Kinnelon NJ History

General History of Kinnelon

Kinnelon’s history is written in its rugged hills.
Its nearly twenty square-mile area lies within the eastern, or Ramapo, belt of the “Highlands” of New Jersey. These mountains, which once shaped the destiny of colonial independence, which are prized today for their beauty and serenity, are a curious mixture of the most ancient and most recent rocks in the world. The bedrock of these ridges, heavy with minerals, was formed nearly a billion years ago; compressed by the weight of mountains and seas over the centuries; then uplifted and finally carved during the last Ice Age. The Wisconsin glacier, retreating over 17,000 years ago, left a glacial “till” of stony, fertile soil, spectacular ridges, rounded hills, tumbling streams, and placid lakes. Forests thick with oak and hickory soon covered the hills and sheltered an abundance of game.


Into these wooded hills the Lenni-Lenape, a tribe of Delaware Indians, ventured from their trails along the Pequannock River. They noticed a slant to the rocks and so named the mountains “Ramapo.” The land where thick mists rose from the lakes, tradition says they called “place where smoke rises.” In 1664, King Charles the Second of England granted the territory to the Duke of York, who conveyed it to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. Carteret, who had been Bailiff of the British Channel Isle of Jersey, named the land New Jersey. Carteret’s nephew Captain Philip Carteret was sent to govern with a document called “Concessions and Agreements” to encourage settlers to the area. In 1676 the Province of New Jersey was officially divided into East and West Jersey. Six years later, after Carteret’s death, the East Jersey Board of Proprietors consisted of twelve men, one of whom was William Penn.

In 1695, negotiating a purchase, first with the Indians, and then with the Board of Proprietors, the first white settlers led by Arent Schuyler, came to the Pompton region, and claimed the most desirable land–meadows and streams. The hills of Kinnelon were a lovely frame for the valley farms and were not appreciated for their mineral and timber wealth until just prior to the War for Independence.

Among the families purchasing land grants from the Proprietors in the 17th and 18th centuries were the Meads in the Meadtown area, the Stickles in the Smoke Rise area, and the Cobbs. The old farmhouse and cemetery in Fayson Lakes were built by the Federicks family on land bought from the cobbs’ patent. Sprawling Pequannock Township, which included Kinnelon, Butler, Pompton Plains, Riverdale, Montville, and Lincoln Park, etc., was formed in 1740.


Early in the 1700’s, the first iron forges and furnaces were built in locations where the five essentials for smelting were available. These were iron ore, charcoal fuel, limestone flux, water power, and nearness to markets. The Charlotteburg Furnance was opened in 1766 on the Pequannock River by Peter Hasenclever of the London Company. He was the first manager to dam streams to conserve water power, to line the furnaces with durable slate, and to roof the works for weather protection. Ruins of the furnace still lie under the water of the Pequannock Reservoir, south of Smoke Rise’s North Gate. Other forges were built on the Pequannock River at Smith’s Mills and Butler, and on the outlet of Stickle’s Pond (Lake Kinnelon) on Stony Brook.

The typical furnace was a stone pyramid on the side of a hill. A platform was built along which layers of ore, fuel, and flux were wheeled to the opening atop the furnace. The mixture was dropped into the furnace and ignited. Air blasts from bellows powered by water wheels kept the fires intense. Gradually, the iron ore melted and the heavy metal flowed out at the base of the furnace into troughs of sand on the casting floor. The arrangement of these cooling beds resembled a sow and her piglets: thus the term “pig iron.” Slag floating above the iron was drawn off and discarded. The pig iron was further purified and shaped in the forge.

Charcoal was painstakingly prepared in the surrounding hills. Trees had to be cut down during the wintertime, trimmed to the proper size, stacked in cone-shaped piles, and topped with earth and damp leaves. Once ignited, it took three to ten days to char the wood properly. When furnaces were in full blast, it took an acre of trees a day to feed the fires. Some of Kinnelon’s roads were once wagon trails where teams of oxen hauled charcoal to the furnaces.

England demanded that the colonies ship all their iron to the mother country and buy from her all their finished hardgoods. By 1770, one seventh of the world’s iron was being produced in this region, and England’s unjust law soon made rebels of the people of New Jersey. The Highlands’ natural barrier to transportation kept the mines and forges safe from British attacks, and left the colonists with a plentiful supply of iron for guns, shot and tools. A huge iron chain forged in this area stretched across the Hudson River near West Point to bar British ships. The hills rang with the banging of trip hammer, the rumble of wagons, and the roar of many fires.


As peace returned to the countryside, much of Kinnelon was cleared for farming. Land too stony for cultivation was left for cattle. The opening of the Morris Canal in 1830 was to signal the end of the charcoal industry, as more efficient coal from Pennsylvania could be transported cheaply to the furnaces. Local forges continued to use charcoal, however, and iron bearing veins were explored in a futile attempt to revitalize the iron industry in the area.

A turning point in Kinnelon’s history came in 1883, when Hubbard S. Stickle sold a large tract of land, including lake and mines. The buyer was Francis S. Kinney, the wealthy manufacturer of Sweet Caporal cigarettes. Over the years, he increased his estate to 5,000 acres by purchasing several adjoining farms, the names of which survive as road names in today’s Smoke Rise community.

The Kinneys built a four-storied, eight-chimneyed “cottage” overlooking Lake Kinnelon. Nearly a hundred men from the area were employed to work the farms and serve the complex of stone buildings housing prize English sheep dogs, horses, and Brown Swiss cows. Native stone was carried by sled across the winter ice to a tiny island in the lake, and a chapel dedicated to Saint Hubert, patron of hunters, was constructed. Its interior was exquisitely crafted by Tiffany and Company. The infant Morris Kinney was baptized here.

At this time the neighboring town of Butler was undergoing its industrial revolution. The Rubber Comb and Jewelry Company, under the management of William Kiel, provided employment for a full third of the working people in the area. Many more, no doubt, worked the mines, once again explored in a flurry of activity during the 1880’s. In the Jacksonville area, along Brook Valley Road, a brief “gold rush” occured, complete with an assay house and much secrecy and speculation about the minerals found there. Finally, the venture was declared a hoax. The mines had been salted with nuggets to increase land values in the area.

A thriving community then existed in the 1880’s, with three schools provided by Pequannock Township: the Jacksonville school; the Brook Valley school, now a residence at the corner of Oakwood Trail and Fayson Lakes Road; and the Meadtown school, now a residence called L’Ecole situated on Kiel Avenue. Family homestead names on a map of Pequannock Township dated 1887 included Smiths, Millers, Rickers, Deckers, and Meads, ancestors of many of today’s residents. Life was hard on the early farms, but there were large families to share the chores and the joys.

The backbreaking toil of clearing land and of planting and harvesting crops yielded most necessities, plus a little cash for such luxuries as coffee. Summer’s hectic pace left little time for socializing except for churchgoing or an occasional picnic. Eggs, strawberries, and summer vegetables at their peak had to be carted to Butler’s market, and later there was little time to waste preparing for winter. In winter, snow packed firmly on the trails by means of oxen-drawn logs made transportation by horse and sleigh a delight, and many long evenings were spent visiting, story-telling, sewing, gossiping, and courting with apples and chestnuts roasting before the fires.

So Kinnelon weathered the seasons undisturbed by the progress and development spreading up the valleys of the Pequannock and Rockaway Rivers. Railroads tied the valley towns and industries to the metropolitan hub, but the hills remained secluded and serene.

Change – The 20th Century

By 1920, the idyll was over. World War I had thrust many young men into the world beyond their farms. The older Kinneys had passed on, their unwieldy mansion having been replaced by a house, smaller and of stone, with central heating. Some of the cast metal statuary adorning the avenues of the estate had been melted down for the war, and Morris Kinney had returned from the service with his lifelong friend, John Alden Talbot. The automobile brought people out into the country. Summer farms soon became year-round homes, with trains offering a speedy commute to the cities from Butler and Boonton.

The Birth of Kinnelon

Kinnelon’s relative isolation from the rest of Pequannock Township was blamed for the poor education, roads, and utility services in the rural area, so in 1921 a movement began for separation from the large township. In 1922, the Borough of Kinnelon was incorporated, its name being adopted from Kinnelon, the estate of its most prominent citizen, which later became known as Smoke Rise.

The first Mayor, Warren Kinney, a son of Francis Kinney, appointed five committees: Finance, Ordinance, Roads, Light and Telephone, and Recreation, to handle the administrative work of the Borough Council. Within the first decade, the fledgling borough, with a population of 400, accomplished its primary goals. Both Kiel Avenue and Boonton Avenue were paved by the county as through roads, and electrical and telephone lines were gradually brought in along these routes from Butler.

In 1923, a central two-room school of native stone was erected on Kiel Avenue to replace the ancient one-room schools in Meadtown and Brook Valley. Its first graduating class in 1924 included Gifford Miller, who gave many years of service to Kinnelon as Borough Clerk. The land adjacent to the School was purchased for the new Kinnelon Volunteer Fire Company. Carnivals and fund-raising events involved the whole community, and the new firehouse, built with many materials contributed by Morris Kinney, was the only large meeting room in town. Churches, shops, and public transportation were centered in Butler.

During prohibition days, Kinnelon was a refuge for clandestine distilleries. A speakeasy on the old Canty estate survives today as the refreshment hall of Silas Condict County Park. Its carefully preserved mirrored mahogany bar, band stand, and ice cream parlor chairs still charm the imagination. The “stills” were detected by signs of smoke or by brown pollutants in the streams flowing onto valley farms. One distillery near Jacksonville was smashed the day before Prohibition came to an end.

In 1927 a subdivision map was filed by Frank Fay, Jr. For his planned summer community, Fayson Lakes. He and his son had ridden by horseback over the mountain from Pompton Plains and, struck by the beauty of the hills, had purchased the old Frederick farm and lake from the Kitchell family, with an eye toward development. The first log cabin built was offered to the hero of the day, Colonel Charles A. Lindberg, as a promotional gimmick. It worked, although the shy aviator had never responded. People came, attracted by the idea of a summer cabin in the woods with a lake for recreation, but from the start, some commuted all year. The first roads, still called trails, were designed as loop roads for light auto traffic. Garages along Stonybrook Road were maintained for residents’ automobiles. When Mr. Fay was elected Mayor in 1931, this road was hard-surfaced and its name changed to Fayson Lakes Road.

During the Depression years, the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) built a reservoir for the Borough of Butler on land in Kinnelon east of Kakeout Mountain, flooding an old roadway connecting the two boroughs. It was completed in 1937. Electricity was brought to the southern end of the borough from Boonton. Kinnelon’s police department, under the marshall system, was established in 1939.

The Suburban Era

The end of World War II saw the beginning of a new era for Kinnelon–a suburban era. When Morris Kinney died in 1945, he left his estate to his friend, John Talbot. The two men had shared a respect for the land and its beauty, and fittingly, Mr. Talbot conceived of a way to develop the land while yet preserving it. Quality homes on large lots, architecturally suited to the terrain, was the guiding principle of the Smoke Rise Club Community.

From that time to the present, Kinnelon’s growth has accelerated. A Municipal Court, with a Magistrate appointed by the Mayor-Council, was established in 1948. State Highway Route 23, skirting the northern border of the borough, was completed the following year. In 1951 a full-time Chief of Police was appointed, and authorization was given to a private firm to provide for refuse collection.

In 1953, four years after the first addition was made to the Kiel School, a renovation and second addition were completed. The borough’s first municipal building and garage were erected in 1955, behind the Kiel firehouse. The Stonybrook school opened its first wing in 1957, and its second wing a year later. Butler High School continued to be the receiving school for Kinnelon’s secondary grades. The first Zoning Ordinance, setting minimum lot sizes, was adopted in 1954, and amended several times thereafter. In 1955 a Planning Board was established to advise the local governing body on the growth and development of the borough. The original Subdivision Ordinance became effective late in 1956.

In 1958, Kinnelon contracted for a study of the borough to be made by professional planning consultants. Land use, economic characteristics, and population projections were considered in formulating objectives for the Planning Board to follow in guiding future development.

The Master Plan was formally adopted in 1960. It recommended realignment and expanded rights-of-way for existing roads, the immediate construction of a secondary school, a borough hall and a library, improved recreational facilities, an ambulance service, establishment of an industrial park, shopping areas, and modern water supply and sewage treatment facilities.

Many of the Master Plan recommendations were implemented during the following decade. Kinnelon Road, a new through road replacing a portion of Kiel Avenue, opened new areas for development of a center for the borough. The Junior-Senior High School was soon completed there, and work on the Pearl R. Miller Middle School on Kiel Avenue was begun. The new Municipal Building, containing administrative offices, a meeting room, and police headquarters, was dedicated in 1966. Together with the Library and Borough Garage, it rounded out a municipal complex of a single architectural design.

The Morris County Park System purchased the Canty estate on Ricker Road from the Denberg family and converted it into a park dedicated to Silas Condict, an important figure in Revolutionary times. From the hills overlooking its lake, one may see Manhattan’s skyline to the south, and the rolling hills of the Ramapos to the east.

Kinnelon Today

The community today remains primarily residential, populated by a high percentage of executives, professional people, and skilled workers, in the middle and upper income ranges. Lying between the cultural and business excitement of the metropolitan area (within an hour’s drive) and the superb recreational advantages of northern New Jersey, Kinnelon is poised between the rooted past of the hills and the bright promise of future growth, hopeful of preserving the best of both worlds.Kinnelon History