The Roebling Company and its wire rope epitomized “Trenton Makes The World Takes” for 125 years. The factory closed 40 years ago, and 20 years ago we videotaped the oral histories of 13 former Roebling employees with support from the N.J. Council for the Humanities. Telequest of Princeton shot the interviews and edited the documentary film which will be shown on its 20th anniversary at Art All Night, the annual arts festival in the Roebling Machine Shop in Trenton. The interviews provide poignant viewpoints of work and life in the waning years of America’s industrial era. Excerpts of the interviews also appear in The Roebling Legacy.
Built in 1884 and 1902 of earth, stone and concrete, the crumbling dams threatened the loss of the six-acre pond at the center of nearly 400 acres of preserved open space in Princeton. In making the award, the N.J. Historic Preservation office noted “The rehabilitation of the historic ice pond dams in the Princeton Ice Company Historic District at Mountain Lakes Preserve represents extraordinary municipal stewardship of an extraordinary site. The stewardship involved the complicated mix of historic preservation, conservation, dam safety, environmental and engineering requirements, and the challenging coordination of the oversight of multiple municipal, county and state agencies…The result is an exceptional historic site that preserves and interprets a unique rural industrial landscape.”
C. W. Zink served as the historic preservation consultant for the project and provided the content for five interpretive signs at the site. The rehabilitation uncovered several historic ice harvesting tools that Princeton’s Historic Preservation Commission is planning to display in the near future.
Yesterday was the 130th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24th, 1883, when Emily Warren Roebling was among the first to ride in carriage across the span she helped build. Tomorrow is the 176th birthday of her husband, Washington A. Roebling, the bridge’s Chief Engineer who supervised the construction over 13 years. Designed by his father, John A. Roebling, “as a great work of art,” the monumental bridge continues to inspire New Yorkers and legions of visitors who enjoy his “elevated promenade” with “its beautiful views” of the “crowded commercial city.” The Brooklyn Bridge is a “universal symbol of New York,” according to Mayor Bloomberg, and one of the most recognized bridges in the world.
Preservation New Jersey 2013 Annual Meeting - Saturday, January 26, 2013- 10am to 1pm
“Clifford Zink, noted historian and author, will highlight the legacy of the Roeblings and the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company, once one of New Jersey’s largest employers, and he will discuss the challenges, losses and successes in the preservation of Roebling historic sites and structures over the last thirty years. Included in those inspiring successes is the Roebling Museum, a PNJ Heritage Tourism Partner, which we will have the opportunity to tour during the meeting.” – Preservation NJ.org. The Roebling Co.’s 1930 Elmer St. Rope Shop, above, is part of a pending rehabilitation project at the Trenton Roebling Works. (CW Zink, 2011)
Those “innumerable vertical cables, gleaming against the sky,” as Le Corbusier called them, on the George Washington Bridge will finally be replaced after 83+ years of service. The Port Authority of NY & NJ is planning an eight-year replacement project, to start in 2014. The 2/78 inch diameter ropes are each made of 283 wires of ten different sizes, and if laid end to end would stretch 32 miles. Ninety percent of the 292 ropes are the originals, made and installed by the Roebling Company in 1931.
The 24-hour Art All Night 2012 drew a record crowd on June 16-17 to see nearly 1,000 works of art displayed in the Roebling Machine Shop at the Roebling Works in Trenton. Visitors also enjoyed an iron pour and blacksmithing by local sculptors, plus food, wine and music all provided by local and regional purveyors and musicians. Built in 1890 and expanded in 1901 and in 1942, the Machine Shop is a “cathedral of industry” with a Basilica plan, a central nave, side aisles, upper galleries and clerestory windows. After serving as the workshop of skilled machinists for many decades, the partially rehabilitated building and adjacent Millyard Park today provide spectacular indoor-outdoor spaces for local and regional events. Well done! to Artworks and its hundreds of volunteers who made the sixth annual Art All Night another memorable event at the Roebling Machine Shop.
At the Society for Industrial Archaeology’s annual conference on June 1 in Cincinnati, we gave a presentation on John A. Roebling’s design of the great Cincinnati-Covington Bridge, which he and his son Washington A. Roebling completed in 1867. As quoted in The Roebling Legacy, Roebling wrote that “public works should educate public taste,” and that “a public work which forms a conspicuous landmark across a great river should serve as a model of appropriate architectural proportions.” The Cincinnati-Covington bridge served as the model for Roebling’s design of the Brooklyn Bridge, which Washington Roebling famously completed in 1883 with help from his wife, Emily Warren Roebling.
On the June 1st Society for Industrial Archaeology tour of the marvelous 1907 Cincinnati Water Works, the staff graciously took us through the Filtration Plant, still operating with its original rapid sand filters, and the monumental Pumping Station, which still has its four original steam engines in place. The quality of this public infrastructure, the century-long payback from the original public investment, and the pride and care with which the Greater Cincinnati Water Works staff maintains this national landmark facility is rarely seen today.
“An inspiring background of high intelligence” is how New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt credited the engineers of suspension bridges on opening day, October 25th, 1931, for the remarkable achievement of building the George Washington Bridge. The original Roebling Suspender Ropes made in Trenton have held up the bridge deck for more than 80 years, much longer than on most big suspension bridges, and now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is finally planning to replace them in a huge multi-year project.
Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge opening on May 27, 2012, I focused this talk on May 22 at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York on the Roebling tradition of suspension bridge innovations.
From John A. Roebling’s first bridge in 1846, Roebling innovations enabled the construction of a series of landmark suspension bridges, including the Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Manhattan, Bear Mountain, George Washington and Golden Gate Bridges.
The General Society was founded in 1785, and several of its prominent members were connected to the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, including William Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and Abram Hewitt.
Purchase THE ROEBLING LEGACY
- “Now You’re Set For Life” – 20th anniversary showing of Roebling oral history documentary at Art All Night ’13 on June 15 at 5:15pm
- “Exemplary Stewardship:” Rehabilitation of the Historic Dams at Princeton’s Mountain Lakes Preserve wins 2013 N.J. Historic Preservation Award
- Brooklyn Bridge continues to inspire at 130
- “Preserving the Roebling Legacy”