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Sunday, June 6, 2010

In Their Footsteps With Richard Townsend

Richard TownsendHave you been following "In Their Footsteps," the fascinating series by Richard Townsend now in NorthJersey.com [previously in Argus/Suburban Trends]? It details the history of the early settlers to these parts of NJ, often accompanied by awe-inspiring photos and postcards.  The timeframe of his series pre-dates the world I'm getting a glimpse of through Cornie Hubner's Didja Know? series and Tom Kline's historic research of Kinnelon, St. Hubert's Chapel, Smoke Rise and Fayson Lakes.  It helps put our area into perspective.

I was so intrigued with the series, I decided to contact Rich Townsend in early 2009. He graciously spoke with me at length about his passion for local history and genealogy. I had hoped to include a few more details, but have decided to share this with you rather than wait longer...

CB:  Rich, what is your background?
I was born in Paterson, NJ; that's where the closest hospital was. I grew up in Bloomingdale, attended school in Bloomingdale, then Butler High School, and William Patterson College. I've lived here all my life and feel a special connection to this part of New Jersey as this is the land of my ancestors -- going back to the 1600s when they established themselves here.

I've always been interested in history, but studying it seemed too dry. Instead, I conquered math and established a computer business. I retired from that business and now teach at the Passaic County Community College. That gives me time to pursue my love of local history and continue filling in the gaps as I track the area's and my family's historic connections.

I contributed to the Butler Museum Book of Butler and the Wanaque Borough History.

CB: What about genealogy?
My interest in genealogy started in a daydream at William Paterson. You see, the motto of my family crest reads: "Faith confers to each generation the same intrinsic qualities." I consider myself the keeper of the family tales.

CB: How did the series get started?
I have a historic postcard collection - as did my Dad. I put them into a PowerPoint and showed the presentation to a senior center in Bloomingdale. Then, I did the same in Wanaque last spring. Suburban Trends was there and asked me to write more. The first article was published on 7/27/08 and was about the early settlers and the Peach Tree Indian War.

CB: How did you get started documenting our local history?
I got started in 1991. It was my Dad's birthday. We were in his house in Boonton - the house where he grew up - and got to talking about the family. I didn't didn't know who these people were nor how I was related to them. After dinner, I persuaded my Dad to document it all and tell the story of the Townsends.

I started tracking the information in Excel, but quickly realized that I needed other software given the complexity of the relationships. I found genealogy share-ware from a public bulletin board and used it to document the first few hundred people.

I've been filling it in piece by piece. There are endless family tales about VanOrdens, Tice, Marion, and other fore grandparents. I found Bernice Perry in Newfoundland, a cousin with whom I shared research. I share credit with Roger Crum and Tom Riley, two teachers.

It's a matter of filling in the gaps. I've been on a quest since then. [Note: the day I spoke with Rich, he had just returned from a visit with a woman in Port Jervis to exchange information about interconnected genealogies.]

CB: You mentioned a book?In their footsteps
Yes. The area's early pioneer years aren't documented. I'm looking to do a book focusing on the 1600s to 1800s and the history of the early settlers of Pompton Township and their migrations to five towns: West Milford, Pompton Lakes, Bloomingdale, Wanaque and Ringwood. Essentially, taking the content from In Their Footsteps and putting it into book form, with additional photos and explanation.

For example, I've created a timeline showing the migrations of the various families, major events of the times [e.g., the great comet, etc.], to bring to life the history of the area. I also have maps. Did you know that by the 1700s, only 2000+ Indians were left? And, by the mid 1800s, those left were gone.

CB: What's so special about this area?
Bloomingdale's was the center of Pompton Township. In the mid 1800s, the town was separated by marshland and mountains. Union Avenue connected the two. The two were vibrant economically with forges, an academy, a mercantile exchange. It was also a stopping point for tourists traveling from Patterson to Sussex. Many homes were turned into hotels [e.g., the Wyckham, the Chandler]. There were five hotels within one mile of the center of Bloomingdale.

The iron industry employed many people. It took 500 people to run an iron forge. Our area was ideal for iron as it had all 5 requirements: water, ore, trees, transportation [railroads and -later- canals in which the Ryersons were involved], and flux [from Sussex limestone]. The iron industry collapsed by the mid 1860s: too many tariffs, the depletion of trees, competition from the Great Lakes... [see Boonton NJ History], leading to an influx of small mills [paper, rubber, cork...]. 

CB: Fascinating!  Thank you, Rich!  

Please be sure to follow Rich as he continues with "In Their Footsteps."

By the way, Rich mentioned that the WPA, through the Federal Writers' Project, created the WPA Guide to the States. The The WPA Guide to 1930s New Jersey (American Guide Series) includes tour #9A which started in Riverdale, NJ. If you've experienced the tour, would you let me know?


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