Corrections or additions?

This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the August 15, 2001

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of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New Jersey: Land of Invention

Once, while Manhattanites still huddled behind their

Wall Street forts squabbling over Dutch/English/Indian commerce, New

Jerseyans were spreading out across the land making, building,

industrializing.

Lumber, sand, clays, the Passaic’s rushing waters, rich arable

topsoils

— even those strange lumps of bog iron that tinged our southern

streams the hue of strong tea — everything was put to use for

New Jersey’s burgeoning industries. It’s a proud story which, when

experienced at the Museum of the New Jersey Historical Society in

Newark, will again give you a good feeling about our Garden State.

Were it not for some stiff competition from the city across the river,

Newark’s cultural facilities would mark it as a true East Coast arts

mecca. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) draws the best

of international talents. The Newark Museum boasts American art

treasures

as well as the richest Tibetan collections this side of Lhasa. Add

to that the city’s historic architecture (well worth the walking tour)

and the Newark Library, rightly regarded statewide as tops in

reference

resources.

Yet tucked away at 52 South Park Place, beside the bland Robert Treat

Hotel, stands the delightfully Victorian and too-frequently bypassed

Museum of the New Jersey Historical Society. Located just around the

corner from NJPAC, the museum is currently devoting its third floor

to a marvelous piece of clever curatorial ingenuity entitled

"Resource-Full

New Jersey," on view through 2002.

At first glance, the exhibit seemed small and, I thought, probably

typical. But it immediately lured me in with huge photo of tough,

but weary 19th-century miners. Beaming young nine-year-old lads, the

tool carriers, stood beside the earnest mining students and laborers

before mouths of immense shafts. If you were a European or American

mining engineer in 1880, wanting to learn the latest techniques for

handling the newest steamdrills, you would have competed frantically

for a study-apprenticeship at the Dickerson iron mine in Dover.

Calvin Green’s diary depicting his life as an independent farmer in

Morris County from 1765 to 1847, hangs innocently from a cord at the

farming exhibit hiding a wealth of fascination. "Got my feet wet

in snow, like a fool. Had pleurisy for six weeks; Spring, 1780. The

British came from New York and did much damage; Spring, 1792. I

changed

work with my neighbors, I ploughed for them, they did my hoeing. This

is the way I farmed for many years."

Maryland and Virginia had tobacco, but New Jersey farms made ambitious

industry of everything else. Every store-bought blueberry you have

ever eaten can trace its illustrious ancestry to a South Jersey farm.

Here also, the tiny cranberry grew from a side crop into a mechanized

national trade.

Soon my pace slowed from a browse, to a thoughtful study. The

cross-disciplines

of science, society, history, all become clear in this exhaustive

exhibit. Copies of actual account ledgers from the 1763 Ringwood iron

forges show how the colonial trade had boomed already for over a

century.

Samples of "pigs" — iron ingots — are displayed as

a revolutionary bone of contention. Colonial law demanded that no

raw iron could be worked here, but must be shipped to Mother England

whose forges would turn it into finished tools and sell it back to

a captive market of New Jerseyans. A George Washington casting shows

America’s defiance.

Limonite from South Jersey bogs, magnetite and hematite from the

Ramapo

hills, continued to make New Jersey rich for all of America’s first

century. In 1839, the Russian immigrant Obadiah and his son Seth

Boyden

invented the new malleable iron process in their New Jersey works.

It made the infant railroads possible, providing straight axles for

the first New Jersey Railroad cars. Seven years later, the Trenton

Iron Company’s Roger Stevens designed the first T-shaped rail. It

was Boyden’s discovery which later allowed John Roebling to invent

and produce steel cable for such industrial wonders as the Brooklyn

Bridge.

Yet mine owner Frederick Canfield took a more capitalistic view of

this endless innovation, commenting, "It makes no difference

whether

(the new iron making process) succeeds or not as to the sale of ore.

The demand in l854 is almost unlimited and increasing yearly."

So there.

A Cradle of Invention

As I progressed through "Resource-Full New

Jersey,"

new sections — and new segments of Garden State industry —

followed close and tightly packed. I became dazzled by how much our

state invented and produced, and how little I knew.

Clever contrivances struck the eye from J. Mercette’s 1876 reusable

egg crate, to samples of John Roebling’s flexible steel cable, to

an impressive array of practical, artistically shaped whiskey flasks

and soda bottles made by South Jersey’s huge sand-to-glass processing

plants. How did that machine of Charles Everet remove foul air from

railroad vegetable cars? Why did Alfred Vail’s invention come to be

labeled "Morse Code"?

Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison each come in for a nod, but

no more than one of many. Frankly, I found their ingenuity eclipsed

by Thomas Maddock’s valuable invention of the indoor toilet, which,

along with sinks and tubs were produced in his Hamilton Township

factory

as plumbing moved in from the outhouse. The tough terra cotta fire

bricks which lined the upper reaches of the then-world’s tallest F.W.

Woolworth building, and Walter Scott Lenox’s delicate, highly glazed

ceramics all enliven the exhibit of how Trenton’s early pottery shops

expanded to feed world markets.

The sons and daughters of the Garden State proved themselves inspired

rather than complacent by the wealth of nature’s bounty. More, faster,

and more inventive came the passwords. "Down in South Jersey,

they make glass by day and night. The fires burn on in Millville and

bid the sand let in the light," penned young Princeton student

Carl Sandburg in l904. An excellent video explains how the Lenape

Indian shell mounds were blended with New Jersey’s pure "sugar

sand" to create glass and demonstrates the glass-blowing process

practiced today.

But if you attend "Resource-Full New Jersey" in search of

a sweeping endorsement of mindless manufacture, beware. This is no

simple industrial lovefest. Benefits are carefully — sometimes

frighteningly — weighed against both the social and environmental

costs they exacted. Small wooden boxes stand prominently before each

exhibit, curiously marked "What Price Prosperity?" Lift the

lid and you’ll learn that the process of mining clay on Burts Creek

totally polluted the Raritan River. Another "price tag"

explains

exactly how the yellow pottery glazes, laden with uranium and cadmium,

poisoned workers, miners, and the local towns.

Sometimes the price was human rights. Leering over all

the fine delicate silk weavings which emanated from the mills along

the Passaic’s Great Falls, is a photograph of a weary, rather shabby

woman. She leads a line of strikers with the sign "Does the Boss’s

wife have only one hat? Hell NO!" Due to a deliberate system of

starvation wages, these workers, who kept over two thirds of

19th-century

America in silk and other fine cloth, could barely clothe or feed

themselves. And equally sad, for me, was the lovely early landscape

painting of the Passaic River’s magnificent Great Falls as the waters

raged through the forest, before its uglification and pollution by

the textile industry.

This truly exhaustive "Resource-Full New Jersey" exhibit

entices

everyone from the young and easily bored glancer to an old plodder,

like myself. Apparently children have become so enthused that they

have added their own display as a tribute to Dr. Sylvia Earle, New

Jersey’s native inventor of the Deep Rover Submersible, an undersea

explorer. There is so much to feel, touch; so many primary ledgers,

documents and diaries to read, I had not succeeded in exploring it

all during my first two-hour visit.

Add Baseball, Diners, and Genealogy

While the "Resource-Full New Jersey" more than

rewards your trek up the turnpike to Newark, the museum’s two other

floors of exhibits add equally fascinating views of our history.

Descending to the second floor, the elevator ushers you amongst subtle

but very definite sounds of eating. Soft requests for butter, clinking

of pots and silverware, the unmistakable pouring of delicious coffee

all quietly accompany your tour through "Dining In, Dining

Out."

Enter into the exhibit kitchen and pull out a drawer describing

elements

of an Arabic festive meal. Other drawers unfold the foods of German,

Vietnamese, Turkish, Greek families. Move down to the lavish Victorian

table and return to the days when eating was a ritual of unforgiving

propriety. Try your hand at setting the nine-piece silver setting.

Do you really know your pickle from your fish fork — and where

each goes?

Finally, settle down comfortably in a true Garden State landmark:

a reconstructed Jersey Diner, complete with swivel stools, jukebox

and an enchanting written history. Pick out your hometown diner from

among the hundreds dotting the large map.

As baseball returns to Newark with the initiation of its own minor

league, the New Jersey Historical Society also recalls the game’s

grand home teams that smacked the old horsehide out of the park seven

decades ago. Panoramic photos of Newark’s old park, mitts, signed

balls and of course all the stars’ pictures can be examined while

listening to the background recordings of hyperbolizing sportscasters.

Depression era white teams, along with famed black Newark Eagles,

each drew their own huge and ferocious followings that rivaled the

majors.

One of the few failings I felt in the New Jersey

Historical

Society Museum was the lack of knowledgeable reception. The side wall

pamphlets seem to offer a lot more than the volunteers manning the

front desk. And while staff may neglect to inform you about the top

floor library, don’t dare miss it.

Amid this furtive wealth of archival information, here the

professional

staff stands skilled and willing. They guided me through a host of

rare and valuable old ledgers, primary and secondary historic sources.

Intrigued by the title, I pulled out "Book of the Dead of

Monmouth,"

wherein I learned of a 17th-century ancestor resting peacefully in

the old Rumson Burying Ground.

This extremely well organized 25,000-volume archive throws a

nostalgic,

but sharp light on your home village of yore, or provides invaluable

aid to genealogy hounds. "Colonial Conveyances of East and West

Jersey, 1664-1794," told me how Joseph Skelton set up a small

land empire surrounding West Windsor’s Devil’s Brook and central

Princeton,

by buying all the holdings of Obadiah Davidson and his brothers.

A 1788 sample of The New Jersey Gazette, Mercer County’s first

newspaper,

carries its Quaker publisher’s staunch fulminations against the Tory

government, in favor of the new Republic.

No matter which floor you visit, 52 Park Place, Newark, houses an

exhaustive fount of lore well worthy of exploration. Scores of cozy

displays make it the kind of place ideal for poking into for hours

of fascination. While classes of school children often take advantage

of the tours and programs, the museum is seldom crowded or

uncomfortably

noisy on weekends. And best of all, each of its rotating exhibits

are handled with by laudably creative curators whose off-beat, even

bizarre displays draw you in, affording layers of information from

light browse to deep study. Take your family, take your date, and

plan to return more than once.

— Bart Jackson

Resource-Full New Jersey , The New Jersey Historical

Society Museum, 52 Park Place, Newark, 973-596-8500. Open Tuesday

through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The top-floor library opens

at noon. Free.

Getting There: The New Jersey Historical Society can be

reached via either the New Jersey Turnpike exit for Newark or by

taking

Route 280 East to Broad Street. Parking in Newark is tight.

Your best bet is to drive in from the New Jersey Turnpike onto Broad

Street. Go past NJPAC, the Robert Treat Hotel, and the Newark Museum,

and continue the few blocks up Broad towards Market Street. Side

streets

here boast a host of mini-lots, all cheaper and no more distant than

those back by the Arts Center.

The best public transportation is to take New Jersey

Transit

to Newark Penn Station. From here walk up from Raymond Boulevard and

turn right down Park Place.


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