A BRIEF HISTORY
MORRIS COUNTY, NEW JERSEY
Highlighting the Villages of Drakeville and Succasunna
From Trails to Highways
No footprints of the early highway makers can now be found in New Jersey, but without doubt the elk with his wide spreading antlers became the state’s first road builder as he crashed through brush and forest. From Marjorie Kaschewski’s description of early roads (Tercentenary Edition of Morristown Daily Record, 12 May 1964): “The elk was the state’s first road builder. All the larger animals had a part in deciding travel arteries, but the elk was the primary trail blazer. The Indians followed in his tracks, because he was a great source of food – there was so much of him and his meat was so succulent – and because where he could pass man could follow.
“Other road determinants were the war paths the Indians took en route to battle, and more pleasantly, the routes which they chose in their early summer trips to the shell fisheries on the coast. One of the most famous of these was the Minnisink, considered a real thoroughfare because in some places it was three feet wide. It wound like a snake from Lake Hopatcong; it split into two parts – one going through Parsippany and Hanover to Springfield, the other through Morristown, Madison and Chatham – became one again at Springfield and continued on south through the state to the south.
“The first white men to follow this and the other Indian paths were the Dutch fur traders.
“They were followed in time by the farmer, who traveled not only with musket, but with an ax for hacking his way through the wilderness.
“The earliest settlers went ‘shanks mare’, on foot, until they began to acquire horses for riding and pack horses for their belongings. Next steps toward civilized travel were oxcarts and covered wagons. The first carts were real do-it-yourself projects, the wheels being simply a section of a tree trunk without tire or metal parts.
“Farmers used the Jersey wagon, with cloth covered top, enormous wheels and a team of four to six horses.
“Popular with early freighters and with families moving their household goods was the Conestoga. Its boat-like shape kept any load in place up to six tons – one for each horse pulling. The American custom of driving on the right side of the road dates back to this wagon. The teamster either rode the wheelhorse to the left, walked at that side or straddled the ‘lazy board’ which could be pulled out between the left wheels. Sitting there he could manage both team and brake.
“To give him a clear view, the Conestoga kept to the right-hand side. Other vehicles following found it easier going in the Conestoga ruts and eventually in 1813, the Jersey legislature passed a law ordering carriages to keep to the right.
“The first stage wagons were open with straw covered floor, three or four wooden benches with no backs and no springs.
“Even with the roads in the best of condition, the trip between New York and Philadelphia took for or five days. However, after the Revolution, trip time was shortened to two days, and stage-owners advertised their vehicles – now glorified with springs and side curtains – as ‘flying machines’. Fare was thirty shillings (twenty for the hardy souls who sat outside with the driver) with tuppence a pound penalty for luggage weighing over fourteen pounds.”
“After the Revolutionary War stage lines were set up between Morristown and Jersey City by way of Chatham and Springfield: also between Morristown and Newark.
“The early 1800s were also the era of the turnpike or toll road. They were so named from the ‘pike’ or bar suspended across the road until tolls had been collected. The Shunpike Road was used by those with a thrifty turn of mind.
“Within a few years were built the Morris Turnpike, from Elizabethtown to Morristown ‘and thence into the county of Sussex’; Union Turnpike from Morristown to Sparta; Washington Turnpike from Morristown through Mendham to Phillipsburg and a spur connecting Parsippany and Rockaway to the Union Turnpike.
“Between 1801-1829, the legislature incorporated 51 turnpike companies throughout the state and 550 miles of highway were built.
“A coachline was even installed to the then remote Schooley’s Mountain for summer vacationists ‘much attracted by the favorable location and the excellent spring water.’
“In 1820 the conception of the Morris Canal was conceived by George F. McCulloch of Morristown while on a fishing trip. The upper Delaware could be united to the sea by an artificial waterway across Northern New Jersey via the water of the Lake Hopatcong. At its western end on the Delaware River the canal would link with the Lehigh canal. Its eastern terminus would be Newark, where the Passaic River gave access to New York Bay.”
The building of this canal, begun in 1825 and completed in six years, was one of man’s most fantastic engineering feats. Built by pick and shovel labor with no machinery, just wheelbarrows, the canal included 23 inclined plans and twenty eight locks extending from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean. In transporting loads of iron ore, coal and lumber, lime, and farm produce, the canal boats literally climbed mountains. Hills were crossed by floating the boats into a cradle, the plane car, pulling it by water power over the rise sometimes more than 100 feet. During its peak year, the canal carried 889,000 tons of freight. The trip from Phillipsburg to Jersey City took five days. What a contrast to the speed of today!
The “Notes on the Morris Canal” were quoted from Mary Wolfe Thompson’s biography of her father, Dr. Theodore F. Wolfe. Ore used to stand in mountains on the docks. The ore came from the Dickerson mine on Mine Hill and was hauled by teams of horses, down hill, luckily for them, to the canal.”
The chapter continues with much more of casual interest about the canal days on subsequent pages. And it all started:
The Indian name means “black stone” or iron. The mine at Succasunna was opened in 1713; and was renamed the Dickerson Mine in the 1780s. It supplied many forges, and closed in the 1890s.
Iron Ore: The Economic History of the Area
The Lenni-Lenape Indians lived in several tepee villages on the Succasunny Plains long before the white settlers "invaded" this part of New Jersey.
Morris County has owed its importance to the fact that in its hills are vast quantities of rich iron ore. In the early days more iron was mined in Morris County than in all the remainder of the country. Morris County's base rests solidly on 'Suckasunny', the 'black stone' which the Lenni Lenape braves showed to the white men soon after 1700. Most of the early iron men used ore from the mine opened in 1713 near Succasunna, where the 'black stone' cropped out on the surface and required little digging.
The first forge in what is now Morris county was opened in Succasunna about 1710. Old documents have disclosed astonishing facts about these early forges. A tract of not less than four square miles of virgin timber was considered indispensable for the supply of charcoal needed in smelting. One fire alone consumed one thousand acres of timber annually. Before the forge could be operated, this timber had to be converted into charcoal, an industry in itself. Crude roads had to be built and cabins and shelters erected.
Albert R. Riggs in his book, "That's The Way It Was," describes the making of charcoal in his father's day:
“In connection with iron making, large quantities of charcoal were used. This was made from the wood then in abundance, chestnut. The wood that was made into charcoal was burned right in the woods where it was cut. The wood was stood on one end and built into a mound some thirty feet in diameter, and I think about fifteen feet high, coming to a point a the center of the mound, with a space in the center about a foot in diameter running to the ground. This was a space into which fire was dropped to start the burning. This mound of wood was then covered with sod and dirty six or eight inches thick, with vent holes at intervals to facilitate the burning. As I remember, about thirty cords of wood went into one of these pits.
It took about two or three weeks for a pit to burn down to the point where it was opened and the charcoal raked out. The men who watched the pit were called colliers. The collier had to live in a shack close to the pit as it had to be watched day and night to keep it from burning too fast and making ashes instead of charcoal.”
The early forges were just open fireplaces. The hammers were blocks of iron weighing from 400 to 600 pounds attached to a great log, like a well sweep. Each hammer was moved by wooden gears which derived their power from the water wheel.
The old wooden wheels were about 10 or 12 feet in diameter and had a face of about 4 feet. The first one was an “over shot”. The overshot wheel provided power for the hammer and the other for some stampers that were used to crush the chunks of ore into small bits that could be fed into the furnace. The furnace consisted of a receptacle built of brick or stones with a grate 4 or 5 feet square into which the ore was put. “The very noise was enough to frighten away deer and even bears and wolves. A traveler miles away knew unfailingly when he was nearing a forge.”
The mass of nearly molten metal was taken from the furnace with a large pair of tongs directly to the hammer where it was formed into blooms. These blooms were about 4 or 5 inches square and about 30 inches long. It took a pretty rugged man to handle and shape these blooms into pig iron, cannon balls, wheels, axles, nails, etc.
The early forges were often many miles from their supply of ore. Succasunna ore for the works at Whippany had to be transported on horseback more than 12 miles. Some ore was stowed in leather sacks five hundred pounds to a horse, for a distance of fifteen miles. Sometimes the iron was carried to market in bars bent to fit a horse’s back. The driver often led a dozen horses along the tortuous trail until at last the weary nags sniffed the welcome charcoal at the end of the journey.
In 1722 Jackson’s forge (near Hurd’s Park) was Dover’s only manufacturing enterprise and the Lenape Indians gazed in amazement at the strange ways of the white man while the Indians ground corn meal on the rocks at Indian Falls.
Every mill designing to manufacture iron prior to the Revolution had to be operated under cover, to avoid the law of Parliament made in 1749, forbidding the construction of any rolling or slitting mills in the American colonies.
It is said that the Succasunna mine was known and worked before a plow ever turned the sod of the area. At one time forty mines were in operation in Randolph Township.
When the Morris Canal was built (completed in 1831) between Rockaway and Andover, there were 56 forges, most of which had to be closed because they had exhausted the local supply of wood fuel.
Fuels used for smelting were: 1700-1845 (charcoal); 1845–1875 (anthracite); 1875 (bituminous coal or coke).
Boyer, in his book Early Forges, says one of the oldest forges in New Jersey and certainly the first bloomery in Morris County was located on the Whippany River, about four miles north east of Morristown.
In “History of the Hanover Presbyterian Church”, Rev. Jacob Green in 1767 wrote:
“About the year 1710 a few people removed from Newark and Elizabeth and settled on the west side of the Pessaick River in that which is now Morris County. Not long after, the settlers erected a house for the public worship of God on the banks of the Whippany River (about three miles west of Pessaick River), about one hundred rods below the Forge which is and has long been known by the name of The Old Iron Works.”
This is evidently the works which were later known as the Whippany bloomery.
Its ore was brought in leather bags from the Dickerson mines eight or ten miles away, and the bar iron was packed to market in the same way. The bars were cut so as to be easily carried, and a horse would make about fifteen miles a day.
[Unfortunately we have come to the end of my xerox copy. The reader must consult the book for more at this time.]
Drakeville was named after Col. Jacob Drake. He became one of the early settlers there on a tract of some 500 acres on which he spent the remainder of his life. The original land was a farm of 200 acres purchased by Ebenezer Drake in 1759; a part of the great Boynton tract of 3,314 acres taken up by Joseph Pigeon on 8 October 1718.
For several years previous to 1810 it was called New Market. Its first post-office was established about 1844. Drakeville lies in the valley at the head of the south branch of the Raritan River, having the Schooley's Mountain range on the northwest. It is on the old turnpike passing through Succasunna on the way toward Newton. It has a good water power for a grain and saw-mill. It lies so near the head waters of the south branch, and so near the outlet of Lake Hopatcong toward the east, that the supply of water is materially aided by the lake.
The first school in Drakeville was taught in a cooper's shop, in 1836. The first school-house was built in 1838, and is now in use.
The village has a Baptist church, built in 1874, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a store, a post-office, and about forty houses within a mile of the church.
The Morris Canal passes through this village, having a lock and two planes, by which the level of the canal is changed about one hundred feet within half a mile.
The villages of present Roxbury are Succasunna, Drakeville, McCainville and Port Morris. When the new court-house was built, about sixty years ago, there was a sharp contention among the freeholders whether it should be erected at Succasunna or Morristown. There was a tie in the vote and the chairman, though a resident of Succasunna, gave the casting vote in favor of Morristown.
Succasunna. This word is of Indian origin and the original form was Sogksoona, meaning, it is said, "heavy stone," which the iron ore resembles. The name Succasunna was first given to the Dickeson mine, and the corporate name of the company includes the word still. During the Revolution and before the ore from the mine was carried in sacks on the backs of horses to Elizabeth, thirty miles, for smelting. Another signification found for "Sogksoona" is "Black Stone Creek," and the name was supposed to apply to the north branch of the Raritan, now called, as we have said, Black River, which has its rise not a mile from Succasunna village. The valley here, which is more than a mile wide, has for many years been known as Succasunna Plains. The post-office (spelled Suckasunny), established July 1st, 1808, James Hinchman postmaster, was first east of Black River, at the foot of the hill near the Dickerson mine, now known as the Vannier place. The present postmaster is Josiah Meeker, a trusted and influential citizen of the township, who has held the office since 1861; and the post-office is in the village of Succasunna, half a mile west of Black River.
In 1818 Succasunna became known as a racing center. A course a mile in length was built on a tract of 200 acres, where noted horsemen of the day came from neighboring states to test the speed of favorite animals. After a few years this sport was broken up by an enactment of the Legislature. The property was also used as a training ground of the county militia. The attractions of the place at present are its healthful climate and beautiful scenery and the conveniences of summer residence. The Vannier House, commanding a fine view of the Plains from the border of Randolph, can entertain one hundred guests. The Scheer House, at Drakeville, can accommodate sixty.
The post road from Newark through Morristown and Newton and westward passed through the Plains and Drakeville, and the post-office east of Black River was not far from the residence of General Mahlon Dickerson, one of the most noted citizens of New Jersey, whose kindly interest in the village of Succasunna was manifested in all suitable ways till the time of his death. The first service in the new church which he helped to build was his funeral.
Succasunna is located in the valley of the Black River, about a mile in width, between the Mine Hill range on the northeast and the ridge separating the north and south branches of the Raritan on the southwest. It has one broad street, a mile in length, crossed by two streets leading up and down the valley of the north branch. It has two churches: the Presbyterian, built about 1760; and the Methodist Episcopal, built in 1851 and 1852. There is one public house, which in the days of the academy was built as a boarding house for the students and for many years was occupied by the teacher of the academy. There are four stores, a school house, a smith shop, a harness-maker, a shoe-maker, a milliner, and a pottery selling each year about $5,000 worth of stone and earthen ware. A pottery was here as early as 1800, and the present building was erected in 1813. The village has seventy-five houses within a mile of the churches, many of them occupied by laborers in the iron mines on the northeast border of Roxbury, in Randolph township. The activities of the village are largely sustained by the iron interest in the vicinity.
The Presbyterian Church of Succasunna
This is the church of which our Drakeville-Succasunna Woodruff ancestors were members: i.e., Dr. Hezekiah Stites Woodruff; Dr. Ebenezer B. and Clarissa (Drake) Woodruff; Eliza Ann Woodruff.
The First Presbyterian Church of Succasunna is one of the oldest in Morris County, only that of Morristown and that of Hanover are older. Before a building had been erected or a minister had been called, persons of Presbyterian persuasion were holding “deacons’ meetings,” probably as early as 1745, and the church was organized from the New York Presbytery in 1756. The deed of the church property was executed on September 5, 1765 by James Parker, one of New Jersey proprietors. For the “consideration of five shillings the deed conveyed one acre for a church and burial ground to Levi Lewis, Daniel Cary, James King, and Benjamin Clark.
The first church building was erected about 1760 with timber sawn at Levi Lewis’s mill in Combs Hollow. When the frame of the building was raised it was considered to be of such unusual importance that people came to the raising from German Valley, Rockaway, Mendham, Morristown, Newton, and other places. This first church building, 36 x 40 feet, had only the floor finished and plain seats, no plastered walls and no ceiling. The swallows twittered and flitted and nested among the rafters visible to the worshippers.
Only a few years later the church building and its burial ground had a share in the history of the Revolution. On October 13, 1777, General Burgoyne and his army were captured near Saratoga, New York. The soldiers in charge of artillery brought it to Succasunna. The meeting house was storage for muskets and ammunition.
Large cannon, some of which required three yoke of oxen to haul them, were ranged and sheltered outside. When the new Centennial bell for Independence Hall, Philadelphia was to be cast, the United States government contributed one of these cannon for bell metal. The meeting house was requisitioned by General Washington for use as a hospital for his soldiers during the small pox epidemic. Despite the General’s insistence upon inoculation, there are nameless graves in the old churchyard and old stones dated in the 1700s.
On January 28, 1818, the congregation resolved to repair the meeting house, put on new covering, put in new windows and lath and plaster. Thirty-five years later, after nearly one hundred years’ use, the old building was replaced by a new one, 35 x 50. In the corner stone laid on May 26, 1853, were deposited a brief history of the church, the names of the officers and the members at that time, and certain newspapers.
This was the church that General Mahlon Dickerson, once Governor of New Jersey and Secretary of the Navy under President Andrew Jackson, attended when he was at home in Ferromonte and on at least one occasion brought with him President Martin Van Buren. His funeral was the first service held in the new building and a tall plain shaft marks his grave in the burial ground behind the church.
In 1919 the church was redecorated, the old pews were removed and new oak pews installed. About this time a new pipe organ replaced the old hand-pumped organ, to the relief of the boy behind it, pumping to keep the “sound of music” going.
Roxbury Township School
This may have been the school about which Eliza Ann Woodruff Hopkins wrote in her autobiography. She was allowed to attend school only so many years and then her father felt it was unnecessary for her to attend any longer.
The first school that we have any actual record of was the old Roxbury Academy. Much information about the Academy was received from a circular loaned by the late Frederick A. DeCamp, a former judge of Succasunna.
The Academy was a private boarding school started in 1809. Since it was considered one of the best private schools in the area, it drew students from such distant places as Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Ohio. Students living in the “Metropolitan” area were able to reach the school by stagecoach from New York City and Morristown.
The school was also popular because, as one record says, “The location is particularly eligible on account of its remarkably healthy situation and its freedom from the bustle and bad example incident to large towns.”
The Academy was located in a building just west of the Roxbury Inn on Main Street, Succasunna.
From the records of 1837, we find that the school had grown to an enrollment of 52 boys and 40 girls. From Drakesville, which is now called Ledgewood, came the following (among others): Edward H. Riggs, Charles W. Riggs, Blachley Woodruff; and girls were Eliza King, Harriet R. Riggs, Adeline Woodruff, Mary B. Woodruff (sisters of our ancestress, Eliza Ann). Mendham was represented by (among others): Theodore Dufford.
Most of what is presented above is verbatim from the following books, and all credit belongs to the respective authors. The reproduction thereof is intended for personal use only.
Halsey, Edmund D. History of Morris County, New Jersey, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers (New York: W. W. Munsell & Co., 1882) 365-66. Also at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT: Call number 974.974 H2; and Fiche #6052113 (6 fiche).
Hosking, Annie Stelce and Harriet Meeker. The History of Roxbury Township: History, Tales, Statistics, Pictures. Netcong, NJ: Pyramid Press, Inc., n.d. Quoted various pages of the book from xerox copies; the page numbers did not appear on most of the xerox pages. Also at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT: Call number 974.974/R1 H2r.
Wright, Helen Martha. The First Presbyterian congregation, Mendham, Morris County, New Jersey: history and records, 1738-1938. At the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT: Call Number 974.974/M3 K2w.
Biographical and genealogical history of Morris county, New Jersey
(New York, New York: Lewis Pub., 1899). At the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, UT: Call Number 974.974 D3.
History of Roxbury, New Jersey, a privately owned website.
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