I was pretty excited on Thursday when I received an email from Richard Onderko. Not just because I was being contacted by one of Manville’s current Councilman candidates. It was rather the content of the email which was something to the tune of “Hey Mike. Meet me over on South 5th I found some great stuff”… and I mean who am I to stand up a possible future Manville Council Seat holder, so I went.
I arrived to meet Richard and a guy named Kevin Shutack, who explained to me the far reaches of his family participation in the towns history. The Manville Police, The Building Commitee, and most thankfully owner of the Manville Print Shop that was right next to the Krausers. I remembered the print shop as a kid… we used to peer into the windows there to find out what went on inside of it. But not to get off track… it seems the print shop handled most of Manville printing needs going at least as far back as the early 40s including the printing of The Manville News. Kevin gave me all sorts of printed goodies that were produced by the shop including A LOT of issues of the paper from 1941-1943. Just as soon as I work out the best way to archive these I will be posting digital copies of the issues just as fast as I can get them up. They are in a super fragile state, with much discoloration and edge damage, but they are brilliant and contain tons of great stories and history including some key Manville events like the building of the row homes, robberies and the Manville train derailment in the 40s in Lost Valley. That’s not even the tip of the iceberg… there are tons of wedding and birth announcements. Deaths, car accidents, reports from the war involving Manville residents, honor role lists, sports scores. I can’t wait to get these up.
This marks the most fruitful batch of town history I have found since Neal Ranauro’s photo archive. I feel like so many mysteries have just been solved. On behalf of the town of myself and Manville’s lost history we definitely own a huge debt to the Shutack family, Kevin, and Richard Onderko for making the connection happen. None of the afore mentioned ever had to waste their personal time to help me communicate this stuff to everyone, but they did. That’s awesome. I also got to spend some quality time with Rich and Kevin who were both very knowledgeable and very willing to share some information with me. Overall I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Saturday morning than striking another victory for my perpetual quest for Manville’s past.
Ok. First of all, to everyone who read the intro section of this site, I said this was meant to be an interactive project. A lot of people are participating in this and I just want to take the time to say thank you… it’s coming along amazingly. In the last post I showed you some photos of the Manville (row) homes that formerly existed on Brooks Blvd on the present site of the High School. Well, Joanne Pignatore was kind enough to share this little treasure with us. It’s a map of what is described as “The Manville Plaza” from 1917. This is interesting since the name Manville wasn’t officially bestowed upon the town yet. The map looks like a map of the row homes… you can see that Brooks Blvd and Dukes Parkway are on either side. You can also see on the map that each block has a corresponding number and within each number are more numbers, which I’m assuming represent plots of land. The photos I posted last time are from the 40s… so this map suggests there must’ve been many more homes in 1917 than there are in the previous pictures i posted, or at least that there were meant to be more built. Im still not 100% on what these houses were originally built for. Im told they were originally owned by the government and used as military homes until they were reliquished to the town and used as a temporary residence for Johns Manville workers. At the moment though it’s all just hearsay, and I intend to do some more research on it… so I’ll keep you all hot and informed on what I discover. Again if there is anyone out there with any difinitive insight into these things please contact me at Devildance@hotmail.com In the meantime though here are clickable more close-up versions of the map broken into left and right halves.
A PORTION OF THE HILLSBOROUGH FARMS MAP FROM 1860. THE HIGHLIGHTED AREA IS OUR ESTIMATION OF THE CURRENT MANVILLE CITY LIMITS. IF YOU CLICK ON THE MAP IT WILL OPEN UP TO A FULL GORGEOUS EXPANDABLE MAP OF HILLSBOROUGH, COMPLETE WITH ILLUSTRATIONS OF PROPERTIES FROM THE DAY.
Prior to Manville’s inception as an independent borough in 1929, the land on which the town currently rests was part of Hillsborough, New Jersey. An intricate patchwork of farmlands—which occupied this same portion of Hillsborough—can be seen on the above map from 1860. We have estimated Manville’s current boundaries on the 1860 map, by shading the areas around the town. We then compared the 1860 map to a current map of Manville, which revealed a number of interesting discoveries about the land prior to the existence of the town.
One of the most interesting discoveries was the diversity of farmland ownership that existed on such a small portion of land. We counted around 50 individually owed parcels of farmland. Isaac C. Higgins owned the largest of the properties, and you can see an illustration of his farm below. The names on the map are irrelevant; nevertheless, it was exciting to see all the farms that occupied the land on which Manville was built. In addition, these farms conceivably played a role in bolstering New Jersey’s reputation as the “Garden State.” Perhaps the foodstuffs produced on this land went to places like New York City, Philadelphia, and beyond. Yet, in order for such produce to make it to market, these farms had to be situated near railroads, canals, and roads.
The borough of Manville utilized the same roads once used by farmers in the 19th century. After comparing the two maps, we noticed that a number of the roads in Manville (e.g. Camplain Road, Main Street, Duke’s Parkway, and JFK Boulevard, formally known as Weston Road.) were built upon preexisting roads; however, Weston Road (JFK Boulevard) may have been rerouted to accommodate the railroad. We are unsure as to how old some of these roads are, but it is a fair assumption that a few of the roads—particularly Main Street—predate the Revolutionary War. (We are quite certain that the Main Street passes along, or directly on, the same road that becomes Millstone River Road in Millstone, which is one of the oldest roads in the area. However, since we lack definitive proof, we can only make an educated guess by comparing the 1860 map and he current map of Manville.) It was interesting to discover that the current loci of the roads in Manville are similar to those in 1860, and that these roads may have played a vital role in local agrarian commerce.
A 1860 ILLUSTRATION OF THE RESIDENCE OF ISAAC C. HIGGINS REPRINTED FROM THE 1860 HILLBOROUGH FARM MAP.
ONE OF THE BUILDINGS FROM THE OLD VAN NEST’S MILLS WAS LOCATED RIGHT AFTER THE WILBUR SMITH BRIDGE HEADING OUT OF TOWN ON THE MANVILLE WESTON CAUSEWAY ON THE LEFT… IT’S PICTURED ABOVE, ALTHOUGH THE ACTUALLY BUILDING THAT WAS ROBBED BY THE BRITISH ARMY MAY HAVE BEEN SLIGHTLY UPSTREAM.
In the pre-Manville Weston days the most important event that probably ever happened was the ever famous “Battle of Millstone” or “Battle for Van Nest’s Mills” Actually in my travels amongst the the information superhighway the name Van Nest or Van Neste has popped up quite a bit. When I started to understand that Van Nest Mills was along the Millstone, memory beckoned and I thought EUREKA! I HAVE BEEN THERE! When I was a young kid my grandfather used to fish off of the old Millstone bridge, the mill was still there in the early 80′s (or what was left of it) he used to explain to me the importance of the area and as a young guy I don’t think I really got it. However, I do remember the old water turbine in the building after it collapsed… when you’re a kid the prospect of creating power by water is like mindblowing. At the time I had never seen anything like it. When the building collapsed in 1982 I remember being bummed because i loved the place, if I had only realized what a blow it really was for history. The Van Nest Mills was believed to have been built around 1740. On January 20th 1777 it was the site of the famous Battle of Van Nest’s Mills” in which the British, being low on rations, tried to rob the mill of flour to feed their troops. Much to the dismay of the British the Continental army of 450 men including 50 Pennsylvania Riflemen were wading across the freezing January water of the Millstone to avoid the defense cannons the british had set up on the bridge and intercept the goods, which they eventually did. Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson reported that the Patriots captured “107 horses, 49 wagons, 115 cattle, 70 sheep, 40 barrels of flour – 106 bags and many other things.” They also took 49 prisoners. General Washington reported to John Hancock that the British removed “a good many dead and wounded in light Waggons,” estimated to be 24 or 25 in total compared to the 4 or 5 losses sustained by the Patriots. From what i can gather from random articles on the actual Mill, it was later known as “Bayards Mill” and then””Rodger’s Mill” named after each of the owners. Beginning in the 1920′s it was owned by Wilbur Smith, in 1982 it collapsed, and in 1983 a fire burned the remanants to it’s foundation.
photo reprinted from: the 1932 firemans scrapbook called “down memory lane”
“Company Number I fire truck, mired in the mud in answer to a fire call in the vicinity of Brooks Boulevard, and North 19th Avenue, which area was called Irishtown, or Little Dublin, in reference to some of the Irish settlers in the area. Picured in an attempt to free the truck from the mud is Joseph Bulat. This event took place in 1926. The truck has three chemical tanks of 35 gallons each, for a total of 105 gallons. It was a Ford Truck. According to Joe Bulat the following men were at the fire: Andrew Hambor, Whilliam Whelan, Pat Whelan, Mike Fatto, George Esposito, and Adam Fucillo.”
Every good community is dictated by the will of it’s people. In the early 1900′s there was no such place as Manville, NJ., but only a small section of Hillsborough that happened upon an ever growing population with the asbestos manufacturing giant Johns Manville serving as its catalyst. Johns Manville showed up in town in 1912, and by 1914 Polish families were flocking from eastern Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh as well as Jersey City and Bayonne. Between the creasote factories, the railroad, and newly formed asbestos factories there was more work than a town could shake a stick at… industrial America had planted its foot dead smack in the floodplain farmlands of what was soon to become Manville NJ. By 1915 a small firehouse had sprung up, and by 1917 the firehouse was serving as a place of worship. By 1921 they had built the glorious looking Sacred Heart Church and were conducting class in the basement. The community was growing at a furious rate, and according to the townsfolk, Hillsborough was ill prepared to accomodate the newly popultaed area or provide the basic modern necessities of life. Some recall a situation involving a fire truck getting stuck in the mud while responding to a fire. After years of pressing the townspeople rallied around the Catholic Church, emancipated, and became an independent Borough in April of 1929. Among them were future Mayor Joesph Onka and future Police Chief John J. Jasinski. Manville prospered over the following decades even despite the great depression and World War I. In fact the war probably helped considering Johns Manville had been producing asbestos products for the war effort itself.