A Great Place to Live and Work
Boonton became a separate municipality, and was incorporated as a Town under a charter granted by the State Legislature in March, 1867. The area within the limits of the new Town was formerly part of the old Townships of Pequannock and Hanover. Under the charter, the new Town was governed by a seven-man Board of Trustees, but, by an amendment to the charter in 1872, authority was vested in the Mayor and Common Council, now known as the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.
Boonton's charter of 1867 was a milestone in the long history of the Town. More than a century earlier the village of Boonetown (Booneton, Boonton) was established on the Rockaway River, about a mile and a half downstream from the center of the present Town. As early as 1747, Obadiah Baldwin operated an iron refining forge at that place, where water power was in ample supply, and raw materials, such as iron ore and wood for charcoal, were not too far away. Under David Ogden, the owner of the site and a large tract of surrounding land, and, later, under his son, Samuel, the ironworks was enlarged, and a village of workmen and their families emerged. This village was named by the Ogdens "Boone-Towne" in honor of the Colonial Governor, Thomas Boone, in the year 1761.
Throughout the Revolutionary War the Booneton ironworks, which, a few years before, had been enlarged to include a rolling and slitting mill - the first in the County, was busily engaged in supplying numerous miscellaneous iron products for the military. Axes, kettles, horseshoes, tires, cups, rods and sheet-iron were among the items supplied. After the war, operations at Boonton were continued under John Jacob Faesch and his two sons, and, later, by William Scott, who vainly sought to instill new life in the declining business. In 1824, Scott's interest in rejuvenating the antiquated ironworks faded when he learned that the Morris Canal was soon to be constructed, and that it would be of little service to the Village of Booneton a mile or more away.
William Scott was not the only one to see that the nearness of the canal to Booneton Falls (in the present Town of Boonton) would make that site ideal for a large manufactory. A group of business men in New York City shared Scott's view, and incorporated themselves in 1830 as the New Jersey Iron Company, with a capitalization of $283,000. Machinery and families of ironworkers were imported from England, and with the erection of the mills, a new town, called Booneton Falls, began to appear on the rugged hillside overlooking the river. With but few lapses the new Iron Company flourished for nearly fifty years, during which time the works were greatly enlarged, and many more employees were hired and encouraged by easy terms to own their own homes. The new village of Booneton Falls - like the older Booneton downstream - was essentially a one-industry town. The Iron Company supported the Town with its payrolls, and owned most of the land that was later to be within the Town limits. In a spirit of benevolent paternalism, the Company encouraged its employees to be not only industrious, but also sober, church-going, and responsible citizens, and, toward that end, made generous contributions of land for churches, schools, and cemeteries. With the fortunes of the Town so intimately tied in with those of the Iron Company, what followed when the Company closed down its operations in 1876 can be described as nothing short of a major disaster.
The discovery of large deposits of surface iron ores in the Great Lakes region, and the national depression of the 1870's had a paralyzing effect on the iron mining and manufacturing companies in the East; the deaths of D.B. Fuller and J.C. Lord, who had acquired ownership of the New Jersey Iron Company properties in 1852, made the collapse of the industry in Booneton more precipitate and final. Although several attempts - one by the eminent Joseph Wharton - were made to re-establish iron works on a smaller scale, none endured for any great length of time. Only vestiges of foundations and structures remain in the "Hollow", between Plane Street and the river, to remind Boonton of its own Iron Age.
The disaster of 1876 taught the people of Booneton an important lesson: never again should the economic health of the community be allowed to depend upon that of a single industry, and every effort should be made to secure a diversity of industries for the Town. One of the first of the new industries secured for the Town was a silk manufactory, which, as Pelgram & Meyer, and, later the Van Raalte, Inc., contributed materially to the Town's prosperity. Others that followed were a knife factory, a paper mill (at the old village, by then called Old Boonton), a nail factory, a brass and iron foundry, and a carriage factory. Other payrolls also brought money into the town: The Morris Canal, although going into a rapid decline, still employed a number of men; the Lackawanna Railroad, which had completed its Boonton-Paterson branch in 1875, gave employment to a number of Boonton people, and provided commuter service to a number of Boonton residents who worked in New York City and other places along the way. There were, of course, many individually-owned businesses, such as blacksmith shops, machine shops, bakeries and a miscellany of stores, all of which began to prosper as the nation - and Boonton - emerged from the depression of the 1870's.
In 1891 the Loanda Hard Rubber Company was founded by Edwin A. Scribner, and began the manufacture of molded hard rubber products. Seven years later, Mr. Scribner died, and the management of the firm fell to other hands. Among the latter, in 1906, was Richard W. Seabury, who, casting about for new materials, learned of experiments with synthetic resins made by Dr. Leo Hendrick Baekeland, for whom the well-known material, "Bakelite", was later to be named. Originally intended by Dr. Baekeland for a synthetic varnish, the new material was used by Seabury in making the world's first molding of organic plastics in 1907. From that simple and early beginning, one of the world's great industries developed, and made the name of Boonton famous. Boontonware, a molded plastic dinnerware was sold nationwide.
The molded plastics industry was to some extent responsible for bringing the radio and electronics industry to the Boonton area. In the 1920's, the burgeoning radio industry created a large demand for molded parts, and, thereby, attracted the attention of Richard W. Seabury, who organized Radio Frequency Laboratories to exploit that new field. Spawned by that original company, more than a half dozen radio and electronics firms were later formed, and recognized internationally for the excellence of their products. Most of those companies today are operated as divisions of larger coporations, some have undergone changes in name, and have located somewhere else. RFL Industries, Aircraft Radio Corporation, Measurements Corporation, and Ballantine Laboratories are among those contributing materially to the prosperity of the area.
The largest industry in the Town of Boonton during the 20th Century had its beginnings in 1917, when E.A. Stevenson & Company established the "Butter Works" on the site of the old Knox Hat factory, and started processing of cocoanut and vegetable oils and the manufacture of margarine. Under later operation by E.F. Drew & Company, the plant in Boonton had grown to be one of the largest in the country for the processing of edile oils and allied products. The plant closed in the early 1990's and the site remains vacant.
The present Town bears only small resemblance to the village of Booneton Falls, and still less to the village of Old Boonton, whose site has been covered by the Jersey City reservoir since 1903. How well Boonton will develop depends on the skill used in adapting outmoded features to present and future needs without destroying the remnant charms of its interesting past.
This brief description of Boonton's history is based upon the work of Alex D. Fowler as shown in Boonton's 1976 Master Plan.