From Germany to New Jersey: Colonial Ironworkers

Long Pond Ironworks sign

Peter Hasenclever, born in 1716 in Prussia, was the son of an iron manufacturer. He came to New Jersey is 1765, armed with a pile of cash he secured from a group of English investors that included in the wife of George III. He first bought an ironworks in Ringwood, N.J., and then set about building his ironmaking facility at Long Pond, the colonial name for Greenwood Lake.

To accomplish this he notes in his memoir, “I transported 565 persons to America from Germany as miners, founders, forgemen, colliers, carpenters, masons and laborers, with their wives and children.” What brought them here? In a 1998 article in the Highlander (an excerpt is available here), the author Susan Deeks identifies them as part of the Palatine immigration, an 18th century movement of Germans and Swiss who left the Rhine River region fleeing religious persecution and seeking a better life.

Apparently not everyone of these colonial ironworkers were satisfied with their situation in New Jersey. Hassenclever posted ads in both New York and Philadelphia newspapers seeking the return of “runaway” employees. While I couldn’t find any direct evidence of this, it seems as though this was some type of contractual labor situation if Hassenclever felt entitled to have his rogue employees returned.

The remains of Long Pond Ironworks, which is now a state park, show something of a picture of how Hasenclever’s Germans and their descendents lived.

These homes were built later in the civil war era. They are two-family homes. The one on the left is now part of a building that houses the visitors center and museum, both of which are closed for the remainder of the year due to the pandemic.

Below is the company store where workers bought whatever provisions they required. No need for cash here, purchases were directly deducted from your paycheck. There was no competition. The store was located on what was the main intersection of the village of Hewitt.

Long Pond Ironworks company store

And here’s what’s left.

Long Pond Ironworks company store
Long Pond Ironworks company store

Hassenclever met with some early success. In addition to Ringwood and Long Pond, he built out iron manufacturing facilities in Charlottenburg, N.J., and Cortland, N.Y. He was one of the first large scale manufacturers in colonial America. But he was viewed as a bit of a free spender by his British investors and he was replaced in 1769 by Jeston Humphray, who in turn was replaced by Robert Erskine. It was under Erskine’s direction that Iron Pond produced the iron for armaments and supplies for Washington’s continental army. At the time there were 125 employees

During the 19th century, the iron works underwent several changes of ownership. During the Civil War, it produced rifles for the Union army. At its peak, Long Pond had about 600 employees. But later in the 19th century things began to slow down. Iron and steel manufacturing was headed west closer to the coal and iron mines of Western Pennsylvania and the Great Lakes region. The fire went out in the last furnace in 1882.

Mining remained active in the region into the 20th century. There was an ice cutting operation and sawmill, but those activities were killed off by the Depression. By mid-century most of the residents of the village of Hewitt had moved out in search of more populous and prosperous locales. In 1957 the Long Pond property was given to the state.

Colonial furnace
The Colonial Furnace was the first furnace built at the site by Hassenclever in 1765. All that is left is part of the foundation and much of that is covered by a tarp.
Long Pond furnace
This is the remains of one of two other furnaces that were built on the site during the Civil War era. These furnaces converted ore into iron bars.

There were two water wheels on the site that were used to produce the forced air necessary to get the furnaces up to temperature and keep the fire going 24/7.

Long Pond Ironworks water wheel
A 1909 photo of one of the water wheels
Wanaque River
The water wheels were turned by water from the adjacent Wanaque River, an outlet from Greenwood Lake
Long Pond Ironworks water wheel pit
Around 1870 the owners planned to update the facility by building a 50 ft. water wheel to replace the two 25 ft. wheels. This pit was dug for that purpose but as business slowed the new water wheel was never built.

The Hasenclever Iron Trail is now a scenic hiking trail through the woods. It follows what had been a road that was built by Hasenclever in 1765 to connect his iron making facilities in Long Pond and Ringwood. Many of the rocks on the trail are slag from the mining operation.

In 1987, Long Pond Ironworks was dedicated as a state park. Now, in addition to the historic remains of the ironworks and the Village of Hewitt, it is a site for recreational activities including hiking, boating, ice fishing, birding and horseback riding.

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5 Responses to From Germany to New Jersey: Colonial Ironworkers

  1. Thanks for this slice of colonial American history. Their description as “runaway” employees suggests that they were contracted as indentured servants. (See German Immigration to America by Stephen Szabados.)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Ken Dowell says:

    I suspect they were.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Donna Janke says:

    Pretty trail and interesting history.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I always enjoy your history lessons, Ken. The photos are evocative–I love ruins in woods, you can create such stories from them!

    Liked by 1 person

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