Based on the research documented in the National Register nomination and the Historic Structures Report, the following themes have been identified:
- 1. Delaware River Commerce in Northwestern New Jersey c. 1745 to c. 1850.
In the mid-18th century, today’s Knowlton Township was part of New Jersey’s northwestern frontier. Unlike initial settlement patterns in many parts of the state where Dutch, English, Scottish or Swedish immigrants banded together to settle a particular region, the individuals who first settled Knowlton came from varied cultural backgrounds. In 1795, James and Adam Ramsay, Irish immigrants, purchased property on the Delaware and established a store, gradually expanding their services with the addition of a post office, a lumberyard, a sawmill and a blacksmith.
By the early 19th century, Ramsaysburg was representative of similar commercial enterprises along the Delaware. Small commercial centers that served and were served by river transportation could be found from Phillipsburg north to the New York state line. While overland transportation was possible, at that time river transportation was the principal means for servicing the sparsely settled area, and small outposts such as Ramsaysburg were vital to life and commerce.
The early economy was closely related to Delaware River commerce and included trapping and lumbering. Lumber from northern forests was shipped downriver on rafts. Farmers and inland industrial enterprises such as Oxford furnace, as well as the Columbia glass industry, shipped their products by Durham boat from points along the river to Philadelphia. The local economy was supplemented by the construction of lime kilns by prosperous farmers, the hiring out of the labor of subsistence farmers and tenants, frolics as a means of getting large jobs accomplished and the investment of service providers (storekeepers, tavern keepers and smiths).
This theme also addresses the influence and importance of geography and the area’s natural resources.
- 2. River Life and Culture, c. 1745 to c. 1850. This theme, which is closely tied to the theme described above, explores in greater depth the culture of river communities, including religion, social life, politics, government and life-ways of area residents over the first one hundred years, including the impact of the French and Indian War, health issues, living conditions, technology, and communications.
- 3. Railroad and Highway Development and the Resulting Changes, c. 1820 to c. 1940s. The introduction of non-resident private investors in infrastructure and town planning (Blair – Delaware Station) and their economic motivations, favored by the local geography, led to changes in the face of Knowlton. Existing river crossings (ferries and bridges) were supplemented by new road construction and eventually the development of railroad junctions and crossings. The latter resulted in the decline of Ramsaysburg and the growth of Delaware Station and Columbia. New industries sprang up in the Township, and the advent of the 20th century resulted in the development of modern highways, specifically U. S. Route 46, which provided a 20th century automobile link between the Delaware and the Hudson.
- 4. The Rediscovered Wilderness: The Rural Vacation Era, c. 1870-1950 (Relates also to #3 above.) The new concept of the summer vacation and the escape by rail and road from the gritty city created opportunities for river communities like Ramsaysburg. By the end of the 19th century, Knowlton Township and the northern Delaware River became a middle class vacation destination as pleasure boats supplanted Durham boats and Ramsaysburg and other similar sites were adapted and developed for vacation use.
- 5. The Highway Age, c. 1950s to Present: How the government policies and the development of the interstate highway system changed and continue to change Knowlton Township. Threats and benefits to the environment, the economy and the quality of life for Township and New Jersey residents. Summary of effects of man and nature on the environment.
- 6. A Transportation Chronology: The Impact of River, Rails and Roads on Community Development and the Environment, c. 1745-Present
In the 18th century the Delaware River played the principal role in opening northwestern New Jersey to trappers and the lumbering industry, as well as to the area’s pioneer settlers. As scattered farms were established beginning about 1745, the rafts and Durham boats that plied the river also carried the farmers’ produce to market and brought necessary supplies to the region. Farms could be found in scattered locations along early roads, many of which followed earlier
Indian paths. From Phillipsburg, New Jersey, northward to New York, enterprising individuals such as the Ramsay brothers established mills, storehouses, stores and taverns along the river to serve the lumber industry and the local population. As a result of its location on the river and at the junction of a road to Hope, Ramsaysburg grew into a thriving village, and the Ramsays became one of the area’s wealthiest families. Just a short distance north of Ramsaysburg Homestead, a ferry crossed the river to Pennsylvania and two churches were built, and by the early 19th century the Columbia Glassworks was established at Columbia, which developed as a commercial center a few miles north of Ramsaysburg.
When the Warren Railroad was constructed on the east side of the River Road (today’s U.S. Route 46) in the 1850s, the railroad company paid for the right-of-way through the Ramsay property, along with the cost of moving the Ramsay house and storehouse to the west side of the road where the house stands today. While construction of the railroad in the 1850s would ultimately cause Ramsaysburg’s fortunes to diminish, its sawmill and store continued successful operations by the Ramsay family until the 1870s. However, the advent of the railroad led to new development patterns for the township. John I. Blair, a partner in the railroad, constructed Delaware Station a mile north of the Ramsay businesses, and developed a village around it. In addition to the station, this new village contained a hotel, two churches, a store, bending factories and other businesses, so it soon made sense to move the post office from the Ramsay store to Delaware, thereby diminishing the importance of the Ramsay store. Today, the post office in Delaware has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating post office in New Jersey.
Eventually, five railroad lines crossed Knowlton Township making a huge impact on the community. At the height of the railroads Delaware was served by two: the New York, Susquehanna and Western, which also served Columbia and Hainesburg, and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western. In 1910, railroad development also resulted in a major engineering feat when the Paulinskill Viaduct was built for the former main line of the DL&W’s Lackawanna Cutoff. At the time of its construction, the viaduct was the largest reinforced concrete structure in world. Ironically though, in spite of railroad development, Knowlton Township’s population and land values had peaked in the 1840s, a decade before the railroad development, so the railroad was hardly a harbinger of prosperity.