Pruddentown Historic District
The Pruddentown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Pruddentown Historic District is significant in the areas of settlement patterns and community planning and development. This linear village is one of the best extant examples in Morris Township of the small residential communities that developed in New Jersey during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century to support local industries. From the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century, Morris Township was primarily agricultural, with the exception of two areas of clustered industrial development: the Prudden brickyard area along Mount Kemble Avenue, and the mill area along Lake Valley Road. The industry that was integral to Pruddentown's development, the brickyard, began in the late eighteenth century and continued and expanded into the beginning of the twentieth century. The village (which in the twentieth century became recognized as "Pruddentown") is locally significant for its association with this early industrial area of Morris Township. Although the surrounding area has changed over time, the Pruddentown Historic District remains the physical embodiment of the relationship between the industry and the supporting village.
Early Settlement and Growth of the Community
Joseph Prudden the elder was born to the Reverend John Prudden (a descendant of a long line of Puritan ministers) and his wife [name unknown] in Newark in 1692. In ca.1730-1740, Joseph Prudden settled along Mount Kemble Avenue in the area now known as Pruddentown. Although the exact date of his settlement is not known, historic documents provide some guidance as to the approximate time frame. On May 3, 1733, Joseph Prudden and his wife Johanna sold a "house, barn and ground, etc." in Essex County to Joseph Johnson Jr. It is possible that this sale was coincident with Joseph's move to Morris County as by 1744 Joseph was listed as a deacon in the West Hanover (Morristown) Presbyterian Church and by 1748 he was listed as an elder. A May, 1777 historic document also ties him to the Presbyterian Church in Morris County. On that date, John Morton, a Princeton potter, paid the remaining sum of money due on a loan or "Bond of Mortgage." According to the mortgage records, the money had been obtained in May, 1769 by Edward Lewis acting on behalf of the Presbyterian congregation of Basking Ridge, from the trustees of the College of New Jersey. The mortgage records indicate that the money had been previously paid by Joseph Prudden, the owner of a pottery manufactory on the road from Morristown to Basking Ridge.
The Baptists of West Hanover were the second group to settle in the area. They arrived during the 1750s and settled along Mount Kemble Avenue to the south of the current village near the former brick schoolhouse at the intersection with Sand Spring Road. A Baptist meeting house was constructed there and abandoned before 1770. Scattered dwellings linked this settlement cluster with those at Pruddentown, and in later years the Baptist settlement became generally recognized as part of Pruddentown.
In March 1776, six surveyors of the highways laid out four county roads, including Mount Kemble Avenue, which appears on the 1779 Erskine map. Mount Kemble Avenue was known in the eighteenth century as Mountain Road, Great Road, or, most commonly, the road to Basking Ridge. The present name of the road and the mountain has been attributed to the presence of Peter Kemble, whose house was located further south along Mount Kemble Avenue at the intersection with Tempe Wick Road. The "Basking Ridge road" was heavily traveled during the Revolutionary War as the main thoroughfare entering Morristown from the south. "All recorded movements, whether of troops or travelers, so far as it appears, were made by the Basking Ridge road and through Morristown ... Everything point[ed] to the Basking Ridge road and the great highway" during that conflict.
By the time of Joseph Prudden the Elder's death in 1776, the Prudden family had become locally prominent. In terms of land holdings, Joseph was one of the largest landowners in what would become Pruddentown, with 637.24 acres along Mount Kemble Avenue. Upon his death, Joseph's land was divided among four of his sons, Peter, Joseph, Moses, and Isaac. These four sons, each of whom received approximately 160 acres, were all locally prominent as freeholders. The property descended through the family for several generations. Stephen Ayers Prudden, son of Joseph Prudden, Jr., was a large landholder during the first quarter of the nineteenth century and expanded the family holdings.
Historic maps depict the village's steady growth during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The 1779 Erskine map depicts two of the buildings in the district, possibly 301 and 215 Mount Kemble Avenue. Nineteenth century maps depict a half-dozen Prudden family dwellings and large, unimproved tracts under Prudden ownership. Census data and historic maps indicate that the Prudden family was the most numerous of the families in Pruddentown; however, their numbers peaked during the second half of the nineteenth century while the physical size of the village continued to grow into the twentieth century. Seven Prudden families were represented in the 1840 census. The number of Prudden households increased to thirteen in the 1850 census and to fourteen in 1860. Maps dating from 1853 and 1861 show the village as containing approximately twenty buildings, six of which were associated with the Prudden family, including Stephen, Ann, Amos, Cyrus, Lot, and Hannah Prudden. As shown in historic maps, the number of buildings in the village grew to 27 by 1868, to 33 by 1887, and to 37 by 1910. However, in 1910, the Prudden name appears just three times within the district, demonstrating the dwindling presence of the Prudden family. The last member of the Prudden family to live in Pruddentown was Harry L. Prudden, who died in 1943.
Census records also provide insight into the occupation of the village residents. The 1850 census, the first to list occupations, identifies several masons or brickmakers, including Halsey Chamberlain, Henry Chamberlain, Sidney Hinckley, Alex Eroia(?), and George Hinckley. In addition, there are several wagon or carriage makers (Ezra Pruden, Alfred Armstrong, John Armstrong), a wheelwright (Lott Pruden), a shoemaker (James Pruden), and several farmers (Ira Pruden, Augustus Pruden, and Stephen Pruden). The 1860-1910 census continue to indicate a mix of occupations, including masons, farmers, carriage makers, wagon drivers at the brickyard, and laborers.
From the 1790s until the first decade of the twentieth century, the residents of Pruddentown benefited from an interdependent relationship with the brickyard. While the larger market of Morristown was located only a mile to the north, Pruddentown was largely self-sufficient, due to the confluence of industry and agriculture that flourished here.
The Prudden brickyard was located approximately one mile south of the Morristown Green on the southeast side of Mount Kemble Avenue along present-day Spring Brook Road. The brickyard site was located beyond the district to the east, within the present Spring Brook Country Club. The natural resources near Mount Kemble were particularly suited to the making of bricks. The valley east of Mount Kemble provided clay and the forested Mount Kemble provided ample firewood to heat the kilns. Grasses to be used as a binder for the brick and a nearby water source were also readily available.
The May, 1777 mortgage record described above contains the earliest reference to Joseph Prudden the elder as a potter. When Joseph Prudden the elder died in 1776, the pottery was willed to his son, Joseph Prudden Jr. The 1794 Cazenove Journal stated that there were "bricks to be had at the brick factory, a mile from [Morristown]" at 32 shillings per thousand bricks. Lime from the kiln could be delivered at two shillings per bushel and the yard would also hire out a mason for six or seven shillings per day. It is likely that this description refers to the Prudden pottery as M. Lelyn Branin's history of The Early Makers of Handcrafted Earthenware and Stoneware in Central and Southern New Jersey describes two potteries in Morris County in the nineteenth century, with the Prudden pottery being "the earlier one, probably established during the later part of the eighteenth century."
Joseph Prudden Jr. (1729-1816) operated a pottery beside his house on Mount Kemble Avenue for many years. In July, 1811, Joseph acquired twenty-two acres of land in Morris Township from Sylvester and Elizabeth Russell. The land, which had formerly belonged to John Prudden, was bounded "on the southeast by the road leading from Basking Ridge to Morristown, on the southwest by the land of Stephen A. Prudden, and on the northeast by the land of Lewis Prudden." By a will dated February 14, 1815, Joseph Prudden, Jr. left the pottery to his sons Stephen and Joseph A. Prudden. According to Branin, "a few months later, Stephen A. Prudden and his wife Nancy sold his brother approximately eighty-nine acres of land and premises 'beginning on the road as it now runs toward Morristown...to the southeasterly corner of the farm of Deacon Joseph Prudden, dec'd, near the brook...reserving the right and privilege of cutting ditches on and bringing water off of said land on to my land as far as is necessary and convenient.' The price paid for the property was one thousand dollars. Whether this conveyance released his rights to the pothouse property has not been determined."
In 1819, Keen Prudden, nephew of Joseph Prudden, Jr., left the Prudden pottery where he had apprenticed under his uncle. Keen moved to Elizabethtown where he took over the management of a pottery from Edward Griffith and developed it into a prominent pottery business.
The Prudden pottery and house were depicted in an 1830 map on the east side of Mount Kemble Avenue at the southern corner of the intersection of present-day Old Harter Road and Mount Kemble Avenue. The brickyard was depicted further east along Old Harter Road. The map was drawn to show the route of a new road (now Old Harter Road) to be laid out by the freeholders at the request of Silas Armstrong and other petitioners to connect Mount Kemble Avenue and an earlier alignment of James Street/Road to New Vernon to the east. The house and pottery, now demolished, were standing as late as 1937.
Hiram Prudden (1783-1850) was operating the brickyard by 1839. The yard was used as a landmark for an adjacent property in a deed from Byram Prudden, executor of the estate of Peter Prudden, to Cyrus Prudden, on May 8 of that year. The boundary of the property was described as "beginning in the middle of the road leading from Mount Kemble to a stack opposite the center of the lane running to Hiram Prudden's brick yard." Hiram Prudden's nephew, Cyrus Prudden (?-1889), and Halsey Chamberlain continued the brick business after Hiram Prudden's retirement. Cyrus Prudden was also a contractor and headed a syndicate of machinists that constructed the Dana School in Morristown.
In 1857 Silas L. Armstrong (1829-1898), whose family were long-time Pruddentown residents, took over the business. He enlarged the brickyard and carried on the business for nearly 40 years. Beginning in the 1880s, Armstrong's labor force consisted of mainly French-Canadians, who arrived in the spring and returned to Canada for the winter. They were housed in dwellings near the brickyard, including the ca.1850 Jacob Chamberlain house at 206 Mount Kemble Avenue. That building was described in Orphan's Court records in 1855 as "...the new Brick House which stands on the easterly side of the highway leading from Morristown to Basking Ridge." A right-of-way passed by the house from the highway to the brick kilns in the rear of the lot. Maps of the period note several buildings under Armstrong's ownership, including 278 and 280 Mount Kemble Avenue. The four buildings at 287-301 Mount Kemble Avenue were identified as a group in nineteenth century and early twentieth century maps as a "Coach Fac. & B.S." [blacksmith shop] in 1853, and as belonging to J.S. Armstrong in 1861. They belonged to S. Armstrong in 1868 and 1887 and included a "C. Sh." [carriage shop]. These buildings belonged to F.L. Armstrong in 1910.
During the twentieth century, seasonal African-American workers from the South became the main labor force at the brickyard. During the work season, they lived in dwellings owned by the brickyard. By the time of Armstrong's death in 1898, the yard was producing more than three million bricks per year. After Armstrong's death, the business was carried on as the Armstrong Brick Company, with a sales office in downtown Morristown.
In 1906 Robert D. Foote purchased the brickyard property in order to expand his estate and razed the buildings. Foote was instrumental in the transfer of "brickyard lane" from a private lane to a township street. Spring Brook Road continued to be known as "brickyard lane" and as "the road to the kiln" as late as 1916. The old clay pits are still visible as the ponds and water hazards on the grounds of the Spring Brook Country Club. The club was formed in 1921 on 160 acres of the former Foote estate.
There is no clear record of what the Prudden pottery produced or what buildings were constructed utilizing Prudden bricks. Of the 33 contributing buildings in the Pruddentown Historic District, seven are constructed of brick. The earliest brick structure is 215 Mount Kemble Avenue, constructed ca.1770. The district's brick dwellings were generally constructed between 1825 and 1875. During the earlier (ca.1825-1860) portion of this growth period, these brick dwellings continued to be constructed in the vernacular Georgian form with three-bay, side-hall plans that had been used earlier in frame construction. These common bond brick buildings, such as 223, 238 and 240 Mount Kemble Avenue, feature segmental arch lintels with brick sills and interior brick chimneys. It appears likely that Prudden brick was used to construct the Morristown Aqueduct through which, beginning at a water source at nearby Western Avenue, water flowed through four miles of brick tile. Construction of the aqueduct began in June 1799. Prudden family tradition states that the Morris County courthouse, completed in 1827, was also constructed of Prudden brick. The original part of the Maple Avenue school is also attributed to Prudden. Several Mount Kemble Avenue dwellings inside and outside of the Pruddentown Historic District are recognizable for the distinctive color and texture of the brick, including the ca.1810 former schoolhouse at 445 Mount Kemble Avenue, that are also likely products of the Prudden brickyard.
Other Commercial Enterprises
Despite the brickyard's prominent position within the community, Pruddentown residents did not rely solely on the brickyard for their livelihood. Until the time of the Civil War, Morris Township was a rural, agricultural community; several mills and the brickyard were its only industries of notable size. Morristown was incorporated as a separate municipality from Morris Township in 1865. As late as 1906, fewer than ten businesses were operating in the entire township. Employees and non-employees of the brickyard alike also undertook agricultural and other industrial pursuits. Silas L. Armstrong's father, Silas Armstrong, was a carriage manufacturer and trained his four sons, all of whom lived locally, in the wagon-maker's trade. Under the name Armstrong & Brother, Silas L. Armstrong and his brother formed a partnership and produced carriages together for eight years. The successful carriage factory was on the west side of Mount Kemble Avenue above present-day Harter Road and located between 291 and 293 Mount Kemble Avenue. After the Civil War, Armstrong shifted the business from manufacturing to repair. In later years, Armstrong used the building, which was pulled down between 1916 and 1937, as a stable for the brickyard.
Butcher E.C. Prudden lived on Mount Kemble Avenue and maintained a route along the road and through the surrounding area. He slaughtered animals on his farm, and dressed and delivered the meat. During the nineteenth century, William Harter was a milkman who operated a dairy business from his farm on Old Harter Road. Proprietors Jacobi and Scheir began making Camembert, Fromaze de Brie and Neufchatel cheese in 1875 and sold their product to local stores. Edward W. Cobbett operated a grocery store at 184 Mount Kemble Avenue from the 1880s until the early twentieth century.
Early African-American Community
Among the farmers on Mount Kemble Avenue during the nineteenth century were several African-American families, who predated the arrival of the seasonal African-American brickyard workers by nearly a century. Some of the farmers are reported to have been descended from former slaves emancipated by Peter Kemble. This grouping was one of Morristown's earliest black enclaves and included the northern portion of the Pruddentown district. Kemble's daughter, Elizabeth, conveyed several pieces of land to these former slaves. Jacob Sylvester, emancipated slave of General John Doughty, was bequeathed 17 acres along Mount Kemble Avenue, near the site of All Souls Hospital (now part of the Morristown Memorial Hospital system and outside of the district), in Doughty's 1826 will. In his will, Doughty directed that his three slaves be freed within a year of his death and gave property to another slave, Peter Johnson, whose descendants lived in the northern end of Mount Kemble Avenue during the nineteenth century. Other African-American farmers purchased land from residents or were deeded the property by former employers.
York Mulford, also said to be a former slave of Kemble, began to acquire property in 1836 and purchased five acres from Silas Prudden in 1846. Mulford owned 30-40 acres and farmed potatoes, clover, corn, and lima beans. His son Charles later farmed the property and acquired land from other local families from the 1850s to the 1890s. The Mulfords lived in a brick dwelling located on the property of 205 Mount Kemble Avenue that was recently pulled down. Maps indicate that this dwelling was the Charles Mulford residence in 1853 and the M. Sylvester residence for the remainder of the nineteenth century. The Sylvester family also resided next-door at 215 Mount Kemble Avenue until the end of the nineteenth century.
Francis Nevis (Nevius), another African American, purchased land from Halsey Chamberlain in 1853. His wife and sons sold the house and property at 188 Mount Kemble Avenue in 1900. Properties were typically sold within the black community. Other black property owners in the community, although not necessarily within the boundaries of the district, included Joseph Adams, Cuffee Brown, John Saddler, Isaac West, and the Huff family. By the twentieth century, the small farms were no longer able to sustain the families. Many members of this community sold their property and moved to Newark to find work. The properties became solely residential, as is nearly the entire Pruddentown Historic District today. The brickyard laborers who arrived from the south during the twentieth century lived in company-owned housing and did not form a permanent presence in the community.
The historic archaeological sites of two Prudden family dwellings and an outbuilding on Block 5101, Lot 1 may yield information about the architecture of the ruined buildings as well as the agricultural and industrial elements of life in Pruddentown. One building was a late eighteenth century brick dwelling and another is reported to have been a ca.1800 frame dwelling with 1825 additions. The site of an outbuilding a short distance north of 329 Mount Kemble Avenue has also been identified in a 1916 map. Also located at Block 5101, Lot 1 are the foundation ruins of the Pruddentown Fire Department. The department was organized in 1907 and was the first fire company in Morris Township. Members met in the adjacent Benbrook house at 257 Mount Kemble Avenue and later in that property's milkhouse. Property was purchased in 1912 and in 1914 the firehouse was constructed at a cost of $2,500. "The building was 26 by 30 feet, with a large arch doorway for the apparatus. Upstairs was a meeting and club room. The first story was of concrete and the second of stucco... In 1942, the Morris Township Committee purchased the Mount Kemble Fire Company, thereby giving the Township ownership of all the firehouses." These sites may yield additional information about the village of Pruddentown.
The annexation of the brickyard for the Robert D. Foote estate in 1906 and the construction of the J.W. Arrowsmith's "Sentinel Pines" in 1910 marked the end of Pruddentown as a rural entity. Suburban development began in the 1910s and 1920s north of the district to the Morristown municipal line and infilled portions of the district during the mid-twentieth century. Townhouses, a church, and a sprawling corporate campus were constructed during the late twentieth century beyond the southern boundary of the district. Scattered vernacular dwellings, several constructed of local brick, are still located south of the corporate campus.
The automobile traffic of the twentieth century created the greatest change in the appearance of the district. Mount Kemble Avenue was moderately realigned in 1917. Poured concrete retaining walls mark the locations of straightened sections. U.S. Route 202 between Wilmington, Delaware and Maine was created as a result of the Federal Highway Act of 1921. Several state routes were absorbed into it, including Route 32, of which Mount Kemble Avenue was a part. Beginning in October 1926, the Bureau of Public Roads changed route designations from names to a uniform system of numbers.
Primary Sources Frederick B. Cobbett Newspaper Clipping Collection, Joint Free Public Library of Morristown and Morris Township.
Aldus H. Pierson Scrapbook, Joint Free Public Library of Morristown and Morris Township.
Morris County Deeds.
Morris County Grantor and Grantee Books.
Morris County Wills.
United States Federal Population Censuses, 1830-1910. Rutgers University Alexander Library, New Brunswick, NJ.
Beers, F.W., A.D. Ellis, and G.G. Soule. Atlas of Morris County, New Jersey. New York: Beers, Ellis, and Soule, 1868.
Dolph & Stewart. Street, Road and Property Ownership Map of Morris County, New Jersey. New York: Dolph & Stewart Map Publishers, ca. 1930-1950.
Erskine Map 106A, "Contraction in the Jerseys," 1779. (Joint Free Library of Morristown and Morris Township)
Hughes, Michael. Farm Map of Morris Township. 1861. (Joint Free Library of Morristown*and Morris Township Map Mt-1-8)
Lightfoot, J. and Samuel Geil, Map of Morris County, New Jersey. Morristown: J.B. Shields, 1853.
Lathrop, J.M. Atlas of Part of Morris County, New Jersey. Philadelphia: A.H. Mueller, 1910.
Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Map of Realignment of Mount Kemble Avenue, Sheet No. 2, March 1916, filed March 14, 1917 at County Courthouse as map No. 529-1.
Robinson, Elisha. Robinson's Atlas of Morris County, New Jersey. New York: E. Robinson, 1887 (1979 reprint by Morris County Historical Society).
Sanborn Map Company. Atlas of Morris County, New Jersey. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1937.
† Nancy L. Zerbe, Stacy E. Spies, Patricia Chrisman, Tyreen A. Reuter, ARCH2, Inc, Pruddentown Historic District, Morris County, NJ, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.