History Marks the Spot: Mine Hill & Wharton

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant and Anne Motto, F.M. Kirby Curator of Collections
June 11, 2024

Morris County’s 39 municipalities are home to a fascinating tapestry of historic sites recognized on the state and national level for their significance. Some famous, some little know, together they preserve the story of the people, industries, and culture that shaped our community. In a new blog series, MCHS will highlight the sites to be found in each town and how they contributed to the diverse and multifaceted county we live in today.  

Mine Hill

Bridget Smith House: Likely constructed in 1855, the home, which exemplifies traditional miners’ housing in the area, was initially a duplex, providing compact living quarters for two families. By 1879, Bridget Smith, a miner’s widow, purchased the home from her second cousins and resided in one half with her two children. The other half she rented to another miner’s widow, Margaret Lowe. Following Smith’s death in 1907, her daughter and son-in-law converted the structure into a single-family home. Very few alterations were otherwise made to the 19th-century building, retaining its outdoor privy and hand-pumped water through the 20th century. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, it is today the museum of Ferromonte Historical Society.

Wharton

Morris Canal (Lock 2 East): An integral part of Morris County’s 19th-century industry and development, the canal shaped the economies of many of the area’s fledgling communities. Traversing significant fluctuations in altitude in its route across the county from Montville to Mount Olive with the assistance of 16 locks and 11 inclined planes. The recently restored Lock 2 East (top photo) in today’s Hugh Force Canal Park, also known as Bird’s Lock for the family that once operated it, was responsible for raising and lowering boats by about 10 feet at one of the highest points on its path, playing a role in ensuring the uninterrupted transportation of goods across the state. Eclipsed by railroads, the Morris Canal was drained and dismantled in 1924, erasing much of it from the local landscape, but Lock 2 East and the nearby reconstructed lock tender’s house provide a glimpse into the area’s industrial past.

Saint Mary’s Church (Roman Catholic) Historic District: Tucked within the landscape of Wharton is the campus of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. The current church, built in 1872-3, was designed by renowned architect Jeremiah O’Rourke and was built to fit its environment. Constructed of local stone and other local materials, it still boasts numerous original features, including its stained glass windows. Like O’Rourke, many of the parishioners were Irish, drawn to the area in 19th century by jobs in the iron industry. St. Mary’s surroundings, known as the Grove, further contribute to the story of its development over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, with a nearby barn, rectory, convent, Sisters’ House, and school. Named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2023, the St. Mary’s Church (Roman Catholic) Historic District captures generations of local history.

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