“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Trenton in Mercer County, New Jersey — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)

Front Street Paper Mill

Turning Rags to Riches

Front Street Paper Mill Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Beverly Pfingsten, August 18, 2014
1. Front Street Paper Mill Marker
Most of the historic walls before you relate to the Front Street Paper Mill, which operated from around 1827 until 1876. The rectangular pit originally contained a giant overshot waterwheel, six to eight feet wide and 18 to 20 feet in diameter, fed by a flume drawing water from Petty's Run. The high wall to the right divided the two main sections of the paper mill. Other walls define the mill's footprint, extending to your left and right; these overlie less well preserved remains of the earlier steel furnace and were later incorporated into the basements of the row homes that replaced the paper mill in the 1870s. The eastern section of the mill, to the right of the dividing wall, was built over and integrated with the channelized course of Petty's Run and the West Front Street Bridge.

Garret D. Wall
The driving force behind the establishment of the Front Street Paper Mill was Garret D. Wall (1783-1850). Wall was a member of a prestigious 19th century New Jersey political and legal dynasty that began with Revolutionary War patriot Jonathan Rhea (1754-1815), who served as Clerk of the New Jersey Supreme Court and Quartermaster

Front Street Paper Mill Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Coughlin, December 1, 2018
2. Front Street Paper Mill Marker
The ruins of paper mill can be seen behind the marker.
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General of the State of New Jersey. Wall, who married Rhea's daughter, held the same two positions, was appointed a U.S. District Attorney and went on to become a New Jersey Assemblyman and then a U.S. Senator.

Wall was elected Governor of New Jersey in 1829, but declined to take up the position. Instead, he supported the installation of Peter D. Vroom as Governor in his place. Vroom later married Wall's daughter. Rhea, Wall and Vroom all lived at various times in residences along West State Street in the vicinity of the State House, including a fine townhouse that stood just a few feet northwest of the paper mill.

Waterwheel to Turbine
Archaeological analysis of the wheel pit suggests that the waterpower system went through at least three phases of development. The earliest arrangement, likely put in place in the late 1820s, is thought to have involved a 20-fool-diameter overshot waterwheel, made of wood and iron, positioned within a wheel pit that was slightly wider (11 to 12 feet) than the one that is presently visible. Evidence of an earlier bearing slot and west wall are visible to the left of the present wheel pit.

In 1865-66, a cast-iron wheel was installed in a slightly narrower wheel pit, the side walls of which were constructed out of finely dressed brownstone. This wheel pit, with its two distinctive bearing slots, is what is visible today.


Markers in Trenton image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Bill Coughlin, December 1, 2018
3. Markers in Trenton
Several markers can be found at this location. The Front Street Paper Mill marker can be seen in the center of the photo.
sometime just prior to 1870, the waterwheel was replaced with a water turbine. The massive timbers and planking found during excavation of the wheel pit in 2009 mostly relate to the water box that contained the turbine and an adjoining fore-chamber. The turbine was removed prior to the demolition of the mill and filling of the water pit.

Trenton Paper
Trenton has a long history of paper manufacturing. The city's first paper mill was built by John Reynolds and Stacy Potts at the mouth of the Assunpink Creek in 1778. it supplied the paper for the New Jersey Gazette, the state's first newspaper, printed in Trenton by Isaac Collins. Other paper mills were established in the mid-19th century, one on the spur of the Trenton Water Power near the William Trent House, another upstream on the Assunpink at the South Broad Street crossing.

The Front Street Paper Mill, the second mill of its kind in the city, was founded by Garret D. Wall around 1827. It was initially managed on Wall's behalf by local paper maker John Davisson, processing rags into pulp and producing chiefly news printing paper. After the Civil War, the mill switched to making mostly paper bags, wrapping paper and roofing paper. Ten years later, the business shut down and the building was demolished to make way for residential development.

Making Paper
In the early 19th century making paper entailed

Front Street Paper Mill Remains image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Beverly Pfingsten, August 18, 2014
4. Front Street Paper Mill Remains
tow main operations, mostly carried out by hand; processing rags into pulp and then converting the pulp into paper. The Front Street Paper Mill, in its early days, would have sorted rags by color; washed, soaked and if necessary, bleached them; and then beaten them into pulp using water-powered stampers to separate the cellulose fibers.

Converting the pulp to paper first involved dipping a mesh-covered mold into the fibrous mixture to create layers of paper that were separated by sheets of felt, and then removing excess water from the stacks of paper using a screw press. The paper was separated from the felt, pressed again, sized (which required dipping in a gelatinous liquid formed from boiled animal hides), pressed yet again, dried, polished, cut to size, pressed one last time and packaged.

As the 19th century progressed, the production process became more mechanized and made greater use of chemical, greatly increasing the output. Key pieces of equipment, in widespread use by the mid-19th century and certainly in place at the Front Street mill by 1860, were water-or steam-powered machines that passed wire mesh through the pulp, either in the form of endless woven-wire cloth or on a revolving cylinder.
Erected by Petty's Run Archaeological Site. (Marker Number 5.)
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list:

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Industry & Commerce. A significant historical year for this entry is 1827.
Location. 40° 13.207′ N, 74° 46.151′ W. Marker is in Trenton, New Jersey, in Mercer County. Marker can be reached from West State Street. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Trenton NJ 08608, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Petty's Run (a few steps from this marker); West Front Street (a few steps from this marker); The Trenton Steel Works (a few steps from this marker); Changing Landscapes Along Petty's Run (within shouting distance of this marker); a different marker also named Petty's Run (within shouting distance of this marker); Isaac Harrow’s Plating and Blade Mill (within shouting distance of this marker); Zebulon Pike (within shouting distance of this marker); General Zebulon Montgomery Pike (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Trenton.
Credits. This page was last revised on November 15, 2020. It was originally submitted on October 30, 2014, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland. This page has been viewed 384 times since then and 41 times this year. Photos:   1. submitted on October 30, 2014, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.   2, 3. submitted on December 2, 2018, by Bill Coughlin of Woodland Park, New Jersey.   4. submitted on October 30, 2014, by Bill Pfingsten of Bel Air, Maryland.

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Dec. 8, 2022