Mining the past: Historical Society creates timeline of Franklin Borough's history

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:59

The timeline begins in 1614 when the area was inhabited by Algonquin Indians — later known as the Lenape — and ends with the razing of the former Franklin Hospital on April 25 of this year. In between, it provides a graphic account of the evolution of a town once known as the “Model Mining Capital of the East.” The time line encircles the main display room of the Franklin Historical Society Museum on Main Street. “That’s actually why I really did it because it shows Franklin from the time it really began,” explained historical society treasurer Sally McGrath, who first began working on the project some three years ago. “I’m very pleased with the way it came out.” The borough’s historical society, which has been working for the last decade on commemorating Franklin’s illustrious past, has mixed both factual documentation and old photos in the timeline, which has been put on poster-sized paper. “The borough is always asked to set up a table at the (Sussex County) state fair, and the second time we did that, I thought it’d be nice to do a timeline,” McGrath said when asked how the project came to be. “And then Betty (Allen) got the idea to do it permanently.” “I think it will be a permanent documentation of the history of Franklin,” added Allen, the historical society president, “and how important the zinc mining was to the community.” “And to preserve the past for the future so that new people moving into the town can learn about Franklin’s history,” McGrath said. Included in the linear narrative is the 1765 construction by Jesse Potts of the area’s first iron forge. A few frames later comes the 1845 construction of what become known as the Neighborhood House on Main Street. “The Nabe,” as it was affectionately known, was demolished in 1994, with the site remaining vacant since. Inevitably, since the town’s mining days were responsible for much of the folklore that remains today, there is plenty of space commemorating the 90-year span during which much of the borough’s history was made. With open-cut, or above-ground, mining taking place by 1866, the early days of Franklin’s mining era were marked with turmoil, since several small, competing companies were constantly in litigation with one another over issues such as mineral rights. At the same time, poor mining work had placed the entire system at risk of collapse — until Robert Catlin entered the scene in 1906. Nine years after all of the warring factions had banded together to become the New Jersey Zinc Company in 1897, Catlin instituted the stope-and-pillar method that curtailed much of the harm caused by improper mining methods. Called the “man who saved Franklin” by local historian and author Bill Truran, Catlin also instituted a series of changes that benefited both zinc company employees and the town itself. Among Catlin’s contributions were paved roads, water and electricity utilities, and the construction of Sussex County’s first hospital in 1908 in order to get quicker and better care for injured miners, some of whom had faced life-threatening injuries. Fittingly, the historical society plans on a 100-year commemoration of Catlin’s arrival in Franklin sometime next year. Joseph Bene, a historical society board of trustee member, recalled that if a miner was noted absent, a company representative would usually visit the man’s home to see why. And if illness was involved, Bene said, a zinc company nurse would later pay a visit as well. The timeline also includes a tribute to Phyllis Treloar, the local nurse who died during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Bob Allen, another historical society trustee, recalled the famous whistle that served the zinc company and the town as well, especially when it sounded for a long period to announce the last call for the zinc company’s final day of mining on Sept. 30, 1954. “We lived by the whistle,” McGrath added. “In the summertime, when we went to the (Franklin) pond, when you heard the whistle, it was time to go home. McGrath, also the historical museum’s curator, said that a copy of the timeline had been provided to the borough’s elementary school—whose 1915 construction is also included in the document. “We’re proud of everything that we’ve got there and everything we’ve done,” McGrath concluded.