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The Augustus Richards Canal

In a remote section of woods in Hammonton one can find a mile and a half long canal dug by Augustus Richards in 1877 used to divert water from the Nescochague for use in his cranberry bogs. Building canals for a cranberry bog was nothing new; however, Richards was soon to see himself in court over his actions for this particular endeavor.

In 1858 Augustus Richards began inheriting property in the area that is now Richards Ave North-West of the the Pleasant Mills Church. This property totaled about 2500 acres and extended up to what was the Batsto Tract line along the Nescochague. With his various acquisitions Richards started growing cranberries, and in 1876 with the intent to irrigate the bogs he had on his property, he decided to build a canal to carry water from the Nescochague (also know as the Forge Stream) to their location. With the bogs fairly close to the river, his canal would not have to be very long, but Richards wanted it to start much further up the river making this a major undertaking. For some reason Richards was not happy with having the beginnings at the river on his property, instead, he preferred to have the canal connect to the river on a small piece of his neighbors land. His neighbor was Joseph Wharton and Richards soon contacted him asking if he could do just that. Wharton apparently was receptive of the idea, and set about getting Richards an easement for the beginnings of his canal. He assigned his surveyor Elisa Wright the task of making this happen, and in the days to follow Wright and Richards through a flurry of letters came up with a precise location. On May 20, 1876 the property passed to Richards hands. The easement was 40 feet wide and 230 feet long, and consisted of .2781 acres. After carefully examining the document and location in the summer of 1876, Richards proceeded digging that portion of his project.

To divert the water to the canal, Richards needed to dam the Nescochague. By pounding cedar pilings across the river and dumping remains of a glass factory, stones, and brickbat, he was successful. In August of 1877 he had finalized his project, and that very same month he set in motion the diversion of the river to his bogs. Soon, the flow of water in the river below his dam was diminished, and the workers and owner of the paper mill at Pleasant Mills were alarmed. With production cut in half because of the loss of water, William Farrell, the owner of the mill, set on foot up the Nescochague to find the cause. In court papers Farrell claims that after finding the dam and asking Richards to remove it, Richards refused and later even gave speeches about his right to divert the water, keep the dam intact, and prevent any water from taking it’s natural flow down the Nescochague.

With Richards refusing to remove the dam, Farrell elected to take him to court. To prepare for the case, both side took depositions which reveal a few facts about their property. The Pleasant Mills property consisted of 380 acres and included the Pleasant Mills and Batsto Forge Pond. William Farrell owned 2/3 of the property with the final one third owned by Amos L. Hollingsworth of Boston, Zachary J, Hollingsworth, Mark H. Hollingsworth, and Jennie H. Warren. Farrell’s deposition claims that the dam Richards built was 7 feet high and was built with the express intent to stop the flow of water down the Nescochague which at that time amounted to a $2500 loss to the paper mill.

Richards deposition centered on complaints by him concerning Farrell and his agents. He claimed Farrell had been hostile to him for years because of flooding on his property that Farrell blamed Richards for. Richards also claimed that larger and more modern equipment at the paper mill was causing the stoppage, and the normal water flow could not keep them running. Here is a portion of Richards deposition concerning just that. Richards is mentioned as the “deponent.”

That the deponent has not entered the Mill at Pleasant Mills for many years and that he remembers when he last saw the machinery there, that there were not so many as six engines (as John W. Farrell swears there now are) in the mill at that time, that the number of engines has been increased by said complainant or some of them during the last few years, that every engine require a large increase of the power at the mill to run it with the other engines, and a large increase in the consumption of water at the mill in moving said additional engine and its connecting machinery, that said engines are large tubs or vats filled with pulp mixed with water, which is ground in the engines into a fine soft substance by wheels revolving in the same at great velocity, each engine using and consuming a large quantity of water itself to soften the pulp with while grinding it. That deponent has been informed and can prove, that a new and larger and heavier water wheel has been put in at said mill within a few years by the complainants, to move their machinery there, and that they have from time to time added to and increased the size and number of their other machinery in said mill used for various other parts of the process of making paper. That the increase in the number of engines, and the increase in the size and weight of the new water wheels, and the increase in the various other machinery has greatly increased the demand of said mill upon its water power, and the complainants need more water to run their present machinery than they needed to run their old works a few years ago. That deponent has had no means of examining into this part of the case, because the said mill is closely shut up, and a sign with the words “No Admittance” is fastened up outside of it, and no person is allowed to enter there.

Since Richards could not get in the paper mill to examine the machinery, he asked the court on February 26, 1878 for a two week delay so he could examine the equipment at the mill to prove his beliefs, and the court granted his request. When the case resumed it became apparent to Richards things were not going well. Farrell’s attorney Samuel H. Grey was claiming that Richards canal was not on the easement that Joseph Wharton had given him, and he was asking the court for an injunction to remove the dam. And not only did it appear Richards did not own the easement, Richards had given Wharton other property in return for the easement and now he owned neither. So on March 16, 1878 Howard Richards who was Augustus Richards brother and also his attorney, fired off a letter to Joseph Wharton. In the letter he outlines the problem, requests a quick solution, and also warns Joseph Wharton on the delicate situation that they all are in since his employees were testifying for Farrell. Here is the complete letter as best as I can read:

Howard Richards,

Attorney & Counsellor At Law,

Elizabeth, NJ

March 16 1878

Joseph Wharton Esq.

Dear Sir,

In 1875 or early in 1876 my brother Augustus Richards made an application to you for a right of way for a ditch to carry water from the Forge Stream to his cranberry bog. Your agent Elisa Wright had charge of the matter and my brother had a number of letters from him on the subject of the ditch and a draft for a conveyance made by said Wright from you to him. The matter was finally so far carried out that said Wright drew a deed in fee from you, and your wife, to my brother; for a strip of land forty feet wide and extending from a line of your property to the middle of the Forge Stream. This deed was delivered and after so long an investigation of it’s object and having been drawn by your surveyor, it was supposed by my brother to be sufficient to vest the legal title to him and the land agreed to be conveyed by you including the ditch then opened.

I regret to inform you however that in a suit in Chancery in the state of which my brother is defendant, Elisa Wright testified as a witness that my brother is not the owner of the land he supposed was vested in him by the deed aforesaid, and said Wright has made a map showing the lines of the property to be at one side of the ditch.

It seems that a mistake was made in (some) course or line, which has changed the lines of the (property) you conveyed. Mr. Samuel H. Gray as council in this suit is taking advantage of this mistake, and Mr. Wright is proving it as a witness for the purpose of obtaining an injunction against the use of the water for irrigation, and the matter was urged before the Chancellor at Trenton only yesterday strenuously as a ??? against the defendant my brother.

As the object and purpose of the conveyance in a ditch was well known to all the parties, before and at the time of the execution and the delivery of the deed by you, there is no doubt that the failure to convey the land including the ditch is a mistake, and I have no doubt that you correct it. It is important that this should be done promptly.

I now address you so that you may know the position Mr. Grey and Mr. Wright occupy in the case against my brother, and as I hear they are your advisors, or have been, to respectively request that you will take no steps at their insistence which will interfere with the proper adjustments of the lines ?? the ????? as my brother.

I should like to hear from you on the subject as soon as possible and I beg leave to suggest that you will not confer on the subject of this letter with either Mr. Gray or Mr. Wright who are too far engaged for Mr. Farrell to be well able to aid my brother in correcting the (error).

If Howard Richards thought the mistake was made on purpose, he did not let that known. Wharton on the other hand apparently still wanted Augustus Richards to have his easement, and someone wasted no time in correcting the matter. Just 12 days after Howard Richards wrote Wharton, two deeds were drawn up with Richards giving Wharton back the 40 foot wide property that was mistakenly given him, and Wharton giving him the the land 20 feet on each side of the canal. As you can read below the new March 28, 1878 deed from Wharton to Richards left no doubt that if it had been drawn up by Wharton himself he did not pull a fast one with the original deed.

And it is the intention of this conveyance to give and secure to the said Augustus H. Richards and his heirs and assigns the benefit of the ditch already opened by him and conveying the water from the said stream into his lands and also the Ripple Dam constructed by him in the bed of the stream to assist the flow of the water into the said ditch. Excepting and reserving to him the said Joseph Wharton his heirs and assigns forever the right to cross the said strip of land with a wagon way, without any other cost to him than that of building and repairing the same.

In the end it appears it was all futile. During February 1879 the court made the decision for an injunction to end the diversion of the water by Richards. If he ever abided by it, or appealed the decision is unknown by me. However, according to John Pearce in “Heart of the Pines,” the paper mill run by Farrell burned in 1878 which would put that incident during the time of this court case, and before the court made the decision to side with Farrell. The paper factory did resumed in 1880 apparently after it was rebuilt.

It is interesting to note a few things. As late as 1957 in aerial photos of the area, it can be clearly viewed that there was recent dredging of the canal from it’s beginnings on the property mentioned in this article, all the way down to the land near Ace Campground. It also appears the canal was in use. This would mean that the owners of the land that Richards once owned still owned the easement for the canal and were using it or trying to. But when Joseph Truncer and the rest of the Wharton survey team carried out the massive survey of the Wharton property in 1954 to 1957, they only considered the easement first given to Richards by Wharton as an “Exception” that Wharton did not own. And as you have read that was not the property the canal was on, so the state considered the canal to be owned by them. If indeed the new deeds made up by Richards and Wharton were actually carried out, the state would have known to survey the actual canal location. The records show that they surveyed only the original location meaning the canal was owned by the state. The property owner who owned the rest of the canal would not have access to the river and legally could not use the canal.