The Kooltronic / Rockwell / Smith Story

Completing our exploration down Railroad Place in Hopewell Borough, we have reached the large Smith / Rockwell / Kooltronic manufacturing facility at the end of Hamilton Ave. The building is now used for office space and storage, but was once a large manufacturing plant providing over 200 local jobs.

The facility is clearly composed from multiple buildings of different shapes, sizes, height, and materials. This another convoluted story of multiple companies, each with multiple names – and with an extensive list of additions and changes to the site as it grew from 10,000 to 100,000 sq. ft. through the past century.

The facility began as the Smith Novelty Co. and then the H. A. Smith Manufacturing Co. (1900 – 1945), but is best remembered under the name of Rockwell (1945 – 1974), which was a major employer in Hopewell. The site was then used by Kooltronic (1975 – 1999), and since has been used for office space and storage.

The facility is bounded from the north to south by Somerset and Lafayette Streets, and west to east by Hamilton Avenue and a tributary of Beden Brook. The property then extends to the north side of Somerset Street to the railroad tracks, which is currently used as a parking lot.

Rockwell Manufacturing, Hopewell Division – 1960 [Courtesy The Hopewell Museum]
Planned addition on Lafayette St. side

See previous posts along Railroad Place – The Hopewell Chocolate Factory, The Hopewell Valley Canning Company, The FCA and Hopewell Railroad Sidings, J. B. Hill & Sons, and Rose & Chubby’s Luncheonette.

== View the full Property Brief, with lots more details and images:
Smith / Rockwell / Kooltronic – 57 Hamilton Ave. (PDF) ==

1900 – Smith Novelty Co.

The story of Smith Novelty / Rockwell Machine / Kooltronic in Hopewell begins with Hugh A. Smith, who came to Hopewell in 1900 with his father, Alfred B. Smith, and founded the Smith Novelty Company

Hugh A. Smith (1834-1917) served on the Hopewell borough council, and was twice elected mayor of Hopewell. Later he offered and sold his residence at 28 East Broad St. for the use of the Hopewell Public Library and Museum, which continues to be the home of The Hopewell Museum.

Smith Novelty first focused on metal mechanical novelties powered by spring wound motors, and then expanded into special clock movements, water, gas and electric meter registers, and other metal manufacturing.

The company originally was based in a machine shop on the north side of Somerset St. east of the stream, and then moved to a building that was located in what is now a parking lot across Somerset St. from the current facility. This was originally two stories, and then added a third floor in 1910. The facility had 4,000 sq. ft. in 1909, and had some 40 employees in 1913.

Smith Novelty Co. – c. 1909 [Hopewell 1909]
Factory on north side of Somerset St., across from current facility

1927 – H. A. Smith Manufacturing Co. Plant

In 1915, Smith Novelty incorporated as the H. A. Smith Manufacturing Company. Around 1919, Smith turned the business over to his son, Alfred H. Smith, and moved to Belmar, N. J.

In 1927, Smith Manufacturing moved across the street and built the first part of the current facility, on the south side of Somerset Street at the corner of Hamilton Ave.

H. A. Smith Machine Co. – c. 1930 [Courtesy The Hopewell Museum]
First part of current facility, south side of Somerset St.

1929 – H. A. Smith Machine Co.

In 1929, Smith Novelty was sold to the Pittsburgh Equitable Meter Company, and then operated as the H. A. Smith Machine Company. It was run by Herbert S. Rockwell, who was the long-time general manager and president from 1929 until his retirement in 1975. (His brother, Col. Willard F. Rockwell, was the long-time president and chairman of the board of the Pittsburgh Equitable Meter Company, which became Rockwell.)

Herbert S. Rockwell (c1894 – 1976) also served as a director of the Hopewell National Bank, and then became director emeritus of Princeton Bank when he reached age 70.

Around 1929, the total plant area was approximately 19,000 sq. ft., and the company had 50 employees.

In 1935, Smith Machine constructed what was described as a “steel and concrete fireproof addition to its large factory building.” It then had approximately 20,000 sq. ft. and about 100 employees.

H. A. Smith Machine Co. – c. 1935 [Courtesy The Hopewell Museum]
Addition to right and behind main entrance facing Hamilton Ave.

1945 – Hopewell Division of Rockwell Manufacturing

Main Entrance – 1952 [REL]
Rockwell logo over door (Facing Hamilton Ave.)

In 1945, when the parent company changed its name to the Rockwell Manufacturing Company, Smith Machine was renamed as the Rockwell Machine Company. A few years later, it became the Hopewell Division of the Rockwell Manufacturing Company.

By the late 1950s, the Rockwell Manufacturing Hopewell Division had added multiple additions including a Quonset hut on the east side, for a total area of 72,000 sq. ft.

In 1963, the Rockwell Taximeter operation was transferred to the Hopewell Division, consolidating sales, service, engineering and production.

Rockwell Manufacturing, Hopewell Division – c1950 [Courtesy The Hopewell Museum]
East side additions including Quonset hut (Somerset St. left, Hamilton bottom)

1973 – Rockwell International / Shutdown

In 1960, the Rockwell Manufacturing Hopewell Division built an addition on the Lafayette St. side, using the area of the former plant parking yard there. This expanded the facility to 100,000 sq. ft. and over 200 employees.

Rockwell Manufacturing, Hopewell Division – c. 1962 [Courtesy The Hopewell Museum]
Full Addition on Lafayette St. (dated from autos in photo)

In 1971, Valley Oil, which had acquired the fuel oil business of J. B. Hill and Sons, purchased the north side of Somerset St. east of the stream from Rockwell.

The Hopewell Rockwell plant suffered severe flooding from Hurricane Doria during the evening of Friday, August 29, 1971. The entire basement or lower floor of the plant was under water at least three feet deep.

In 1973, the parent company changed its name to Rockwell International, with the merger of the Rockwell Manufacturing Company with North American Rockwell.

Also in 1973, Rockwell International began to transfer some manufacturing from the Hopewell plant, and in 1974 announced the closure of the Hopewell site. Alfred Merlin Smith, grandson of founder Hugh A. Smith, was a superintendent and then acting general manager of the plant from at least 1950 until its closure in 1974.

1974 – 1999 – Kooltronic / Offices & Storage

In 1974, Kooltronic, Inc. moved its cooling business from Princeton to the 100,000 sq. ft. Hopewell facility. The move was funded by a $400,000 loan through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

In 1984, Kooltronic received $2.5 million of financing from the N.J. EDA for purchasing new equipment and to expand the site. This apparently included removing and replacing the Quonset hut and other structures on the east side of the facility and replacing them with a single structure. A new facade also was added to the building in renovating it to office use.

In 1999, Kooltronic left Hopewell and moved into its current 170,000 square foot facility on Pennington-Hopewell Rd (Route 654) near Route 31.

The Hopewell building has since been used for office space and storage.

Facility today [DD 2021]
Original Somerset St. section to left,
then original main entrance (with new facade) on Hamilton Ave.,
and Lafayette St. addition (now with windows) on right

1990s – Contamination and Remediation

Beginning around 1991, site sampling found that the soil on the site was impacted with volatile organic compounds, metals, and radium. Starting in1999, Rockwell International removed approximately 12,300 tons of contaminated soil.

Around 2006, a “pump-and-treat” system was installed in a building on the south side of Somerset St. to extract, treat, and discharge decontaminated groundwater. This process is expected to continue for many years.

Later, the remaining houses on the south side of Somerset St., then vacant, also were demolished. Monitoring and reporting on the site, and adjacent properties, continues to the present day.

Smith / Rockwell / Kooltronic

Do you have additional pictures, artifacts, or memories of the Smith / Rockwell / Kooltronic facility or other properties down Somerset Street? We would love to share them!

See the full brief on the property for more on the businesses and people, plus additional images including maps and aerials.

== View the full Property Brief, with lots more details and images:
Smith / Rockwell / Kooltronic – 57 Hamilton Ave. (PDF) ==

As usual, we welcome comments, and more information and materials on our local history.

More on Smith / Rockwell / Kooltronic

The large Smith / Rockwell / Kooltronic manufacturing facility at the end of Hamilton Ave. at Somerset St. expanded from a small job shop to a large manufacturing plant providing over 200 local jobs.



4 thoughts on “The Kooltronic / Rockwell / Smith Story

  1. […] do have a good understanding of the history of the huge Kooltronic / Rockwell / Smith complex that frames the entrance to Somerset Street at the corner of Hamilton Avenue. But what we […]

  2. […] to Rich Anderson we have some interesting artifacts and photos from the Rockwell plant in Hopewell – where both his father and grandfather worked, along with hundreds of […]

  3. […] 57 Hamilton Ave – Smith / Rockwell / Kooltronic […]

  4. Mike Washko

    I worked there one summer while I was off from college. It was hard work making taxi meters and piecework. I guess the little pond across the street is no longer there. We skated there as kids in the winter & it was fun to build a small fire near the little dam to stay warm.

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