Iron men: Part 1

High Bridge, New Jersey has a long and colourful history. The area was established around 1742 when two men, William Allen and Joseph Turner, leased 3000 acres from the West Jersey Society and built an iron forge on the banks of the Raritan River.
The area was a remote wilderness but the men were attracted by the fast flowing river which they harnessed to drive the machinery of the mill and the heavily forested hills which promised a ceaseless supply of wood for the furnaces. The iron-works that they built and called Union Iron Works, ran continuously until 1971 making it the oldest foundry in US History and the 13th longest continually operating company in the world.
There had been settlers already farming in the area since 1700 but, with the granting of the lease, they all became squatters in law – a situation which lead to unrest and rioting. The situation was eventually resolved only by the intervention of the British Army.
When the American Revolution broke out, Turner and Allen – both loyalists – were forced to flee and Robert Taylor became superintendent of the iron-works. Taylor – a fierce patriot – was soon charged by the American Government with the incarceration of the loyalist colonial Governor of Pennsylvania, John Penn and his attorney-general, Benjamin Chew in the house attached to Union Iron Works.
Solitude House today.


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These slave quarters at the rear of Solitude House are a reminder of darker times.



The two were held for seven months in reasonable comfort (they had their own Italian violinist for entertainment and were allowed to wander six miles from the house unescorted) and Generals Washington and Lafayette, Colonel Charles Stewart, and Aaron Burr all visited them in their captivity.
The Union Iron Works (which would soon be renamed the Taylor Iron and Steel Company was at that time (1777) busy producing cannon balls and musket barrels for Washington’s army.
Around the same time that the Allen and Turner mill came into being, an inn was built on what would later become Main Street. I don’t know what name it went by at that time but it came to be called the American Hotel and it existed in the same spot from the 1740’s until it was razed in 1979.
All that now remains to commemorate the American Hotel.



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This bench should bear a plaque reading “General Washington slept here”. It would be both funny and accurate.




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This ‘artistic rendering’ is all there is at the site to give an idea of the building’s appearance.



On the left of this image from 1917, you can make out the Hotel as it then looked. This is now the street that Jersey girl and I live on. (Image: The High Bridge Historical Society)
When Washington and his wife, Martha visited Penn and Chew at Solitude House (as the two prisoners had rather pithily named it and as it remains known to this day) he stayed at the tavern the original site of which I can actually see from my living room window.
Why such a significant piece of history was destroyed (replaced by a municipal car park no less), I don’t know but it is a sad state of affairs in my opinion.
The Taylors held on to both Solitude House and the Union Iron Works after independence had been won. They were still in possession when America’s next great trial came around.
New Jersey in the 1860s was by no means a strong supporter of the Union (industrialized New Jersey had many economic ties to the South) and had considered joining the Secessionist states before finally throwing its weight fully behind the Northern cause. Once committed to the fight, however, the men of New Jersey joined up in their tens of thousands.
Three entire New Jersey Regiments marched off to Washington fully armed and uniformed (one of the few properly outfitted Federal units at the war’s commencement). Over the course of the war, 52 N.J. Regiments would be formed.
When the 1st, 2nd, and, 4th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry were combined to make up the “First New Jersey Brigade”, it was a Taylor, Major General George W. Taylor, who lead them.
Taylor had been born at Solitude House and, after a stint at a Connecticut Military College, had joined the family business as a worker at Taylor Iron Works. But the young Taylor seems to have been possessed of a somewhat restless spirit. In 1827, he joined the Navy, serving in the Mediterranean before resigning his commission. Later, at the outset of the Mexican American War, He joined the Army and went off to fight.
By the time of the Civil War, he had been out to the Californian goldfields and was back working in the family business in High Bridge but he returned to military service to help organize the newly formed New Jersey Regiments.

In June 1862, Taylor was promoted to brigadier general of the 1st New Jersey Brigade. They fought under his command in the Seven Days Battles. On August 27, during the battle of Manassas Station, his brigade was surprised by General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s entire corps and routed. Taylor suffered a fatal leg wound from a cannon shot and died four days later.

His body was returned home by train and buried in the Riverside Cemetery in nearby Clinton. A large crowd gathered to pay their final respects. The poem “The General’s Death” by Joseph O’Connor commemorates the Death of George Taylor.



Words and images (except where otherwise stated) are my own.



One thought on “Iron men: Part 1

  1. I had all this nicely spaced but Word Press has done one of its favourite ‘ef yous’ and pushed all the paragraphs up together in a squished and blocky mass. Sorry if this makes reading difficult.


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