The highly residential community of Glen Ridge was originally an industrial town marked by a row of mills strung along the valley of Toney’s Brook, an important source of water power. Early in the 1800’s Toney’s Brook was strong enough to deliver some 50-75 horsepower.
Some of the most noted men in the history of this area, men whose family names run throughout Glen Ridge’s heritage, were owners of the five mills that were near the now insignificant stream called Toney’s Brook.
THE BROMLEY MILL Named Bromley Mill because of its early ownership by English millwright Dury Bromley and his partner Thomas Oakes, the sawmill was originally built by Abijah Dodd. Dodd and his wife Mary lived in a house just west of the present site of the entrance to the Grand Union parking lot on Bloomfield Avenue, and he built the mill and dam approximately where Matchless Metal Company stands today.
On February 1, 1806, Dodd sold his saw-mill, dam and pond, together with about three acres, to Bromley and Oakes. He gave them the right-of-way past his house to get to their mill from the “Main Road.”
By 1810 the “Main Road” was the Newark-Pompton Turnpike and the two millwrights bought another two acres from Dodd and his wife fronting on the turnpike. Bromley built his house roughly where the Grand Union stands and Oakes across the turnpike just southeast of Christ Church.
Oakes died quite young, in 1823, while working as chief engineer of the Schuylkill Canal in New York, but Bromley continued to work the mill. In the 1830’s he converted it to a fulling mill for woolen cloth and added a dyeing house where he did printing on silk and calico.
Both Bromley and Oakes were known for building and repairing all types of mills and were in great demand for this. In 1823 the Watering Committee of the town of Fair Mount, (now part of Philadelphia) wrote to Dury Bromley that his “services are very highly appreciated by the Committee for the faithful execution of the work entrusted to his care and which they believe can vie with any in the United States if not any in the world.”
As with homesteaders of that time, Bromley sold the produce from his land that he couldn’t use himself, like hay and split fence wood. He kept a careful accounting of all his affairs in a day book. The entry for May 27, 1846 reads, “Stormy day nothing doing. Paid Mary Sisco for 5 weeks washing in home $1.25. Went to Newark took sick and came home in state and left the horse and wagon in Newark.”
He had an attractive, clear handwriting and kept up an active correspondence with family and friends. Many of these letters survive and serve as commentary on customs and current events.
Bromley was born February 28, 1775 in Cranbrook, Kent, England and came to the United States in 1797. It seems that he left behind a sorrowing sweetheart, for his cousin William wrote from Cranbrook in 1799: “Saley Sims take it hard that you Left har in Such a Slay Maner and She has ben at my hous three or four times and Cries to think that you have Left harr and She says that She would Come to you if you would Send for harr at anney time for nothing Should Stop harr but Death.”
Apparently unmoved by these entreaties, Bromley married the girl who lived near his new Bloomfield mill, Maria Cadmus. Four of their seven children lived to adulthood (Matthew, William, Jane and Amelia).
Dury and Maria Cadmus Bromley prospered. They bought two other properties in Bloomfield and one on the mountain in West Bloomfield (now Montclair). The mill, their house and adjoining property they deeded to their son William in 1847, the year before the elder Bromley died.
William Bromley was a ship’s engineer, and by the age of 21 was superintendent of the Fulton Iron Works in Brooklyn. His job obviously did not leave him much time for his property in Bloomfield, and since his widowed mother needed money to support herself, in 1850 he sold the mill and surrounding four acres to James McCracken for $3,912. Bromley retained his father’s original home, however.
McCracken seems only to have made use of the dyeing house, for the 1859 map speaks of a “Chemical Works” being on the site. By 1863, however, McCracken’s business must have failed, and his property passed into the hands of the Newark Savings Bank. In that same year John Hughes and Henry Roberts bought it from the bank for $6,158. The deed describes the mill at that time as “in ruins.”
Three years later Henry Woodbridge and his wife Mary paid Hughes and Roberts $7,000 for the four acres, the dyeing house and the ruined mill. It is supposed that they put the mill back in working order but gave up making dye stuffs, because they got such a high price from the Reverend J.S. Gallagher ($5,000) for that one acre plus land along what is now Hillside Avenue. The mill was known as “The Woodbridge Mill” for many years. The Woodbridges stayed in business there until 1897, although it is not known what they manufactured.
William Bromley died in 1890. Rosetta Bromley, his widow, died in the house in 1905, leaving it to her sisters, who seem not to have maintained it well. By 1910 an article in the Bloomfield paper described it as abandoned, with the wind blowing through.
Rosetta Bromley had sold part of her inheritance along what later became Clark Street, in 1891, for $500. The buyer, James H. G. Mills immediately resold the same year to Asabel Darwin, who built the row of houses that stands there now. The remainder, the Borough of Glen Ridge bought in 1938 and made the small park and the parking lot which is leased by the Telephone Company.
The mill itself and its Bloomfield Avenue frontage were sold by the Woodbridges in 1897 to Power Manufacturing Company for $4,750. The mill was destroyed that year and it is assumed that the red-brick building housing Matchless Metal factory on that site today was begun then. Power reputedly manufactured bicycle chains.
The factory then changed hands quickly several times: one owner was a Glen Ridge man, Wallace Schouler, who made the then new product called asphalt in it. Many miles of sidewalks and driveways in this area were laid down by Schouler.
In 1922 Matchless Metal moved in and has been making industrial buffing compounds there to the present time. In 1921, the Westlake family’s bank sold the abandoned Bromley house and surrounding one acre to Silvestro Casabona. He was unable to restore it and sold to Guy Gabrielson of Bernardsville in 1925. Since the Borough of Glen Ridge refused to permit commercial development there, Gabrielson fought a 12-year battle to have it re-zoned. In 1937 he finally appealed to the State Supreme Court and was granted a variance. He built a gas station at the Glen Ridge end of the property.
Within two years Glen Ridge’s Zoning Board of Adjustment took “a more decided step toward modernism than it ever did since the incorporation of the Borough” (Montclair-Glen Ridge Bulletin) and gave Gabrielson permission to build a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. The restaurant was not successful and Gabrielson sold the building and land to Borough resident Frank Dailey. He converted it into a restaurant-bar called the “Glenbrook,” but that venture, too, was unsuccessful. Anthony Cestone bought the “Glenbrook” in 1947 and kept it going for a while, but in 1954 he tore it down as well as the gas station and built the stores and parking lot now occupied by the Grand Union and Rite-Aid Drugs.
THE BROWER MILL The mill, which was known as Brower’s Pasteboard or, more rarely, Paper Mill was built in the early 1820’s by a group headed by Israel “King” Crane, one of the earliest industrialists in this area. He was, along with John Dodd, the moving force behind the construction of the Newark and Pompton Turnpike (now Bloomfield Avenue) and was instrumental in realizing the industrial potential of Toney’s Brook.
Although now an insignificant stream, at that time, Toney’s Brook was considered capable of delivering 50-75 horsepower and of supporting several mills. About 1812, the West Bloomfield Manufacturing Company was organized by Israel Crane and others. Two large building were erected near the present boundary of Glen Ridge and Montclair to manufacture cotton and woolen goods. The business was later sold.
In 1819, a group consisting of Israel Crane, Michael Cockefair and Christian Rolefson bought, for $600, 3.11 acres of land on either side of Toney’s Brook from Stephen Fordham Crane, Israel Crane’s first cousin. The property was located in the lower Glen opposite what is now the Middle School. A mill, with a mill pond and raceways, was constructed, with the mill pond extending up the Glen past Ridgewood Avenue. It is not known if Israel Crane actually operated the mill, but the same property was sold to Charles Ward in 1825 for $3,000. Crane gave Ward a three year mortgage for the full amount, but Ward evidently ran into difficulties, for no payments were made and the mortgage was foreclosed in 1826. The property was purchased at a sheriff’s sale in 1827 by Samuel Brower of New York City, who paid $150 in cash and assumed the mortgage of $3,000.
Samuel Brower operated the mill until his death in 1830 when, at age 46, he died without leaving a will. In 1833 a sheriff’s sale was held to satisfy his heirs, and George W. Brower, his eldest son, paid $4,000 for the mill property and the Brower homestead. It stood on 7.34 acres on the site of the present Middle School. In 1836, both properties were deeded to his mother, Charlotte Vanderpool, who had married James Vanderpool, a wealthy Newark landowner.
She operated the mill with the aid of his husband until his death in 1842. In 1846, the property was deeded to her children, Samuel A. Brower and Mary Ann Brower Mather. The younger Brower was 28 at that time and operated the mill until the family lost control in 1880 after 34 years. Things apparently went along smoothly until 1856, when all the Brower lands, which included the mill, the homestead, and other property in Bloomfield, Belleville, and Orange, were mortgaged. The mill property was mortgaged to Amzi Dodd for $4,500. It was paid-off in 1859, and the property was immediately remortgaged to the Newark Saving Institution. This mortgage was foreclosed in 1861. Erastus Colton, who had married Mary Ann Brower Mather, bought the mill property for $2,500, and at the same sale, one of the Brower homes was sold to Joseph A. Davis, Jr., for $4,100. In 1864, the mill property was deeded back to Louisa J. Brower, wife of Samuel A. Brower, for $2,100.
The last sheriff’s sale was held in 1880, when a mortgage given to the Washington Life Insurance Company of New York, in 1872 for $5,500 was foreclosed. The property was purchased by the Washington Life Insurance Company for $3,000. The property passed out of the control of the Brower family. The property was sold to Thomas C. Dodd in 1884 for $2,500. The mill and attached factory building were completely consumed by fire in 1889 with only the water wheel left standing. The property was purchased by the Glen Ridge Park Association in 1899 for $7,000. This organization had been organized by public spirited citizens of Glen Ridge to prevent the Glen from undergoing private development. In 1901, the property was deeded to the Borough of Glen Ridge, together with two other tracts, for $17,500.
The mill was usually known as a “pasteboard mill.” There were two types of paper products which were called pasteboard. One was made by applying glue or paste between sheets of paper and then compressing in a press. Normally, only the finer types of board, such as playing cards and book boards were made in this manner. The other type was made by shredding used rag paper in a mill to a homogeneous suspension. The pulp was then transferred to a mold and formed into sheets. The wet sheets were placed in a press and squeezed almost dry. The sheets were then air dried. This second type was probably made in the Brower Mill, since power was required for the pulping of the used rag paper, and it is mentioned in one of the deeds that a band box manufactury was connected to the mill. A band box is a round box used to store collars, hats, etc., to prevent them from being crushed. A fairly stiff pasteboard would be required for this. Other pasteboard products were probably made also.
The business was never very prosperous and did not increase in size during its life. At a time when businesses were growing larger and larger, no new machinery was installed. Water power was used until the very end, even though the water available from Toney’s Brook became less every year due to diversion of its headwaters. The mill would have required about eight to ten operators with perhaps twice as many in the attached manufactury.
The mill was a 2 ½ story building of about 21 feet by 36 feet. The manufactury, which was on the turnpike, had dimensions of about 116 feet by 23 feet. The wide part was on the turnpike. The main part of the building was four stories, with a central part of five stories, and the other part of two stories. Dana Mitchell remembers that it had a covered walk or piazza along its entire length on the turnpike.
Brower went to Castle Garden at the Battery in New York City, then the landing point for immigrants, to recruit workers for his factory.
The mill was evidently not operated after title passed to the Washington Life Insurance Company, although the factory was rented by a man who manufactured leather belts used to power machines. On May 5, 1889, a very serious fire occurred on the site. The assistant fire chief of Bloomfield, William B. Corby, who lived across from the present Hurrell Field, was seriously injured in the fire but recovered from his wounds. At the time of the fire, the factory was empty except for the carpenter shop of another man.
THE MOFFETT MILL Moffett’s Brass Rolling Mill, or more properly The Bloomfield Rolling Mills, was located about one hundred feet east of the present Freeman Parkway Bridge on the north side of Toney’s Brook. The mill pond extended up the brook, beyond the bridge and then under the railroad, which ran over it on a wooden trestle.
The mill had its beginning on June 7, 1800, when Nehimiah S. Baldwin purchased a half-acre of land on the north side of Toney’s Brook for $112.50 from Jacob Ward to erect a paper mill and with rights to build a dam and mill pond. On June 12 of the same year, he paid Samuel L. Ward $75 for sufficient land on the west side of the brook to build the dam and millpond.
By 1805, the paper mill, together with the dam, millpond, raceways, etc., had been built. In June of the same year, Isaac Dodd, Jr., brother of Abijah Dodd, bought a two-third interest in the mill for $200, and in July sold one-half interest to Henry C. Southwick of New York City for $2,000, accepting a mortgage for the full amount. On July 15, 1806, Isaac Dodd, Jr., purchased the remaining one-third interest from Baldwin for $1,250, and in October, both Dodd and Southwick sold the mill and property to John Purvis, Alexander Wilson, and Robert Laing, described as “papermakers,” for a total of $4,000.
The original apprenticeship papers of Isaac, son of Abijah Dodd, and nephew of Isaac Dodd, Jr., to Purvis, Wilson and Laing, dated January 31, 1808, when Isaac was fifteen years of age, are in the possession of Howard Dodd, Jr., a direct descendant and resident of Glen Ridge. The apprenticeship was to last five years, seven months, and 12 days, and Dodd was “to be taught the trade or mystery of papermaking.”
In 1812 Robert Laing sold his interest to his two partners for $1,300. Since Laing’s wife, Harriet, did not sign the deed transferring the title, in 1814 the two partners had to pay her a further $1,500 to clear the title.
On May 10, 1816, the mill property plus two other lots were sold to Isaac J. Ward and Israel Downs for $8,500. The next day Israel Downs sold his half-interest in all the properties to Isaac J. Ward for $4,520. Ward operated the mill until February 2, 1832, when it was sold to James Gardner Moffett for $5,500.
Moffett was born in New York City on August 4, 1801. At the age of twelve he apprenticed to Thomas S. Uffington of Belleville, a manufacturer of whalebone, slat ribs, and fastenings for umbrellas. In 1829 Uffington went into bankruptcy when he was unable to pay debts totaling $30,849.16. Moffett purchased the mill in order to go into the manufacture of rolled and sheet brass. Uffington was associated with him in the mill operations until his death a few years later, at which time Moffett started the manufacture of German silver and other metal platings. Samuel Benson, the brother of Moffett’s wife, Maria, was also associated with the business until he opened his own rolling mill in 1852.
The mill was originally operated by water power, and the first roller was only 12 by 24 inches. However, as business increased it became necessary to install steam power and modern equipment. Business continued to increase, and, at its peak, shipments were made to all the principal markets in the United States and Europe. At that time, the mill produced a very large income for its owner. In 1845 Moffett purchased an additional acre and one half from the estate of Isaac J. Ward for $90. This property was next to the mill property and was downstream between the turnpike and the brook.
In 1858, Moffett went into bankruptcy, unable to pay debts of $17,299.76 and the mill property was sold at auction to Thomas Dusenbury of New York City, one of his creditors. On December 30, 1861, Moffett repurchased the mill property from Dusenbury for $3,512.16 and re-established the business to manufacture copper for the government. This business survived until 1878, and Moffett himself operated the mill until his death on January 13, 1887 at the age of 85. In all the official records, Moffett, is listed as a resident of New York City and apparently maintained a summer home in Bloomfield.
On his death, his son, James took charge of the mill. He continued the operation of the mill until his death on September 15, 1897, at the age of 61. In 1899, Mary A. Maxwell, executrix of his estate, obtained permission from the Orphan’s Court of the County of Essex to advertise the mill property for sale at auction. Previous to this, sentiment had developed that the Glen should be protected from commercial development. The announcement of the auction and rumors that a potential purchaser was planning to build a resort park on the mill property caused a public meeting to be called. At the meeting a committee of six headed by Mayor Rudd was formed to bid on the property on behalf of those present. The committee was the high bidder at the auction and purchased the mill property for $9,000 on June 29, 1899. The Glen Ridge Park Association was then formed to buy as much of the Glen as it could, until the Borough or county was in a position to buy it at cost for a park. The mill property was transferred to it at cost on December 31, 1900, and the Borough of Glen Ridge purchased it on December 9, 1901.
The mill and the other buildings were torn down shortly after this, although the dam and water wheel survived for several years. The water wheel was destroyed by fire started by sparks from a locomotive, and the dam was undermined by a series of floods and finally swept away. All that remains is a part of the dam on the north side of the brook. The existing massive stone foundations further down the brook, opposite Herman Street, were erected by Moffett to support his barn and stable.
THE HAYDEN MILL While the mill once located where Hurrell Field is now was known as Hayden’s Mill, the land was originally owned and the mill built by Samuel Benson.
Benson had been manufacturing sheet brass on the opposite side of the Newark and Pompton Turnpike since 1832, but in 1852 he built another mill on land he had bought from the Cadmus family across the turnpike. This mill was located to the west of the present Arcade where the east bleachers and the field house of Hurrell Field now stand.
On March 2, 1863, Benson sold his mill to Peter Hayden for $11,000, the transaction being made for three separate parcels of land coming to almost one and one-half acres of property. Benson remained at the Hayden Mill as a manager until 1875, when he retired. By 1895, Hayden had established a successful business making castings which were used in the manufacture of harnesses.
Peter Hayden died at the turn of the century, and on May 28, 1901, his wife, Sarah Hayden, acting as executrix for his estate, sold the harness factory to Thomas Alva Edison and his wife Mina. (Edison was no stranger to Glen Ridge, already owning at that time an ink factory on Midland Avenue where it is believed he formulated the idea for waterproof ink.) Edison bought the factory and surround land for $19,000.
Edison installed the Edison Storage Battery Company in the factory, where he experimented on a storage battery for electric carriages. Dana Mitchell, a longtime resident of the Borough, recalls Edison’s electric automobile being towed through the streets by a horse when the battery went dead.
In 1924, the Edison factory was demolished and the land was acquired by the Borough to provide the first high school athletic field.
THE BENSON MILL One of the more successful of the mill owners was Samuel Benson who had emigrated from Belleville in 1832. He entered into the manufacture of sheet brass with James G. Moffett at a plant located on the southerly side of Bloomfield Avenue and subsequently known as Moffetts Mill. In 1852, Benson built a second mill on the north side of Bloomfield Avenue for the refining and rolling of sheet silver. He later sold the business to Peter Hayden.
When he was 67, Benson built his third mill to manufacture sheet and rolled brass in Glen Ridge in 1878. Located at the corner of Sherman and Belleville Avenue, it is now Clay Field. At this last plant, the Benson family had a process for making silver-plated copper for reflectors in carriage lamps which they used extensively. Benson continued to run the mill until he died in 1882. Afterward the business was carried on by his son, Henry King Benson who had entered the rolling mill in 1859, at seventeen, to assist his father and to become familiar with the work involved. In 1887, the mill was renovated; a 125 horse power engine was installed.
During that time a non-sectarian Sunday school was also held in the workrooms there with all the greasy machinery around and scraps of metal in piles. Dana Mitchell, local resident and an editor of the New York Sun, was to recall years later, “I regret that some of us boys paid more attention to the mill machinery and the large tanks filled with acid than we did to our Sunday school lessons.” In 1888, when the Congregational Church was organized in Glen Ridge, the religious services were held in the railroad station. The Sunday school gave up its quarters and also moved to the depot.
Frank Benson entered the family business in 1888, joining his brother as a partner for $5,000, after which the firm continued under the title of H.K. & F.S. Benson, successors to the late Samuel Benson. By 1898, twenty men were employed there. On the fourth of July, while the Benson mill would be closed the men who worked there had to mow the field around the Benson home.
When Frank Benson died in 1923, his brother and his widow incorporated the mill and deeded the property to the Benson Rolling Mills, which continued to manufacture sheet brass until Henry Benson died in 1928. The plant was then rented to the Hadden Saddlery Harness Company. The last product manufactured there was flit guns.
Further evidence of this reversal of ordinary community development was the purchase of the mill from the Benson Rolling Mills Corporation by the Board of Education under Clayton Freeman in the spring of 1932 when bonds were issued to the amount of $36,000. Subsequently the mill was demolished so that the site could be used temporarily for a parking lot and then later for a new borough high school. Plans for a school on this site did not materialize, and in 1967, the Board of Education deeded Clay Field to the Borough for the sum of one dollar. Subsequently, paddle tennis courts were built in the site. The Benson family were successful entrepreneurs but also were an integral part of the public life in Bloomfield and Glen Ridge, particularly when Glen Ridge became a Borough apart from Bloomfield. The earliest official record of election in Bloomfield is that of 1871, when Samuel Benson was an elected member of the town committee. It was later held by his sons, Henry and Frank Benson, both of whom served the Borough, Henry on the Board of Health and Frank as tax collector. Frank Benson’s wife, Helen Wilcox Benson, was also active early in the Borough’s history in literary endeavors.
A portrait of Samuel Benson’s two daughters, Harriet and Margaretta, hangs in the library’s main reading room. It was painted in about 1865 in the American Primitive style, and the artist is unknown.