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Thursday November 3, 2005

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Celebrating Local History
Denville Book Newest in Series on 'Images of America'

above photo by Joe Gigli

By Jeanne Dikdan Gigli
- Out of the 39 municipalities in Morris County, Denville now has a new book out about the history of its Union Hill section, published as part of the "Images of America" series by Arcadia Publishing. There are 15 other Morris County towns featured in books in this series.

 Started in 1993, the series celebrates the history of towns and cities from all 50 states. Using archival photographs, each title presents the distinctive stories from the past that shape the character of the community today.

 In Denville's Union Hill, author Vito Bianco takes a proud look back at a place the Quakers called "A New Promised Land" and the site where prospectors established iron forges. No longer a religious sanctuary or iron mecca, this southern half of Denville Township is an upscale residential area that, despite great change, maintains many of the old homes and historic sites.

 Some 200 images from the Denville Historical Society's superb collection fill the pages, providing a spectacular view of a charming community and its people. There are photos of a one-room stone schoolhouse built in 1816, the historic Ayers-Knuth farm and family, a map by A. Vanderdonck from 1656 that shows the area of New Netherlands, later known as New Jersey, manufacturing companies along the Den Brook and many, many more.

 Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Denville Historical Society & Museum.

 Another book from Morris County that this writer is familiar with is Mount Olive by Rita L. Hilbert, director of the Mt. Olive Public Library, that was published in 2001. It brings together the history of the two very different sections of the township - Flanders and Budd Lake. Photographs in this collection include gristmills and farms, the neighborhoods surrounding them, and the resort areas around the lake, the largest natural lake in New Jersey.

 The book beautifully portrays an era and a way of life long past. Mount Olive begins with the township's earliest days and includes the recollections of longtime residents and a newcomer's delight. Royalties from this sale will be used to continue the collection, preservation and display of historical documents and artifacts at the Mt. Olive Library.

(above) The Knuths harvested and sold apples and peaches until the orchards were no longer productive. They operated a distillery in the carriage house, where beer, brandy, and wine were made on-site. A well and windmill provided the farm's original water source. Then, a German laborer employed during World War I (from 1917 to 1918), designed and installed a rife ram water system. A hydraulic pump in the stone springhouse (near Route 10) used the water flow of the adjoining stream to pump water to a 5,000-gallon storage cistern at the crest of the property. When needed, water flowed downhill to the farm buildings. The laborer's abrupt disappearance at the war's end sparked rumors that he was a German spy. Martin and Anna, however, were loyal Americans who became naturalized citizens by 1920. When Martin Knuth died in 1935, the prosperity his family enjoyed for 30 years soon followed. In August 1936, an intense fire claimed the barn. Here, Anna Knuth (right) stands with her sister in front of the tree that shielded her home from the burning embers of the barn fire.

 Putting this book together was "a lot of fun and a lot of work," said Mrs. Hilbert. The project took her one year to complete. "It was exciting to talk to people who knew Mt. Olive in its heyday. I made some good friends along the way, too. The book has sparked a lot of interest. I heard of this one group of moms who would drop their children off at school, then drive around together to see if they could find various historical sites shown in the book."

 Both Denville's Union Hill and Mount Olive (both 128 pages, softcover) can be purchased online at or at Barnes & Noble or Borders.

 The "Images of America" series is the largest title series published by Arcadia, that has national headquarters in Charleston, S.C., according to Laurie D. Sawicki, publicist. There are several other series such as postcard, college, transportation, baseball and Civil War history.

(above) Some have claimed that after the union of adjoining school districts in southern Denville and neighboring Randolph in 1860, Pigeon Hill gradually became known as Union Hill. This, however, is only part of the story. The name's origins go back even further. Union Hill actually got its name from the union of the Franklin and Ninkey schools in 1816. The first Union School (1816) was destroyed by fire in 1860 and replaced the following year with this building (seen c. 1905), still standing at 502 Openaki Road. A school at Union would exist for 142 years.

(right) Seen is the interior of the Winds house c. 1890. As a justice of the peace in 1765, Winds refused to use stamped paper for legal documents in protest of the Stamp Act. He used the bark from white birch trees instead of the paper. Winds represented Morris County in the New Jersey General Assembly in 1772 and 1775 and as a delegate to the Provincial Congress in New Brunswick in 1776.

(left) Leonard Cobb takes a winter horse and carriage ride through Union Hill c. 1905. Leonard worked a short time in a Newark bank. That convinced him to become a farmer. He served on the Denville Board of Education in the 1920s and 1930s.

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