All photos by Neal Ranauro • Click photo to enlarge
So given the current political environment it felt like the right time to finally post these JM asbestos strike photos. Back in 1970 a bunch of papers were carrying national headlines about asbestos workers contracting asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma from spraying buildings under construction, which ultimately led to the banning of the practice completely in New York, Boston and Chicago. They reported on the death of Albert Hutchinson, who was a prominent asbestos industry union leader. I can only assume that was the catalyst for these demonstrations, which carried on for months in 1970
Maybe some of the folks on this board can comment on the local events that led to this particular protest, as this is basically recent history. For me personally, I was born in 1976 and most of my memories of JM are of the barely active shadowy factory that loomed behind a huge creepy fence. Of course, nearly everyone in my family worked there at one point or another. Anyway without involving my personally feeling in the matter… here are some photos. They will all enlarge if you click them.
Here is an actual homemade protest sign that was included in Ranauro’s collection. There is no credit to who made it…
This post is for all my fellow train lovers and railfans. This photo is from the collection of Neal Ranauro, and was reprinted in The Manville News for the Manville’s 50th anniversary celebration issue. As stated in the above caption this photo was taken back in 1938 by Ranauro and features the John’s Manville work train and crew. Affectionately known about town as “the old 1623” this work horse and it’s crew manned the 12 miles of track within the JM yard moving the 1200 or so different types of products to the appropriate lines to be moved out across the country. This is a great and iconic photo. Another great one from Neal Ranauro… that guy was the best.
Just for good measure here is one more shot of “The Old 1623” about to take flight. She truly is handsome.
So I know how boring this sounds, but I swear to god this little booklet is one of the most comprehensive Manville histories that had ever been compiled up to it’s printing in 1938. It includes some photos, some small town history, lots of info on the Manville sewer system, a very comprehensive timeline, and a complete list of Govt. officials right up to 1938. The typography is not too shabby either.
If you are doing any sort of research on Manville this is a great place to start. You can download and save the entire booklet, and you should. But if you don’t have the patience for that I am going to include preview photos of the timeline below since I feel like it’s amazing. OR you can just skip straight to looking at the whole thing… it’s worth it and you can view it right HERE.
Awhile back I did an article on the old Manville / JM Shanty Town that had sprung up on the site of the old creosote factory. Which most of you know later became the Rustic Mall, and then became a Superfund site, and now sits empty as a nice fenced off, perpetual middle finger to the people of Manville. If you’ve never heard of the creosote factory it made the black slime that they use to waterproof and coat railroad ties and telephone poles… and I think some other stuff. It closed sometime around 1960 and looked like this…
Federal Creosote Factory 1954 • Click Photo to Enlarge
According to some of our readers on here, who have had relatives on the Manville P.D. the shanty town were a bunch of folk who lives in boxcars and old handmade shacks. There were a lot of fights, and it was just a rough part of town. Dangerous. The police were summoned back there… a lot. If you have never heard this place I encourage you to click that link in the previous paragraph to see some photos.
Rumor has it the place burnt to the ground. People died. A lot of people were hurt. I’d be going out on a limb here to assume the above photo was the actual fire that burned the shanty town down, so I’ll just say it could be. Regardless it’s a great photo Taken by Neal Ranauro, to whom we owe a great deal for his very comprehensive collection of almost everything Manville.
Thanks to Gary Carmon for bringing this photo to my attention. He also is deeply interested in Manville’s history and has a great site with some more of Ranauro’s photos, which are not featured on this blog. You can see those HERE.
One of the biggest Manville urban legends that has continued to escape me is one about a “shanty town” that had sprung up around the JM property. I think I have possibly tracked down some photos. I cannot confirm this is it, using context clues here is what I came up with. In the photo above on the left is what looks like the asbestos bays from JM that backed up to the tracks that run over Main street. It looks like the Watchung Mountains in the background there. On the right if you really look you can se the other train line that cuts through the Lost Valley. To be honest when I look at these photos it seems more like this whole site is on what would’ve been the Federal Creosote Factory land, which was nestled in between the two train lines right before what was then know as Port Reading Junction (or basically the Manville train yard).
From the lose hearsay and unreliable information I have gathered over the years, I’ve heard that this was essentially built by workers out of old train cars and scrap wood and that it had eventually burned down. If anyone has any stories of can confirm that this is actually the shanty town, please comment on this. Here are a few more shots. They will all expand if you click on them. Thanks Anne Sullivan for contributing these.
According to genealogical records from the Somerset County Historical Archive, Peter P. Smith was born on 01-19-1741 and owned a large farm right in the current area of Walmart and extending into Lost Valley. I had heard rumors of such a farm for many years, so it was a blessing to find my new buddy Hank over at the SCHS had already mapped out the genealogy… and had these sweet photos to go with it. I can’t really date any of the photos, but let’s try and frame the time period with some context clues. First of all, lets take a look at a pertinent page out of the genealogy book…
Upon his death, Peter Sr. passed his land down to his 4 sons (listed in the document above). One of which was Adam, a son who had a badly burned arm from falling into a fireplace as a child, he was put in charge of caring for his mother after his father passed. He was also in charge of the portion of land with the homestead on it. Here are a couple of photos of their home.
In 1823 Adam moved out to Middlesex County. At some point the land & house must’ve been sold to the Colonial Creosote Company, who used The “Old Smith Homestead” as a rooming house for their employees. According to The Unionist Gazette, the house was destroyed by a fire on December 19th, 1913, which also claimed the lives of two young boys. As of the 1860 Hillsborough Farm Map, the Smith family still owned a good deal of land in that area of town. But, according to the genealogy records all the lands passed from Peter P. Smith Sr. ended up in the hands of the Johns Manville Company. Anyway, here is one last look at the great Peter P. Smith Sr. Farm. I got to say, I’d take looking at this over Walmart any old day.
Awhile back someone asked me if I had any photos of the asbestos hotel. Here is a great one I got from a 50th anniversary issue of the Manville News from 1979. This photo is of the Asbestos Hotel while still under construction in 1917. Finished in 1919, the building was originally used to house JM workers. It eventually turned into the JM administration building.