Raritan - The Manufacturing Town
Today Raritan is obviously not a manufacturing town. But it did begin as one - and a few links to that past can still be found. The seed for establishing manufacturing businesses in Raritan began in 1791 when Alexander Hamilton created “The Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures”. That group’s purpose was to find a location that would be ideal for setting up manufacturing facilities.

Three places were deemed possible - the falls at the Passaic, the falls at Delaware, and the Raritan River west of Somerville. (It is not known if Hamilton himself ever stood on the banks of the river here in Raritan to judge the feasibility of the project, but it is known that he had been to this area before as he had attended a meeting at the Wallace House in Somerville in 1779.) While Raritan did not get chosen by Hamilton’s group, it had been identified as a future location that would be ideal for industry.
Alexander Hamilton
That future would arrive in 1840 when “The Somerville Water Power Company” was chartered to build a canal along the north side of the Raritan River in order to encourage private manufacturers to build factories. The canal would start in west Bridgewater and extend three miles ending in Raritan around Thompson Street. For two years, hundreds of laborers dug the canal by hand. It was completed in 1842. These workers needed a place to live and stores to support their needs thus “The Village of Raritan” sprang up on what previously was vacant land that had only one road - the Old York Road (now Somerset Street) - and a few houses.

In the early years many factory businesses appeared on the banks of the river. Some of the early ones listed in history publications are the “James Screw Company” which stared in 1841, a “Rope and Bagging Company” in 1845 and two flour mills. Some of the factories would last a few years - several would last a few decades or more.
This building was part of
the Raritan Woolen Mills
Kenyon Machinery

Kenyon Machinery, which had initially started in Belvidere, moved to Raritan around 1846. They manufactured all kinds of mill and farm machinery. (They would be known over the years by different spelling - Kenyon and Kinyon - and the name varied from Kenyon Co. to Kenyon Brothers to D.R. Kenyon.) This business survived and would employ many local people – one historical reference says 40 workers.

Two of the owners - Job Kenyon and David R. Kenyon - sons of the founder David P. Kenyon – took over the business in 1867. They would be productive citizens in Raritan. They built and occupied two of the large houses on Somerset Street (by today’s Basilone Statue). These impressive homes still stand today. Job Kenyon would serve as the fire chief of Raritan for several years. A photo of him proudly hangs in the North Thompson Street Firehouse today.
Kenyon Machinery would remain in Raritan in the same location – on the north side of the river between Loomis and Wall Street – for around 150 years. They moved to Route 22 in Bridgewater around 1995. About 10 years ago they had financial troubles and vacated that Bridgewater office.

Their buildings on the Raritan River were later occupied by “United Dyes”. A few years ago a fire badly damaged the main building and it is still in ruins. Remarkably a photo of the Kenyon Complex from 1891 compared with today shows a similar layout of the buildings. It is not known if any of the buildings are original or if they were just rebuilt in the same foot print.
The Kenyon site along the river Click to see "Yesterday and Today" photo pair - Kenyon 1968 and today
Raritan Woolen Mills

Another business, the Raritan Woolen Mills, would begin operating in Raritan in 1864. The Woolen Mills would play a big part in the history of Raritan. For at times they employed as many as 500 people. Some of these were children. John Pacifico recalls his mother told him that she worked there when she was just 11 years old.

The Woolen Mills would eventually add a few other buildings. During “World War I” the Woolen Mills was recognized for the consistent quality of the woolen blankets they made for the troops.
The Raritan Woolen Mills shut down in 1947. The main building – later rented to others - survived until being torn down around 2005 to make room for the Riverfront Apartments.

At a glance one may think that all signs of the Woolen Mills are gone today, but the many complexes of brick row houses which we see today were built by the Woolen Mills for their employees. These row houses can be found on First Avenue, Second Avenue, Frederick Street, and LaGrange Street.
7 First Avenue

Another early manufacturing location – 7 First Avenue - has not had that much written about it. It is the long red brick building across from Quick Chek.

This site had a manufacturing facility on the property as early as 1850. Then in 1870 the brick building that we see today was constructed. A drawing of that building and some of the surrounding buildings done around 1880 survives today. So does a photo of workers in front of the brick building.
In the early years they manufactured Reapers and Mowers. The name of the business there changed quite often. Various names were “The Raritan Agricultural Works”, “The Raritan Mower & Reaper Company”, while later it was “William S. Opie & Co.”.

It is obvious that one tenant was the “Hote Raritan Sign & Printing Works” for the name of this company is still visible across the top of the building. Ironically, no information can be found as to when that company occupied the building. But we do know that they used some very durable non removable white paint.
Click to see
"Yesterday and Today" photo pair
In 1917 Agostino Grasso would buy the building at 7 First Avenue. He would convert it into a Macaroni Factory which stayed there for around 20 years.

By the early 1940s the Gidding Clothing Manufacturers would occupy the building.
A drawing from around 1880
shows 7 First Avenue on the left.
Click to see enlarge drawing
Today 7 First Avenue is still owned by the Grasso family.

It is rented to Anthony Krizan who runs a recording studio called “Sonic Boom Studios”.
Anthony was once a guitarist and songwriter for the popular rock group the Spin Doctors from 1994-96.
Many in Raritan do not know that.
A modern studio in an old building
A few other places around town were once small manufacturing facilities.
A building at 62 Second Avenue – now apartments – was the Van Schrader shirt factory for decades till the factory shut down in the 1950s.

In the 1930s and 1940s at 16 Thompson Street - in a building that still stands - was “L.F. Tools”. Various tools were manufactured there. During World War II they made some important specialty tools and parts.
62 Second Avenue