Powerville is the area located around the Rockaway River’s Powerville Dam. Although no longer the industrial heart of Boonton Township, several small businesses still thrive here. The industrial development of the area goes back to the late 18th century when foundries and slitting mills were constructed to utilize the black stone that the Indians had been using to make axes. That material is called magnetite or iron ore.
By 1800 the area had begun to grow. Conrad Hopler had not only built a forge that was later sold to Joseph Scott, but had also constructed the first dam and bridge across the Rockaway River in Powerville. As a side note, it is said that he was paid 3 bushels of salt for construction of the bridge. The bridge was built “towards the close of the Revolution.” Shortly after the war ended, he built the dam across the river just above the bridge. He owned not only the forge, but also an extensive tannery.
In 1822, William Scott cut, at his own expense, a high bank road from the falls in Boonton to his forge and grist mill in Powerville. Today that road is referred to as North Main Street. The construction of North Main Street was not a risk, but a calculated business proposition. John Scott, William’s brother who served as an Army Captain in the War of 1812, was a Commissioner and Director of the newly formed Morris Canal and Banking Company and was a driving force behind it.
The later dam built by the Morris Canal and Banking Company flooded the area, creating a basin where canal boats could anchor for the night, load and unload, and dock for repairs. During the summer drought, this reservoir fed the canal through Guard Lock #11. The dam is constructed of concrete over a wooden interior. To enable mule drawn boats to cross the wide. expanse of river a bridge had to be constructed. One hundred seventy years after it was built, the center support stone pillar can still be seen today in the middle of the river thanks in large part to the Historical Society of Boonton.
The iron was mined in Hibernia and in order to make the smelting process more efficient the Scott forge would first crush the ore and then use large magnets to separate the valuable iron ore from the dross. By the mid 1800’s the forge and rolling mill were producing approximately 450 tons of hoop and rod iron a year. Ultimately the high price of charcoal (caused by the denuding of the local forests), the use of anthracite coal, the introduction of blast furnaces, as well as the discovery of the high concentration of iron in the Mesabi Range in Minnesota made the operation unprofitable.
Continuing south on Powerville Road past DeCamp Drive is the DeCamp house. William Scott DeCamp was instrumental in the development in 1870 of five mine shafts on the Mine Ridge. Ore was shipped to the Musconetcong Iron Works at Stanhope via the Morris Canal. The mines closed three years later, briefly reopened six years thereafter with the mining of 500 tons of ore.
By 1850 a larger rolling mill operated at the dam along with a saw mill, grist mill, forge, and blacksmith’s shop. According to the 1880 US Bureau of Census Reports of the Water Power of the United States the dam had a fall of 10 feet and produced some 125 horsepower. Close by there were company houses, a school and a brewery.
With the demise of the iron industry in New Jersey, Powerville continued to evolve. Across the river from the old DeCamp house in the late 19th Century a paper mill was constructed and a water power raceway cut around from above the dam under the paper mill and back into the river just below North Main Street. While the paper mill has been replaced by other businesses, parts of the Power Raceway are still visible. The iron industry continues to exist in Powerville as there is one in the old “Shop” of the paper mill.
Following the devastating Passaic River flood of 1903 there were proposals to put dams in several places along the Passaic River and its tributaries. One of those places was at Powerville. The proposed dam was to be 28 feet high by 470 feet long and it would have created reservoir 4.6 square miles that would have submerged our valley. According to the Passaic Flood of 1903 the flooded valley would “improve the entire valley and be of advantage to many interests.” Fortunately, Powerville did not fulfill the requirements and was eliminated from consideration.
Powerville is an interesting part of Boonton Township’s history. Take some time to stop at Griffith Park and look around. You will be surprised how much history is still evident.
We would like to acknowledge the sources of information in this article including Munsell’s History of Morris County, New Jersey 1739-1882; Lyons Historical Discourses on Boonton; The Boonton Times Bulletin; The Passaic Flood of 1903 by Marshall Ora Leighton