The Saga of the Hopewell Chocolate Factory

The Chocolate Factory

The saga of the Chocolate Factory in Hopewell is even more interesting than we have heard. This iconic brick building on Railroad Place has been a shirt factory, *three* different candy factories – and the home of the Fraley Electric Thermo Vibra Company (view on the History Map).

The story also is a testament to the determination of the business leaders of Hopewell, who made significant investments to fund and promote the growth of the town.

== View the full Historic Property Brief on the Chocolate Factory (PDF) ==

The History Project site has a good selection of images of the building over time (view in the Image Gallery), and the local newspapers, especially the Hopewell Herald and the Trenton Evening Times, also help fill in pieces of the story.

Hopewell Shirt Factory – 1892 – 1903

One of the vehicles for promoting the growth of the town was the Hopewell Improvement Association, which in 1892 funded the construction of the building we now know as the Chocolate Factory, at a cost of $4,418.

“The Shirt Factory”

The building was built for the Hopewell Shirt Factory, which opened in 1892, and manufactured the “celebrated Dorbess shirt and night robe.” It was managed by Thomas Vaughn, and operated by the D. C. France Manufacturing Company.

The building was designed to run 100 sewing machines on the third floor, and help wanted ads from 1893  called for “100 girls,” offering six to nine dollars a week for experienced operators.

Apparently finding help was an ongoing problem. The Shirt Factory expanded in 1898 to a second facility on Clinton, N. J., and then stopped work in Hopewell in 1903.

Belle Mead Sweets – 1903 – 1905

“Home of the Famous Belle Mead Sweets”

Meanwhile, John Guild Muirhead had founded Belle Mead Sweets in 1902 in Belle Mead, but soon needed more space. The company moved to Hopewell in 1904, but then quickly moved on to Trenton in 1905, where it lasted until 1934.

Help wanted ads for Belle Mead Sweets in Hopewell called for “50 young ladies who wish good clean employment in a candy kitchen.” Unlike working at an “ordinary factory,” it’s just “earning good wages in a clean, light, lady-like manner.”

The Belle Mead Sweets were sold at local drug stores, including Geo. E. Pearson’s Drug Store in Hopewell, and also well advertised:  “Each dainty piece is made in the Belle Mead different way in the sweetest, cleanest, sunniest candy factory in America, where even the air is washed.”

Electric Thermo Vibra Company – 1906 – c1909

After the departure of Belle Mead Sweets, a couple of newspaper articles report that the building was leased by the Electric Thermo Vibra Company from 1906 though circa 1909, to build a “new line of electrical massage instruments and automobile motors.”

U. S. Patent 818,618, 1906

George B. Fraley had filed a patent application in 1904 for a electrical vibrating unit strapped to the hand. This delivered a finger massage without “unsanitary” rubber attachments, and without wearing out the operator’s finger muscles.

Vibratory massage was the rage at the time. Harry Cox, the Hopewell barber and institution at 8 Seminary Avenue (now gone), advertised the addition of the Fraley Vibrator in 1907, which “removes pimples, blackheads and dandruff and at the same time provides an active exhilaration.”

Hopewell Chocolate Company – 1909 – 1930

Then again the Hopewell business leaders took action to support the town. In 1909 the Hopewell Chocolate Company was incorporated with a capitalization $100,000. “The officers are all prominent men of Hopewell” – including the mayor and business leaders.

Miss Claribel Shattuck

But interestingly, they hired a non-local, Miss Claribel Shattuck, as the general manager. She was “well-qualified,” with sixteen years of experience in candy making, including four years as factory superintendent of Belle Mead Sweets. There are a few more references to Miss Shattuck in the papers, and finally a report that she was planning to resign in 1911 to become president of new candy firm in Newark.

The Chocolate Company sold bon bons and chocolates under the Hopewell Dainties brand, again through local druggists including Geo. Pearson.

“Where the Daintiest of Sweets are Made, Hopewell, N. J.”

In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, the company reorganized under Alfred N. Nelson, and the Hopewell Improvement Association was in receivership in 1917, still with a mortgage of $5,000. But the company kept going, building a small addition on the west side in 1922. But the company ended with the Great Depression, and its assets and land were auctioned off in 1930.

Then in 1931, the building was briefly used by the General Chocolate and Candy Company, which advertised for “Chocolate coaters and bon-bon dippers,” but then seems to have disappeared.

The Chocolate Factory

Current building, with faded lettering

The building has since been known as The Chocolate Factory. It has been reportedly been used by Rockwell, as an organ builders factory, and as a warehouse. In the 1980s it hosted artist studios, and by the 1990s it was converted to apartments and workspace.

Even today, you can still faintly see the Chocolate Company sign painted on the end of the building – “Hopewell C[hocolate]” / “Makers [of]” …

== For more see the full Historic Property Brief on the Chocolate Factory (PDF) ==

We would welcome more information on the history and/or more recent use of the Chocolate Factory!

Hopewell Museum Video – Chocolate Factory

Hopewell and the Chocolate Factory – Annginette Anderson (2/2021)

2 thoughts on “The Saga of the Hopewell Chocolate Factory

  1. Lori L Mathews

    I grew up on Lafayette St from 1979 to 1986 than moved to Lindbergh rd( hopewell-amwell ). As a child I had a friend who’s father was an artist and I believe he actually renovated some of the factory in late 80s. I remember touring it with my friend “Trigger”. It had purple heartwood stairs is all I remember.

  2. Mike Washko

    In the 1960-1970’s, the building was always used as a warehouse and never opened. As kids, we played in the backyard next door which was a friend’s house. Nice to read the history of it & glad it was saved.

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