The History of Picatinny by Acting Chief Cultural Resource Manager Jason Huggan will be presented at 7:30 p.m., March 17, in the Meeting Room of Bristol Glen, Route 206, south of Newton. Sponsored by The Col. Henry Ryerson Civil War Round Table, the program is free and open to the general public.
Society President Jennifer Brylinski advises that the prime purpose of their group is to study all aspects of the Civil War’s history, including the causes, battles, political ideology and prominent participants. Its goal is to promote and further stimulate interest in all aspects and phases of the Civil War period, with an emphasis on the contributions of the State of New Jersey.
Picatinny was not established until 1880. However, at the onset of the Civil War, it was realized that, unfortunately, most of the nation’s munitions were not only located in the South, but also confiscated by the South, leaving the North at a severe disadvantage. It was as a result of these circumstances that new locations were sought and eventually, in 1880, the first property purchase was finally made.
Huggan says that because Picatinny Arsenal was not government property during the Civil War, that he plans to show historic maps demonstrating the landscape of the Arsenal prior to its founding and opening in September 1880. From there, he then plans to provide background information on the Cultural Resource Program and the type of historic/archaeological research that has been conducted to date.
Huggan advises that, presently, the Picatinny Arsenal site contains about 5,853-acres. He concedes that due to the amount of land coverage and the passing of several centuries of land usage, that much more time is needed to fully cover the entire site.
But what has been uncovered to date reflects that, as in other parts of the Morris/Sussex County area, Native Americans were part of its early known history with many of the sites remaining to provide some insight into their way of life prior to the arrival of the white men.
Local historians are agreed that it is altogether probable that the potential presence of minerals, the great abundance of falls to provide waterpower and the forests led to the inducement of the early settlement of the area.
Records reflect that it was in 1749 that Jonathan Osborn purchased land that included a falls midway between Denmark and Mt. Pleasant and built what was known as the Middle Forge. This forge is the first known one to have been built on what is now the site of the Picatinny Arsenal and was known by several other names such as Aetna Forge or Righter Forge.
It was a 1750 Act of Parliament that is guessed to have resulted in the building of many more forges in the area, several of which also were built on present-day Picatinny Arsenal. For, in effect, the Act encouraged the importation of pig and bar iron from the colonies, but at the same time prevented them from building mills to manufacture the iron.
It was at this time, and presumably as a result of that Act, that several forges were built on present-day Picatinny Arsenal property. Other forges included the Lower Forge, also known as Mt. Pleasant that was built in 1750 by Col. Jacob Ford, who also located two additional forges there. Col. Ford also built the Upper Forge, also known as Burnt Meadow Forge at Lake Denmark.
One smaller forge listed in history books, but apparently of short duration, was the Merritt Forge that was guessed to have been built off Lake Denmark, near Snake Hill Road. It was built and operated by members of the Merritt family. Huggan concedes that, to date, they have been unable to locate any remnants of this forge.
Moving forward, many of these forges were used, but presumably with small output, during the Revolutionary War. Gen. George Washington guessed that in the Morris County area alone there were, in 1777, an estimated 80 to 100 forges in operation then.
It might be of interest to note that back in those early forge days that the ore and pig iron was carted by horses, with the average horse carrying between 400-500 lbs. of ore and capable of traveling 15 miles in one day.
Also located on the site are several cemeteries. One small cemetery consists of American Revolutionary War soldiers with another burial ground containing pre-Revolutionary burials. Another later cemetery, about Civil War period is also located on the premises.
Huggan advises that some of the large landowners prior to Picatinny were John Jacob Faesch, Samuel Righter, George Righter and Edwin Spicer. The very first land purchase for the Picatinny site was a deed dated June 26, 1880, when George E. Righter transferred 1,195.8 acres of land that centered on Lake Picatinny to the USA government for $35,874.00. This was the Revolutionary Forge Tract. Additional land purchases included land purchased from Uel H. Wiggins, Edward C. Fiedler, Henry and Michael Doland and John E. Kindred. The government paid $62,750.00 for these land purchases.
Somewhere along the way, the tiny hamlet known as Spicertown, named in honor of its owner, Lewis Spicer, also disappeared. And, in the interim, additional land was acquired, and over the course of time, the usage and goals of the Picatinny Arsenal also changed. It was initially designed to store gunpowder, and, in 1907, the first powder factory was built on the site.
The arsenal also commenced research, established testing and control laboratories and established a school to instruct officers in weaponry sciences. During World War II, research and development was placed on hold while the manufacturing of munitions was carried on 24 hours a day.
Much has transpired on the about 6,000-acres of land that today make up Picatinny Arsenal, stretching the centuries from when the Native Americans called the land home to the present where modern research and development on weaponry is transpiring.
At 7:30 p.m. on March 17, Huggan plans to briefly lead his audience to capture highlights of what their research has uncovered to date.
Brylinski may be contacted at email@example.com.
Jennie Sweetman is the history columnist for the New Jersey Herald. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.