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Women's History Month April 2012

Congratulating Det. Patricia Abrahamsen for being honored by the Morris County Prosecutors office during Women’s History Month in April of 2012!

 

 

 

 

   

 

A Brief History of Rockaway Township

 


Rockaway Township is a township located in northwestern Morris County. The township is comprised of 42.8 square miles of land and 3.2 square miles of water for a total area of 46.0 square miles. Within the geographic confines of this area currently dwell 25,438 full time residents.

The earliest people to call this area home were Native American members of the Lenni Lenape tribe. These people, who spoke the Algonkuin language, lived in clearings along the rivers and natural lakes of the region where they hunted, fished, and grew small plots of sustenance crops. These original inhabitants knew this area as the “place of the wild turkeys” or in the Algonkuin tongue, “rockawa”, due to the large flocks of the
birds that inhabited the local valleys. The early colonial settlers corrupted this native term into the area’s current name, Rockaway.

At the height of their occupancy of the region, it is estimated that about 2,500 Native Americans resided in the Rockaway area. By 1750, most of these original inhabitants had moved west due to the encroachment of European settlement. The last known tribal members left the area at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, these people had remained loyal to the British crown during the war and
were no longer welcomed by their victorious Patriot neighbors.

The first European residents in the Rockaway area arrived around 1715. These settlers, mainly from the Netherlands and the British Isles, established small farms in the clearings originally occupied by the former Native American residents. Like the earlier people, these new farmers raise small sustenance crops to feed their families throughout the year.

It was while occupying these former Native American campsites that the new settlers discovered pieces of iron ore lying about the ground. Deposits of the mineral were also found on the surface of the area. It was from these early surface discoveries that the beginnings of the area’s numerous iron mines and related forging businesses grew. This industry began around 1740 and continued within the township until the last mine, the Mt. Hope Mine, closed for the final time in 1977.

The Rockaway iron ore mines and forge industry resulted in the area becoming a vital link in the supplying of munitions and other iron equipment to General Washington’s Continental Army during the American Revolution. Cannonballs, grapeshot, and other items were mined and forged at the Mt. Hope, Hibernia, Middle Forge, and other area mines. The famous iron chain which spanned the Hudson River at West Point to prevent the British Royal Navy from sailing up the river was mined and forged at Rockaway.

An indication of the importance the local iron industry was to the birth of this nation is underscored by the fact that General Washington exempted the iron workers from military service during the Revolution. This was so that they could remain on the job mining and forging the iron implements needed by the Continental Army. This continued production was so important that Washington detailed a number of Hessian prisoners of war to work at the mines. These “home front” workers were in addition to the area residents who served in the Continental Army and those who served in the militia, which was the National Guard of its day.

General Washington himself inspected the local mines several times during the war. He also made Rockaway his army headquarters for a time when he and his army encamped here in 1780. Several written orders and letters to the Continental Congress from Washington survive to this day with the heading of …”Army Headquarters in Rockaway”.

After the Revolution, the Rockaway area continued to be a major center for the iron industry. The area mines continued to supply the iron needs of the growing nation as the nation continued to expand west toward the Pacific coast. To facilitate the transit of these goods, first canals, such as the Morris Canal, and later railroads were built to move the products of Rockaway to distant markets.

It was on April 8, 1844 that Rockaway Township was incorporated as a township by an Act of the N.J. Legislature. Prior to that date, the area was considered to be a part of Pequannock Township with other sections lying within Hanover Township. Later, portions of Rockaway Township were appropriated to form the political entities of Rockaway Borough in 1894, Port Oram, later Wharton, in 1895, and Denville Township in 1913.

With the arrival of the Civil War in 1861, the young men of Rockaway flocked to the colors to join the Federal forces in preserving the Union. These recruits provided men to several companies of infantry and cavalry in the various state regiments that were formed during the war. Unfortunately, the conflict was particularly devastating to the families of Rockaway in both men lost and families torn apart.

Out of all the men from Rockaway who answered their country’s call in 1861-1865, one in three of them died either on the battlefield or in camp from disease. In one particularly deadly case, 39 Rockaway men were drowned when their regiment was attempting to cross the Cumberland River in Kentucky by raft. Their raft began to come apart and the men were dragged down by their heavy equipment and weapons.

One family, the Halseys, had their sons fighting in the 15th NJ Infantry regiment for the Union while another son, who had moved south before the war, was serving in the 1st S.C. Infantry for the Confederacy. There were several times when both of these regiments faced each other on the field of battle. Fortunately, all of the sons survived the war, unlike many of their neighbors.

Once again, the iron industry in Rockaway churned out munitions and equipment for the U.S. government during this war. This tradition of supplying our nation’s armed forces was reinforced on September 6, 1880 when the federal government established Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway Township.

The arsenal originally started out as a powder storage area. However, over the years and throughout the various wars, it eventually became a weapons and munitions research and development facility. It continues today to be in the forefront of supplying our armed forces with the latest equipment and weapons to combat the current War on Terror.

Rockaway Township has not only been a national leader in the area of research and development of munitions, but it has also made major contributions to the aviation and space arenas. Reaction Motors, which had facilities in Rockaway and offices in nearby Denville, designed and developed the early jet engines which resulted in aviation’s conversion from piston engine airplanes to the jet aircraft of today.

Reaction Motors developed the rocket engines that powered Chuck Yeagers’ X-1 aircraft, which was the first to break the sound barrier. They also developed the rocket engines for the Saturn V which launched the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft during the space race with the Soviets to put a man on the Moon.

Rockaway Township today is a diverse community with a mixture of bedroom communities and light industry in the southern part of the township with rural/wilderness areas surrounding the Newark Watershed and Jersey City Reservoirs in the northern section. With the closing of the last iron mine in 1977 coinciding with the opening of the Rockaway Townsquare Mall, one of the largest in the state, the main commerce of the
township was switched to the retail arena.