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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.