge, N.J., and upon its completion, sold his home in New York and moved there. George Washington was a guest there on several occasions during the Revolution and gave away Stirling’s daughter at her wedding.
When the Revolutionary War began, Stirling was made a colonel in the New Jersey militia. He outfitted the militia at his own expense and was always willing to spend his own money in support of the cause. He distinguished himself early by leading a group of volunteers in the capture of an armed British transport.
Congress appointed him brigadier general in the Continental Army in March 1776. At the Battle of Long Island, in August of that year, Stirling led the 1st Maryland Regiment in repeated attacks against a superior British force at the Old Stone House near what is today named the Gowanus Canal and took heavy casualties. Outnumbered 25 to 1, his brigade was eventually overwhelmed and Stirling was taken prisoner, but not before repelling the British forces long enough to allow the main body of troops to escape to defensive positions at Brooklyn Heights. Because of his actions at Long Island, one newspaper called him “the bravest man in America” and he was praised by both Washington and the British for his bravery and audacity.
He was released in a prisoner exchange (in return for governor Montfort Browne), promoted to major general and became one of Washington’s most able and trusted generals. Washington held him in such high regard that he placed Stirling in command of the entire Continental Army for nearly two months while he was away on personal business and throughout most of the war Stirling was considered to be 3rd or 4th in rank behind Washington. Though he cast his lot with the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, officers (including Washington) and men alike often referred to him as Lord Stirling. At Trenton, he received the surrender of a Hessian regiment. On June 26, 1777, at Matouchin (now called Metuchen), he awaited an attack, contrary to Washington’s orders. His position was turned and his division defeated, losing two guns and 150 men in the Battle of Short Hills. Subsequent battles at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth cemented his reputation for bravery and sound tactical judgment. At the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, he acted with bravery and discretion. At the Battle of Monmouth, he displayed tactical judgment in posting his batteries and repelled with heavy loss an attempt to turn his flank. In January 1780, he led an ineffective raid against Staten Island. Lord Stirling also played a part in exposing the Conway Cabal, a conspiracy of disaffected officers looking to remove Washington as Commander-in Chief and replace him with General Horatio Gates.
When Washington took his army south in 1781, he appointed Stirling commander of the northern army and he was sent to Albany. Stirling, always a heavy drinker, was in poor health by this time, suffering from severe gout and rheumatism. He died in Albany on Jan. 15, 1783, at about the age of 56. His untimely death just months before the official end of the war is the probable reason that he is not as well known today as many of the other generals. Still, his significant contributions made him one of the most important figures of the American Revolution. He was buried at Trinity Churchyard in New York City.
Sterling was also a speculator and owned mining sites all over the northern Highlands and Lower Hudson Valley. He owned the Sterling Mine in what is now known as Ogdensburg. Mining began at the site in 1730 when speculators mistakenly thought it held copper, as Arent Schuyler’s mine did in Belleville (then called Arlington). King George II granted the property to Lord Stirling, who sold it to Robert Ogden, a direct descendant of the same Josiah Ogden who in 1719 renounced Puritanism, in 1765. It went through several owners until the various mines were combined into the New Jersey Zinc Company in 1897. The mine closed in 1986 due to a tax dispute with the town, which foreclosed for back taxes in in 1988. It now serves as a mining museum.
In 1739, Lord Stirling engaged Cornelius Board, a Welsh miner, to come to America to search for copper mines. Arent Schuyler was, at that time, profitably mining copper ores at Belleville, N. J. Board failed to find any additional copper mines and settled at Little Falls, where he built a grist mill. At that time, the country had been somewhat settled by farmers, mostly of Dutch ancestry, and their farms stretched from Newark to Pompton. The hilly, forest country beyond Pompton was then all a wilderness, with no white inhabitants. Indians told Board of the existence of outcrops of iron ore in the hills and showed him the country. He found many large and rich ore outcrops extending over a wide range of country.
Cornelius Board secured fifty acres of land at the outlet of Stirling Lake from the East Jersey Proprietors, as this region was at that time considered part of New Jersey. This title was verified by an Act passed in 1772 to confirm the titles to settlers along the New Jersey boundary just established by the Royal Commission.
In a lawsuit to settle the rival claims of the Wawayanda and Cheesecook Patents, which was tried at Goshen, N.Y., where both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr appeared from Wawayanda, James Board, the son of Cornelius Board, testified that his father had built a bloomery and forge at Stirling Lake in 1736, which he later sold to his partner, Ward (another post-Milfordite), and removed to Ringwood in 1740. This seems to establish the date of the beginning of the Ringwood Iron Works definitely as 1740.
Cornelius Board took up the land of the Ringwood valley, and also along the Long Pond River, later building his own house at Boardville, where the Long Pond River and the Ringwood River join. He built an iron forge at Ringwood in 1740. This was located below the dam of the mill pond beyond the gate entering the Manor House grounds. Even today, iron cinders and slag can be found in the ground below the dam.
Ten mines were located on the Ringwood property: Hope, Peter’s, Cooper, Keeler, St. George, Bush, Cannon, Blue, Hard, and Mule. In addition, there was the Ward (again, another post-Milfordite) Mine, just north of the Long Pond Iron Works. In Bloomingdale, there was the Wynokie Mine and in Wanaque, the Kanouse Mine, mines which probably fed the Pompton and Smith Mills furnaces.
The Ogden family of Newark – Colonel Josiah Ogden (ca. 1679-1763); David Ogden, Sr. (1707-1798); David Ogden, Jr. (1726-1801); and John Ogden, Jr. (1709-1795)- bought the 16-acre tract, including the forge, from Cornelius Board on April 15, 1740, and built an iron blast furnace at Ringwood, which was located where the bank above the old dairy is cut by the present waterfall. The Ogdens called this enterprise “The Ringwood Company.”
The Ogdens, in partnership with Samuel and Nicholas Gouveneur, formed The Ringwood Company and built a furnace in 1742. The company produced ammunition for the Seven Years War and the French and Indian War and produced finished goods such as plowshares and cannonballs as well as iron bars. The Ogdens ran the company from offices in Newark and New York City until they sold it to the American Iron Company in 1764.
Mining required a large outlay of capital to operate in such a remote district. They finally offered the business for sale by public advertisement in 1762.
In April 1764, German Peter Hasenclever and his partners, Seton & Croft, purchased the Ringwood Ironworks for about 5,000 pounds, renaming it The American Company. Hasenclever subsequently also bought the Charlotteburg (named for Queen Anne) furnaces. By 1765, Peter Hasenclever made Ringwood the center of his iron-making empire which included 150,000 acres in New Jersey, New York and Nova Scotia.
Hasenclever is not remembered for the length of his tenure at the Forges & Manor of Ringwood (about two years) but because he built prodigiously and wrote a book about it, thereby leaving a historical account of his efforts.
Acccording to Ringwood Manor, Home of the Hewitts, by Edward Ringwood Hewitt, Trenton Printing Co., Inc., 1946:
The Ogden advertisement of the Ringwood property immediately appealed to Peter Hasenclever and he purchased the property at once. This was the beginning of an extraordinary development for those times. He stated he found the Ringwood furnace in bad condition, with the blowing machinery in poor shape. He at once set about getting the enterprise on its feet with surprising energy. In his published book, he stated that he built at Ringwood – 1 furnace 4 forges and 11 fires; 1 stamping mill; 5 coal houses; 3 blacksmith shops; 17 frame houses with bricks; 4 square log houses; 3 stone houses; 1 store house; 25 colliers’ houses; 1 sawmill; 1 grist mill; 1 horse stable; 1 carpenter’s shop; 4 barracks and barns; 1 reservoir; 4 ponds; 2 bridges…It seems incredible that such an amount of work could have been done in the short space of under two years. At the same time he reports that he purchased 122 horses, 214 draft oxen, 51 cows, and a vast number of tools. He opened and examined 53 different iron mines. Is it any wonder that he expended 54,000 pounds instead of 40,000 and that he became over-extended and unable to carry on?
His work did, however, establish Ringwood as the most complete economic unit in America at that time. One of his contributions was the construction of a dam across the end of Tuxedo Lake, 860 feet long and 12 to 22 feet high, in order to run the water from the lake down to Ringwood so that there would be enough water to run the waterwheel at the furnace for driving the blast at all times. The water from the lake was led by a ditch from the south end of the lake into a brook flowing into the Ringwood River. This ditch can still be seen to the East of the wagon road near the south gate of Tuxedo Park. Water flowed to the Ringwood River in this way for over one hundred years before it again reached Ramapo, as it does now.
According to the Long Pond Iron Works and Ringwood State Park Historical Society, “Born in Germany’s iron-producing Rhine River region, Peter Hasenclever was a man with grand ideas for establishing America’s iron and steel industries over the next two centuries. With the financial backing from a group of British Investors called The American Company, he sailed to America, landing in New York Harbor in June 1764. Hasenclever quickly purchased the Ringwood Ironworks and more than 50,000 acres of adjoining land. This site became the Long Pond Ironworks, named for the large body of water upstream (today’s Greenwood Lake), which provided water power for the ironworks’ furnace and forge.
“In addition to Ringwood and Long Pond, Hasenclever constructed ironworks at Charlotteburg (between present-day Butler and Newfoundland) and Cortland, N.Y, and purchased thousands of acres in upstate New York for large-scale flax, madder and potash production. At the same time, he transported more than 500 German and English workers and their families to the New World to operate his enterprises. Hasenclever knew that to be successful, he would need to build self-sufficient villages – or plantations – around each operation, and at each of the ironworks, the workers constructed furnaces, forges, barns, blacksmiths’ shops, ponds, reservoirs, roads, storehouse and homes. Ringwood had an iron furnace, three forge operations, a grist mill, saw mill, worker’s houses, stores, farms, all in all a very large community.
“All of this labor took about 18 months – and a great deal of money. Although the ironworks were producing iron by 1766, with several new financial partners, he was eager to get business underway. Because of the location and the difficulties in transportation, the iron works lost money and so it was not to be; Hasenclever was fired. Forty-six days after his return [to Germany to plead his case], his new partners sent Jeton Humfray to replace him as ironmaster. Hasenclever was determined to retain management of the American properties and to prove to his partners that his expenses had been justified. New Jersey Governor William Franklin (son of Benjamin Franklin) appointed a commission to investigate the situation, and they produced a favorable report about Hasenclever’s achievements.
“Hasenclever left America for England in 1769 with the hope of clearing his name with his partners. He never returned to America. Hasenclever spent the rest of his life fighting the charges filed against him and was finally cleared seven months after his death in June 1793.
“Jeston Humfray’s tenure at Hasenclever’s ironworks was also short-lived. Other records indicate Hasenclever’s replacement was John Jacob Faesch. In 1771, he was replaced by Robert Erskine.”
Colonel Robert Erskine was born in Scotland in 1735. An inventor and engineer of some renown in his native land, Erskine attended the University of Edinburgh and started a failed business in his youth. He invented the “Continual Stream Pump” and the “Platometer,” a centrifugal hydraulic engine. He also experimented with other hydraulic systems. He became active in civic issues and increasingly gained the respect of his community. In 1771, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, a prestigious appointment in the scientific community.
In 1771, the owners of the Long Pond Ironworks tapped Erskine to replace Peter Hasenclever as ironmaster after they fired (unjustly) Hasenclever for profligate spending that nearly bankrupted the operation.
Erskine immediately set about trying to make the operation profitable. His efforts were cut short by the American Revolutionary War. Erskine was sympathetic to the American cause, but worried that might he lose his workers to the army. He organized them into a militia and was appointed a militia captain in August 1775.
Once the war broke out in earnest, there was concern among the rebels that the British warships would use the North River to attack northern forts and separate upstate New York and New England from the rest of the colonies. Erskine, ever the engineer, designed a tetrahedron-shaped marine Chevaux-de-Frose — essentially an iron-chain barrier – that would keep warships from moving upriver. The Colonial Manor House at Ringwood saw at least five visits from General Washington. Ringwood iron was used for parts of the great Hudson River chain, as well as for camp ovens, tools and other hardware.
George Washington was impressed with Erskine from the moment they met and appointed him to the post of Geographer and Surveyor General of the Continental Army in 1777. Following his appointment, Erskine drew upwards of 275 maps covering the northern sector of the war. His maps of the region, showing roads, buildings, and other details, were of much use to Gen. Washington and remain historically valuable today. Many of these maps can be found in the Erskine Dewitt Map Collection at the New York Historical Society.
Gen. Washington valued Ringwood for its iron products (which supplied critical munitions and materials to Washington’s army), Erskine’s map-making defense agency, and as a safe route through northern New Jersey. The military road was actually routed right through Ringwood, the half-way point from West Point to Morristown. Gen. Washington was also at Ringwood on April 19, 1783, the very day that a cessation of hostilities was declared between America and Great Britain. This momentous day in history was 8 long years to the day from the first shots of the war fired on Lexington Green.
While out on a map-making expedition, Erskine contracted a cold and died on Oct. 2, 1780, probably of pneumonia, at age of 46. He is buried at Ringwood Manor in Ringwood State Park along with more than 400 pioneers, early iron-makers, and Revolutionary War soldiers, including French soldiers of Rochambeau’s army.
After Erskine died, management of Ringwood passed into the hands of his widow Elizabeth and her new husband Robert Lettis Hooper, Jr. The deed to Ringwood was still held by the English-owned American Iron Company, so in 1782, the couple petitioned the legislature for a special Confiscation Act to get title to the mines and furnaces. Though the petition was only partially granted, Hooper put the company up for sale in 1783.
Martin J. Ryerson
Ringwood lay idle until Martin J. Ryerson (1752-1837) purchased it from the sheriff of Bergen County for unpaid taxes and ran it profitably until his death in 1837. Ringwood was expanded under Ryerson’s management, and it supplied the war effort of 1812. His sons ran the company until their bankruptcy and it was sold in 1853, again under sheriff’s deed to Peter Cooper (1791-1883), the inventor and philanthropist.
Ryerson’s son would become a millionaire lumber baron. According to a biography published in the Chicago Tribune and originally attributed to the Muskegon Weekly Chronicle, Sept. 15, 1887:
“Martin Ryerson was born Jan. 6, 1818, near Paterson, Passaic County, N.J. His parents were of the pure, staunch Holland Blood, and traced unbroken descent back to the mother country. At 16 years of age. young Ryerson was an ambitious lad and made up his mind to seek his fortune in the Far West. He made his way to Detroit, and there took the position of clerk with an Indian fur trader named Trouttier. He worked for the trader two or three years and made the most of his opportunities to learn all the details of the trade with the Indians.
“He saw there a large profit in the business and saved his wages until he was able to start in for himself. Then with a stock of trinkets and gaudy notion such as the Indians most desired he began to tramp the State of Michigan from one end to the other. At first he sold his furs in Detroit and afterwards made his headquarters at Grand Rapids. This extensive acquaintance with the geography of Michigan made him the best known among the Indians of any white man in the State, and fixed indelibly upon his mind the ultimate value of the pine lands.
“He next went to Muskegon, and in 1839 entered the employ of Theodore Newell, who owned a small sawmill and kept a general store. After two years he purchased the store from his employer and subsequently became owner of the sawmill. Newell, long since dead, was at one time well known in Chicago, and his sons are now residents of Kenosha, Wis. It was about 1843 that Mr. Ryerson began to manufacture lumber on his own account. His mill was small and he did business at first upon a very limited Scale. He steadily and rapidly extended into partnership with Robert W. Morris, the firm name being Ryerson & Morris.
“The firm prospered and in the course of a few years, they owned two good size mills, one at the village of Muskegon and the other at the foot of Muskegon Lake. The partnership lasted until 1868, when Ryerson bought out Morris interest, the latter being afflicted with an incurable disease supposed to be cancer of the stomach, and it being decided advisable to settle the partnership affairs before his death.
“Meanwhile, he established lumber yards in Kenosha, Wisc., and Chicago. The Chicago yard was started as early as 1846 or 1847. John M. Williams was taken into the firm at the Chicago end, and the title was Williams, Ryerson & Co. Williams retired about 1860. He had large interests in Chicago and lives in Evanston. After his withdrawal, Ryerson & Morris carried on the business here as at Muskegon. Ryerson became a permanent resident of Chicago about 1848.
“After his return from Europe in 1876, Ryerson began to make investments in Chicago real estate and in the course of time became the owner of some of the best located property in the business district. He first purchased from James W. Scovel the southeast corner of Franklin and Madison streets, the building occupied by H. W. King & Co., wholesale clothing. He next purchased the ground at the northeast corner of Adams Street and Wabash Avenue upon which he erected the large and handsome building occupied for some years by A. S. Gage & Co. His next purchase was on the east side of Wabash Avenue just south of Madison Street, upon which he built the splendid building occupied by S. A. Maxwell & Co.
“Next in order came the property upon the north side of Randolph Street, east of State Street, upon which he built some two years ago, the large building No 45 to 49. His last large purchase was 330 feet on Market Street, extending to the river, unimproved, for which he paid $330,000.
“In addition to large interest in other Chicago property he has a large interest in estimated 20,000 acres of land back of Muskegon, and the value of his estate is estimated from $3,000,000 to $5,000,000. He passed the business on to his son Martin A. Ryerson, who formed Ryerson, Hills & Co., consisting of Martin, C. T. Hills of Muskegon, and H. H. Getty. The firm had no Chicago yards, and all their business is done in cargo lots from Muskegon, where they own two large mills, lumber-yards, etc.
“Mr. Ryerson was twice married. His first wife, who died in 1855, was Louisa M. Duverney, daughter of Pierre C. Duverney of Lower Canada. His second wife was Mary A. Campau of Grand Rapids, Mich. By his first wife he had a daughter, Mrs. Charles Butts, who is now in Europe. By his second wife he had one son Martin A. Ryerson. Some years ago Mr. Ryerson erected a monument, which stands in Lincoln Park, to his early friends, the Indians, which is one of the most conspicuous ornaments to that beautiful place.”
Martin J. Ryerson (the father) purchased the historic ironworks and began building the present Manor House in 1807 while still operating the iron mines and forges on the property. Ryerson ran five forge-furnace complexes in three counties from his headquarters at Ringwood for the next half century. Ryerson made shot for the war of 1812 and negotiated land and water rights with the Morris Canal Company for expansion of Long Pond (Greenwood Lake) and construction of the Pompton Feeder on the Morris Canal. The Ryerson Steel Company is still in operation today.
Ringwood was sold in 1853, again under sheriff’s deed to Peter Cooper, the inventor and philanthropist
Cooper, born Feb. 12, 1791, was an American industrialist, inventor, philanthropist, and candidate for President of the United States. He designed and built the first steam locomotive in the U.S., and founded the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in Manhattan.
Peter Cooper was born in New York City of mixed Dutch, English, and Huguenot descent, the fifth child of John Cooper, a Methodist hatmaker from Newburgh, N.Y. Peter worked as coachmaker’s apprentice, cabinet maker, hatmaker, brewer and grocer, and was throughout a tinkerer: he developed a cloth-shearing machine which he attempted to sell, as well as an endless chain he intended to be used to pull boats on the Erie Canal, which New York Gov. De Witt Clinton approved of, but which Cooper was unable to sell.
In 1821, Cooper purchased a glue factory on Sunfish Pond for $2,000 in Kips Bay, where he had access to raw materials from the nearby slaughterhouses, and ran it as a successful business for many years, producing a profit of $10,000 within two years, developing new ways to produce glues and cements, gelatin, isinglass, and other products, and becoming the city’s premiere provider to tanners, paint manufacturers, and dry-goods merchants. The effluent from his successful factory eventually polluted the pond to the extent that in 1839 it had to be drained and filled.
Having been convinced that the proposed Baltimore and Ohio Railroad would drive up prices for land in Maryland, Cooper used his profits to buy 3,000 acres of land there in 1828 and began to develop them, draining swampland and flattening hills, during which he discovered iron ore on his property. Seeing the B&O as a natural market for iron rails to be made from his ore, he founded the Canton Iron Works in Baltimore, and when the railroad developed technical problems, he put together the Tom Thumb steam locomotive for them in 1830 from various old parts, including musket barrels, and some small-scale steam engines he had fiddled with back in New York. The engine was a rousing success, prompting investors to buy stock in B&O, which enabled the company to buy Cooper’s iron rails, making him what would be his first fortune.
Cooper began operating an iron rolling mill in New York beginning in 1836, where he was the first to successfully use anthracite coal to puddle iron. Cooper later moved the mill to Trenton, N.J. on the Delaware River to be closer to the sources of the raw materials the works needed. His son and son-in-law, Edward Cooper and Abram S. Hewitt, later expanded the Trenton facility into a giant complex employing 2,000 people, in which iron was taken from raw material to finished product.
Cooper later invested in real estate and insurance, and became one of the richest men in New York City. Despite this, he lived relatively simply in an age when the rich were indulging in more and more luxury. He dressed in simple, plain clothes, and limited his household to only two servants; when his wife bought an expensive and elaborate carriage, he returned it for a more sedate and cheaper one. Cooper remained in a working-class neighborhood, where cattle cars were parked practically outside his front door, although he eventually moved to the more genteel Gramercy Park development in 1850.
In 1854, Cooper was one of five men who met at the house of Cyrus West Field in Gramercy Park to form the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company and, in 1855, the American Telegraph Company, which bought up competitors and established extensive control over the expanding American network on the Atlantic Coast and in some Gulf Coast states. He was among those supervising the laying of the first Transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858.
In 1840, Cooper became an alderman of New York City.
Prior to the Civil War, Cooper was active in the anti-slavery movement and promoted the application of Christian concepts to solve social injustice. He was a strong supporter of the Union cause during the war and an advocate of the government issue of paper money.
Influenced by the writings of Lydia Maria Child, Cooper became involved in the Indian reform movement, organizing the privately-funded United States Indian Commission. This organization, whose members included William E. Dodge and Henry Ward Beecher, was dedicated to the protection and elevation of Native Americans in the United States and the elimination of warfare in the western territories.
Cooper’s efforts led to the formation of the Board of Indian Commissioners, which oversaw Ulysses S. Grant’s Peace Policy. Between 1870 and 1875, Cooper sponsored Indian delegations to Washington, D.C., New York City, and other Eastern cities. These delegations met with Indian rights advocates and addressed the public on United States Indian policy. Speakers included: Red Cloud, Little Raven, Alfred B. Meacham, minister who advocated for the rights of Indians, and a delegation of Modoc and Klamath Indians.
Cooper was an ardent critic of the gold standard and the debt-based monetary system of bank currency. Throughout the depression from 1873–78, he said that usury was the foremost political problem of the day. He strongly advocated a credit-based, Government-issued currency of United States Notes. In 1883 his addresses, letters and articles on public affairs were compiled into a book, Ideas for a Science of Good Government.
Cooper was encouraged to run in the 1876 presidential election for the Greenback Party without any hope of being elected. The campaign cost more than $25,000. At the age of 85 years, Cooper is the oldest person ever nominated by any political party for President of the United States. The election was won by Rutherford B. Hayes of the Republican Party.
In 1813, Cooper married Sarah Bedell . They had a son, Edward, and a daughter Sarah Amelia. Edward served as Mayor of New York City, as would the husband of Sarah Amelia, Abram S. Hewitt, a man also heavily involved in inventions and industrialization, and served as his partner in the Ringwood mines operation.
Cooper was a Unitarian who regularly attended the services of Henry Whitney Bellows, and his views were Universalistic and non-sectarian. In 1873 he wrote:
I look to see the day when the teachers of Christianity will rise above all the cramping powers and conflicting creeds and systems of human device, when they will beseech mankind by all the mercies of God to be reconciled to the government of love, the only government that can ever bring the kingdom of heaven into the hearts of mankind either here or hereafter.
Cooper had an interest in adult education: he had served as head of the Public School Society – a private organization which ran New York City’s free schools using city money [no wonder Karl Marx was invited to speak at the Cooper Union!] – when it began evening classes in 1848. Cooper conceived of the idea of having a free institute in New York, similar to the Ecole Polytechnique (Polytechnical School) in Paris, which would offer free practical education to adults in the mechanical arts and sciences, to help prepare young men and women of the working classes for success in business.
In 1853, he broke ground for the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a private college in New York, completing the building in 1859 at the cost of $600,000. Cooper Union offered open-admission night classes available to men and women alike, and attracted 2,000 responses to its initial offering, although 600 later dropped out. The classes were non-sectarian, and women were treated equally with men, although 95 percent of the students were male. Cooper started a Women’s School of Design, which offered daytime courses in engraving, lithography, painting on china, and drawing.
The new institution soon became an important part of the community. The Great Hall was a place where the pressing civic controversies of the day could be debated – and, unusually, radical views were not excluded. Karl Marx spoke there. In addition, the Union’s library, unlike the nearby Astor, Mercantile, and New York Society Libraries, was open until 10:00 at night, so that working people could make use of them after work hours. Today, the Cooper Union carries on Cooper’s belief that college education should be free, awarding all its students with a full scholarship.
Peter Cooper died on April 4, 1883 at the age of 92.
Abram Stevens Hewitt
Abram Stevens Hewitt was born in 1822. Cooper’s son-in-law and partner in Cooper, Hewitt, & Company, Hewitt was brought in as business manager of the operation. The Ringwood site supplied the Union Army with gun carriages, mortars, and gun barrel iron nearly at cost during the Civil War. Upon the death of Cooper, who had purchased nearly 100,000 acres to expand the Ringwood properties, title passed to Hewitt, who in 1878 substantially enlarged the Ringwood Manor estate by adding on to the house built by Erskine.
Cooper’s young son-in-law, Abram S. Hewitt, bought Ringwood in 1854, on behalf of Cooper. The properties were purchased for the rich local iron deposits but Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt set about making the old Ringwood estate their summer home. Hewitt enlarged the Manor in the 1860s and 70s. The completed house contains 51 rooms built in a wide range of styles that characterize the Victorian Period. This impressive house is 226.5 feet long and features 24 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, 28 bedrooms and more than 250 windows.
The forges, mills, village and farms that serviced the iron industry gradually turned into the Victorian summer estate of the Hewitts, one of the wealthiest and most influential families of 19th-century America. However, due to recent theft and vandalism – thieves openly stole paintings and muskets from the walls while the museum was open to visitors – the house is closed to the public. It’s a pity because the house contains an impressive library, not as vast as the Vanderbilt mansion, but very interesting all the same.
As better grades of ore became available from mines in Minnesota and Michigan in the 1880s, the operation at Ringwood began to falter. The accountants told Cooper and Hewitt in 1884 that the mines were no longer profitable. Hewitt had been in the process of building a new, larger water wheel for the forge. Still the Hewitt family kept Ringwood in operation until 1931, when the company abandoned the site, giving the houses to the workers who had been put out of work, and the estate to New Jersey.
Hewitt was a teacher, lawyer, an iron manufacturer, chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1876 to 1877, U.S. Congressman and a mayor of New York City. He was the son-in-law of Peter Cooper and best known. He is best known for his work with the Cooper Union, which he aided Peter Cooper in founding in 1859, and for planning the financing and construction of the New York City subway system, for which he is considered the “Father of the New York City Subway System.”
In 1845, financed by Peter Cooper, Hewitt and Edward Cooper started an iron mill in Trenton, N.J., the Trenton Iron Company, where, in 1854, they produced the first structural wrought iron beams, as well as developing other innovative products. Hewitt also invested in other companies, in many case serving on their boards. Hewitt was known for dedicated work for the U.S. government and exceptionally good relations with his employees.
After his marriage to Sarah Cooper, Hewitt supervised the construction of Cooper Union, Peter Cooper’s free educational institution, and chaired the board of trustees until 1903.
In 1871, inspired by reformer Samuel J. Tilden, Cooper was prominent in the campaign to bring about the fall of the corrupt Tammany Hall-based “Tweed Ring,” led by the William M. Tweed, and helped reorganize the Democrat Party in New York, which Tweed and Tammany had controlled. He first ventured into elective politics in 1874, when he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for five terms. He also became the head of the Democrat National Committee in 1876, when Tilden ran for President. Hewitt made the speech at the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge.
In 1886, Hewitt was elected mayor of New York City when Richard Croker of Tammany Hall – which had resumed its control of the Democratic Party in the city – arranged for Hewitt to get the Democratic nomination, despite his being the leader of the anti-Tammany “Swallowtails” of the party: Croker needed a strong candidate to oppose the United Labor Party candidate, political economist Henry George. Tammany feared that a win by George might reorganize politics in the city along class lines, rather than along ethnic lines, which is where Tammany drew its power. Theodore Roosevelt, running as the Republican Party candidate, came in third. Hewitt was not successful as a mayor, due both to his unpleasant character and nativist belief.
Nativism is the political position of demanding a favored status for certain established inhabitants of a nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. Nativism typically means opposition to immigration and support of efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups because the groups are considered hostile or alien to the natural culture, and assumptions that they cannot be assimilated. He refused, for instance, to review the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a decision which alienated most of the Democratic power base. Hewitt also refused to allow Tammany the control of patronage they wanted, and Croker saw to it that Hewitt was not nominated for a second term.
An ironic attitude, over a century later, for a Democrat.
Hewitt was considered a consistent defender of sound practices – he is famously quoted as saying “Unnecessary taxation is unjust taxation” – another ironic attitude for a Democrat – and civil service reform. He was conspicuous for his public spirit, and developed an innovative funding and construction plan for the New York City subway system, for which he is known as the “Father of the New York City Subway System.” Mass transportation – a definite Democrat and Socialist notion. However, New York City is the one city in the entire world where mass transportation makes sense.
Hewitt had many investments in natural resources, including considerable holdings in West Virginia. He was also an associate of Henry Huttleston Rogers, a financier and industrialist who was a key man in the Standard Oil Trust, and a major developer of natural resources. One of Hewitt’s investments handled by Rogers and Page was the Loup Creek Estate in Fayette County, W.Va. The Deepwater Railway was a subsidiary initially formed by the Loup Creek investors to ship bituminous coal from mines on their land a short distance from the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) along the Kanawha River. After rate disputes, the tiny short line railroad was eventually expanded to extend all the way into Virginia and across that state to a new coal pier at Sewells’ Point on Hampton Roads. Planned secretly right under the noses of the large railroads, it was renamed the Virginia Railway, and was also known as the “richest little railroad in the world” for much of the 20th century.
Hewitt died in 1903, and was interred at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y. Reportedly, his last words, after he took his oxygen tube from his mouth, were, “And now, I am officially dead.”
His daughters, Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah Hewitt, founded the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. His son, Peter Cooper Hewitt, was a successful inventor, while another son, Edward Ringwood Hewitt, was also an inventor, a chemist and an early expert on fly-fishing. Hewitt’s youngest son, Erskine Hewitt (1878–1938), was a lawyer and philanthropist in New York City. In 1936, he donated Ringwood Manor and 95 acres of land to the New Jersey State Department of Conservation and Development for public use and preservation as Ringwood Manor State Park. Norvin H. Green (d.1955), a nephew of Erskine Hewitt, donated additional land to bring the total park acreage to 579. The park has been opened to the public since 1938 and contains the sites of the ironworks that were in operation since the management of Robert Erskine.
After unsuccessful attempts to rehabilitate the mines in 1942, 1947, and 1951, Ford Motor Company purchased the mines and land in 1964. From 1967-1972, Ford used the abandoned shafts of Peter’s Mine and Cannon Mine to dispose waste from the nearby Mahwah auto plant, and in 1970, donated 290 acres in the southern part of the site to the Ringwood Solid Waste Management Authority for the operation of a municipal disposal area. The site was closed by the state in 1976 because of contamination of groundwater, surface streams, and the nearby Wanaque Reservoir. Ringwood was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of sites eligible for Superfund cleanup in 1983 and financial responsibility for the cleanup was given to Ford International Services, who started on the project. Although monitoring of ground and surface water continues, the Ringwood mining site was removed from the Superfund list in 1994.
West Milford – and its environs – is as rich in history as it was in iron ore, forging great men as well as great works in its green hills. The modern “Milford” – Newark – is about as ignorant of this history of its ancestors as someone from Shanghai, China or Dallas, Texas. They have their own histories to point to. At least they point to them and take pride in their heritage. Today’s Newark residents couldn’t care less. They have an entirely different heritage. Little do they know that the owners of Ringwood freed their black slaves before the Civil War. Descendants of those freed blacks still live in the hills of West Milford and Ringwood.
Iron is a durable mineral, tough and strong; if left untended in the rain, it will rust. As you can see, Abram Hewitt was a “nativist,” a believer in home-rule. That same attitude exists in West Milford’s hills today.
The problem is property taxes. Property owners hold large tracts of land that are expensive to maintain in the shadow of high taxes. Either they must build on the land or sell it for development. Newark, still West Milford’s master, owning one-third of township lands, wants its share of tax money, but it also wants to retain West Milford as a pristine recreational area and force its residence into high-density housing; the same sort that plagues Newark and makes it susceptible to crime.
Seven hundred residents crowded into West Milford’s tiny PAL Center on Tuesday to meet with Gov. Christie to complain about their property taxes, even while he urged them towards shared services. West Milford is already a township, with the largest police force outside of Newark itself. What’s more, the township encompasses 80 square miles of land. Most of it is forest, but the houses are spread out in developed clusters across the hills and valleys. Accountants might want to see a consolidation of services, but when you have a house burning on Burnt Meadow Road, it takes time for the fire department to get there, straining up a mountainous (and in this case, impassable in some places) roads. The ride up Macopin Road from the Bloomingdale border to the center of West Milford proper is 20 minutes. That’s a long ride for a police car rushing to an accident scene or an ambulance responding to a call.
The residents asked the governor to either allow them to develop or lower their taxes on undeveloped land. They are also concerned about how much of their county taxes are going to West Milford Township, for the county roads (and there are many) and how much is going to support the blighted cities in southern Passaic County, cities that are smaller versions of Newark. Paterson is in a financial crisis. Their services are consolidated, but so are their residents. West Milfordites are not necessarily adverse to development which, from a conservation point, would be unfortunate. They would sell off the very virtue that makes West Milford so attractive.
There are still iron works industries in West Milford, principally on the northern terminus of the aforementioned Burnt Meadow Roads. West Milford was once the home of Jungle Habitat (through which the same road runs). Now it’s otherwise mostly residential. A number of the residents, whose genealogy traces all the way back to the original Milfordites, are poor, or at least not particularly affluent. Newer residents, living in the McMansions that are spoiling the countryside, have more money.
The Regionalists propose to move Newark residents to places like West Milford, and move the workers of West Milford to places like Newark, where they hope industry will at last return. West Milfordites would return to the place from which they fled almost three hundred years ago. The new Newarkers would journey to West Milford, which they would quickly, through poverty, ignorance, and resentment, turn into a new Newark, spoiling the countryside with their indifference as surely as a new, sprawling housing development would, denuding the hills of trees just as they were denuded during the Iron Age.
The “iron-y” is palpable.