STANHOPE – Area residents participated in an educational walking tour through Stanhope Borough on Sunday.
The Musconetcong Foundrymen Historical Society led the walk, with the group’s curator-historian, Brian Morrell, leading the tour. Following the walk, guests convened at the First Presbyterian Church of Stanhope for light refreshments.
The weather for the walk was sunny, with a light fall breeze, and the leaves at peak, which added to the pleasantness of the afternoon event.
Morrell led the group along Main Street, stopping prior to Route 183 for a view of Lake Musconetcong. The group proceeded through Furnace Park, passing defunct sections of the Morris Canal, as well as Furnace Pond. Along the way, Morrell provided commentary about some of the borough’s historic buildings, including Bell’s Mansion, the Tannery, The Stanhope House, the Plaster Mill (On the National Register of Historic Places, and had also served as housing for iron workers. Sadly, what is left of the Plaster Mill are its ruins), the Deli Delicious building (which the structure is comprised of hollow terra cotta tiles), and a few buildings along Kelly Place (what was the General Store, a building now owned by John Spooner, which houses Printwurks, and Kelly Bottling Works).
Several businesses and buildings also became topics of discussion, as Morrell shared copies of photographs depicting how Stanhope once was. Stanhope was home to two opera houses, including Woolston’s, which is now long gone (and technically, were not true opera houses, but instead entertained visitors with minstrel shows and silent films). Nelden’s Pharmacy was yet another. And many of the old homes along the route on Main Street were additionally discussed – with Morrell relaying the ancestry of who the owners had been (including one home which was the borough’s school).
Well-known visitors to Stanhope were also pointed out. Daniel Webster, famous American Statesman and Senator, held a speaking engagement from the balcony of a building in which is now the Kelly Place Parking Lot (by the post office). Webster stayed at The Stanhope House while he was in town.
Babe Ruth was another famous visitor to the town, who enjoyed patronizing The Stanhope House. Morrell also said that a photo exists of Ruth sitting outside of The Stanhope House in his car.
Stanhope’s roots emerged as a forge town in the late-1700’s, with the Morris Canal, constructed in the mid-1800s, a driving life force in the town. In the late 1700s, Silas Dickerson, brother of Mahlon Dickerson (New Jersey’s Governor from 1815 through 1817, and U.S. Senator from 1817 through 1829), constructed the first forge and nail factory.
Along the way, a number of iron companies called Stanhope home. Among them was the Stanhope Iron Company, Musconetcong Ironworks, and the Singer Manufacturing Company, the famous sewing machine manufacturer.
Stanhope was thriving, with nine different mills in addition to the iron industry, six different depots, about five general stores, and stagecoach stops and hotels. The major iron companies started and owned many of these businesses.
“Think of Stanhope as a company town,” Morrell pointed out, “everything was owned by companies.”
Once the canal was dismantled in the 1920s, Stanhope’s face changed in terms of the industry that was there. The iron industry itself was migrating towards the Great Lakes section of the country, and canal travel was becoming outmoded in lieu of the use of rail.
The Morris Canal itself, Morrell said, was a modern marvel in its day. It was known as a “mountain climbing canal,” due to its elevation changes. Boats were guided through the canal by towpath and mules, and Stanhope had one lock and incline plane in the canal operations. Lake Musconetcong, a swampy area, was dammed to help feed it.
“Engineers from around the globe came to see the canal in operation,” said Morrell.
Morrell described the Panama Canal as a “piece of cake,” in comparison to the Morris Canal, in terms of complexity.
Canal systems in Nova Scotia, Japan, and Poland (still in operation today), were modeled after the Morris Canal.
“It’s sad we don’t have one of our canals in operation,” Morrell said.