Manville Shanty Town Fire?


Manville Fire • Click to Enlarge

Awhile back I did an article on the old Manville / JM Shanty Town that had sprung up on the site of the old creosote factory. Which most of you know later became the Rustic Mall, and then became a Superfund site, and now sits empty as a nice fenced off, perpetual middle finger to the people of Manville. If you’ve never heard of the creosote factory it made the black slime that they use to waterproof and coat railroad ties and telephone poles… and I think some other stuff. It closed sometime around 1960 and looked like this…


Federal Creosote Factory 1954 • Click Photo to Enlarge

According to some of our readers on here, who have had relatives on the Manville P.D. the shanty town were a bunch of folk who lives in boxcars and old handmade shacks. There were a lot of fights, and it was just a rough part of town. Dangerous. The police were summoned back there… a lot.  If you have never heard this place I encourage you to click that link in the previous paragraph to see some photos.

Rumor has it the place burnt to the ground. People died. A lot of people were hurt. I’d be going out on a limb here to assume the above photo was the actual fire that burned the shanty town down, so I’ll just say it could be. Regardless it’s a great photo Taken by Neal Ranauro, to whom we owe a great deal for his very comprehensive collection of almost everything Manville.

Thanks to Gary Carmon for bringing this photo to my attention. He also is deeply interested in Manville’s history and has a great site with some more of Ranauro’s photos, which are not featured on this blog. You can see those HERE.

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Johns Manville Shanty Town?

1st download 3875Click Photo to Enlarge

One of the biggest Manville urban legends that has continued to escape me is one about a “shanty town” that had sprung up around the JM property. I think I have possibly tracked down some photos. I cannot confirm this is it, using context clues here is what I came up with. In the photo above on the left is what looks like the asbestos bays from JM that backed up to the tracks that run over Main street. It looks like the Watchung Mountains in the background there. On the right if you really look you can se the other train line that cuts through the Lost Valley. To be honest when I look at these photos it seems more like this whole site is on what would’ve been the Federal Creosote Factory land, which was nestled in between the two train lines right before what was then know as Port Reading Junction (or basically the Manville train yard).

From the lose hearsay and unreliable information I have gathered over the years, I’ve heard that this was essentially built by workers out of old train cars and scrap wood and that it had eventually burned down. If anyone has any stories of can confirm that this is actually the shanty town, please comment on this. Here are a few more shots. They will all expand if you click on them. Thanks Anne Sullivan for contributing these.

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The Old Smith Homestead

The Old Smith Farm • Click all Photos to Enlarge

According to genealogical records from the Somerset County Historical Archive, Peter P. Smith was born on 01-19-1741 and owned a large farm right in the current area of Walmart and extending into Lost Valley. I had heard rumors of such a farm for many years, so it was a blessing to find  my new buddy Hank over at the SCHS had already mapped out the genealogy… and had these sweet photos to go with it. I can’t really date any of the photos, but let’s try and frame the time period with some context clues. First of all, lets take a look at a pertinent page out of the genealogy book…

Upon his death, Peter Sr. passed his land down to his 4 sons (listed in the document above). One of which was Adam, a son who had a badly burned arm from falling into a fireplace as a child, he was put in charge of caring for his mother after his father passed. He was also in charge of the portion of land with the homestead on it. Here are a couple of photos of their home.

In 1823 Adam moved out to Middlesex County. At some point the land & house must’ve been sold to the Colonial Creosote Company, who used The “Old Smith Homestead” as a rooming house for their employees. According to The Unionist Gazette, the house was destroyed by a fire on December 19th, 1913, which also claimed the lives of two young boys. As of the 1860 Hillsborough Farm Map, the Smith family still owned a good deal of land in that area of town. But, according to the genealogy records all the lands passed from Peter P. Smith Sr. ended up in the hands of the Johns Manville Company. Anyway, here is one last look at the great Peter P. Smith Sr. Farm. I got to say, I’d take looking at this over Walmart any old day.

John’s Manville’s “Asbestos Hotel”

Click Photo to Enlarge

Awhile back someone asked me if I had any photos of the asbestos hotel. Here is a great one I got from a 50th anniversary issue of the Manville News from 1979. This photo is of the Asbestos Hotel while still under construction in 1917. Finished in 1919, the building was originally used to house JM workers. It eventually turned into the JM administration building.


Manville Becomes a Borough 1929

Photo: John Mayola • Click Photo to Enlarge

Here is another great Manville Photo I got from the Somerset County Historical Society. It’s another great one. This is from the 1929 Parade celebrating Manville’s independence and new status as a Borough. This is Main Street and you can see the Johns Manville offices in the background (surely this was no coincidence) It looks like the road was freshly paved, and you can also see The Federal Creosote Company way off in the background. Manville was finally, literally on the map as a new independent, industrial power town. Must have been a pretty sweet party.

Johns Manville Video 1946.

Well this is a new first for the Manville blog. I just recieved this 1946 Johns Manville video from Tom Kopsko, who got it from Larry Straice. It was filmed by Victor Bettinardi… this is an interesting real time look at Manville in the early days. I’m excited to have this up! Thanks again Tom!

Here is some background on the origin of this film, as told by Ed Bettinardi

“These were taken by my Uncle, Victor Bettinardi who was visiting from Oakland California. He had, at the time, the latest “motion picture camera”, and this is but a small portion of the films he took, but the only one of JM. At that time, my Dad, Robert Bettinardi worked in A1 building, which was where JM research was based. I had posted this video to a local Denver Group more than a year ago. I don’t know how it spread around, but I’m glad to see that it has”

The Johns Manville Quarter Century Club

I mentioned a few days ago that the Onderko family contributed a couple of old JM quarter century club programs. Between the great cover design and the many photos in the 1954 issue I had to post these up. The Johns Manville Quarter Century club honored men and women for 25 years of employment with the Johns Manville Corporation. The earliest one we have here is from 1949, which is pretty crazy considering that it honoring men and women that were employed at JM since 1924… 5 years before Manville won it’s independence from the town of Hillsborough. The later one is from 1954, and actually has a mugshot for each inductee. Im going to post just the photos up here, but at the bottom of the post you will see 2 links to download the entire programs, which have a lot more great information including The Charter Officers, Past Presidents, and Executive Committee. The 1954 issue also has a complete list of all active/retired members to date (of publication.) You can enlarge the photos by clicking them. Enjoy.

So, that’s it. All of the 1954 Quarter Century Club inductees, I’m sure there are many familiar faces here. If you’re interested to read more info on the Quarter Century Club, or info about the actual ceremonies you can download the programs using these links.  Thanks again Rich!

JM Quarter Century Club 1949

JM Quarter Century Club-Silver Anniversary – 1954

Johns Manville Factory Worker Photos


One thing that has been suspiciously absent from the Manville blog is the Asbestos producing giant Johns Manville. I think up to now I’ve left it out just because its a negative stigma on the town, and I wanted this thing to be celebratory. But history is history… you can’t change it. All you can do is confront it in the best and most integral way you can. There are a lot of families with history wrapped up in JM, and many good times were had in the orbit of factory happenings. It was the catalyst for the town to expand. Neal Ranauro, my favorite Manville photographer was a photographer for JM. Who knows if most of these photos I have on this blog would have existed if JM never employed him. JM helped the town in so many ways… they even helped pay for the public schools. With that said it was also a monster. A black perpetual cloud cast upon the town forever. Even as a young kid, before I knew of all the court cases, health issues, and company cover ups… Before I knew there was a monetary formula that decided that it was better to just let their company workers work, get sick, and die than to stop production, I did know there was this decrepit old building, surrounded by a decrepit old green fence… I knew my grandparents and great grandparents worked there, and I knew it was a terrible place. I don’t want to take it to bummer town right at this moment, because THIS post is a positive one. One about hardworking industrial families, in a town that was still coming of age. Despite the tragedies that happened at Johns Manville there were lots of proud folks who spent their lives working hard to provide for their families, folks who believed in the power of what they were producing. This great photo collection came to me through Manville Councilman , and fellow Manville history buff, Richard Onderko. He also, got me digital versions of a couple of the JM “Quarter Century Club” celebration programs which will be making a near future appearance on this site. But for now enjoy these great JM worker photos. You can click on them to enlarge them. Thanks again Rich!