Brookside

Brookside is a narrow valley between low hills running east to west. Hollowed out over many millennia by the Whippany River, along with its feeder streams, Harmony and Dismal Brooks. This valley is low and swampy to the east, and it broadens and rises to the west. Europeans first called it Waterville or Water Street for the abundance of water to power mills. It was rich in resources of water, timber, land for cultivation, iron ore, fishing, and game. The Leni Lenape, Minsi, who moved into this area over eight thousand years ago, used these resources in a sustainable manner and dependant on the seasons. They created trails to their main camp along the Delaware River as well as to their various trading partners and to move seasonally.

These well-trodden paths were followed by European explorers and traders, who visited from their settlements to the east and to the west. They brought prized European trade goods, and unknowingly, shared unwelcome sicknesses which hollowed out the Minsi population.

After the treaty of 1708, Europeans began to settle in Waterstreet. There was suitable farmland to be claimed, streams to be channeled for mills, and minerals to mine. The Minsi, limited in numbers, were pushed out or as in the case of Squire Pitney allowed to remain for a time on land which was no longer theirs. Farming spread as families such as the Drakes arrived. Orchards and large animal husbandry were important parts of this development.

The village expanded as settlers selected places to build their businesses and live. Mills were built in the valley or in the surrounding hills, wherever the best source for waterpower was found. The farms flourished, along with various small businesses.

Henry Clark built a saw mill in the area of Mt. Pleasant Road. The mill pond was located at the top of Dismal Brook (it or its successor remains there today). Elias Byram operated a woolen, fulling, and dyeing mill on Water Street (East Main Street) and Mr. Stevens operated another woolen mill down the street.

Waterstreet became a part of Mendham Township in 1749. It was a small community of less than one hundred people, including farmers, orchardists, millers, blacksmiths, tradesmen, purveyors, and their families.

The Indian trail became a simple dirt track road, which was a primary access road east and west. There were a few other roads, south to Bernardston Township and north to Walnut Grove and the Dover area, which were part of Mendham Township until 1805.

With iron ore locally available, forges were set up and operated such as the Rye Forge near the end of Water Street (currently the Jane McNeil residence). Elias Byram built a home (present day 4 East Main Street) which was also a tavern and Inn.

The local mines played out early. Water-powered mills in the mid-19th century could not compete with larger steam-driven mills. Farms and various businesses continued to flourish, such as the William Ward wheelwright and blacksmith shop. The post office by Harmony Brook provided a new name for the area, Brookside.

A lack of rail service, except for the fleeting Rockabye Rail line at the start of the 20th century (1891 to 1913), left Brookside as well as the rest of Mendham Township as an economic backwater, while other communities developed into economic centers and prospered. The same was true of highway development.

In the 1920’s Benjamin Natkins, a local entrepreneur, wanted to eradicate Brookside’s industrial past. He removed the old mills and structures, creating a residential village by both renovating homes and building new ones.

Fred Kiser, a resident and local teacher, moved a former school to his property in 1923. Fred and his friends, including Natkins, convinced the residents of the importance of a community center, which became the Community Club of Brookside.

After the split from Mendham Borough the local government operated in rooms above the fire station in the old Ward building. The Township Committee had a continued interest in the Community Club and its grounds. They remained separate.

The lack of mass transit, the peach blight, and the economic jolts to the community led to Brookside becoming a bedroom community in the 20th Century. However, local entrepreneurs continue to work locally, mostly from their homes.

 

Brookside Historic District Slideshow Gallery

Donate Funds or Items to the Mendham Township Historic Preservation Committee

The Committee is always on the lookout for stories, papers, photos, or just about anything else related to Mendham Township, New Jersey.