Theodore F. King

The Extraordinary Entrepreneur of Roxbury Township New Jersey

 

 

To anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with the history of the Township of Roxbury, New Jersey, the name of Theodore F. King looms large among those who have contributed to the development of the area.

Theodore Frelinghuysen King was born on the fourteenth day of November, 1843 on a family farm in Roxbury Township, Morris County, New Jersey. His parents were Thomas L. (b. 1809) and Jane (Hilts) (b. 1817) King, his paternal grandparents were John P. and Christina (Wolfe) King. The farm was located in the area then called Drakesville, in 1891 the name was changed to Ledgewood. The location of the farmstead was about 3 miles west of Ledgewood center, off Rt 46, in the area now known as Kingtown, as seen by signs on two local businesses. Thomas King served as Constable of Roxbury Township from the age of 21 and in 1843 ascended to the office of Morris County Sheriff. In addition to his official duties, he ran his farm as well as selling lumber. While he was born on the farm, Theodore King spent the first five years of his life in Morristown where his father carried out his duties at the County seat. His later youth was spent back at the family farm and he received his education at the Chester Institute. During these years he assisted his father in a small retail store they had set up alongside the road that ran by the family farm, gaining experience he would later put to use as owner of many local business ventures.
On May 21, 1873, the Rev. Elijah Stoddard officiated the wedding of Theodore King to Miss Emma L. Riggs, (born September 6, 1844) the daughter of a prominent area family, her parents being Albert R. and Nancy (Stanburrough) Riggs. In 1874 he took over the retail store of his father-in-law, located in the center of Ledgewood on the Morris Canal. It is at this point of the story that modern readers will begin to identify with it, for many local residents have seen the preserved "King Store", located in the Ledgewood Historic District and curated by the good work of the Roxbury Historic Trust, assisted by the Rotary Club. 
The building housing the store was originally built circa 1826 along the old main road that ran west from Morristown and continued through Randolph, Ledgewood, Stanhope and up to Newton. When the Morris Canal finally came through in 1829 just 50 yards from the building, the store became a very profitable venture, with canal boatmen stopping to stock up on supplies, with the Riggs family doing very well indeed. 

The first child born to Theodore & Louise King was Edna Josephine (born July 8, 1876), who died in early childhood (September 1, 1878). On September 25, 1881 Emma Riggs King gave birth to a daughter, also named Emma Louise. Around 1883 the Kings had a beautiful Victorian style home built next to the store, a home that is still standing and under renovation by the Roxbury Historic Trust.

In the early 1880's the Morris Canal saw a decline in its' traffic of commercial material such as coal, lumber, ice and iron ore, the faster Railroads taking much of that business. Even as Theodore King watched the traffic of Morris Canal boatmen and traders dwindle at his store next to the canal, he still managed to do well in his investments. He had already purchased many hundreds of acres of land around Lake Hopatcong while it was still relatively unknown and made much profit by selling part of it to the new 'American Forcite' explosives complex that sprang up in 1883 among the hills at the southeastern corner of the Lake. It is evident that at this time Theodore King shifted more attention and business interests toward the area that was known as "The Landing". A detailed 1887 map of the area shows large and extensive land holdings by Theodore King and his brother Edward all around the southwest and southeast side of Lake Hopatcong, including most of the area now called Landing. He also had a number of summer cottages built in Landing for his family during this time including several that were rented out to the burgeoning summer vacation trade.

During the late 1880's King started and owned several businesses at the Lake and partnered in the ownership of others. The King Grocery Store at the southwest corner of Landing Road and Lakeside Boulevard was started (in a pre-existing building) in 1891 (it's site is now occupied by 1 Landing Road) by Theodore King and his brother William E. King . Across the street was King's Ice Cream & Confectionery, located on the southeast corner where a Real Estate office now stands. King also had Real Estate and Mining investments around the Lake, and was a financial partner in the construction of the Westmoreland Hotel at the southern end of the Lake (located near the site of today's "Station Hardware") and also partnered in the Silver Springs Park Hotel in the area that still bears that name. 

Perhaps the two most prominent King enterprises at Landing were the Lake Hopatcong Steamship Company and the Mountain Ice House. The 1890's saw the blossoming of Lake Hopatcong as the Summer Resort of choice by both the wealthy and the newly middle-class. 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. 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 Lackawanna Railroad. From there they most often traveled to their Lakeside destination via small Steamboats. The roads were poor to non-existent, and besides, the Steamboats were part of the attraction of the Lake! 

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. 


The photo above shows the "Hopatcong", the flagship of 
Kings's  'White Line', at the dock in Landing, circa 1905.

One of the industries which helped King make his fortune was the winter harvesting of ice from the frozen surface of Lake Hopatcong and then shipping that ice to the cities of northeast New Jersey to be used in 'iceboxes' before the days of electric refrigeration. King owned the Mountain Ice Company in the Silver Spring section of Landing (near today's Nixon School) which had a huge storage hanger that kept the ice frozen for months after it was harvested. A railway spur was built off the Lackawanna line to reach the icehouse and ship the ice out. In 1912 the wooden hanger burnt 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 immediately behind the site of our current day Nixon School. With the advent of electric refrigeration, it closed in 1935 and was torn down in 1939. 


Workmen at the Mountain Ice Company in the Silver Spring section of Landing, circa 1905, one of King's investments.

Aftermath of the July 1912 fire, the blocks of ice  can be clearly seen in the background, along with the rail spur

In the Lewis Publishing book of biographies of prominent New Jersey  Businessmen published during King's life (1899), his political  affiliations are described this way: "Mr. KING, like his father, is a staunch Democrat, and he, too, has been shown official preference. He was elected clerk of Roxbury township when he was twenty-one, was re-elected and served several years, and almost continuously since he attained his majority has he served as a committeeman".  Of course, the shifting positions of the political parties during the last century raise interesting questions about where King, the devout evangelical, would be affiliated today !!

In various sources King is alternately described as either a Presbyterian or a Baptist in religious affiliation. Your humble website Editor, from a study of the original documents, has deduced that this  confusion stems from the fact that King was a member of the Succasunna Presbyterian Church up through 1913 at least, the year of the passing of Rev. Elijah Stoddard, the long-time Pastor of the Church. Sometime after that, King affiliated with the Ledgewood  Baptist Church, and not only a member, but also served as Superintendent of their Sunday Bible School. That partially explains his generosity in donating the land that the new Baptist Church building was built upon, the April 1917 Dedication gathering shown here, with King probably somewhere in the elect throng.

Many anecdotes are told regarding the legendary integrity of Theodore King, to a degree that seems extreme to our generation, but was expected from a Christian gentleman of his time. Examples abound in his business dealings. In his shop many items were sold in bulk, by weight. If a customer was purchasing a pound of dry crackers, it would be weighed out in the scale. If the scale needle indicated a measurement just under the exact weight, Theodore would break a cracker in two and add one half to the scale to precisely make the one pound. If someone were buying two pounds of nails and the scale was slightly 'over', he would take out a larger nail and replace it with a smaller nail to meet the weight being paid for exactly! He would often be called upon to bear witness to legal agreements and was known around Roxbury as a man whose word was his bond.

In 1928 Theodore Frelinghuysen King passed out of this life, and in mourning his daughter simply locked the door of his Ledgewood store, contents just as they were, which is how it remained until her death on July 22, 1975. In the late 1980's restoration work began on the King Store, which is now operated as a Museum by the Roxbury Historic Trust and the Roxbury Historical Society. The Trust is also restoring the Victorian Home of the King family, alongside the store.

Although the mark King left on Ledgewood is easily seen in the still standing store and house, his influence on the founding and development of Landing was even greater. When one considers his overall Roxbury ventures of three retail stores, the Lake Steamboat line, the Ice House with it's dozens of employees, the partnerships in Landing's two Hotels, and the houses and vast real estate rented out and sold, beside his service on Township Boards and Committees, you get the sense that he was one of the main driving forces in our town for almost 40 years. 
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This article written by M. Balston, Website Editor 
www.RoxburyNewJersey.com copyright 2003, 2009


The Theodore King Family gravesite at Succasunna Presbyterian Church Cemetery, 2004.
His father & brother have family plots in other areas of the Cemetery

The "King Store" on Main Street in Ledgewood, owned and operated by Theodore F. King from 1874 through 1928, is now open for short tours on the second Sunday of each month (except January) from 1-4 PM. Operated by volunteers from the Roxbury Historic Trust and from the Roxbury Historical Society, this is well worth a visit. They sell Roxbury historic postcards and excellent books detailing local history. We recommend it !!

Interested in learning more? We recommend that you join the Roxbury Historic Trust, annual dues are $25.
Send to: Roxbury Historic Trust, 209 Main St, Ledgewood, NJ 07852  tel: 973-927-7603.
The Trust is also involved in the ongoing restoration of the King Homestead, and is seeking volunteers to help in that effort or to contribute toward the work. Progress is being made ! (this website is not run by the Trust, we just appreciate their good work!)

Information for this page came from a variety of sources, including:

Cramond, Richard. Special thanks to Richard Cramond of the of the Roxbury Township Historical Society and Roxbury Historic Trust.
Crayon, J.P. "Rockaway Records of Morris County, N.J. Families". 1902
Hosking, Annie S. & Meeker, Harriet "THE HISTORY OF ROXBURY TOWNSHIP" Vol. I & II Roxbury Township Historical Society
Kane, Martin. "HOPATCONG - A CENTURY OF MEMORIES" , Arcadia Publishing
Lee, James. "TALES THE BOATMAN TOLD" 1973, reprinted by Canal Press 1989
Lewis Publishing, "Biographical History of Morris County New Jersey". 1899
Lum, Edward H. "Genealogy of the Lum Family" 1927
Munsell, W.W. "History of Morris County, New Jersey", 1882
Murray, Stuart A.P. "HISTORY OF HOPATCONG BOROUGH" , 1976 Hopatcong Bicentennial Committee
Seraly, Ruthann & Lyman, Frances; "OLD HOMES OF ROXBURY TOWNSHIP", Roxbury Township Historical Society
Succasunna Presbyterian Church Cemetery Gravemarkers, Field research trips by the author 2003 - 2005
Thompson, Mary Wolfe. "THEODORE FRELINGHUYSEN WOLFE", 1961, privately published
The Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum, PO Box 668, Landing, New Jersey 07850
"THE LAKE HOPATCONG BREEZE" - Various Issues

We're always seeking info on Theodore King and Roxbury Twp. history. If you can add to or correct this page, please e-mail the Editor at: Editor @ RoxburyNewJersey.com (just remove the spaces, an anti-spam measure)

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