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Mill Towns

A Silk Purse

by Tammy Scully

For over two centuries a prolific iron industry wielded huge influence over the development of many Morris County communities. In particular, the forges, furnaces, and mines of Dover, Wharton and Boonton, all located along the banks of the Rockaway River, were intimately connected from the early 1700s through the heady times of the Morris Canal and the subsequent railroads. In 1868, a blast furnace reported to be the largest in the country, was developed in Wharton, then known as Port Oram. Some of the ore from the mines here was shipped to Boonton for processing. Completed in 1830, the Boonton Iron Works later expanded to include a blast furnace and became one of the largest manufacturers of cut nails in the country. Although Dover also had roots firmly planted in iron, it was an older settlement with a population of several thousand by the time Boonton and Port Oram became established and was more independent from the day-to-day working of the furnaces than either of the other communities.

Although some mines operated until the mid-1900s, New Jersey's iron era began a frightening decline around 1876. A crisis loomed in these communities whose churches, schools, banks, stores, homes and people had all arrived to answer the call of iron and its products. But these people ­ the ones that stayed around ­ knew how to work, and the Rockaway River still flowed. The towns found ways to diversify into other manufacturing enterprises as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth. Some of the more successful of these ventures gave Dover, Wharton, and Boonton something to shout about and in some cases, world-wide celebrity.


The still-impressive building that once housed Guenther’s silk mill once dominated Dover’s landscape.

About the time iron making was slowing down, silk production was gearing up. Paterson was home to several silk manufacturers, many of whom ultimately moved into Morris County. While Dover, Wharton and Boonton all began developing other industries, it was silk that provided the initial burst of activity, and silk that remained active well into the 1920s. Interestingly, while Port Oram and Boonton were closely tied through mining ventures, Dover and Port Oram ultimately became united through the silk industry with many plants moving from one town to the other over the years. The most prestigious of all of the silk mills was undoubtedly Guenther's Silk Mill in Dover.

Paul Guenther was a German immigrant who came to Dover in the 1890s and rented space from the Swiss Knitting Mill on Spruce Street, which had grown into a very large 2-story structure by 1896. The Singleton Silk Manufacturing Company was also in town by this time, along Granny's Brook on Park Heights Road, and the Ross and Baker silk company rented space from them. By 1885, Ross and Baker had moved into Wharton. Singleton followed, and Guenther moved into town.

In 1902 Guenther moved his company over to King Street. He built a 2-story structure that eventually grew into the massive manufacturing complex which even today covers two city blocks. Connecting the mill buildings is an elevated breezeway over King Street, completed in 1921 along with the fifth mill building. Driving under the bridge, the enormity of the complex becomes apparent. While Guenther built an empire, employing approximately 1,000 workers by 1925, he also built housing for his employees along King, Berry, and Searing streets, as well as churches and community centers. Many of his workers came from Guenther's native Germany, and the Germania Park section of Dover was formed with his encouragement.

Guenther's silk put Dover back on the map. He used only the best machinery, and employed only the most skilled workers. His products, sold through Lord and Taylor department stores, became world famous. The Onyx Pointex stockings developed here were the first affordable, fashionable silk stockings and became a sought after product. The reenforced heel was also debuted here, said to have done much to enhance the appearance of the wearer's legs. The Guenther silk mill became the largest hosiery manufacturer in the world.

By the time the business was sold in 1927 to the Gotham Silk Company, the silk industry, like the mining industry before it, was running out of steam and, by the end of the 1930s, the mill closed. In 1942, the McGregor manufacturing company moved in and began to make world-famous sportswear. During WWII, twill jackets for the armed forces were manufactured here. In 1944, at the return to civilian production, the company employed 700 people. Today, Guenther's famous silk mill still stands, utilized mostly as warehouse space, but filled with glorious memories.

Silk manufacturing came to Port Oram (Wharton) when Ross and Baker relocated there in 1884, providing employment for the women and children of the area. While the blast furnace remained important until 1911, the town had learned the wisdom of diversification. Port Oram became an important ancillary to Dover's silk industries and boasted the "best equipped dye house in NJ," according to old accounts. The site of all of the silk business stands at the foot of Washington Forge Pond, on Main Street.


The brick silk mill built by Ross and Baker around 1907 on the former site of the Washington Forge in Wharton.

The brick building was built by Ross and Baker around 1907 on the former site of the Washington Forge. Singleton Silk also occupied space here, from about 1907 - 1917, as did several other silk companies. The dam at the pond was enlarged to provide power for the mills. Several new buildings were built, and by 1914 several hundred people were employed in Wharton's silk industry. Records indicate that some of the other companies involved in the Wharton's silk industry included Lake and Langdon Silk Manufacturers, who also had a retail store in Dover, and the Wharton Textile Company, which made hosiery for men using Japanese and Belgium silk.

The silk industry here also died out by the 1930s, and L.E. Carpenter utilized the mill buildings to manufacture fabrics for the armed forces during WWII. Later, they made fabrics for use in car interiors, shoes, and handbags. Ultimately, they produced vinyl products for wall, floor, and furniture coverings, providing employment for several hundred area residents through the 1980s.


The four-story plant built by Pelgram and Meyer on Monroe and Lincoln Streets in Boonton employed 500 people until it shut in 1927.

In Boonton, more than anywhere else, hopes were pinned on bringing silk manufacturers from nearby Paterson to town. With the town's major employer closed, workers were fleeing town, and Boonton was in trouble. Any hope that the Boonton Ironworks would rise again was crushed when Joseph Wharton chose to invest in the Port Oram furnace after a brief attempt in Boonton. The town banded together and raised a "silk fund" to offset the cost of building a silk mill. Amidst much fanfare the mill was built in 1875. It quickly failed, and the building was vacant until Pelgram and Meyer, silk manufacturers from Paterson, took over in 1880, providing employment for over 100 residents. As the operation expanded, the firm built a four-story mill on Monroe and Lincoln Streets and leased addtional space on Main Street at the foot of Boonton Avenue in the Ball Building. The new mill structure was reported to employ an additional 500 people and continued to do so until it shut in 1927.

By 1885 several different companies had been established in the buildings of the old Ironworks, most of which made machinery parts or steel for industrial use, such as in skyscrapers and bridges. Numerous fires eventually demolished the old Ironworks buildings, and most of the companies left the area afterwards. The silk mill had ultimately served its purpose. It employed Boonton residents while the ironworks failed and kept the town alive.


1940s trade advertising for Boonton Molding Co. featured cartoon spokesperson Bonny Boonton as well as long-time employees like Nick Creatura, who made the first mold especially designed for Bakelite in 1908.

One other turn-of-the-century company kept Boonton on the map as a premier manufacturing center. It was the Loanda Hard Rubber Company. Founded in 1891 by Edwin A. Scribner, it became legendary not only for the products it manufactured, but for the subsequent industries it spawned, some of which still operate in the Boonton area today. Scribner who had been a chemist at the U.S. Electric Company in Newark, founded the rubber company to manufacture hard rubber goods for electrical insulation and other products. By 1909, Loanda was recycling rubber tires at the rate of 20,000 lbs. per month.

The Loanda Hard Rubber Company changed names and became the Boonton Hard Rubber Company in 1906. Richard William Seabury Sr. took the helm following Scribner's death in 1898. Seabury took interest in research chemist Leo H. Baekeland, who was working to formulate a hard plastic molding material from synthetic resin. Seabury provided Baekeland with laboratories at the rubber company, and the product perfected here became known as "Bakelite", first molded in 1907. Bakelite found use in a diverse array of products, and the company expanded to employ about 200 people by 1915.

In 1922, Seabury founded the Radio Frequency Laboratories in Boonton Township and concentrated on electronics and communications. Hiring engineers from Harvard and other respected schools, Seabury began what became a growing phenomena in Boonton Township: the development of world class radio and electronics firms. Some of the firms which grew from RFL include Aircraft Radio Corporation, Ballentine Laboratories, and Ferris Instruments. The rippling effects of Seabury's founding of RFL are still evident in Boonton Township, and some of the old airfields here now part of the township's recreational fields.

George Scribner, son of Loanda founder Edwin Scribner, opted to continue the business of plastics molding and established Boonton Molding. The company went on to produce the famous Boontonware dinnerware, molded plastic plates, bowls, and cups manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s. The company also operated a factory outlet store in Boonton for many years.

Silk manufacturers where not the only ones making headlines in the other towns, either. Dover especially displayed a great diversity of industry around the turn of the century, and many of those products were sold nationwide. Cooking ranges and furnaces came from the Richardson and Boynton Stoveworks, denim work clothes from the Brotherhood Overall Factory, and artificial ice and ice cream from the Hygeia Ice and Ice Cream Company.

We are constantly reminded of the unending procession of economic change in our world. But, from these challenges come opportunities, and it is comforting to remember the resilience of Boonton, Dover, and Wharton one hundred years ago.


Thanks to Mr. Richard W. Seabury III, a resident of the Towaco section of Montville for sharing of his family's business and personal accounts. Thanks also to the Historical Societies of Dover, Wharton and Boonton.

Spring, 2005

Comments

sheila smith
11 Dec 2013, 10:05
I am looking for the Walls-Wall families who lived in Dover, Haledon and Passaic since 1880's and worked in the silk mills..Francis P Walls, Joseph Walls, etc....
Barbara Tear
09 Dec 2013, 02:39
I am looking for information about my great grandfather, Samuel Kline. He was a foreman at the Stohns Silk Mill, Summit Ave. in Jersey City, New Jersey. He wrote the book "Silk Processes" in 1918.Thanks in advance.
ida Piacente
20 Feb 2013, 07:00
I have silk picture from the Betsy Ross House collection titled "Betsy Ross Making the First United States Flag" produced by Anderson Bothers of Paterson New Jersey. And would like to know its value.
Icy (Briggs)
31 Jan 2013, 16:50
Hi I am related to the Anderson Bros. My Grandfather Eugene Briggs and his Sister Marie Briggs (their Mother was an anderson) are from Paterson. I saw the name Briggs here and Anderson. Perhaps we are related! (we also have quite a few Betsy Ross silks and worlds fair silks)
Bruce Mikula
04 Aug 2012, 16:51
There was also a company called Boonton Full Fashion Hosiery Mills. I'm still looking for more information but I know it was in production the first art of the 20TH Century and probably the end of the 19th Century.
joanne ljungberg
28 Jul 2012, 07:09
I would like to know something about the history of the Apex Oriental silk mill in Totowa, NJ in the 1920's. My grandfather (George Whitla) worked there and I want to know what happened with this mill
Elizabeth
06 Mar 2012, 14:18
Hello- the Anderson Brothers Silk Co. was owned by my 3x great-grandfather, John Anderson, and his brothers James and Gerald. I would very much like to correspond with anyone who has any information on this company or the Anderson Family of Paterson, NJ.
Catherine D Siemon
05 Feb 2012, 10:57
There were several silk mills in Phillipsburg New Jersey. I live near one that is on Stockton Street. Which one are you interested in?
susan ford
12 Dec 2011, 14:34
APparently, my grandfather, Emil Baumann, came over from Switzerland when he was 17 and went to work in a silk mill in New Jersey with his 2 brothers, Fred and Harry. That would have been in the early 1900's. My father does not knwo the name of the mill or the city and I would love any information anyone has. Are there any documents showing workers names available?
john wright
17 Nov 2011, 09:02
my great grandfather was john briggs, born 1845,and had a conection with briggs silk mills in paterson nj.can anyone give me information about the silk connection. thank you,Vic
sharon foster
19 Oct 2011, 12:52
i have 2 woven silk pictures.they are from the silk mill on Burnes st.,Paterson N.J. one is a girl sleeping on a saint bernard/playmates.the second is off a baby crawling toward a dog/reading Can't you talk.would like to know more about them and what they could be worth in very good condition...by the way they are from 1900.
Barbara Diello Duska
01 Oct 2011, 15:53
I am looking for information regarding my grandfather, Thomas Diello's, restaurant, meat market and boarding house on Ellison Street, in Paterson, N.J. It is know that he fed the workers of the silk mills. They were a family of 12 children.\r\nThank you.\r\n\r\nBarbara
Irene Toback
23 Sep 2011, 12:06
I have a very old picture of my mother and Aunt Sue and all the other employees standing in front of a large brick building with the name MARILLYN SILK MILLS INC. on the buidling. I can't find anything on the Internet or Google about this factory. I believe it is either in Phillipsburg or Alpha N.J.\r\nThank you,\r\nI.Toback
Dalal
12 Aug 2011, 15:40
I am interested in knowing any information about my grandfather's ownership in a silk mill in Paterson,N.J. His name was Sam Hatah (Salim Hatab). He arrived in USA 1915 and left in 1932 to go back to Syria.
alberta fisher
09 Aug 2011, 10:20
looking for the familes of Poissonnier from \r\n\r\nfrance(Lyon) who still had silk mills in an around the 1950's
BP
16 May 2011, 11:49
Hello, \r\n\r\nI am looking for information on the Universal Throwing Company of Patterson, NJ. I believe it was my great-great-grandfather (H. C. Nightingale's) company. I have all of the capital stock certificates for the UTC, but have been unable to locate any information on the company. It is just all so fascinating to me, any help, advice, or incite would be much appreciated. \r\n\r\nBrian
P Ferriola
14 Apr 2011, 10:07
I am looking for any information on Staples Silk Mill, Straight St. Paterson, NJ. Owner was John VanBlarcom.
Ira Mency
20 Feb 2011, 12:25
Hello, I am so glad you have this history, I've been on a journey tracking down old melmac information and visited Boonton several years ago. I put a link in my blog post to this article and I hope others will read it too. \r\nBlog post:\r\nhttp://retrochalet.blogspot.com/2011/02/welcome-to-boonton-new-jer sey-melmac.html\r\n\r\nThanks again\r\nCindy
Peggy Turpan
22 Nov 2010, 18:50
I have another Betsy Ross making the first American flag embroidery. It was part of my husband's grandmother's belongings. Did anyone find anything about this.
N. Saluki
22 Oct 2010, 11:06
My mom had an Anderson Brothers Betsy Ross silk sample for many years, she said it came from a school trip from Bloomfield to Paterson NJ in the 1930's. It is currently for sale on ebay.
richard thompson
20 Sep 2010, 15:23
ANY INFORMATION ON FRANK OLIVER OR HIS BROTHERS WHO HAD A SMALL MILL ON THE PASSAIC RIVER IN PATERSON NJ.AROUND 1950.
peter g. saunders
16 Sep 2010, 17:25
My Great-Grandfather David Saunders worked in the silk mill in Paterson, NJ at the turn of the century. My Grandparents Elmer F. Saunders & Maryann Jackson meet and married there & had my dad Harold f. Saunders in 1914, they left for Calif. in early 20's.
guirguis
26 Jul 2010, 18:42
Job Search
Harry Bruce
04 May 2010, 09:49
Looking for information on a silk picture of Betsy Ross sewing the American Flag. It is titled A Birth of our nation flag. Anderson Bros. Paterson NJ. It was my Great Grandfather's.\r\nThank you,\r\n\r\nHarry Bruce
Suzanne Hogan
19 Mar 2010, 07:54
I'm looking for information on the silk factory/'company town' in Phillipsburg. My great-grandfather came from Italy around 1903, knowing he had a job waiting for him there. He went back to Italy and returned to Phillipsburg around 1910 with a wife, who also worked at the factory.\r\n\r\nTheir eldest daughter, my Grandmother, learned to be an excellent seamstress, but never worked for the company. She took care of her siblings and did sewing work from her home.
Dan McNally
21 Feb 2010, 09:13
I worked at the handbag factory around 1973, as a Boonton HS student. $2/hr. I also worked at RFL labs. Years later, I painted every window in that building! By then the Kanter Brothers owned it.
Isabel Drainey Horan
28 Oct 2009, 16:40
Hi, i am from N Ireland I compiling a family tree, in that research i have discovered that a great aunt of mine worked in a silk factory, she left Ireland to join an aunt in Paterson,could anyone tell me if it is possible to get access to records held by such factories?\r\n\r\nregards Isabel Horan
K.Ross
26 Jun 2009, 20:14
I too have a Betsy Ross making the flag embroidery, and would like to know how old it is.
Bob Emerick
30 Apr 2009, 09:24
As an old "Boonton Boy," I remember the silk mill BUT it was a Pocketbook Factory, where we worked as school kids. The Smiths and patasnik's owned the place then. Most of us went to Boonton High then. It was a hot place to work in but when you are a kid who wants to work for the summer-oh well.\r\n\r\nMr. Creatura was a friend of my late Father, nd one of his sone (Len I believe, went to BHS with my brother. I live in VT but am still a Boonton Boy at heart
PATTY MONSON
01 Apr 2009, 13:34
I have a picture of Betsy Ross making the first United States flag woven in Pure Silk with the Anderson Bros. Patersen NJ name on the picture in the original frame. This belonged to my great Aunt and upon her death found it in her attic. Could you please tell me something about it as I have read different stories about the first flag. This picture was at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Loiuis 1904.
margie dickens
24 Mar 2009, 12:08
I am also searching for info about a small silk of betsy ross making 1st u.s. flag.it is in mint condition it is in orig frame in corner states Anderson BROS.PATERSON NJ any info would be great.we got it from our grand mothers attic who lived aprox 1hr north of patterson.
BETTY SADLER
24 Jan 2009, 20:25
i HAVE A SMALL SILK OF BETSY ROSS MAKING THE FIRST UNITED STATES FLAG, WITH 13 STARS ON FLAG.THE SIZE IS 8-1/4 X 5-1/4 INCHES. tHE MILL NAME IS ANDERSON BROS. PATERSON, NJ. i WANT TO SELL THIS WONDERFUL PIC OF HISTORY,WOULD YOU KNOW OF ANY ONE INTERSTED? \r\n\r\nMY NAME IS BETTY SADLER, I LIVE IN CA MY PH# IS (661)366-5620
Ed Robinson
21 Dec 2008, 18:46
Nanci Waldmann wanted information on Anderson Brothers Silk Mill. My wife is a descendant of Anderson Brothers and I do have some genealogical information.\r\n\r\nEd Robinson
Norman Williams
20 Nov 2008, 14:36
I am a holder of New Jersey silk shares 1923. I am looking for informationnon shares and if any one else holds these shares
Nanci Waldmann
12 Nov 2008, 08:11
I am searching for any info about the Anderson Bros who owned a silk mill in Clifton, N.J. They are my ancestors and I am interested in finding any info available-even just their names Thanks, N. Waldmann
Simon Lewis
13 Sep 2008, 07:53
Looking for any information about a Crystal Silk Co., on Hamilton Ave. and a Wm.Hertz from London, ca.1920s.\r\nPossibly also later on Iowa Ave., Paterson.
mike blamey
11 Aug 2008, 11:49
Greetings,\r\nI am a Research Fellow, attached to the Silk Museum/Heritage centre here in Macclesfield, UK. I am visiting the N East USA (NJ, PA, etc) in October. I am very keen to meet with researchers, museums, archives, and whatever which could help our understanding of the links between 'silk' in Macclesfield, and its 'emigration' to the USA in 1850s. Any suggested places to visit, much appreciated.\r\nBest wishes\r\nMike Blamey
Valerie Moore
31 May 2008, 08:50
Looking for info on my great great grandfather Ralph Jacob Baer he owned Paramount Throwing Co, Bluebird Ribbon Mill Paterson, NJ. Was prominent person in Paterson and Carlisile Ribbon Mills Caarlisle, PA. Working on Family Tree.
Frank Buscaino, Jr.
06 May 2008, 14:47
Very interesting reading as my father put many years in the Dover Plant working for McGreegor Sportswear.
Mari Willey
28 Mar 2008, 07:40
I am looking for information on Mr. Ross. A Mr. Ross lived in our house from early 1900's till his death in the 1950's. I believe he may be the same Mr. Ross who had a silk mill in Boonton. Any info. would be appreciated. We reside in the Park Section of Boonton.
Linda
26 Mar 2008, 08:36
Looiing for information to help me to become an interesting tour guide talking about the silk industry and what it was like for girls to work there. Will be doing this at Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton, Pa. Want to make it fun for school age children young and old.
roy miller
03 Mar 2008, 04:46
i am looking for information on a dairy or possible creamery that existed at the corner of passaic st and e mcfarland
George Buie
04 Feb 2008, 08:56
I am searching for information about John Oakman, owner of Hope Mills, in Paterson, NJ about 1855-1876 (he died in 1876). Sons were Thomas Campbell Oakman, and Walter George Oakman.\r\n\r\nThank you,\r\n\r\nGBuie

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