A SHORT HISTORY OF ROXBURY TOWNSHIP, MORRIS COUNTY, NEW JERSEY
|by M. Balston,
©2005, 2021 RoxburyNewJersey.com. Please do not reproduce or use on another website without permission.
This page is an overview of Roxbury Township history, with an emphasis on the communities of Succasunna, Ledgewood, Kenvil & Lower Berkshire Valley. See our sister website, www.LandingNewJersey.com for several pages that focus on Landing NJ History or Port Morris NJ History.
THE COLONIAL PERIOD
1600's - - Much of the common knowledge of these early years comes from the Morris County History books by Honeyman (1927), by Munsell (1882) and articles by Dr. Wolfe (see below) several years later in which he, with sharp wit, corrected Munsell ! However, they agree on the basic timeline:
There were several villages of Lenni Lenape (Delaware) Indians located on Suckasunny Plains. "One a furlong (1/8 mile) northeast from our present school house (Gray Building), another near the great spring on the grounds of the Hercules Powder Company, a third on the east side of the present Black River pond and others farther south along the Black River." The Nariticong clan of the Delaware Indian Nation lived on the east shore of Lake Hopatcong, with a large village on Halsey Island, which was at that time connected to the mainland. Arrowheads and other items were found on Halsey. Other clans in the area were the Munsee, Minisink and Unami. Dutch trappers start to have contact with the Nariticongs and with other Lenape Indian clans. In 1633 the Dutch established trading outposts in what became northern New Jersey.
1664 - -New Jersey becomes an English colony. Groups of Puritans settle Newark in 1666 and move inland.
1700's -- In the early 1700's, under pressure, Native Americans began to sell off their land and leave the area, some moving as a group to Ontario. In 1708 they sold a large piece of land that included Roxbury Township. The deed for this transaction was written on an 18" x 28" piece of parchment and is still quite legible. It is stored at the New Jersey Historical Society Museum in Newark.
||1710's -- Around this date the first group of white settlers established homes in the area that became Roxbury. They belonged to an evangelical Christian group known as Rogerenes (or Rogerines), named after their founder, John Rogers of Connecticut (1648-1721). Some date their arrival here as early as 1702, others as late as 1736. Their theology was similar to the Seventh Day Baptists and their practices much like the old Quakers. The center of the settlement of the initial 20 families was Mountain Pond, it's name changed around 1912 to Lake Rogerene (or Lake Rogerine), long after the group had left. Their modest farms extended to what is today the Shore Hills section of Landing at the southern end of Lake Hopatcong. By 1800 most had left the area, some joining another Rogerene group in South Jersey, others heading for Ohio or Virginia, while some others stayed in the area, blending in with the general population.|
1715 -- Around this time the Roxbury area was first surveyed by John Reading, who also
had a keen eye for the business possibilities of the area. Iron Ore lay close
to the surface in various area of the Township, and before long an Iron Ore Mine
and small forge was in operation. Wolfe relates that the name
"Suckasunny" was originally applied by the Indians to the hill that
forms a natural boundary on the eastern edge of Roxbury. The name was first
recorded by Reading and is made up of the Lenni Lenape words for Black:
"suka", and the word for Stone: "assun", hence the Black
Stone of the abundant Iron Ore.
1730's --The valley of Suckasunny Plains grows in population as settlers come north following the Black River. They were originally from Connecticut, had come by boat to New Brunswick, and then over the lowlands to the fertile fields of Suckasunny.
1740 -- On December 24, 1740 Roxbury was incorporated as the fourth township in Morris County. Within its boundaries at that time were the areas that later would become Chester Borough, Chester Township, Mt. Arlington, Mt. Olive Township, Netcong Borough and Washington Township, in addition to parts of Hopatcong Borough and Stanhope. As a result of several of these communities pulling away and becoming independent over the years , Roxbury Township is now comprised of Succasunna (formerly Suckasunny, name changed officially in 1888, the newer spelling used by some earlier), Ledgewood (formerly Drakesville, name changed 1891), Kenvil (formerly McCainesville), Port Morris, Landing and Lower Berkshire Valley. Roxbury Township is just under 22 square miles in size.
1745 -- Presbyterians first started meeting in homes in Succasunna about this time. In 1756 the Succasunna Presbyterian Church was organized by the New York Presbytery, with the first building constructed on the current site around 1760.
1750's -- Lake Hopatcong was called Great Pond. Around 1750 an iron forge is built by New York City businessman Garret Rapalje near the southern end of the Lake at the point where it flows into the Musconetcong River. Called the Brookland Forge, it was located on what is now the Hopatcong State Park and it operated for over 30 years. A dam built for the forge raised the Lake level by 6 feet, submerging areas of shoreline and cutting off Halsey Island and Raccoon Island from the mainland. The Lake became known as Brookland Pond.
1758 - - The "Treaty of Easton" in October marks the pullout of the Delaware Indian Nation from the French & Indian War. The previously peaceful Delaware had joined the French against the Colonial/British settlers in New Jersey and had massacred members of almost a dozen families who had settled in Sussex County, causing alarm in Roxbury. The Treaty completes the sale of Lenape Delaware land to European settlers and called for remaining Tribe members in New Jersey & eastern Pennsylvania to move to the Ohio Valley or join other Native Americans in Ontario.
1776 thru 1783 -- Roxbury Township and the surrounding area become an important hub for producing Iron Ore and cannonballs to supply General George Washington and the Continental Army. During the Revolutionary War, the Succasunna Presbyterian Church served as barracks and a hospital for the Continentals. A tradition relates how George Washington visited his wounded soldiers there. A number of wood and stone homes were built in Drakesville (Ledgewood) and Succasunny during this time.
THE CANAL & RAILROAD COME TO TOWN
1799 -- The newly incorporated Chester Township takes 30 square miles and separates from Roxbury Township.
1804 -- The Essex - Morris - Sussex Turnpike is completed, running through Roxbury Township, a reliable Wagon Toll Road that sped up the movement of people and goods from the cities of the northeast to the wilds of northwest New Jersey. Specifically, the road went from Elizabeth, through Chatham, passed through Madison in almost a straight line, skirted Washington's headquarters in Morristown; ran along Sussex Avenue through Randolph and into Roxbury, and continued through Succasunny Plains, Drakesville (Ledgewood) and Stanhope to Newtown.
1809 -- The first school in Roxbury of which we have firm evidence came into being. The 'Roxbury Academy' was a private boarding school on Main Street, Succasunny, that not only accommodated local students, but also lodged young scholars from neighboring towns and states due to it's excellent reputation and location away from the "corrupting" influence and vices of larger towns.
1822 - -While fishing at Lake Hopatcong, George P. Macculloch (whose house in Morristown still stands) dreamed up the idea of what was to become the Morris Canal. The canal was chartered in 1824 and would be an inexpensive way of moving large quantities of coal, timber, iron ore and other goods across New Jersey. It was designed by Professor James Renwick of Columbia College, the first American canal to climb hills. The Morris Canal would run for 103 miles joining the Delaware River at Phillipsburg with the Hudson River, a mule-drawn barge trip that took about 5 days. The Morris Canal would dramatically increase the development of Roxbury Township.
1826 - A building lot along the Morris Canal in Drakesville (later renamed Ledgewood) was purchased and a General Goods store was built by Woodruff and Crane, it still stands today on Main Street as the King Store.
1827 -- The canal company, having acquired the property, builds a new dam on the Lake to use the large body of water as a canal reservoir. A lock is built that raised boats to the level of the Lake. A bypass valve controlled the water flowing into a feeder canal that connected the Lake to the main canal. Lake Hopatcong was the Morris Canal's largest reservoir. The Lake was entered through a feeder of the Morris Canal. It then went to the lock at Brooklyn (a little settlement which gave the Lake the name of Brooklyn Pond.) Hopatcong State Park contains Morris Canal remains. In this park, to the left of the beach, is a huge iron waterwheel on display, from Plane No. 3, which operated chains, later wire cables, pulling up the boats. At the gate control house, the visitor can see the locks under water at the edge of the Lake. Also here are the gatekeeper's and paymaster's house (built about 1826, still standing). West of the pumping station and the turbine, the broad open space was the basin of the old canal, which from here went to Lake Musconetcong. There were 23 separate inclined planes along the Morris Canal. Set in giant cradles, boats were hauled up rail tracks by chains to water levels as high as 100 feet. As different sections of the canal were completed, they were opened up for local use. On November 4, 1831, the first complete trip from Newark to Phillipsburg was completed. The canal was 90 miles long; and, the trip from Newark to Phillipsburg took about five days. The first full boating season was 1832. When it was completed to Newark in 1831, the actual cost was $2,104,413. In 1836 the eleven mile extension to Jersey City was added. In Roxbury, there were 3 inclined planes for the Morris Canal east of Lake Hopatcong; two in Ledgewood and one in Shippensport. There was also the Port Morris inclined plane west of the Lake. An 1827 planning map for the Canal shows 2 sawmills in 'Drakesville', now called Ledgewood.
1830's -- A small community known as Brookland develops around the canal lock in what is now Hopatcong State Park. Another dam raises the Lake water level 6 more feet and the Lake becomes known as Lake Hopatcong and over time the name Brookland changed to Brooklyn after NYC's Brooklyn.
1834 -- A one-room log schoolhouse was constructed in Lower Berkshire Valley, it was replaced in 1871 by a frame building in the same location. Also in 1834, Charles Shipman, a partner in the Morris Canal Company, builds a sawmill near the top of Canal Inclined Plane Number 1 East, in the area now known as Shippenport. The Mill was powered by the 'bypass' water from the Plane.
1844 -- At Shippenport a small Iron Forge was built by John Slade, to run by the 'bypass' water of the Morris Canal in summer after it powered the sawmill, and by a small natural stream at other seasons. This forge was enlarged by Anson G. P. Segur in the 1870's, and was still in working order when Munsell wrote of it in 1882. Alternate names for this area were Shippensport, Shippmansport, & Shippingport.
1840's --A small group of Baptists start meeting regularly in the old Ledgewood School House.
1849 -- Rev. T.T. Campbell organized a Methodist class meeting in Succasunna. On
July 3, 1850, the members of the church met and elected a Board of Trustees and
authorized the building of a church. Construction of the existing sanctuary and bell tower was
begun in 1850 and was dedicated on February 1852. The Rev. William Day was
appointed the first pastor.
||1880 -- During 1880 the amount of Iron Ore carried by the Morris Canal was 108,000 tons. With a boat normally carrying seventy tons, over 1,540 boat loads were needed to move this cargo. When you consider that the Canal did not "run" on Sunday and during the coldest part of the winter (frozen water), those 1,540 boat loads of Iron Ore had to be moved over a span of less than 260 days, an average of about 6 per day, and that's just Iron Ore loads. In addition there was Timber, Coal, Zinc Ore and other loads carried. This was the last "big" year for Canal shipping. In another matter, in a report to the "Morris County Sabbath School Association", it's six member churches in Roxbury Township reported that in 1880 they had an average total of 338 students in attendance each week, along with 60 teachers.|
1881 -- Much of the Canal Iron Ore business was lost when the Central Railroad
of New Jersey took over the Ogden Mine Railroad and laid track to connect it to
the Central's High Bridge Branch in 1881. Commercial shipping on the Canal would
dwindle during the next 2 decades, the quicker railroads having taken much of
1880s -- Hundreds of local residents are employed in the Lake Hopatcong Ice Industry, cutting Ice on the lake and shipping it by rail to Newark, Paterson and New York City areas before the days of electric refrigeration. Five commercial Ice Houses are around the Lake, with the 'Mountain Ice Company' having a very large Ice House in the Silver Spring section of Landing, off Yellow Barn Ave., near the site of today's Nixon Public School.
A detailed 1887 map of Landing shows Dynamite and Gunpowder works on the grounds of the American Forcite Powder Mfg. Co., later renamed the Atlas Powder Co., located on the southeast shore of Lake Hopatcong. Eventually Atlas would have almost 130 buildings, barns & sheds on their 400 acres that spanned the area along the Lake & up the hill from Shippensport Road to what is today Rogers Drive. A Railway spur from the Lackawanna served both the Ice House and the Explosives Company. The King brothers, Theodore F. King and William E. King, ran 2 stores on the corner of Lakeside Blvd. and Landing Road. During this time the bridge over the canal and railroad in Landing was made of Iron with wooden planks as a roadway. In the early 1880's the Lackawanna Railroad built a Passenger Station at Drakesville (modern day Ledgewood). Horse drawn carriages would then take people up the bumpy road to the lake. By 1886 the Landing/Lake Hopatcong Railway Station on the Lackawanna Line was built. Steamboats would wait on the Morris Canal in Landing for the passengers to disembark from the train.
1886 -- The "Lake Hopatcong Steamboat Company", commonly known as the
Black Line, was founded. The company provided service from the "new"
Landing railroad station, built around 1886, to all areas of the Lake by means
of a 'feeder canal' that traveled from the Lake at the area of the State Park
and connected to the Canal in the area of the current Landing Shopping Center.
(The Canal ran parallel to the RR tracks in this area) From there the boats used
the Canal to come right up to the Rail station platform, where passengers simply
crossed the platform to board the boat sitting in the Canal. (the south end of
the Lake was extremely shallow at that time with only rowboats able to pass).
The trip back to the Lake took them through the Canal Lock, where the boat was
raised to the Lake's higher level. The Lackawanna Railroad, the Black Line &
the Canal cooperated in business.
THE LAKE BECOMES A SUMMER RESORT
1890's -- This era saw the blossoming of Lake Hopatcong as the Summer Resort of choice by both the wealthy and the newly middle-class. The wealthy would rent large furnished houses, (called cottages!!) on the waters edge. The middle-class would often set up large canvas tents on wooden platforms and dwell in these for a week or more. All would enjoy the cool "mountain air" afforded by the advertised "1,200 foot elevation of the Lake" (an exaggeration of its' actual 926 foot elevation), a welcome summertime relief from the sweltering cities. Many would come up for the weekend and stay in one of the Hotels or rooming houses that sprang up around the Lake. Most everyone traveled to the Lake via Train, disembarking either at the Central Railway of New Jersey Station at Nolans Point or at the Landing Station of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. From there they most often traveled to their Lakeside destination via Steamboat!! The roads were poor to non-existent, and besides, the Steamboats were part of the attraction of the Lake! With a growing cluster of Hotels and luxury homes, Mount Arlington was created on November 1, 1890 by splitting away from Roxbury Township. The odd, twisting border between Landing/Roxbury Township and Mt. Arlington seen on maps was created when certain precincts voted to secede, while others did not.
|In 1890 the "Hopatcong Steamboat Company", known as the 'White Line' was founded by Theodore King to compete with the established "Black Line". This was a bold move, as the "Black Line" was owned by the same financial syndicate that owned the Lackawanna Railway and the Morris Canal. In a stroke of entrepreneurial inspiration, King dredged the shallow lower area of Landing Channel to allow his steamboats to come right up to the dock at "The Landing". The Black Line charged passengers to the lakefront hotels a fifty cent fare each way from the railroad station, a sizeable amount in 1890 ! Experienced travelers knew that after they got off the train they could walk across the bridge at Landing and board one of King's boats which only charged a twenty-five cent fare to go out to the hotels and forty cents to return. The trip was also faster, as Kings' boats avoided the trip through the Canal Lock at Lake Hopatcong.||
|1899 -- Residents of Lower Berkshire Valley organized to build a non-denominational Protestant Chapel for Worship services, which up to this time had been held in the schoolhouse on Berkshire Valley Rd. In 1926 "Union Chapel" became a Methodist Church.|
|1904 -- The "Grey" Schoolhouse on Hillside Ave opened for classes in September 1904. It was the first building project done by the new Unified Township School District. Before this period, each locality had a little one room school with it's own Trustee Board. Within several years the Grey building housed all grades from Elementary through High School, with the District also overseeing the Port Morris Elementary School for younger children in that area and the Berkshire Valley Elementary School.|
|1906 -- The Township
purchases the old Chestnut Hill Schoolhouse on Main Street and begins using it
as the first Town Hall. About this time the "Morristown Traction
Company" Trolley tracks are built, coming from Morristown into Dover,
through Mine Hill, and into Roxbury, coming west along Rt. 6 (now Rt. 46),
making a turn onto Kenvil Ave, turning right onto Main Street in Succasunna and
then into Ledgewood.
1908 -- The "New" Landing Bridge is completed. Built of stone and masonry, it continues to stand to this day. Trolley service comes to Landing. The Morris County Traction Company Trolleys can now go from Morristown all the way up to Lake Hopatcong. The tracks pass over the new bridge and run up Mt. Arlington Blvd. to the picnic area at Bertrand Island. The "Lackawanna Cut-off" begins construction across New Jersey at this time, it is a Railway Engineering marvel, running in a straight level line from just north of Port Morris to the Delaware River. Instead of following the contours of the land, it uses massive amounts of fill and long bridges to traverse valleys. The two large arch bridges which still stand and cross Center Street in Landing/Port Morris are the starting point. Also in 1908, Chester started sending their Senior High School students to Roxbury, by 1911 all Chester High School students went to Roxbury, in the early years by train, then by bus. This arrangement continued through 1958 when Chester and adjacent municipalities set up their own High School.
1912 -- The Mountain Ice Company in the Silver Spring section of Landing has a huge wooden storage hanger, which burns to the ground in a fire so large the flames lit up the sky all around the Lake. In 1913 an even bigger storage building was built in a fireproof construction of a steel frame and two layers of sheathing of hollow ceramic tile with insulating properties. At the time of it's construction, it's 56 foot height made it the largest Ice House in America. It was said to be able to hold 100,00 tons of ice. It was the largest single-span construction in the USA until Radio City Music Hall was built. It stood near the current day Nixon School. With the advent of electric refrigeration, it closed in 1935 and was torn down in 1939. Nearby, the home of the plant's Superintendent, the 'Cary' or 'Carey' house, built with the same tile exterior, still stands at 285 Mt. Arlington Blvd.
1918 -- With a rapidly growing population, the "Gray" School building was soon too small. In 1918 the Lincoln School was built, a large modern brick building, located next to the "Grey" School. Roxbury High School was located here for a number of years, with lower grades in "Gray". An addition in 1926 increased the size of the Lincoln School.
1920 - The first Boy Scouts Troop in Roxbury Township was organized in September 1920 as Troop 2, sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church, Succasunna. Rev. Ralph Davy was the Scoutmaster. Troop 2 became Troop 54 in September 1926, with 16 Scouts participating.
1920s -- The Lackawanna Railroad route, with its' station in Landing, becomes the predominant rail link to Lake Hopatcong, surpassing the Central Railroad of New Jersey station at Nolan's Point. With decreasing Government purchasing after WW I, and increasing land values, the Atlas Dynamite Powder Co. ceases operation in 1923. In 1922 the Westmoreland Hotel (near the site of today's Station Hardware) had a fire and closed. Shortly thereafter, in 1925, a Restaurant called 'The Westmoreland Dining Room' opened a short distance away at 130 Landing Rd to serve customers who were regulars at the popular Hotel room.
1922 -- With a growing population, and considering it's distance from the central school, the Washington Elementary School in Port Morris was rebuilt after a fire and enlarged to 8 classrooms. It also served Landing students.
1924 -- The formal shutting down of the Morris Canal as well as the removal of the Steamboat Dock at Landing.
1925 -- The current dam is built in what became the State Park.
1928 -- Two significant events this year: The death of Theodore F. King and the Morris County Traction Company trolley from Morristown through Landing and up to Bertrand Island ceased operation in February, replaced by a bus line.
1930's -- With the Economic Depression of the 30's, people no longer "weekend" at Lake Hopatcong in large numbers. The Grand Hotels around the Lake start closing, including the last one in Landing: The Silver Springs Park House.
1934 -- Route 10 is built as a major new road linking Essex and Morris Counties. In Roxbury it's route would be pushed through older homes and farmland, running parallel to the old Morris & Sussex Pike, otherwise known as Main Street.
1938 -- With increased population, the Roosevelt School is built as the new High School. It is a large and impressive facility, built at a total cost of half a million dollars, a very large sum in 1938. It is located on Hillside Ave, alongside the Grey & Lincoln Schools.
1940 -- On September 12, an explosion at the Hercules Powder Co. plant in Kenvil kills 51 workers. An industrial accident was suspected. Within months the plant was back in operation producing munitions for the British for the War in Europe.
THE MODERN ERA
1946 -- Although new homes were being planned, Succasunna still had many farms in the immediate post-war era:
"Wait 'til the cows Come Home. Literally, that is what I did - waited! In my car, on Eyland Avenue, just past Righter Road, heading south toward Condit Street, tired after a long day's work, with a meal still to be cooked, I sat watching the cows cross my path on their way home. It was a herd of dairy cows that blocked my way as effectively as those sheep in England can fill a road. They were on their way from the luscious green, sunny meadow on my left to Flying Duck Farm's barn on my right. They walked at a slow, sedate pace, one after the other; no jostling for position to be head bovine, no pushing nor crowding. These were ladies. Occasionally there was a soft mooing and a tinkle of a cow bell, sounds I liked hearing that reminded me of my childhood home in western Pennsylvania. The cows were going home to rest after their long day of chewing cud and manufacturing milk for hungry infants, cream for coffee and other good things. I hadn't realized when I came to Succasunna in 1946 that I was so far out in the country. Cows, this close to the city! Why there weren't more than five miles between towns - no room for cow pastures! How wrong I was! There were several cow pastures in this area. Just beyond Frying Duck Farm, bordering Condit Street and Eyland Avenue, was the farm pasture managed by Mr. Metz. Another half mile south on Eyland Avenue was Mr. Denton's Black Angus beef herd. Yes, one could get the good smell of country right here in Succasunna. It was worth the wait 'til the cows come home. Over the years, the city crowded closer. A magician turned the cows into houses and the pastures into developments with fancy names such as Sunrise Park, Beechwood Estates, Eyland Woods, and Whitegates Estates. Now I wait on Eyland Avenue and Righter Road for the traffic light to change. The cows are barely a memory, but if I relax and close my eyes, I can still see them sedately move and hear them moo to the music of a cow bell" (As recalled by Janis French of Kenvil in 2002)
"My father, Paul Virkler (1909-1999), arrived from New York state in
1951 and cleared about 12 acres of his overgrown fields at 124 S.
Hillside Ave for corn fields. After several years sweet corn was the
only crop he raised. This continued until 1985 when “Virkler’s” closed
for good after supplying Roxbury Township with New Jersey’s best sweet
corn for 34 years. I calculate my dad raised and sold three or four
million ears of sweet corn during that time to Roxbury residents. He
sold all of his corn at the 124 S. Hillside Ave location. The area is
completely built up now and is occupied by the American Christian
School. In 1985 when the corn stand closed, “Virkler’s” was clearly the
last agricultural enterprise in Roxbury and had been for years! I now
live in Illinois and have been retired from teaching science in Mendham
Township since 1999. As an aside, Mr. John R. French was instrumental in
helping me acquire my first and only pubic school teaching job in 1959.
He used to purchase corn at our stand. He was my high school track
1972 -- Grace Baptist Church of Netcong had grown too big for it's vintage building, they relocate to Rt 46 Ledgewood, building a large sanctuary and shifting the name to Grace - The Church on the Mount.
1974 -- A new, modern Roxbury Public Library building is opened on Main
replacing an adjacent house which had served as the Library.
Even with all the new homes built, many remnants of the Roxbury of over 150
years ago remain, including:
This page can only begin to cover
the rich history of Roxbury. While this site originated as an independent effort, we
work cooperatively with and appreciate the work of the area Historical organizations:
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