FLORENCE: Trolly tours galore!

Roebling Museum offers ride through history

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
   FLORENCE — Folks took a ride into history May 4.
   The Roebling Museum presented a series of trolley tours through the historic village of Roebling.
   ”It was one of the best run company towns — ever probably,” said Anne Sabol, a local historian.
   The community centered on the Roebling factory. The area is now part of Florence Township.
   Saturday, boarding on the Great American Trolley Co. began at noon. Tours also were scheduled for 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. and lasted approximately 45 minutes.
   Patricia Millen, executive director, said the tours were led by guides Ms. Sabol and John Devoti.
   She said the Roebling Museum was founded in 2007 and opened in 2010.
   The museum focuses on the history of the former company town, its founders, its people and the steel legacy, which lives on today in structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.
   ”The Brooklyn Bridge is just fascinating,” said Meg Kane, of Somerset. “This is just where a lot of history took place and enabled the building of a lot of these magnificent bridges.”
   At its peak, the Roebling Company employed 5,000 to 10,000 people, Ms. Millen said Wednesday. The plant produced steel and wire rope during World War I and World War II.
   The trolley rides began in front of the museum at 100 Second Ave.
   Each trolley tour included a trip through the village in which attendees learned about unique features, including the layout of the town, factory home hierarchy, timeline of the historic buildings, the auditorium, inn, general store, first school house, the former steel mill site and more.
   The trolley fee of $15 included museum admission. Children and students under 18 years of age were admitted for $5 each.
   ”It’s very interesting,” Florence resident Cathy Allegretti said. “I pass by here every day and finally decided to see what it was all about.”
   The tour guide shared a glimpse of John Roebling, his family and the history of the town.
   For Ms. Kane, the trolley tour was a learning experience.
   ”I never had realized he built a town, specifically a model town,” Ms. Kane added. “I learned a lot today.”
   Mr. Roebling was born in Mühlhausen, Prussia — which is now part of Germany — where he studied engineering and using and designing wire rope for suspension bridges, Ms. Sabol said.
   He first came to the United States and settled with a group of people in a village called Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, which he co-founded.
   ”There he started with his wire rope experimenting with the designs,” Ms. Sabol said. “It was used on the Allegheny Portage Railroad, which is a way of pulling railroad cars up and down the sides of the Allegheny mountains.”
   She said that led to a focus on the wire rope industry for bridges.
   Mr. Roebling was the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, but never saw the bridge, Ms. Sabol said.
   She said Mr. Roebling left his wire rope business to his four sons, Washington, Ferdinand, Charles and Edmund.
   Ms. Sabol said Washington Roebling took over the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Ferdinand Roebling handled the finances of the business, and the youngest, Charles, also was an engineer responsible for building the town of Roebling in 1905.
   The Roeblings had two main factories — one in Trenton and the second in Roebling.
   ”They found this area, which was convenient to the river, and the railroad, which is where the Riverline is now,” Ms. Sabol said, adding it was all farmland at the time.
   The Roebling’s bought all the farmland and built a town.
   ”The better house you had, the further away from the factory you were,” Ms. Sabol said.
   According to the historian, 10 to 15 different styles of houses were built.
   The houses used to be rented from the company until 1947 when they were sold to the workers at a discounted price, Ms. Sabol said. In 1952, the family sold the company to Colorado Fuel and Iron.
   Workers could buy a row house for $3,000 in 1947, according to Ms. Sabol.
   The Roebling Museum on Saturday, May 25, will feature Dave Frieder — otherwise known as Dave, the Bridge Man. In addition to giving a lecture, Mr. Frieder will open a photo exhibition at 2 p.m. in celebration of the 130th birthday of the Brooklyn Bridge.
To learn about the museum’s upcoming events, visit www.roeblingmuseum.org.