The original area, known as West New Jersey, was inhabited by the Lenape Indians and settled around 1700. In 1742, William Allen leased a 3,000-acre site from the West Jersey Society. The area extended from present day Califon to Pattenburg. Allen and his partner, Joseph Turner, established the first ironworks in Philadelphia’s colonial times. In 1752, Allen and Turner purchased 10,849 acres in Bethlehem and Lebanon Townships, which included our present-day High Bridge. In early 1758, Robert Taylor came to the area from Ireland at the age of 17. Well educated, Taylor first taught school in Kingwood Township, but became bookkeeper for Allen and Turner toward the close of 1758 having taken residence with then ironworks Superintendent Colonel Hackett in a portion of the Taylor mansion (now Solitude House located at 7 River Road). When Colonel Hackett died in 1775, Robert Taylor was chosen as his successor.
Solitude House, abutting Lake Solitude, was built in 1725 or earlier. Although Allen and Turner held allegiance to the English, Robert Taylor was an ardent patriot. During the American Revolution, the foundry cast cannonballs for the American Army. In the original portion of the homestead known as “Solitude,” Robert Taylor was given the responsibility of holding John Penn, the last colonial Governor of Pennsylvania, and his attorney general, Mr. Chew. Penn and Chew were sent there as prisoners of war by the American Government.
The stone “Annex” behind the “Solitude” was a supply store kept by Allen and Turner as early as 1757 and was used for trading until the company store was moved to the center of High Bridge near the railroad. At the close of the Revolutionary War, Robert Taylor purchased the forge and 366 acres of adjacent land.
High Bridge was named for a 1,300 foot-long, 112 foot-high bridge built by the Central Railroad Company across the South Branch of the Raritan River. It was too costly to maintain and was subsequently filled in with an earthen embankment, leaving a double-arch culvert through which the River and Arch Street pass through. Construction of the embankment began in 1859 and took five years to complete.
High Bridge Township was formed in 1871 and contained a large portion of what is now Lebanon and Tewksbury Townships as well as portions of Clinton Township. On February 19, 1898, the Borough of High Bridge, in its present form was established. The Borough celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 1998, however the community surrounding the original forge was approximately 300 years old at that time.
During its history, various businesses flourished in High Bridge to accommodate the needs of its residents. Settlers not engaged with the foundry were engaged in farming and support businesses. Other names prominent in the development of the community during the 18th and 19th centuries were Seale, Sharp, Apgar, Cregar, Hann, Fritts, Beavers, Lance, Philhower and Hoffman. The “company store” was the only store in High Bridge until 1860 when it was purchased by Nicholas Emery.
Due to transportation problems, the forge was closed until 1851, when Robert Taylor’s grandson, Lewis H. Taylor (for whom the L. H. Taylor Firehouse is named) restored the foundry with the arrival of the New Jersey Central Railway. The Taylor family remained prominent citizens in the area. L. H. Taylor’s brother, General W. Taylor, served in the Mexican War as well as the Civil War, dying at the battle of Manassas in 1862 while in charge of the First New Jersey Brigade.
The most modern-day member of the Taylor family to achieve local prominence was Knox Taylor, who built “Greystone,” a stone mansion on Nassau Road for his wife Lucy in the early 1900′s.
Most of our non-farming history centers around the foundry. In 1912, Taylor Iron Works merged with the William Wharton Jr. Co. of Philadelphia and became Taylor-Wharton Iron and Steel Company. Taylor-Wharton built houses for their workers and company executives constructed lovely Victorian homes. When the foundry closed in the mid-1960′s, High Bridge developed into a community of commuters and a number of developments have been constructed on the outskirts of the Borough’s center.
School History / Structures
The first school was constructed on Silverthorne Road in 1825. In 1848, a stone school was constructed on Dewey Avenue which was replaced in 1875 by a frame structure on Arch Street. Although the Silverthorne structure is gone, the other two remain and are used as residences. Our present Middle School, on Thomas Street, was built in 1906 and later enlarged. Until 1973 it housed grades kindergarten through twelfth, at which time the Elementary School was built to house grades kindergarten through fifth and grades nine through twelve were transferred to the North Hunterdon-Voorhees High School District.
Since 1898, High Bridge has operated under the Borough form of government which calls for a six-member council with three-year terms each that are staggered to provide two newly-elected council members each year.
If you would like to know more about the history of High Bridge, you can purchase a beautifully hard-bound book, “A Pictorial History of High Bridge, NJ” for $25 at either Borough Hall or the High Bridge Library. While you’re there, you can also purchase High Bridge postcards with images from High Bridge’s past at a cost of 3 for $1.