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Town History

Excerpted from and by permission of Hackettstown Remembered Through Postcards by Raymond A. Lemasters copyright 1999 Raymond A. Lemasters Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 99-94359

The Settlement of the Musconetcong Valley and the Birth of Hackettstown

No attempt will be made here to tell the history of Hackettstown. That has been accomplished in other volumes such as one by this writer entitled "Hackettstown New Jersey, Growing In America". Instead, what follows is a brief account of the settlement of the area and the birth and early development of the village which became the town of Hackettstown. Some other significant topics are addressed elsewhere in this book.

Warren HouseThe first settler of whom there is a written record was Obadiah Ayers II. He was the grandson of John Ayers, who emigrated to America from Scotland in 1635. Obadiah Ayers came to this area from Basking Ridge about 1754. It was in that year that he bought some 1200 acres of land from the heirs of Thomas Lambert. Like many an early colonist, Ayers was anxious to establish a homestead for himself. Few sites in the colony of New Jersey could have presented a more inviting scene than did the fertile Musconetcong Valley. Deeds recording subsequent sales of land by Ayers to other early settlers make it evident that this land was situated within the present boundaries of Hackettstown and probably included a considerable portion of the land to the east of Main Street. Obadiah Ayers moved here with his second wife, Dorothy Landon Ayers. It is worthy of mention that Alfred M. Landon, a former governor of Kansas and presidential aspirant, was a descendant of the family of Dorothy Landon. Descendants of Obadiah Ayers still reside in Hackettstown.

It took a hardy soul to homestead in this area, which was for the most part wilderness and still occupied by a few scattered Indian families. Ayers proved himself equal to the challenge. Not long after he moved here he sold 200 acres of land to his stepson Daniel Landon. He also sold parcels of land to Edward Dunlop and other settlers, and a village began to take shape.

A map of Indian villages prepared some years ago by the late Charles Philhower indicates that an Indian village which existed in Hackettstown long ago was called Musconetcong. A few early deeds indicate that the town was once called Musconetcong, a carry over from its Indian name.

By 1763, many families were residing in the village. Farming was the principle source of livelihood for the residents. A business man named Mark Thompson began operating a grist mill to process the farmers' grain and a saw mill to supply lumber for construction of the many homes being built. These mills were located on the Musconetcong River, near the point where Route 46 now crosses the river. When Thompson advertised to sell his property in 1777 the ad stated that, in addition to the mills, there were several houses, a cooper's shop, a blacksmith's shop and an eight room hotel with stables. The tiny settlement was beginning to grow.

In 1767 David Reynolds bought about four acres of land from Beniamin Cooper of Hibernia. The deed states that Cooper had bought the land from one John Hackett in 1765 and further states that the land was located in Hackettstown! This leads us to one of the most intriguing questions concerning our town - how did it acquire its name? A fair amount of information is known about John Hackett.

Hackettstown LibraryBeginning sometime prior to 1749 and until his death in 1766 Hackett was employed by William Allen and Joseph Turner. Allen and Turner were prominent Philadelphia businessmen who were active in the iron industry as well as other enterprises. Hackett operated the Union Iron Works in what is now High Bridge for them from about 1749 until 1760, when he took over the management of the Andover Furnace near Waterloo.

About 1755 he married Elizabeth Reading, daughter of John Reading Jr. Reading was the surveyor of the Penn lands near the Pequest River, and being a wealthy man he acquired considerable land holdings in Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex and parts of what is now Warren County. He was twice acting governor of New Jersey and was one of the first trustees of the College of New Jersey which is now Princeton University. There is no doubt that Hackett's marriage added to his prestige. The Hacketts had two sons, Samuel R., born in 1757 and Joseph Turner, born in 1760. Joseph died on August 18, 1761 at the age of twenty months.

Hackett was appointed a Justice of the Peace in Hunterdon County on May 18, 1751, a post which he held until he moved to Waterloo. He was appointed a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Sussex County in 1760. Hackett bought many tracts of land over the years for himself and also for Allen and Turner, acting as their agent. Some of the parcels of land were located in the village of Musconetcong. However, the extent of Hackett's dealings in the village are not known for certain.

It should be noted that there is no evidence that Hackett actually ever resided here. John Hackett died on September 20, 1766. His wife moved to Roxbury to live with her niece. She died in March, 1781. Most of Hackett's land holdings in Hackettstown were sold at a sheriff's sale in 1768 to satisfy unpaid debts. His son Samuel died on January 15, 1790. Although other historians have mentioned that Samuel Hackett lived in Hackettstown, there is no evidence to support or disclaim this information.

Many deeds, beginning with David Reynolds' purchase in 1767, refer to Hackett's Town. Faden's map was drawn in 1769 and published in London in 1777. It shows the town as "Halkettstown". Also, a map prepared by Robert Erskine and published in 1777 shows the town as Hackettstown. The Erskine map was widely used by the Continental troops during the Revolutionary War. The most important point is that it is certain that John Hackett's influence was such that by 1769 the town of HACKETTSTOWN was on the map.

By 1774, dissatisfaction with British rule of the colonies was becoming evident in Sussex County, of which Hackettstown was then a part. On July 16, 1774, at a meeting at the courthouse in Newton, a group including several freeholders and many citizens met to draw up a set of resolutions expressing their objections to taxation without representation and other encroachments on their civil rights. A committee was appointed that day to meet with the committees from other counties in the state for the purpose of naming delegates to the Continental Congress. Named to this committee was Edward Dunlop of Hackettstown. Also in 1774 a state convention took place in Trenton to select the delegates to the Continental Congress. Alexander Stewart of Hackettstown was a member of that convention. He was first elected a member of the committee on correspondence and safety and later chosen as a delegate to the Continental Congress.

Hackettstown Community CenterAs these events took place the town's importance as a center of commerce was increasing. On April 3, 1775, the New York Gazette carried a notice of the planned startup of a stagecoach service between Hackettstown and New York. Thomas Douglas stated that a stagecoach would leave here every Monday, travel through Flanders, Black River, Mendham and stop over night at Morristown. On Tuesday it would proceed to New York via the Paulus Hook Ferry, lay over in New York on Wednesday, and begin the return trip on Thursday. A round trip to New York took a week!

Although no Revolutionary War battles were fought in or near Hackettstown, this was neverless a strategic area. Hackettstown was visited more than once by George Washington. At times he was passing through on his way between Morristown and the battlefront to the north. On a few occasions he came here to visit his good friends Robert and Martha Wilson. Mrs. Wilson was the daughter of Charles Stewart who was Commisary-General of Issues under George Washington. The Wilsons were thus a prominent family and entertained many of the officers of the Continental Army at their home in Hackettstown.

The village continued to grow after the Revolutionary War and into the 19th century. A most significant event took place in 1853. It was on March 1st of that year that Hackettstown became an incorporated town upon passage of a bill by the State Assembly. It is interesting to note that a Hackettstonian named David V. C. Crate was serving his second term in the Assembly. No doubt he was instrumental in the passage of the bill.

Hackettstown was in the news for another reason. Beginning in 1853 and for about fifteen years thereafter, a move was afoot to establish a new county. It was to be called Musconetcong County with Hackettstown as the county seat. It was to include Washington Township and part of what is now Mount Olive Township in Morris County, Independence, Frelinghuysen and Mansfield townships and parts of Hope and Blairstown in addition to Hackettstown. In the final vote in the Assembly the measure was defeated by the narrowest of margins.

Another dimension in transportation was added with the opening of the Morris and Essex Railroad service from Hackettstown to Dover and Newark in 1854. It was not long before freight service was also offered. The opening of the railroad brought about a new way by which the farmers and manufacturers in the area could sell their produce and wares.

The Hackettstown Gazette began publication in 1856 under the ownership of Manning Stillwell. A look at the classified sections of the early issues of the Gazette gives evidence of the town's rapid growth and healthy business climate. Both the Musconetcong House and the Warren Hotel were doing a brisk business because the Schooleys Mountain Springs, which had become a famous resort and health spa, gave rise to a thriving tourist trade in the area.

The quality of education was on the rise. In addition to an expanding curriculum in the public school, there was a private school and a private acedamy in operation from 1854 until 1874. Social life in the town was also growing in importance. The Hackettstown Literary Society was meeting on a regular basis. July 4th was celebrated in grand style for many years. Parades, services and a community picnic at Kemple's Grove were the order of the day.

Hackettstown Fish HatcheryKemple's Grove, later known as the Hackettstown Grove, was situated just across the Musconetcong River near Mine Hill Road. For years it was the scene of many community events and recently there have been efforts to revitalize the grove.

At the turn of the century, gains were continuing to be made in attracting businesses and industries to the town. The Board of Trade had been active for several years before and the town's business and industrial expansion was largely attributed to that group. Fruition of their latest efforts came when the American Saw Mill Machinery Company and the Lackawanna Leather Company both located here in 1903. Another major industry, the M & M Mars candy company, relocated here from Newark in 1958.

This is but a brief glance at how Hackettstown was formed and began to develop. Growth over the years has been steady. Today the town is a thriving community which still retains a good deal of small town charm and atmosphere.

Additional Historical Links

DL&W Old Main - Railroad
Historic Views Of Allamuchy, Hackettstown And Independence

Hackettstown Business Improvement District • 219 Main Street • Hackettstown, NJ 07840
Director Jim Sheldon • Phone: (908) 850-5004 • Email: director@hackettstownbid.com