The Story of Pasadena and it’s Neighboring Clay Industry

Pasadena is little more than a name on a map. Coincidentally, this is about all that Pasadena, New Jersey ever amounted to; it was a name on a map, and only a small bit more. However, to understand this claim requires a more in-depth view at its history and the history of its neighboring clay industry.

The clay industry started around 1858 when an Irish imigrant named Lewis Neill moved to a remote corner of Lacey Township (then Union Township), located along the Manchester border, from Philadelphia. He began a terra cotta and fire brick operation that has been known for generations as the ‘Union Clay Works.’ The name ‘Union Clay Works’ was not a proper name for the operation at any point in time, but instead a name given it by locals who never knew the name of the company operating at the factory. Quite simply put, it was a clay works located in Union Township, New Jersey. The operation was known as Lewis Neill and Company, and it obtained its clay from nearby sources. The most noted of these sources was near the remnants of a hotel and popular stopping point on the Egg Harbor Road known as Half Way. In time, Neill’s operation obliterated this small stopping point, leaving few traces behind. By 1859, Neill had attracted several investors in his company, and he took a partner, John McManus, the same year. Coincidentally, the manager of Neill’s factory was a tobacconist and Minister by the name of Andrew McCall. The name of his property was ‘Red Oak Grove.’

Neill and McManus continued operation until 1865 when the factory was sold to a fire brick and clay retort manufacturer from Brooklyn, New York named Joseph Keasbey Brick. Under Brick’s ownership, the factory became part of the Brooklyn Clay Retort and Fire Brick Company. Even after his death in 1868, the factory remained under the company’s ownership until 1897 when Brick’s wife died and her estate, which included the Union factory, became a charitable donation to the Brooklyn Memorial Hospital. The factory was closed down, and the entire property remained dormant until it was sold in 1910.

Not far from the Union factory, about three miles north, was the site of another clay works that opened in 1866, the Townsend Clay Manufacturing Company. It was located in a part of Manchester Township then called Wheatland, and was owned by a successful war profiteer named Daniel Townsend. Within a few years, good fortune smiled on the company as the Raritan and Delaware Bay Railroad laid its tracks only yards from the factory’s kilns. By 1873, the company had attracted the attention of several powerful local bankers and was incorporated as the ‘Wheatland Manufacturing Company.’ The factory operated until about 1878 when Daniel Townsend died. After his death, however, the company took another path to profit.

In 1883, the remaining officers of the Wheatland Manufacturing Company decided to change the mission of the company from terra cotta manufacture to real estate development. A development was drawn up and registered with the county clerk; it was named ‘Pasadena.’ At first, lot sales were high, but soon turned for the worse. In fact, the Pasadena development failed utterly by 1915 without a single house ever having been built.

Not far from the remains of the Wheatland factory, just south along the railroad tracks, lay the remains of another site associated with the clay industry. These are the remains of the Brooksbrae Brick Company factory; the same remains that Henry Beck, in his Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey, called the Pasadena Terra Cotta Company. Incorporated in 1905 to manufacture bricks on behalf of the Adams Clay Mining Company, a firm that excavated clay from mines just a mile south along the railroad tracks, the Brooksbrae Brick Company erected a state-of-the-art factory on a small parcel of land near the failed development of Pasadena. In full operation it could have produced thousands of bricks per day. However, the factory never reached that potential. In fact, it is doubtful that the factory ever began operation at all. In 1908, the owner of the Brooksbrae Brick Company, William J. Kelly, died and due to a problem with his will, his entire estate was frozen and became embroiled in litigation for the next decade. The Brooksbrae factory was mothballed until the problem with the will could be sorted out.

In 1915, there was an interesting incident that began with the laborers from the Central Railroad of New Jersey going on strike at the Brooksbrae siding. The strike tied up the rail lines and attempts by railroad management were unsuccessful in easing the tensions. In response to this, agents for the Brooksbrae Brick Company sent a caretaker to the factory. However, during a cold night, the elderly caretaker and his wife lit a fire in their stove without checking or cleaning the chimney’s flue. Smoke backed-up into the house while the couple slept, and within hours it was ablaze. The next morning it was found in ashes by several workers from the nearby Bullock cranberry bogs. After an investigation it was determined an accidental death with no foul play involved. However, the locals in the area, remembering the strike several days earlier, insisted that murder and robbery was the real cause. When Henry Beck recorded his tales about Pasadena, it was this last tale, about murder, that he attached to name ‘Peggy Clevenger.’

The problem with William Kelly’s will had finally been figured out by 1918. Due to an escape clause, the estate could be sold as seen fit by the executors and, the Brooksbrae factory was one of the first pieces to go. After the tragic deaths at the factory, it was sold and never completed.

So, in retrospect, Pasadena was little more than a name on a map. It was a failed attempt at a development in the Pine Barrens, and its current notoriety is only associated with a clay industry that, for the most part, preceded it. The only legacy that Pasadena holds is the folktales that confused and combined the histories of several forgotten localities and one fairly successful clay industry. However, Pasadena is also the key to learning about this wonderful and interesting region of both the Pine Barrens and New Jersey’s past.

About Scott Wieczorek