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MONTGOMERY: Township purchases land once targeted for pottery factory |

MONTGOMERY: Township purchases land once targeted for pottery factory

A pair of pillars, sitting forlorn on County Route 601 near Pleasant View Road, are the only reminders of a proposed pottery factory and housing for its workers that was planned by pottery manufacturer Charles H. Cook more than 100 years ago.

Cook, who was involved in several pottery-making companies in Trenton in the late 1800s and early 1900s, wanted to build pottery factories in the Belle Mead section of Montgomery Township. The plan included providing housing for the workers.


But the factories were never built and the workers never came. The land and its postage-stamp sized lots – 20 feet by 100 feet – sat dormant and were acquired, in bits and pieces, by township resident and attorney Dix Skillman.

Over the years, Skillman assembled the vacant lots. After his death in 2012, his widow, Virginia Skillman, held onto the lots that totaled 13-plus acres.

Last month, Montgomery Township acquired the land that was supposed to be a city from Skillman’s widow for $382,500 for open space preservation.

The purchase of the property was funded with money from the township’s Open Space Trust Fund, in a partnership partnership with the state Green Acres Program.

Montgomery Township officials are pleased with the recent acquisition of the 13.5-acre parcel of woods on County Route 601 and Broadway.

“We are thrilled to close on this new open space acreage. It adds to the 800 acres of protected land surrounding Theodore Lubas Park,” Mayor Ed Trzaska said. Lubas Park includes a lighted baseball diamond, a picnic table, grills and restroom facilities on County Route 601.

The former Skillman/Hillmont property is also near Somerset County-owned open space, including the Sourland Mountain Preserve and land that was formerly owned by the Carrier Clinic.

But back to the would-be pottery factories.

Although Trenton has a long history of pottery manufacturing dating back to 1799, the pottery industry began in earnest in the 1850s. It was spurred by Trenton’s location on the Delaware Raritan Canal, the Camden and Amboy Railroad, and the Belvidere-Delaware Railroad.

By 1883, there were nearly two dozen potteries in Trenton – including the Cook Pottery Co., which was owned by Charles H. Cook. He also bought another long-standing pottery company, and operated two plans that made dinnerware and fancy ware.

Cook sought to expand into the Belle Mead section of Montgomery Township, buying vacant land with the intention of creating a factory town. Potteries and factories were to be built on what is now Reading Boulevard, with housing for the workers nearby.

Promoters ran free excursion trains from Trenton to Belle Mead to convince factory workers to buy lots on non-existent streets on time-payment plans, according to a Van Harlingen Historical Society document.

But the improvements needed for a factory town to be built never materialized, and most of the workers lost their lots to tax foreclosures during the Great Depression.

Cook’s pottery companies also folded during the Great Depression.

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