Fitzwilliam Sargent was called the “father of brake-shoe engineering” and he obtained multiple patents for improvement of railroad brake shoes. He was born in 1859 in Philadelphia and attended Lehigh University where he graduated in 1879 with a Civil Engineering degree. He came to Mahwah (then Hohokus Township) in 1902 as the chief engineer of the American Brake Shoe and Foundry Company.
After joining American Brake Shoe, he built a large home on 5 acres off Olney Road. The house had all the latest improvements of the day, including electric lights and steam heat.
In 1935 the Board of Directors of American Brakeshoe built an up-to-date testing facility to keep up with the progress of the railroad industry. The building was named the F.W. Sargent Laboratory Building and from the opening of the building to the date of his death at the age of 80 he went to work as often as possible. The picture below shows his first invention, which he had done before he came to Brakeshoe, of a machine for testing brakeshoes. During his career, he had many patents relating to the improvement of brakeshoes. His last patent was issued to him in 1934 at age 75. The invention created a system of reinforcing a brake shoe so that, if the body of the shoe broke, it could continue in service and not need to be replaced as quickly.
- Oweno Road home of Fitzwilliam Sargent.
- Sargent’s first invention
- F.W. Sargent Building
Photos from Fitzwilliam Sargent Greene, `A Tribute to the Life of Fitzwilliam Sargent” (Mahwah Museum Library, 2013.17.072)
Howard S. Avery at American Brakeshoe
Between 1949 and 1982 he was granted at least 10 patents for metallurgy, welding rods and railroad track improvements that were assigned to American Brakeshoe. One of his primary focuses early on was in creating an alloy for a heat resistant manganese steel and then in figuring out how to make it machinable so that it could be used in Brakeshoe Products. His experiments on welding rods led to improvements in the ultimate weld. He was a recycler because one of his inventions was to take industrial scrap, containing sintered tungsten carbide and then converting it into tungsten oxide which, in turn would allow the recovery of tungsten metal.
Mr. Avery was a very active member of the Mahwah Community. He was the president of the Board of Education when the high school was designed and the papers he has given to the Museum reflect his disciplined, thorough and rapier sharp mind. He was a long time Scout leader and he has given us rare Scouting magazines, Troop 50 records, a detail for a few years of the proceeds of the Boy Scout Paper Drive that ultimately led to the recycling center. He was the head of civil defense which was an outgrowth of his interest in amateur radio which he developed at Virginia Tech. His Virginia Tech experience in the rifle club carried over to Mahwah where he tutored people like John Edwards in riflery.
Diagram of Welding ____
In 1979 when the renovation of the high school was up for referendum, it was snowing hard. One of his neighbors called me and said that Mr. and Mrs. Avery wanted to vote, but were reluctant to go out. So I drove them to the polls. They were 2 of the 69 votes that provided the margin of victory.
Mrs. Avery died in 1985 at age 80 and Howard died in 1996 at age 90. He has given the Museum 25 boxes of materials about his life and interests in Mahwah. He also gave a large collection of his technical papers to Virginia Tech. That collection, incidentally, contains some folders with personal papers, particularly about scouting.
Images from the American Brakeshoe Collection, Mahwah Museum.
For a 2015 gallery talk I profiled the following inventors. Click on the links for a short history of each:
A little bit about methodology. All of these inventors hold U.S. Patents on their inventions. I knew from my past research and work in our archives about some of them, so I was able to use Google Scholar (a website that I love) to locate their patents. Put their name, Mahwah and the word patent into the search and up pops reference to their patents and you can download a copy. Edward Gorcyca was unknown to me but his name came up in a search of Brakeshoe Patents Mahwah. Another longtime resident of Cragmere, Rosser Wilson, also came up with a lot of patents at Brakeshoe. Audrey Artusio and Mary Ellen Pryde were very helpful with Robert Armstrong Smith and John Edwards loaned me valuable material about his uncle, Charles Ellis. We have displayed some of his original patents, American and foreign at the gallery talk.
A little background about the patent system. Patents are authorized by Article I, Section 8, clause 8 of the United States Constitution which grants Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” So under the system that Congress has established, an inventor submits an application to the U.S. Patent Office, an application. This application describes the invention, includes drawings when needed, and sets up the claims that the inventor is making. The claims portion is very important because the inventor gets exclusive rights only in the things he has actually claimed. Once the application has been filed, it is examined by the patent office before the actual patent is issued. The examiner has to determine whether the invention is “novel” and “nonobvious.” To determine whether an invention is “novel” a search is made of all previous patents to see that the new invention does not the same claims that were made before by someone else. The examiner also looks at whether the claims are so obvious that they are already in the public domain. Once the patent office determines to issue a patent it is good for 17 years. But it is subject to challenge by other inventors who can claim infringement of their existing patents. Just because someone has a patent on something doesn’t mean the product is ever made or becomes commercially viable. The filed patents are used by other inventors to improve upon the prior art.
All of the inventors that we will discuss today owned patents. The usual practice is that a patentee is an individual that gets the patent in his own name and then assigns it to the employer for whom he was working when the inventive work was done.
Patent for light polarizer
One of Gorcyca’s patents.
Theodore Havermeyer’s Sugar Mold Carriage patent
Henry O. Havemeyer’s License plate design
Henry O. Havemeyer Jr.’s patent design
If you know of additional information about any of these inventors, or know of other inventors from Mahwah, please comment below.
Ford Motors built a plant in Mahwah that opened in 1955. Here are a few of the items in the Museum’s collection on this important factory.
The images in these galleries are the copyrighted property of the Mahwah Museum Society, Inc. and may be used only in accordance with the Museum’s Image Use Policy.
Here is a small sampling of historical materials on the American Brake Shoe Foundry in Mahwah, NJ.
The images in these galleries are the copyrighted property of the Mahwah Museum Society, Inc. and may be used only in accordance with the Museum’s Image Use Policy.
This article, by Jane Vilmar, was first published in the “Old Station Timetable” in September 1982.
“The Land of Health & Happiness” was the theme of a brochure advertising Cragmere Park back in the early 1900’s. With a beautiful panoramic view of the sprawling Ramapo Mountains to the west, the scheme was to develop nearly 200 acres of land with homes similar to the old English estates. The selling agents, Van Fossen-Bugg Co., located in New York City, maintained strict guidelines in setting up the Cragmere Park Association. Its purpose was to maintain the beautiful park-like character of the property.
A paragraph in the brochure became a reality, in part. “Cragmere will have its own artesian water system of the purest water and electricity and telephone service will be installed.” Another interesting highlight is the description of Oweno Lake & Park that is now the site of Betsy Ross School and Education Center off of Malcolm and Mahwah Roads. It reads in part, “Oweno Lake and Park in the center of Cragmere has been dedicated in perpetuity to the use of the Cragmere Association as a place of recreation. Here the children may sail their boats, everyone may bathe, and a club house and tennis courts may be established.”
Although this landmark has gone there are still folks around who have fond memories of good times there.
The brochure goes on, “Schools, churches and stores are conveniently located, and one has the benefit of living in the real country with all the comfort of modern conveniences.” Although it’s not what I’d call “real country” any more, the area does feature lovely homes on spacious land. Going further in the brochure, you will shake your head when you read that a comfortable home can be built for as low as $2,5OO on a half-acre site!
Although the Cragmere Park Association is no longer in existence, the beautiful park-like atmosphere still prevails. The area is located on the hill east of Franklin Turnpike and is bordered by Airmount Road and Miller Road and extended eastward to East Mahwah Road.
This unattributed article was first published in the Old Station Timetable in May 1982.
One more of the rapidly disappearing old family burying grounds in Mahwah has been found. It is located on the property of Dr. Donald Lord on the Ramapo Valley Road. Although there is evidence that it may contain many graves, a diligent search revealed no more than the one stone still standing. This is marked as the burial of Elizabeth B. Willis, daughter of Jon S. and Susan Bartholf, born July 6, 1791, died April 2, 186.6, age 75 years.
Her husband should be buried beside her and children also may be interred here, as well as others of the Willis family.
Further research might determine whether this was a Willis farm. There are Willis stones in the Wyckoff Cemetery as well as in other local cemeteries, so the family has been in the Ramapo Valley for some time.
Dr. Lords adds that there were other stones there when his family first moved to Mahwah.
Any help from readers will be appreciated.
This unattributed article was first published in the “Old Station Timetable” in October 1981.
A recent story in our newsletter about the Theusen House, later the Education Center, that had been a landmark in Cragmere Park for’ many years was of particular interest to Charles E. Ellis Jr. who still lives in the house his parents built back in 1915.
“Just north of our house at the corner of Armour and Mahwah Roads stands the ruin of the Miller Reservoir whose overflow was the water that fed Oweno Pond. The reservoir next to our house was supplied with spring water by the Miller acquaduct which-crosses the northeast corner of our property and flowed without interruption from about 1875-1978.”
“The water from the reservoir fed the dairy cooling brick double-arched structure whose ruin can still be seen’on Malcolm Road across from the Betsy Ross School. The stream continued to flow west through the Theusen place and fed Oweno lake,” explains Mr. Ellis.
The Ellis family, who had rented their home while at the shore, once stayed temporarily in Mrs. Theusen’s Boarding House until their house tenants moved out. “I remember particularly the afternoon sun shining across the clean white table cloths of the dining room and sparkling on the well-silver (plate) on the tables being set up for the evening meal by young waitresses in black skirts, stockings and shoes, , and white starched blouses with collars. On their heads, they wore some sort of white starched fabric head piece common to the day. A jolly scene, prim and clean, and complete with flowers”, Mr. Ellis said.
Oweno Lake was designed for ice making, as well as ornament. It was located just east of Oweno Road near the corner of Mahwah Road where the baseball field is at Betsy Ross School. It was served by an iron conveyor belt and chains, running from the ice house to the lake. However, the conveyor had ceased operation and was a rusting ruin when Mr. Ellis was just a young boy.
The stream feeding the lake ran into a ditch, still seen today, under the conveyor, now removed, and featured watercress in season.
The building at the north end of the lake was not the “Summer House” but was a boathouse without windows, according to Mr. Ellis. It was from there that Hiawatha, a beautiful darkhaired maiden played by the late Mrs. Euroka Bugg, would annually set out in a white canoe at the Cragmere Association’s yearly Forth of July celebration.
Mr. Ellis concludes “The summer house, so called, was an octagonal roofed and floored open structure on a little island in Oweno Lake at the east side of it near the lake intake. It was reached by an arched bridge which can be seen in photographs of the Miller Estate in the Mahwah Public Library.”
This article, by Charles Anderson, was first published in the “Old Station Timetable” in October 1981.
The Term “Floating Teeth” is still in use today and the tool for doing it is still called a “float”. It is a coarse single cut file used to rasp rough or irregular edges of a horse’s teeth. Unless done when necessary the horse’s mouth.would develop sores, he would go off his feed and food would be inadequately chewed. Among the local farmers in earlier times there were a few who were skillful in floating. After wedging the mouth open (securely) the job could be done quickly. A hundred years ago the term would not have puzzled anybody.
From Country Home Antiques.
Another tool not seen around today is the mill bill. Every grist mill operator was familiar with the tool and knew the tedious and painstaking work involved in using it. It consisted of two parts. The “thrift” looked somewhat like half of a squared rolling pin with a hole cut through the roller part to accommodate an iron or steel bit held in place with a wedge. The instrument was used to deepen the worn furrows in millstones. A dull stone was said to destroy the quality of the grain resulting in a sticky product in the baking process. Both. the nether (lower) and the runner (upper) had furrows chisled in them which initially served to rip away from the center to the outer edge and admitted air to prevent a dangerous build up of heat. The actual grinding was done by the flat surface between the furrows called the “land”. Both terms are typically agriculturally oriented. As the surface and edges became worn the mill bill was used to restore the depth of the furrow and angle by chipping the stone. Mr. Ackerman of Wyckoff Ave. worked in the family grist mill and well remembers working on the stone.
A mill stone at the Plimoth Plantation.
The Ackerman grist mill was located near the outlet of the pond on Wyckoff Ave. It was originally owned by Alyea. Since Wyckoff Ave. used to run on the west,side of the pond the door was located on that side. The grain was taken down a ramp and under an endless chain of buckets that lifted it to the hopper in the upper part of the mill. Power was provided by water turning an undershot wheel.
Old grinding stones were made of local materials. Granite was a favorite and was used in the Ackerman mill. Elsewhere a quartz shot sandstone was used or more expensive burr stone which came from Europe in pieces that had to be filled, cemented together and then banded with hoops. Early millstones have been found in which the furrows were cut in spirals but most of the stones were cut with straight furrows. The patterns varied. When the milled flour fell from the furrows it was caught in a finely woven cloth sieve which was rapidly agitated. Wooden shovels were used to move the flour because of the danger of combustion.
This article, by Charles Anderson, was first published in the “Old Station Timetable,” in February 1982.
Richard Snow is on the tax rolls of Woburn, Mass. in 1645. A record of his will is recorded 1676, and he died in 1677. It is believed he arrived in the Colonies in 1935 as a young man on the sailing ship, Enterprise. He is the progenitor of a vast family network that is scattered across the country, as far as Texas and California. A great number of the early family members were born and lived around Colrain, Mass. In 184), Asaph Snow was born, he enlisted at the age of 18 and fought through several campaigns during the Civil War. After the war, he stayed in the south working as a United States claims agent. While stationed at Camp Dennison in Ohio during his training, he married Teresa McKinney and they lived in Tazewell, Tenn. where he was the postmaster. He died on his farm nearby in 1899.
His son, Elmer John Snow, was born in Tazewell in 1869. He came to Hillburn, N.Y. in 1884 to work for the Ramapo Iron Works owned by a relative, William Wait Snow (1828-1910). This firm manufactured car wheels and other railroad devices. Mr. Snow also bound the first Webster Dictionary! Naturally, Elmer John Snow met W.W. Snow’s daughter, Clara Amanda, and married her in 1892. The iron works later became the Ramapo Wheel and Foundry Company.
W.W. Snow had been trained in the foundry business since boyhood, working for various employers in Massachusetts. With financial backing, he started his own business near the Hudson River and later bought land from the Suffern family in Hillburn. This included a mill, 20 houses and a store, and that is how the town of Hillburn started.
The Worthington Pump Company employed Elmer John in 1899 to put up a large pumping station in Hawaii. Returning to the mainland, he again joined his father-in-law serving as superintendent in charge of design and construction for a new brake shoe factory -now known as Abex – and part of Illinois Central. As director and a member of the board, he had a great deal to do with the growth and prosperity of the business. The Snow houses in Hillburn were destroyed when the N.Y. Thruway was built.
Mrs. Peter D. Ash (Oliver Snow) lived in a house off Miller Road, now in the Oak Hill Estates in Mahwah, N.J. Of her sons, Peter is living near Mt. Snow in Vermont and, Charles lives in Litchfield, Conn. A home on Olney Road, once occupied by Elmer Snow, is still in the family. Mr. Howard D. MacPherson, whose late wife was Mildred Snow. lives there now. She was a great-granddaughter of W.W. Snow.
The Snow family recognized the poverty and deprived conditions under which the mountain people lived years ago. They were forefront in starting a school on the mountain, a one room building with a huge fireplace. A nurse, Miss Mack lived in a comfortable house not far from the school. She provided medical help to the neglected families. Her expenses were paid by the family.
Although the Snow family is no longer prominent in local affairs as “Snow”, the line is carried on under other family names. These include MacPherson, Bristow and Vilmar, just to name three of them. Another great-granddaughter, Mrs. Dorothy Snow Vilmar, lives in her uncle’s house (Homer H. Snow) on Mahwah Road. Her sister, Eugenia Snow Averill, lives in Willbraham. Mass. Her brother’s (Douglas Snow 1934-73) children live in the New Paltz, N.Y. area. How many more area residents can trace their heritage back to William Wait Snow?