It all started in 1847, when a freed black slave named Mrs. Elizabeth Sutliff Dufler purchased 87 acres along the river and began selling clay to the potteries in New Jersey. Dulfer was born a slave, but went on to became a successful businesswoman in Little Ferry after her clay company along the Hackensack River soon became the second-largest in the nation. She passed away at 90 and is buried at Gethsemane Cemetery in Little Ferry.
Little Ferry was formed during the "Boroughitis" phenomenon that swept through Bergen County, during the late 1800’s from portions of Lodi Township and New Barbadoes Township. It began as an important ferry crossing between the region's towns at Bergen and Hackensack and this ferry is what influenced the name of the town, "Little Ferry", "little" being that it was smaller than another ferry which crossed the Hudson from Jersey City and Hoboken to New York City.
But back to my story..
The first brickyards were established by Cole and Shower in 1872, but soon passed into the hands of John Thume before passing into the hands of the Mehrhofs. Little ferry became a hotbed of activity in the brick industry due to its extensive beds of clay which led to hundreds of people being employed in the brickyards. Bricks on barges floating down the Hackensack River were a common sight.
Many more brick companies would find their place in Little Ferry; W. Felter, Charles E. Walsh, Treviranus & Gardner Brick Yards, and James Gillies were just a few. In 1895, the combined output of the four large yards reached 100,000,000 bricks annually, making Little Ferry the second largest producer in the United States.
By 1904, Little Ferry had in total eight brickyards operating, but soon after World War I, the brick industries of Little Ferry began to decline. In 1923, the number was down to four, and finally the Hackensack Brick Company was the last brickyard to go out of business.
At the eastern end of Main Street is the Classic Mable and Tile.
If we went back 100 years , we'd find this to be the location of Treviranus & Gardner.
Treviranus & Gardner was once the scene of a race riot In which the white residents of the town opposed 75 colored men employed in the brick yards of the company.
The Mehrhof’s were a major family in the brick business. Not only did they have the Mehrhof Brick Company at the foot of Mehrhof Road, but also had the the E. N. Mehrhof Company at the foot of Treptow Street. After the finished product was complete, the Mehrhofs loaded up the bricks into the four schooners to make their way to the markets in Paterson, Newark, New York and Providence, Rhode Island. A schooner is a type of sailing vessel with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts, the foremast being shorter than the main and no taller than the mizzen if there is one. The Mehrhof firm owned one of the fastest river schooners in the country which was under the command of Capt. "Joe" Kinzley, who retired in 1915. The schooners were later replaced by barges. Horse-drawn vehicles were used for over-land transportation.
The Mehrhofs were originally from Hesse Darmstadt, Germany until 1841, when the father of the family, Philip, left for America and soon found himself in Croton Point where he worked as an architect. He moved to Oneida where he lived out the rest of his life until 1869. The brothers started in the brick industry almost immediately upon coming to America, when they found themselves working for the A. Underhill Company.
The middle child, Peter Mehrhof, was the first to come to the town of Little Ferry where he purchased 120 acres of land and set up shop. He was sooned joined by his brothers.
I visited the Losen Slote Creek Park which has a trail that encircles Mehrhof Pond, which was formerly a clay pit for a brick manufacturing company that occupied the property until the 1940’s. The park is named for the Losen Slote (Dutch for “winding creek”), a Hackensack River tidal tributary. This was once the location of some of the Mehrhof Enterprise.
After visiting the park, I headed up to Washington and Pickens to see Willow Lake. In 1884 it was the site of the Felter brickyard.
Heading further north in Little Ferry, I make my way to Lakeview Field, which is situated around Indian Lake.
The pond was once a clay pit for the brick industry as well.
The clay pits of Mr. Gardner were once the scene of a horrible tragedy when his daughter, just one month shy of her wedding, accidentally fell and slipped into the clay pit and drowned.
Today the brickyards are gone, but one can go and see what is left, the three lakes of Little Ferry; Willow, Indian and the pond at the end of Mehrhof Road. After the brick yards stopped operating, the pumps were left idle which let the ponds fill in.
In the Wortendyke section of Midland Park is the former railroad station of the New York, Susquehanna and Western line. Passengers service was discontinued in 1966 and now is strictly freight.
The Wortendyke station now houses a pottery studio and gallery while an adjacent Pullman car is used as restaurant and catering hall and caboose has been transformed into a hot dog stand.
On the side of the road in the industrial part of the meadowlands lies a single smokestack. Most drive by, many don't notice it, nor do they notice the memorial on the side of the road for it. But it's at this site where a major fire took place a century ago.
It was January 11, 1917, when a fire started in Building 30 of the Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Kingsland , which has now been renamed Lyndhurst. All it took was 4 hours to erase the massive plant off the map. The residents of New York City watched across the harbor in horror as 500 000 pieces of explosive shells were set off .
Canadian car and foundry was a company based in Montreal and although America was not yet involved in the war, it set up a plant in New Jersey for the production of war ammunition.
There was major speculation as to the source of the fire even going as far as to say it was sabotage from the German government. The plant had been set up to assemble weapons for shipment to Russia. It was later discovered that the fire started at the bench of one of the workers, Fiodoe Wozniak who was said to be surrounded by rags. On the bench in front of each employee was a pan of gasoline and a small rotating machine operated by a belt. It is said when the fire started he tossed what looked like water on top of the flames although no one knows where the water came from.
Germany never admitted guilt but paid America reparations.
As per lyndhurst historical society:
A heroine emerged the day of the fire. Kingsland resident Tessie McNamara, who operated the company switchboard, was credited with saving many lives. As the fire raged on, Tessie stayed at the switchboard that Thursday afternoon. She plugged in each of the buildings and shouted the warning, “Get out or go up!”
Thanks to her dedication, no one was killed in the fire.
Escaping workers were able to cross the frozen Hackensack River or run up Valley Brook Avenue to safety. The National Special Aid Society later presented Miss McNamara with a check to honor her for her bravery.
The Lyndhurst Historical Society has created a vest pocket park dedicated to her memory. The park is located on Clay Avenue, between Valley Brook Avenue and Wall Street West.
As I step up on the viewing platform and look out into the marsh I notice something jutting out from the water. It is a single smoke stack, the final reminder of the factory and the events which took place.
The destruction at the Kingsland Explosion, found on Youtube, uploaded by Critical Past
July 20 2015
The small cemetery on a hill next to a Quick Chek along Washington Avenue in Carlstadt may be well hidden, but not enough to deter the bad luck the cemetery has endured for the past few decades.
The Outwater cemetery is located in an industrial area in the NJ Meadowlands with a wooden flight of steps leading up from the Quick Chek parking lot. The cemetery dates back to the 18th-century, with the first of the 26 interments within the family cemetery dating back to 1752, and the last in 1892. Just beyond the family cemetery is the final resting place of 18 Hessian soldiers who died fighting for the British during the American Revolution. They now rest in unmarked graves.
The graves have a history of being disturbed in the past, starting when Captain John Outwater's grave was dug up and his skull stolen. Mayor Will Roseman found the bones scattered amongst the site and took them home and stored them until a casket was donated so they could be reinterred. The skull was never recovered.
John Outwater was born on September 17, 1746, just as the Great Awakening began to affect the Bergen County area.15 The American roots of his family extend back to Franz Jacobsen who had emigrated sometime prior to 1657 from Oudewater, Holland to settle in Albany, New York. In Albany, Franz had raised two sons: Thys Franz Outwater and Thomas Franz Outwater. In 1686, Thys left Albany and settled in Tappan, New York where his descendants can be found today. Thys' grandson, Dr. Thomas Outwater, was a noted surgeon in the Revolutionary army.16 Franz's other son, Thomas Franz Outwater, bought a third share of a stretch of land called Moonachie Island between Berry's creek, Indian Path, Losing Creek, and the Hackensack River by 1680.17 Thomas had seven children: Jacob, Thomas, John, Peter, Elizabeth, Jnnneke and Annajie.18 John Outwater, the son of Jacob, was born at Moonachie in 1746.19 The Jacob Outwater family differed little from other Bergen County Dutch families. Their moderate wealth was derived mostly from the sale of farm products in Hackensack and New York. Jacob Outwater served as a Bergen County Judge in Hackensack between 1755 and 1758.20 The Outwater's were also active members of the Reformed Church at Hackensack........
.....Captain John Outwater's Company of the Bergen County Militia Regiment was one of twenty-five companies raised by Act of the New Jersey Assembly in 1776. However, due to the demoralizing retreat of the Continental Army across New Jersey after the Fall of New York and the surrounding American positions, it seems the Company did not actually form until early 1777. When the Company was assembled in Hackensack, the Company elected its Company Commanders: John Outwater as Captain; Adam Boyd, Lieutenant, and Abraham Allen, Ensign. Outwater's Company one of several companies in the Bergen County Militia Regiment, commanded by Colonel Theunis Dey. The Company was composed of Jersey Dutch farmers and tradesmen who attempted to protect their property from British foraging parties. Because of the proximity to the British in New York City and the large Tory or Loyalist population, Bergen County was dangerous for those in rebellion. Unlike other militia, it was often unsafe for these men to return to their homes. Because of this, the men of the Outwater's Company were often on constant duty, much different from the men of New England. Raids into the area from New York City and British held Paulus Hook (now Jersey City) were frequent and often directed towards capturing militia men at home. The militia tried to guard the roads amd rivers as much as possible. When not repelling raiders or invasions, the company concentrated on interdicting Loyalist trade with the British in New York. Goods for the British were often sent down the Hackensack River and the goods and transporters would be seized by Outwater's men. The Justice of the Peace would then award the goods to the captors. Sometimes Outwater's militia guarded prisoners for the Sheriff. In December 1780, the State legislature commissioned the company Outwater's Company, New Jersey State Troops. State Troops were considered a cut above militia; the comparative stability of their long-term enlistment allowed them to be assigned more important and intensive duties. They served as State Troops through 1781.
In 2005, local boy scouts took on an Eagle Scout project to renovate the cemetery, clearing a front path, pruning, weeding, restoring cement pillars, repainting the rails and driving sonar stakes into the ground to deter groundhogs. But luck didn't last long, the solar stakes were vandalized and a bronze cross that was placed at the front entrance was stolen.
Last summer, sound tests were conducted on the property to locates the graves of the 18 soldiers as the county is planning on infrastructure improvements to the highway and sidewalks surrounding the area. They found that the project would not affect the final rest of the graves and could go forward.
As of now, the souls of those on the hill overlooking the traffic zooming by will continue to rest as the city around them continues to grow.
All images © 2012-2016 Laura Gonzalez
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.