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And It's Legacy of Glass
By Frank Swies
Elmer, New Jersey is a quiet borough of Salem County, a little over fifteen miles east of the city of Salem. It’s a small town and has been such since it’s founding in 1801. Originally named Pittstown, the community was later renamed Elmer in honor of one Lucius Quintas Elmer, a member of the House of Representatives who was instrumental in establishing their post office. By 1862, a telegraph station and rail service had been added. Both of these facilities were located at the junction of the West Jersey & Seashore railroad main line and it’s Salem branch, straddling the boundary line separating Pittsgrove from Upper Pittsgrove Townships. (4) (Attachment 1) The 1870 census showed a population of 347 individuals. It was, and is, as it’s motto states, “A Small Town with a Big Welcome.”
The question comes to mind; Why Elmer? Why would anyone undertake to build a glass factory in a borough covering about one square mile and having only 347 residents? Perhaps a better question might be; Why Not? Vegetables, fruit preserves, jellies, jams and other edibles were stored in glass jars. Building windows required glass panes. Medicines, elixirs, herbal goods and virtually all liquids were provided in bottles. There were other, less noticed uses; telegraph and electric applications. There was, indeed, a market for glass products and the Elmer area held promise; there was convenient rail transportation, lime was available from E.W. Bostwick(2) (Lime was required to produce clear glass.) and sand was easily available from several local quarries. This was the same Cenozoic, tertiary period sand as was used at Salem (Gaynor), Millville (Whitall Tatum, Kerr, Wheaton), Old Bridge (Brookfield) and other glass making sites in southeastern New Jersey. Coal was plentiful and natural gas lines were brought into the area from Glassboro in 1879 (5) but there is no indication that gas was used in glass production at that time.
Author Adeline Pepper, an historian of the glass industry in New Jersey, made the following Observation:
“Even most old-timers seem not to know about glassworks in the little town of Elmer, but there were three different plants, two of which had a succession of owners. The first, the Elmer Window Light Company, was erected about 1895 at Park Avenue and Center Street, as a cooperative venture: the town of Elmer built the 8-pot furnace for a stock company of blowers, but officials of the Bridgeton Window Glass Company appear to have purchased the output, as if from a subsidiary.” (13)
Bridgeton was an important “glass town” located about five miles south of Elmer. Being a subsidiary of Bridgeton had a significance since there were 20 glass factories operating at Bridgeton in 1889. The existence of this earlier venture was verified by a local newspaper, The SUN-BEAM, when it reported in it’s Friday, April 18, 1890 edition that “Blowers of the Elmer Glass Works received $135 each last month.”(5) This “subsidiary” arrangement did not prove successful and the plant was sold to Butcher & Waddington in 1896. It was reported by the Elmer times that “The old Elmer Window Glass Company at Elmer, N.J., is to be started up soon by John B. Getsinger, of Bridgeton, but not as a bottle factory."(14)
Later, in 1896, two glass factories were started: C.R. Getsinger purchased the Elmer Window Lite Company located ½ mile south of the Elmer train depot of the West Jersey and Sea Shore railroad in Pittsgrove Township.(3) (Attatchment 2) in 1896. Window glass was produced for a short time before being remodeled to produce bottles.(2) The firm of Deijo, Goodwin & Co. purchased the plant from Getsinger in September of 1896. M. E. Deijo was mentioned as the manager.(15) Albert Sturr later purchased the property in January, 1900 but production is unrecorded. The Sterling Glass Company leased space and began producing glass.(10) (Attachment 2) Pressed glassware and insulators were made by Sterling until lack of fuel caused closing in 1903. The Improved Gilchrist Jar Company and the New Jersey Metal Company began making tops for mason jars in 1902.(9) As a point of clarification, three corporations were reported as doing business at the Getsinger plant: Sterling, New Jersey Metal and The Gilchrist improved Jar Co. (12) The August 14,1903 issue of the Elmer Times reported that The Sterling Glass Company was replaced by The Harloe Insulator Company. This was a very short duration operation for Harloe because A. L. Sturr sold the works property to Jonathan Parker of Bridgeport in October of 1903. Insulators were made until the plant was disassembled around 1909.(11)
The second glass plant erected in Elmer in 1896 was built by Samuel M. Bassett of the Cumberlin Glass Works of Bridgeton (13)(Attachment 3) and was referred to as the “S.M. Bassett Glass Works” and the “Elmer Glass Works” (Attachment 4). It was located on a plot 1/4 mile north of the Elmer depot on the West Jersey and Sea Shore railroad line. Bottles and battery jars were listed as the main products. The plant operated for several years before being sold to the operators of The Gilchrist Jar Company” in 1899 .(9) A patent law suit forced the closing and ultimate resale of the Gilchrist works to the Novelty Glass Manufacturing Company in December of 1901. (Attachment 3) Insulators, as well as battery jars were produced until the plant closed and was sold in 1903 to satisfy legal action brought by the Brookfield company. Mr. R. Morris Davis, president of the old Elmer Glass Works, was the purchaser. A “newly organized” Elmer N J Glass Company emerged that produced insulators until the plant was, again resold in July, 1907. This time the owner was Isaac L. Shoemaker who ultimately closed the plant in 1908.(7) After World War I, the Bassett glass house property and its adjoining land, was purchased by the borough and turned into a community park to honor the soldiers who served in the war.
The third glassworks was started at the Elmer shoe factory location on Elmer street in the early 1920’s. It was owned by Powell & Volkaier and, failed in 1925, ending the glassmaking at Elmer.(13)
Sanborn insurance maps of October, 1908 show both the Sterling and Novelty plants as “Closed”
Present day Elmer remains a quiet borough in Salem County. The West Jersey RR tracks were removed and the roadbed, although cleared, still marks the dividing line of North and South Main Street. (5) Traces of Elmer’s historic glass industry have disappeared; the Upper Work’s remains are buried beneath a community park and the Lower Work’s remains, if any, lie near the intersection of present Elmer-Shirley Rd. and Union Street. (Attachment 5) During its glass-producing era, Elmer not only answered the need for a great variety of utilitarian glass products but, coincidentally, fulfilled the prophecy of historian, author and lecturer, Mr. William Channing concerning glass insulators:
“In Europe, porcelain and earthware insulators are extensively employed and highly esteemed. They are also used in America, but at the present time and for many years past a glass insulator is and has been practically the only one employed in the telegraph, and, it may be added, the telephone service.” (1)
Elmer earned the recognition and appreciation of the insulator collecting community by it’s production of glass insulators bearing embossings such as: STERLING, HARLOE, STAR, W.U., H.I.CO., E.S.B., KNOWLES CABLE (6) and, doubtless, untold others. It also provides a sad reminder to glass insulator collectors that there are no more Elmers.
1. American Telegraphy, By William Maver, Jr., Channing-Holt pub., New York, 1903, pg. 538
2. New Jersey Tercentenary ~ 1664-1964, Elmer Historic Society Commemorative Booklet, August 15, 1964.
3. Sanborn-Perris Map, July, 1896, Elmer, New Jersey
4. The History of Elmer, By Theodosia D. Foster, October 12, 1909
5. Borough of Elmer ~ 1893-1993, Elmer Centennial Committee, 1993
6. Insulators ~ A History and Guide to North American Glass Pintype Insulators, vol. I, By John and Carol McDougald, 1990, pgs. 63 & 125
7. Insulators, ibid., pg. 120-123
8. New Jersey Industrial Directory, 1906
9. Elmer Times, May 3, 1901
10. Elmer Times, April 11, 1902
11. Insulators, op. cit., pg. 123
12. Elmer Times, April 23, 1902
13. The Glass Gaffers of New Jersey and their Creations from 1739 to the Present, By Adeline Pepper, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971, pg.298
14. China, Glass & Lamps magazine, Dec. 18, 1895 edition
15. National Glass Budget, Sept. 19, 1896 edition
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Last updated Wednesday, March 1 ,2006