Iron and the early Andovers
What's In A Name?
Story and photos by Bob Koppenhaver
Iron ore is abundant in northern New Jersey, and iron interests have been active since the area's earliest history. Making iron involves extracting ore from the earth, producing either wrought or pig iron in a furnace, further removing impurities if necessary in a forge or furnace, and finally turning the iron into a product at a forge, furnace, or factory. Facilities for each of these steps have existed at one time or other in and around the Andover area in Sussex County.
As far back as the early 1700s the name Andover was used by the Penns, owners of a large tract here granted to them by the Proprietors, to refer to the whole general area. Over the years, various sites have borne the Andover name, including local iron mines, forges, furnaces, factories and settlements with a connection with these early iron interests.
Rendering of the workings at Andover from the Annual Report of NJ State Geologist, 1855.
"Old Andover" was the pre-Revolutionary War site later known as Waterloo village, about 5 miles south of our present-day town of Andover. Around 1763 the Loyalist iron company of Allen & Turner erected at Old Andover an iron furnace, forge, and refinery. Andover received its name from the birthplace of Mr. Turner, which was Andover County, Hampshire, England. The company mined its iron ore along a ridge a couple of miles north of where the town of Andover now lies. There they also built a furnace, grist-mill, blacksmith-shop, barn, dwellings, and a mansion for the superintendent of the iron works. The pig iron produced there was then sent to the Old Andover forge and refinery at Waterloo to be made into bars that were then transported on mules to the Delaware River for shipment or use elsewhere. The earliest non-aboriginal inhabitants of the present township of Andover were the iron-workers and miners brought here by Allen & Turner, probably a combination of slaves and indentured immigrants.
Drawing from the most extensive deposit of hematite ore in New Jersey, the iron was manufactured chiefly for England until the second year of the Revolutionary War. At that time the mine and furnace were taken in possession by the Continental Congress and were worked for five years, making cannon balls and steel for the American Army. It is said that at the Andover Forge, the huge chain was forged which kept the British from coming up the Hudson River during the Revolution.
The Andover mine should not be confused with the Andover tunnel which is a major part of the mines at Hibernia in Morris County. The workings share the name because both were owned by the Andover Iron Company of Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Having been worked since before the Revolutionary War, the Andover mine is probably the original in this group. Andover's ore was of an excellent quality, good enough to be turned into steel.
Iron industry drastically changed the landscape throughout Northwest New Jersey. Most people assume that the land was cleared by farmers, but it was iron companies that did much of the original clearing for wood to be converted into charcoal fuel for blast furnaces. For the fuel demands of an active furnace, as much as an acre of wood a day was cut and used for charcoal production. Farmers later took advantage and established fields in which to grow their crops on the pre-cleared land.
Until coal began to be used for fuel, charcoal-fired iron furnaces were scattered throughout the area to extract iron from locally mined iron ore. Iron prices varied greatly, and reaping a profit from northern New Jersey's mineral wealth depended greatly on prevailing prices for processing- especially furnace and forge fuel, and transportation. As the timber fuel supply from the surrounding hills approached exhaustion, local charcoal furnaces could not be efficiently operated, and demand for iron ore was minimal. By the end of the Revolution, production at Andover ceased and the mine lay abandoned.
In 1848, Cooper & Hewitt, closely associated with both the Trenton Iron and the Andover Iron Companies, reopened the mine. The new proprietors laid rails on the road between the mine at Andover and Waterloo, where the mule railway met the Morris Canal. From there, ore was shipped westward for further processing. Shortly afterward, the same men acquired a charter empowering them to construct a more efficient railway, the Sussex Mine Railroad. Along with their own ore, they shipped that of other local mines.
During the Civil War, Andover's high quality iron was made into steel for military firearms. More peaceable uses of Andover ore included iron for early reliable railroad rails, some of the first structural steel, and cable wire for a bridge at Niagara Falls. Railroad rails made from Andover iron were used as I-beams when Nassau Hall was rebuilt at Princeton University in the mid 1800s.
It is not difficult to track down the Andover mine's location. But beware that the property is private and that trespassing is prohibited.
Surface features of the Andover Mine include a deep 300-yard-long cut with some openings at the northern end and some small pits. Underground workings began at the openings in the cut and progressed a couple of hundred feet underground into the knoll. Compared to other iron mines in northwestern New Jersey, the Andover Mine was not very deep, only a short portion being underground. Most of its ore was mined out of the large surface cut. Including the amount taken out of the cut and the adjacent underground workings, this ore deposit was nearly a quarter-mile long. Its ore supply was probably exhausted during the mid 1800s.
A couple of hundred yards north, the Sulphur Hill mine was opened in the mid 1800s, and worked sporadically for a few decades. Ore was taken out of a deep pit via a small mine track that ran from the bottom through a 175-foot-long tunnel to a loading dock outside the mine. The mine probably ceased operations due to the large amount of its undesirable sulphur content. Together, the workings at Andover and Sulphur Hill Mines yielded as much as 400,000 tons of magnetite and hematite. Two smaller workings, the Tar Hill and Longcore Mines, are located a short distance north of Sulphur Hill. Opened prior to the mid 1800s, these two mines were worked until about 1873 and probably produced only small tonnages of iron ore.
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