Port Colden Historic District
The Port Colden Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
Port Colden Historic District, situated mostly in Washington Township, but partly in Mansfield Township, Warren County, NJ, possesses significance in the areas of transportation, settlement pattern, commerce, education, and architecture. The community owes its existence to the Morris Canal whose transportation significance has been recognized by listing on the New Jersey and National Registers, and the district encompasses a portion of the abandoned canal including remnants of Plane 6 West, Lock 6 West, and a large boat basin. Port Colden exemplifies the settlements that developed at such focal points along the canal to serve canal patrons and employees, as well as the surrounding rural population. Local entrepreneurs typically played an important role in the development of such communities, and one such individual, William C. Dusenberry, is particularly identified with founding Port Colden. Although his efforts ended in his own financial failure, Dusenberry figured significantly in the early development of the village, speculatively subdividing into building lots property which he acquired in the 1830s and erecting a number of buildings including the settlement's first storehouse and a large tavern or hotel, the Port Colden House, a local landmark then and now. That the Port Colden Historic District has commercial significance is due to its hotel and three stores, physical documents of the economic and social importance of such establishments in the region's rural neighborhoods. The community's educational significance stems from its 1869 schoolhouse, a well preserved example of the most substantial school buildings erected by civic minded citizens in the region's prosperous villages during the 19th century. The Port Colden Historic District also has architectural significance as an assemblage of modest, 19th century buildings which are representative of the rural region's modest vernacular architecture in that era and because of its porticoed hotel, one of the best examples of Greek Revival architecture in Warren County. In addition, archaeological resources relating to the area's 19th century material culture may be present at canal and building sites and the environs of district buildings.
Although the neighborhood around what was to become Port Colden was settled well before the middle of the 18th century, it was not until the opening of the Morris Canal in 1831 that a village began to coalesce around the lock and plane constructed there between 1828 and 1831 and the large boat basin finished in 1837. The village flourished in the middle decades of the 19th century and obtained some local importance as a business and educational center. It was, however, always overshadowed by the neighboring village of Washington, located one mile to the west, which became the junction of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad and the canal in the 1850s and thereafter grew rapidly into one of the region's major industrial and commercial hubs. Its development arrested, Port Colden continued into this century as a limited local service center, a role which largely ended upon the abandonment of the canal in 1924.
While scattered residential development has occurred in and around the community, and its business activity has been supplanted by highway commercial development to the west, much of Port Colden's 19th century character survives. Most of the Port Colden Historic District's buildings date to the middle decades of the 19th century, although one is much earlier and a few are later. The distinctive historical character of the settlement results from the survival of these buildings and their mostly tight linear spacing along an embryonic rectilinear street grid. These resources, mostly dwellings, but including several commercial and institutional buildings, are fairly well preserved and in their form, construction, detailing, and siting illustrate the rural region's vernacular architecture in the mid-to-late 19th century. The Tietsworth Store, for example, (518 Route 57 East) typifies the gable-fronted commercial type common to the area's 19th century villages, the Methodist Church (64 Port Colden Road) is representative of the auditorium plan church introduced in the latter 19th century, and various dwellings which exemplify traditional and popular house types and construction practices found in the region. The influence of popular architectural styles is apparent in the detailing of several district buildings which exhibit embellishments of Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival derivation.
Several buildings are of individual architectural note. The 1835 Port Colden House (1-3 Port Colden Road), the district's largest and most impressive contributing resource, is an outstanding provincial example of Greek Revival architecture. The massive stuccoed-stone structure with low-pitched hip roof exhibits such characteristic Greek Revival elements as a full-height portico of square paneled pillars (instead of the columns utilized for more high style buildings) stretching across its front, a wide encircling entablature whose plain frieze is pierced by horizontal, 3-light windows, and a main entry with side lights, wide transom, vertical 2-panel door, and simple flanking pilasters. Both inside and out the decorative trim incorporates Grecian ovolo moldings, and many of the twelve fireplaces feature the plain-pilastered mantels typical of local Greek Revival work. The 1869 Port Colden Schoolhouse (1 Front Street East), a well-preserved example of the 2-story schoolhouse type with a single room and vestibule/cloak room on each story and a gable-end entry and belfry, exhibits an amalgam of Italianate and Gothic Revival design motifs including wide overhanging eaves, round-arched door panels, and wide mullion-like central muntins on the front windows.
As depicted in the 1828 canal survey the site of the future village was vacant, mostly wooded land in the ownership of several individuals, crossed by the Washington Turnpike (Route 57) and the road from Changewater to Oxford Furnace (Port Colden Road). A triangular lot of several acres on the east side of Port Colden Road between the canal and the turnpike was the property of George Creveling who also owned land on the south side of the turnpike. Land to the east of Creveling, abutting Port Colden Road north of the canal and encompassing the site of the boat basin and inclined plane was owned by Newbold Woolston, whose house and barn near the foot of the plane were evidently the only buildings in the immediate vicinity. Woolston was one of the neighborhood's early settlers, and the stone house built by him or his son, Abraham, (12 Morris Canal Trail) survives today as the Port Colden Historic District's oldest building. On the west side of Port Colden Road was a long narrow parcel of several acres which extended from the turnpike to the bend in the road at what is now the north side of the district. It was owned by John B. Parke, a rich farmer and landowner who lived at nearby Changewater. The land to the west of Parke and the canal lock formed part of a large property belonging to another prominent local landowner, Col. William McCullough of Asbury.
Joining the ranks of local entrepreneurs inspired by the economic promise of the Morris Canal, William C. Dusenberry acquired considerable property at what became Port Colden between 1833 and 1838 including much of the Creveling and Parke holdings. William Coxe Dusenberry (1807-67) was the youngest child of Major Henry Dusenberry, a large landowner from New Hampton, a village located a few miles south of Port Colden on the Musconetcong River, where he was successfully engaged in several commercial and industrial enterprises before his death in 1825. An early canal advocate, the elder Dusenberry was one of two Hunterdon County citizens asked to join in petitioning the state legislature on behalf of the proposed waterway in 1821. Probably inspired by his father's example and perhaps utilizing assets inherited from him, as well as borrowed money, William Dusenberry energetically sought to develop his new property on the canal and promote the fledgling community. He erected the settlement's first storehouse on a 1.18 acre lot just north of the canal on the west side of the road purchased in 1833 and the hotel (1-3 Port Colden Road) on a turnpike corner lot acquired in 1835. Dusenberry purportedly intended the large hotel with its impressive Greek Revival portico as a summer resort. His father had been a principal in the development of a local spa, the Mansfield Mineral Springs, which subsequently failed and which he purchased from his father's executors in 1831. The son is said to have demolished the old hotel there, transported the salvaged materials to Port Colden, and used them in constructing the house (4 Port Colden Road) which he built as his residence on the triangular lot of 4.5 acres on the other turnpike corner acquired in 1833. Dusenberry evidently erected a number of houses and a chapel at Port Colden; one local source credits him with the construction of over 32 buildings there. His expansive plans reputedly led skeptical neighbors to call the place "Dusenberry's Folly," and to countermand this Dusenberry is said to have named it Port Colden in honor of Cadwallader D. Colden, second president of the Morris Canal and Banking Company. Regardless of its origins the place name of Port Colden was in use at least as early as February 2, 1834 when a post office was established there with William C. Dusenberry as the first postmaster and presumably was located in his store.
In addition his land development and commercial interests, William Dusenberry pursued business opportunities in the field of transportation. He and his brother Joseph were partners in the operation of a stagecoach line between Trenton and Belvidere, a venture which evidently ended upon Joseph's death in 1831. He next engaged in the canal freight shipping business. In 1833, the year of his first property acquisitions at Port Colden, "Mr. W. Dusenberry" submitted an application to the canal company for the construction of a boat basin "near Hackettstown" (the intended location is thought to have actually been Port Colden, although the large basin there was not constructed until 1837), and in June, 1836 "William C. Dusenberry and Co. Port Colden" advertised for "hands and mules to run 150 boats." Dusenberry appears to have been overly optimistic about this venture; he had acquired only 25 boats from the canal company by that time and by the beginning of the next year had to request that the company release him from his contract to purchase 18 more, a request granted on January 19, 1837. Dusenberry also became involved in the attempt to found two railroads. He was one of the incorporators of the Port Colden-Belvidere Railroad which was chartered on February 9, 1836 and of the Port Colden-Morristown Railroad incorporated February 28, 1837, neither of which venture was successful.
The proposed Belvidere railroad appears on a c. 1836-37 survey map of William Dusenberry's Port Colden property which depicts the subdivision of his land between the canal and turnpike into building lots with buildings on several of them including the "Hotel" and his "Mansion House" on the turnpike corner. Dusenberry began to sell these lots and his other holdings (including lots on the west side of the road north of the canal bridge) in 1836, although he continued to acquire property at Port Colden including a 77-acre farm on the south side of the turnpike purchased in 1838. In 1838 he sold his residence to his widowed mother by a deed which indicates that she was already living on the premises, and sometime thereafter he moved to Jersey City, perhaps in pursuit of other business opportunities. He was back in Port Colden by the middle of 1840, after which, if not before, he began experiencing the financial difficulties, no doubt exacerbated by the economic downturn associated with the Panic of 1837, which resulted in the seizure and sale of his remaining Port Colden property at several court-ordered sheriff sales in 1841 and 1842. He had mortgaged the hotel property, for example, to the Morris Canal and Banking Company in 1835 for $2,000, and the foreclosed property was sold in 1841. Embroiled in his affairs, his mother lost her house in 1842 and died one month after it was sold at auction. After this debacle, Dusenberry moved with his wife, Jane Anderson, and their growing family to New York City where he died in 1867.
Dusenberry was not the only entrepreneur active at Port Colden early in the canal era. The hotel lot was one of several lots which John Anderson, Dusenberry's brother-in-law, subdivided from a 2-acre portion of the Parke tract fronting on the turnpike purchased by him from Parke in 1835 and sold off within a few years. The 1837 deed for the six contiguous lots sold by William McCullough to Joseph Carter refers to "the town plan of Port Colden," and several other property conveyances made by McCullough in that year indicate that had platted the eastern portion of his large property into a rectilinear grid of small lots with several perpendicular streets of which "Canal Street" (present day Lock Street) ran along its eastern border abutting the former Parke tract. While lots fronting the turnpike and Canal or Lock Street were sold, the two other streets mentioned in the deeds, "Dusenberry" and "Ball" were never opened.
A second storehouse was constructed on the south side of the canal (23-29 Port Colden Road) on a lot conveyed in 1836 by John Parke to Cornelius Stewart, a merchant and mill owner, who in the following year acquired the site of the canal basin from Abraham Woolston. Canal company records indicate that the basin was constructed during his short ownership of the property which he conveyed to the company in 1838. Stewart bought and sold other property in the village (including the remainder of McCullough's holdings) before and after 1840, and for several years in the early 1840s he "engaged in mercantile business" there.
The middle of the 19th century evidently was a prosperous period of expansion for Port Colden. Extensive improvements were made to the canal in the 1840s, work which included widening the prism and rebuilding the locks and inclined planes to accommodate larger boats (the rebuilt Port Colden plane was one of only three double-track planes on the canal). By 1844, according to Barber and Howell's description, the village contained between 12 and 25 dwellings, as well as a church. The church presumably was the one on the Dusenberry "chapel lot" on Lock Street acquired in 1842 by Abraham Woolston, an active Methodist in whose barn in 1810 or 1812, and subsequently in whose stone house (12 Morris Canal Trail), the neighborhood's Methodists are said to have first met for worship. The hotel property was sold at auction in 1842 to William Phillips, and shortly thereafter the building was converted into a private school of Episcopalian affiliation, known as St. Matthew's Hall. The school purportedly was conducted first by a "Rev. Mr. Babbit;" he was succeeded by another Episcopalian priest, the Rev. Peter L. Jacques, who in 1845 purchased the chapel lot and two years later the school property from Phillip's widow. An 1849 newspaper article noted that the Rev. Jacques had three assistant teachers and between twenty and thirty students; and the 1850 census records that his household included fifteen boys between seven and seventeen years old, two male teachers of foreign birth, and three female Irish domestics, in addition to his wife and three children. An 1852 advertisement for the Rev. Jacques' "English and Classical school" noted that a "Female Dept." had been added. Evidently not a financial success, the school closed sometime before 1862, in which year Rev. Jacques lost the property at a sheriff sale. The community acquired a physician in the 1840s, Dr. William Cole who settled on property west of Lock Street fronting on the turnpike which he purchased in 1841.
Limited commercial and industrial development also occurred at Port Colden during the middle of the 19th century. Canal boatmen figured prominently among the community's residents enumerated in the 1850 census, and by 1860 the village was home to three boat builders, one of whom Ashell Gaylord evidently established his boat yard in the 1850s on property on the east side of the basin rented from the canal company. His boat yard flourished for more than a decade, becoming the community's most important business. According to the 1870 Industrial census he employed hand-powered tools and machines to build five boats worth $4,750 and conducted repair work valued at $6,300 (the size of his work force was not given). The lumber used in this business is said to have been milled at a saw mill owned by the canal company at the summit of Plane 6 West (Morris Canal Trail). It probably was the saw mill listed in the 1870 industrial census operated by W.S. Opdyke which employed eight hands to produce 300,000 feet of lumber valued at $6,000. Gaylord also acquired the property west of Lock Street previously platted into building lots but had little success in developing it. Another mid-19th century industry was the apple distillery established before 1860 on the creek at the north edge of the village; a much more modest enterprise than Gaylord's boat yard, John Opdyke's distillery had one employee in 1870 and produced 1,212 gallons of cider worth $303 and 54 gallons of "liquor" worth $162. A brick yard was established at Port Colden by the 1870s which operated at least until the 1880s. It evidently was the "brick kiln" depicted in the 1874 atlas just west of the village near the residence of E.N. Dilts; according to the 1870 industrial census brick maker Nathan Dilts employed five men using horse power and hand molds to produce 200,000 brick worth #2,200. Dusenberry's storehouse on the north side of the canal is said to have been converted into a paper mill which was run by John L. Brewer and destroyed by fire about 1870. It must have been a short lived enterprise, since it is not listed in the 1860 and 1870 industrial censuses. A number of artisans settled at Port Colden during the period including a shoemaker, blacksmith, wheelwright, tinsmith, tailor, and a mason.
Port Colden also attracted several merchants. The village had three general stores in 1860: the former Cornelius Stewart storehouse, owned and operated by David M. Wyckoff, another conducted by William Widener, and a third operated by the partnership of "Carter and Martenis." The 1874 atlas depicts four stores in the village, three along the canal (the A.M. Nunn store, formerly Stewart and Wyckoff (33 Port Colden Road), W. Widener's store (62 Lock Street), and C.C. Hummer's store (63 Port Colden Road) and a new store on the turnpike (518 Route 57 East) operated by William Tietsworth. Andrew M. Nunn was succeeded by Simon W. Nunn who carried on an extensive business well into the early 20th century when he was touted as "the Wanamaker of Warren County." After the demise of St. Matthew's Hall, the building was reopened as a hotel which operated from the 1860s until the latter part of the century, when it was known as the Elbro House and owned by members of the Wyckoff family, one of whom George P. Wyckoff converted it into his residence.
That the middle of the 19th century was a prosperous period for the community is evident in the substantial brick school house erected in 1869 (1 Front Street East), quite possibly from locally manufactured bricks. Its construction was noticed by the Washington newspaper which commended the "liberality, and public spirit" of the School District and the community. Andrew Nunn and Ashel Gaylord are said to have been instrumental in instituting the project. Village children had previously attended a small, stone, octagonal school just east of the village on the turnpike. Although the old Episcopal chapel was converted into a three-family dwelling (10-12 Lock Street), the second story of the school house was used for religious services by local residents who left the Methodist church at Washington. A new congregation was formed, and in 1893 a church of modern design (64 Port Colden Road) was built overlooking the canal basin on a lot donated by Simon W. Nunn.
By the 1870s, with the exception of the Methodist church, Port Colden had realized its maximum 19th century development, and thereafter began a period of slow decline which culminated in the closing of its various commercial and industrial enterprises by the early 1900s and the abandonment of the canal in 1924. Although the Morris and Essex Railroad, constructed in the 1860s, passed just south of the village no stop was established there and business activity was drawn to the growing town of Washington. While in 1881 the village contained a hotel, the Elbro House, two or three stores, a blacksmith shop, wheelwright shop, brick kiln, [and a] distillery, the boat yard had been abandoned and one or two stores closed. There was a spurt of activity in the early 20th century when the Phillipsburg/Port Murray trolley line was built along the old turnpike to Port Colden in 1906 and shortly thereafter extended to Port Murray along the route of the canal. A power house and car barn were erected by the trolley company just south of the inclined plan, and a picnic grove called "Silver Spring Forest" was established in a nearby wooded ravine during the following year in an attempt to attract customers to the line. While several houses were erected and/or remodeled before and after 1900, no new commercial or industrial development occurred. The lack of rail connections put Port Colden at a competitive disadvantage, a situation, made worse by declining traffic on the canal, that boded ill for the economic health of the community. By the World War I era all of the community's commercial and industrial enterprises had closed. The Nunn canal store, for example, closed sometime after the death of Simon Nunn in 1810 and was converted into apartments by the early 1920s; the post office was discontinued in 1919. The long moribund canal was abandoned in 1924, and the financially strapped trolley company ceased operations in the following year having just replaced its Port Colden facility with a new barn and power plant at Broadway. The boat basin was purchased by Washington Township Board of Education who built a consolidated school of modern design (30 Port Colden Road; Port Colden Elementary School) on the property in 1931. The new school, much enlarged and remodeled, remains in use today, as does the Methodist Church.
In recent decades Port Colden, along with other villages of northwestern New Jersey, has attracted new residential development. Scattered building has occurred around Port Colden, and many of its dwellings have been renovated. Undergoing renovations which respected its historical architectural, character, the old hotel was converted into professional offices in the 1980s.
Books, Pamphlets, and Reports
Barber, John W. and Henry Howe. Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey. Newark: Benjamin Olds, 1844.
Bertland, Dennis N. Early Architecture of Warren County. Belvidere, NJ: Warren County Board of Chosen Freeholders, 1976.
Cummins, George Wyckoff. History of Warren County, New Jersey. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911.
Dale, Frank. Warren County Chronicles, Makin' Tracks. Hackettstown, NJ: Hackettstown Historical Society, 1997.
________. Warren County Chronicles, Byways, Backroads and Boondocks, Hamlets of Warren. Hackettstown, NJ: Hackettstown Historical Society, 1996.
Dusenberry, Henry and Jean Porcaro. The Dusenberry Story. Orem, Utah: Jean Porcaro, 1989.
Honeyman, A. Van Doren (ed.). Northwestern New Jersey A History of Somerset, Morris, Hunterdon. Warren and Sussex Counties. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1927.
Kalata, Barbara N. A Hundred Years A Hundred Miles New Jersey's Morris Canal. Morristown, NJ: Morris County Historical Society, 1983.
Kay, John L. and Chester M. Smith, Jr. New Jersey Postal History. Lawrence, Massachusetts: Quarterman Publications, Inc., 1976.
Lee, James. Tales the Boatmen Told. Exton, PA: Canal Press, Inc., 1977.
________. The Morris Canal A Photographic History. Easton, PA: Delaware Press, 1979.
MAAR Associates. Warren County Cultural Resources Survey. Prepared for the Warren County Planning Department, Belvidere, NJ, 1991.
Morrell, Brian H. Historic Preservation Survey of the Morris Canal in Warren County, New Jersey. Prepared for the Warren County Planning Board, Morris Canal Committee, and the Warren County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Belvidere, NJ, 1983.
Report of the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Year Ending August 31st, 1874. Trenton, NJ: Public Opinion-Wm. S. Sharp, Steam PowerBook and Job Printers, 1874.
Shampanore, Frank. History and Directory of Warren County, New Jersey. Washington, NJ: Shampanore & Sons, 1929.
Snell, James P. (ed.) History of Huterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1881.
________. History of Warren and Sussex Counties, New Jersey. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1881.
Vermule, Cornelius C., Jr. State of New Jersey Morris Canal and Banking Company Final Report of Consulting and Directing. Engineer, June 29, 1929.
Wandling, Robert A., Chairman, Commemoration Publication Committee. Washington Township Centennial 1849-1949. No date.
Weaver & Kern (comp.). Warren County History and Directory or the Farmers Guide and Business Men's Guide. Washington, NJ: Press of the Review, 1886.
Maps and Atlases
Beers, F. W. County Atlas of Warren, New Jersey. New York: F. W. Beers & Co., 1874.
McCarty, D. Map of Warren County, New Jersey. Philadelphia; Friend and Aub, 1852.
"Map of the Property at Port Colden Belonging to W. C. Dusenberry." No date, but probably c.1836-37; unpublished map in Alexander Library Special Collections, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.
Sykes, Lorenzo A., Engineer. "Map and Field Notes of the Morris Canal & Banking Company, for Warren County," 1828. Unpublished atlas in the collection of the New Jersey State Archive, Trenton.
Walling, H. F. Map of Warren County, New Jersey. New York: Smith, Gallup & Co., 1860.
Belvidere Apollo. Belvidere, NJ.
Belvidere Intelligencer. Belvidere, NJ.
Palladium of Liberty. Morristown, NJ.
The Washington Star. Washington, NJ.
Warren County Court House, Belvidere, NJ. Warren County Deed Books. Warren County Road Returns.
United States Census: Population Schedules, New Jersey, Warren County, Washington Township, 1850-1880. Products of Industry Schedules, New Jersey, Warren County, Washington Township, 1850-1880.
"Minutes," Morris Canal and Banking Company. New Jersey State Archives, Trenton, NJ
† Dennis N. Bertland, Dennis Bertland Associates, Port Colden Historic District, Warren County, New Jersey, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.