A Brief History of Ringwood by Elbertus Prol

Ringwood is located in the heart of the Ramapo Mountains at the eastern end of New Jersey. It is known as the Highlands and contains what geologists consider to be the oldest rock formations in the world.

The origin of the Borough’s name is thought to have been selected because the location is ‘ringed’ with wooded hills, or it might have been taken from our present sister city; Ringwood, Hampshire, England.

Before the Europena settlement of this region, the Leni-Lenape and a sub-tribe, the Minsi Indians, dwelt in the Pompton area. Ringwood was their hunting and fishing area and they would camp here for months at a time. Camp sites have been located in Stonetown and the State Park. The arrival of the Europeans, notably the Dutch, and the English, signaled the end of Indian Life in this area.

Sometime around 1740, Cornelius Board, a Welsh miner who had erected a small furnace in Sterling Pond, New York, and the Ogdens of New York, each purchased land in Ringwood. While the Boards’ operation was small, the Ogdens’ erected a furnace in 1742 and became the first volume producer of iron in the area. The Ogden’s named their enterprise ‘The Ringwood Company’, which name is still in existence. The Ringwood Company also produced shot for the French and Indian War.

In 1765 Peter Hasenclever bought the Ringwood Company and established Ringwood as the headquarter’s for a far-flung industrial empire and conglomerate. He created several iron works in the area, importing over 500 workers from Germany and England along with native whites, both free and slave blacks and an occasional Indian. Hasenclever lived in Ringwood near where the present mansion stands.

1771 saw the arrival of Robert Erskine, F.R.S., a brilliant Scottish engineer who took over the management of the company. Erskine was personally appointed Geographer and Surveyor General by George Washington in 1777, and he produced upwards of 250 maps, which were Ringwood’s contribution to the war effort militarily.

Ringwood was not unknown to General Washington, who not only admired it for it’s scenic beauty. He visited Ringwood at least four times during the Revolution. On one occasion, in the company of Mrs. Washington, he planted an oak at Erskine’s tomb; and later, during his presidency he proposed the Ringwood area as part of a 200,000-acre National Natural Preserve.

Ringwood was never confiscated during the Revolution; it does not appear on the lists of confiscated lands in New Jersey or of the Government. The land remained in American Iron Company hands until 1804. In 1807, Martin J. Ryerson purchased Ringwood and Long Pond. Ryerson produced shot for the US war effort during the War of 1812. His sons, lacking the business acumen of their father, sold the property in 1854 to Abram S. Hewitt, agent of the Cooper Hewitt & Company, the principal shareholder being Peter Cooper. They bought Ringwood for it’s vast reserves of iron and operated the mine until 1931, providing iron for the Civil War and other large projects like the US Capitol Dome and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Mines were sold to the US Government for possible use during World War II. After and expeditionary of some $4,000,000.00, the War over, the mines were sold. They operated intermittently until 1957 when they closed. Toward the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Ringwood consisted of the wealthy families located on estates consisting of holdings of a few hundred acres to the 33,000 acre estate named ‘The Forge and Manor of Ringwood.’ Here homes were provided for mine workers and farmhands in the company owned housing known today as Upper Ringwood. Today, much of this land has passed from the private sector into the public trust, retaining the scenic beauty that is Ringwood.

The Borough of Ringwood was incorporated on February 23, 1918, being taken from a ‘portion of the Township of Pompton.’ The first organized meeting of the Borough Council took place in the existing Borough Hall which was provided by the Ringwood Company, on May 6, 1918. This parcel was transferred to permanent Borough custody upon the death of Erskine Hewitt in 1936.

In the late 1920′s and early 1930′s, the Ringwood Company Reorganized to a land company which advertised lake-front lots for vacation cabins. The beautiful location attracted city dwellers for a ‘weekend in the country.’ This initiated the needs for road, electricity, police and fire protection.

In 1920, construction of a 29 billion gallon capacity reservoir commenced and was completed in 1928. Even though 2/3rds of the Wanaque Reservoir lied in Ringwood proper, waters were directed south until recently, when the Borough was permitted to pump water for it’s use. In dry season, the Wanaque River Valley and the foundations and roads can be seen.

After WWII, the population of Ringwood grew rapidly as a result of development companies promoting the area as both a summer and year-round community. Today, the population of Ringwood is nearly 14,000; and yet she retains her scenic beauty!