To make some interesting historic research more accessible, we proposed the Discover History Series in a mobile-ready pdf format for viewing on large screens, tablets and smart phones, the latter held horizontally. The Navesink Military Reservation pdf is on the Park System’s Hartshorne Woods Park page (scroll down to see it): https://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?ID=2524. The Brookdale Farm pdf is on its Thompson Park page (scroll down): www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?ID=2539. Linking these via QR Codes to signage will enable visitors to access the summary stories onsite. Comments about the Discover History Series and inquiries about helping to bring your research and stories to light are welcome.
A new phase of redevelopment at the ROEBLING WORKS in Trenton begins in March with the groundbreaking for HHG Development Associates’ historic rehabilitation of the 1917 Clark Street Rope Shop on Roebling Block 3 for 138 ROEBLING LOFTS. The John A. Roebling’s Sons Company erected the Rope Shop, aka Building 101, during World War I for production of small diameter wire rope, including Roebling Aircord for aircraft control. The Rope Shop embodied the new industrial design of the daylight factory with enormous steel sash windows and skylights on the top floor.
The 1 and 2-bedroom Lofts will have replica full-height energy efficient windows, 16 to 20 ft. ceilings, and 759 to 1,553 SF of space. The Mercer County Improvement Authority competitively awarded the 7-acre Block 3 redevelopment to HHG for its proposed ROEBLING CENTER, which will include additional apartments plus office/tech and hospitality space in rehabilitated and new buildings. CLARKE CATON HINTZ is serving as the project architect and HHG expects to complete the first phase Roebling Lofts in early 2017.
C.W. Zink has assisted the ROEBLING CENTER project by nominating ROEBLING BLOCK 3, above, to the National Register of Historic Places to recognize its historic significance and make it eligible for Historic Investment Tax Credits. The view above shows Building 101 from the southwest.
“On Wednesday, January 27th, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum will host a book signing by Mercer historian Clifford W. Zink. Mercer Magic is the first complete history of the Mercer automobile.” In his book – The Spirit of Competition – Museum founder Dr. Fred Simeone writes: “The thing about the Mercer, besides its great looks, is one’s experience behind the wheel. The design and experiential history has catapulted the Raceabout above all its contemporary road speedsters.”
Dr. Simeone calls the 1911 Mercer Raceabout 35J in the Museum’s collection a “superior pre-World Wa I production sports car.” The car will be featured at the event and Dr. Simeone will talk about its history. First built in 1911, the car was set up for racing with a 1913 Mercer engine and four speed transmission and has Michelin tires on quick demountable rims. It may be the only actual racecar among the 24 or so extant 1911-1914 Raceabouts.
MERCER MAGIC – The story of the Mercer Automobile Company and America’s First Sports Car, has just been published by the Roebling Museum. The book covers the remarkable story from the founding of the company through the development of the Mercer Raceabout, Mercer’s multi-year racing campaign that achieved national success winning the American Grand Prize in 1914, and the surviving Mercers in notable private collections and automobile museums. Mercer Magic is available on Amazon and at the Roebling Museum – 609.499.7200.
One hundred ago Trenton was a center of innovation, entrepreneurship, and skilled employment, and a new exhibit at Ellarslie, the City Museum in Cadwalader Park, highlights the accomplishments of the City’s greatest enterprise – the John A. Roebling Son’s Company.
The exhibit features many rarely seen artworks, publications, and objects illustrating the vast scope of Roebling products for national and international markets.
The most notable artwork is an 1898 ink and gouache painting from the collection of the New Jersey State Museum of the Roebling Works on South Broad Street and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The Roebling brothers, Washington, Ferdinand, and Charles, commissioned the painting to capture the tremendous growth in the fifty years since their father, John A. Roebling, founded the factory with a single wire rope shop in 1848.
Expertly rendered by H.B. Longacre, a Philadelphia artist about whom little is known, the painting illustrates the tremendous investment, employment, and productivity in Trenton during the height of America’s industrial age. From that first rope shop in 1848, the Roeblings expanded their works over three city blocks with dozens of mills and shops, including the first of several four-story mills. Longacre meticulously and precisely depicted the incredible bustle at the Works, with numerous billowing smokestacks and steam vents, and with workers, horses, steam locomotives, canal boats, and electric trolleys in motion.
In the center of the painting the house that John Roebling built in 1855 for his family at the intersection of South Broad Street and the D&R Canal presides over the Works as the Roebling General Office. Today the building is part of the Mercer County Administration complex in the former Roebling offices that the County acquired in 1969 as the Works gradually shut down.
According to Jenny Martin-Wicoff, the State Museum’s Registrar of Fine Art, the Museum acquired the Roebling Works painting from a couple in Louisiana in 1983 with funds provided by Ferdinand W. Roebling III. The painting was temporarily exhibited around that time, and in 1989 it was briefly exhibited at the Squibb Gallery in Lawrenceville. The Roebling exhibition at Ellarslie provides a rare opportunity for the public to see this marvelous representation of Trenton’s industrial power. The Trenton Roebling Community Development Corporation reproduced the painting with the permission of the State Museum in 1992 and with support from Leigh Photographics, today’s Leigh Visual Imaging in West Windsor. Prints are available at Ellarslie.
Richard Willinger, the Curator of the Roebling exhibit, has included four large paintings that the Roebling Company commissioned for its display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The paintings include two iconic bridges in the Roebling legacy – the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, and the George Washington Bridge, completed in 1931 – and two scenes within the Roebling rope shops. When Mercer County purchased the Roebling offices, County workers found seven Roebling World’s Fair paintings in the basement, and the County donated them to Ellarslie in 1982. A donor recently paid for the cleaning of the George Washington Bridge painting, and Ellarslie is looking for a donor to support the cleaning of the Brooklyn Bridge painting. Two of the paintings are on loan to the Roebling Museum in Roebling, N.J. where the Roeblings built a steel mill and a company town in 1906.
The exhibit includes a watercolor of the Roebling Works by Tom Malloy, Trenton’s beloved artist who compellingly documented the City’s buildings, monuments and streetscapes over several decades. Tom worked in the Roebling wire mill during World War II and shared his experiences there in a 1993 oral history.
Besides producing wire and wire rope for landmark suspension bridges, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Roebling manufactured “unthinkable” miles of wire rope in Trenton for elevators, cable cars, tramways, airplanes, shipping, mining, construction, and ski lifts – and it made wire for electrical lines, telegraphs and telephones, wire cloth and screens, and prestressed concrete. The exhibit highlights the scope of Roebling innovations and production with wire and wire rope samples, Company brochures, and hand-made wooden patterns of machine parts.
At its height during World War I the Roebling Company employed 8,000 workers in Trenton and Roebling. Many employees were immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, and the steady work at Roebling fostered their assimilation and enabled them to raise their families within the American dream. When John Smith got a job at Roebling at the age of 19, his mother told him, “Now you’re set for life.”
But the challenges were great a century ago, as workers struck Roebling and other Trenton manufacturers for better wages and working conditions, and huge fires suspected of being arson or sabotage destroyed several Roebling mills. The Roebling plants were finally unionized in 1941 just before the U.S. entry into World War II. After four generations of family ownership, the Roeblings sold their plants to the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, which operated them into the 1970s. Today, thousands of residents in Trenton, Roebling, and surrounding towns count former Roebling employees among their ancestors.
And today, the town of Roebling and the Roebling Museum are thriving, former Roebling buildings in Trenton’s Chambersburg section house offices and senior citizens, and the Roebling Market is bustling with the City’s latest immigrants from Central and South America. Artworks’ Art All Night event at the City-owned Roebling Machine Shop annually attracts an incredibly diverse regional audience numbering in the tens of thousands. And HHG Development, a Trenton enterprise, is poised to start converting the four-story, 148,000 sq. ft. Roebling Rope Shop 101 into 138 loft apartments. Although it’s taken longer than expected, the redevelopment of the Roebling Works in Trenton is gradually fulfilling the mixed-use plan that I envisioned as a graduate student in 1984 and that the Trenton Roebling Community Development Corporation started promulgating in 1985.
The John A. Roebling Son’s Company exhibit at Ellarslie runs through December 6.
A Trentonian couple held their wedding reception in June in the 1890 Roebling Machine Shop at the Roebling Works in the city’s Chambersburg section. The raw industrial setting befit the celebration as the couple has spearheaded numerous renovations in The World Takes city. The wedding and reception were beautifully photographed by Cie Stroud (www.ciestroud.com/).
On June 21-22, Trenton Artworks and its hundreds of volunteers produced Art All Night 2014 in the 1890 and 1901 sections of the Machine Shop (below) and attracted nearly 30,000 visitors.
The City of Trenton and the Trenton Roebling Community Development Corporation preserved the Machine Shop in the 1990s with grants from the N.J. Historic Trust and N.J. DOT. The grants funded the initial rehabilitation of the Machine Shop for the Invention Factory, TRCDC’s planned museum/science center that unfortunately didn’t come to fruition, but the work has enabled Artworks to produce Art All Night in the building for the past seven years. The Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market is welcoming thousands to the Machine Shop three times this year, and other events are being planned. The City is open to proposals for the long-term adaptive reuse of the 52,000 sq.ft. Machine Shop.
As American and British soldiers stormed Normandy 70 years ago today, the chances of enemy attack on the east and west coasts had faded, but the U.S. Army’s Coast Artillery Corps remained on guard protecting the harbors of America’s major coastal cities. At the Navesink Military Reservation on the Navesink Highlands in Middletown, NJ, the 245th Coast Artillery Regiment manned the 16-inch guns of Battery Lewis (above, in 1944) and the 6-inch guns of Battery 219 overlooking the entrance to Sandy Hook Bay and New York Harbor. The Army established the 245-acre Reservation in 1942 as an extension of Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook, and the Monmouth County Park System has preserved it as part of the 787-acre Hartshorne Woods Park. We’re completing a National Register Nomination of the Reservation for the Park System, which is currently planning the rehabilitation and interpretation of the massive Battery Lewis (below, as it appears today) to open it to the public.
On May 21st, “Clifford W. Zink and the Somerset County Park Foundation (were) recognized for the beautifully illustrated book “Natural Beauty, Somerset County Parks,” which chronicles the 50-year history of the County Park Commission, including descriptions of each county park and its historic resources.” At the Somerset County Cultural & Heritage Commission awards ceremony, from left, Cultural & Heritage Commission Chairman Robert Bowman, the author, Somerset County Freeholder and Park Commissioner Pat Welsh, and Park Commission Director Ray Brown, who is also the Director of the Somerset County Park Foundation.
On Restoration Work Day, April 12th, the 245th Coast Artillery Regiment mustered at Battery Gunnison on Fort Hancock for restoration and maintenance work on the 1905 structure and its two 6-inch guns. The Regiment volunteers are part of the Army Ground Forces Association and they do a fine job maintaining the Battery and interpreting it to the public, including their replica Plotting Room, shown here, where crew members plotted the azimuth and range of naval targets. Battery Gunnison was part of the coastal defense of New York Harbor from 1905 until its deactivation in 1946. It is one of the few historic batteries in the U.S. that still has guns. This visit was part of our ongoing research on the history of the nearby Navesink Military Reservation on the Navesink Highlands.
In this presentation at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, we’ll explore the innovation and entrepreneurship of Peter Cooper and his son-in-law partner Abram Hewitt and that of John A. Roebling, and how their contributions advanced the development of construction and transportation technologies. https://pppl.princeton.edu/events/colloquium-how-trenton-iron-and-steel-innovations-reshaped-america The presentation is linked to the Society for Industrial Archaeology’s New York-New Jersey Roebling Chapter’s IA tour of the town of Princeton and PPPL – http://roeblingsia.org/events.html
With exhibit platforms and performance decks covered by suspended canopies, and lovely gardens and reflecting pools, the New Jersey Pavilion at the 1964-1964 New York World’s Fair was both a quiet retreat and a lively showcase of the New Jersey’s history, products, and talent. Philip Collins, a 32-year-old Princeton architect won a competition among 115 New Jersey architects to design the pavilion for the New Jersey Tercentenary Commission. “We have sought a design,” Collins noted, “that will be open and festive, gay and exciting, inviting to the public, and representative of the vigorous spirit and progressive outlook of our State.” Published in Garden State Legacy, Issue 23, March 2014.
Peter Cooper, Abram Hewitt, Edward Cooper, and John A. Roebling established factories in the mid-19th Century that transformed N.J.’s capital city into a hub of iron and steel production. The businesses they created – the Trenton Iron Company, the New Jersey Steel & Iron Company, and the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company – lasted for more than 120 years. Published in the December 2013 issue of Garden State Legacy – http://gardenstatelegacy.com/index.html
BRIDGEWATER, NJ – The Somerset Patriots Baseball Club, working in cooperation with the Somerset County Park Foundation, has provided 98 copies of Natural Beauty: Somerset County Parks by Clifford W. Zink to all Somerset County schools and libraries. The Park Foundation recently published the book that chronicles the history and development of the Somerset County Park system, among the most respected public recreation systems in the nation.
With 425 illustrations and photos from the 57-year history of the Commission, the book details the remarkable inception and growth of the nationally recognized park system. Patriots team owner Steve Kalafer presented a check in the amount of $3,800 to Foundation trustees to cover the cost of the books that will now be available to every child and adult in Somerset County.
“It is fantastic that every school and library will have the book,” commented author Zink at the presentation. “It is important that everyone in Somerset County has the opportunity to learn the history of Somerset County’s greatest resource.”
“Clifford Zink’s art, the ability to research and write the history of the Park Commission, accurately reflects the art that is the Somerset County park system,” noted Kalafer. “The Somerset Patriots are committed to giving back to the community and this allows us the opportunity to ensure that all children can understand the development of the natural resource that is our parks.”
Natural Beauty traces the growth of Somerset County’s park system from its roots in the County’s agricultural past through its evolution over nearly six decades into an organization utilizing creative public-private partnerships to preserve open space and serve more than 2,000,000 visitors and program participants annually. The book highlights information and excerpts from historic documents and interviews with former and present elected officials, commissioners, directors, planners, naturalists, rangers and recreation staff.
Natural Beauty is available free with a $40 donation to the Somerset County Park Foundation by visiting the Somerset County Park Commission Headquarters 355 Milltown Road, Bridgewater, NJ, 08807; 908 722-1200. – Somerset County Park Foundation, December 13, 2013.
By C. W. Zink
At an October 4th symposium celebrating innovation and technology in Mercer County for it’s 175 anniversary, we gave a presentation on innovations in iron and steel making in Trenton. Peter Cooper, a serial entrepreneur and founder of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, produced the first I-Beams in America in 1856 at his Trenton Iron Company that he founded in 1847. The immigrant engineer John A. Roebling established his wire rope company in Trenton in 1849 and it produced steel wire and wire rope for landmark suspension bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge, designed by Roebling, and the George Washington and Golden Gate Bridges.
“The First Fifty Years: The Monmouth County Park System,” was published by the Friends of Monmouth County Parks in 2010 and is now available online:
The book chronicles the County’s preservation of 15,000 acres in 38 outstanding parks during the postwar era of rapid development, and it features photographs and descriptions of each park. Working with the Park System staff on this project was a pleasure, and as Andy Coeyman in the Land Preservation Office memorably told me, “A hundred years from now nobody will know who we were, but they’ll see what we did.”
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.
Purchase THE ROEBLING LEGACY
Subscribe to Journal via Email
- Monmouth County Park System publishes Discover History in the Parks Series
- Mercer Magic Review: “We give this book our highest level of recognition.”
- Groundbreaking set for ROEBLING LOFTS redevelopment in Trenton
- Mercer Magic at the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia on January 27
- Graceful lines and speed to spare…fastest car known anywhere