Somerset Street is the lost street of Hopewell Borough. Yes, the street is still there, but the physical history is gone – all the homes and buildings, and even the remnants of foundations and the ground itself are lost. This was mostly the result of the clean-up in the 1990s of the contamination from the Rockwell and predecessor H. A. Smith plants.
We 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 know about the rest of the street comes only from two main sources – a few buildings shown in the Sanborn fire maps of the first quarter of the 1900s, and occasional glimpses from references to businesses in the local newspapers.
Does anyone have more information on the lost Somerset Street? Photos of the houses along the street? Images of other buildings or businesses? Or other references?
Another part of Hopewell, the Mercer and Somerset Railroad, originally ran along the path of Somerset Street, south of the current tracks. The M&S opened in 1874, stopped service in 1880, and the tracks were soon removed – leaving an open area along Railroad Place and Somerset Street for possible industrial development.
You then can think of the Somerset Street area as being divided east / west by the Beden Brook stream that passes east of the Rockwell complex – with the west side by Railroad Place, with the Rockwell complex on the south and parking lot on the north, and the east side towards Valley Oil and the border with Hopewell Township).
The area also is divided north by the road itself – north for the former industrial area next to the railroad tracks, and south for the former residential block towards Lafayette Street.
So we’re looking for more information on some of the activities and names along the street that are referenced in maps and newspapers:
- The Hopewell Brickyards operated in the Somerset Street area in the 1890s, run by Charles Fay, Joseph Prince, and Patrick Cahill. We have no information on this beyond newspaper references.
- The Hopewell Factory & Inducement Company purchased the block in 1900, and offered free property on the north side for industrial use (by the tracks), and planned building lots on the south side for residential housing. There are occasional references to this organization in the papers into the 1940s, but no information on its final disposition.
- The H. A. Smith Co., predecessor of Kooltronic / Rockwell in Hopewell, constructed early buildings in the 1900s, on the north side, east of the current Rockwell parking lot, and then in the location of the parking lot (for which we do have a photo).
- The Hopewell Bobbin and Spool Company constructed a building along Somerset Street in 1903, which was destroyed by fire in 1904. However, there were no further reports of this business in the newspapers.
- E. W. Whitehead had a general store and restaurant at 19 Blackwell Avenue, and also manufactured ice cream in the 1910s and 1920s in a building just east of the stream on the south side of Somerset Street. Beyond the Sanborn maps, there are no other known references to this factory.
- The E. B. Coy Manufacturing Co. had a wood working building just east of the stream on the south side of Somerset Street (in the area of the pond), which was in operation by 1912 and gone by 1927. Beyond the Sanborn maps, there are no other known references to this business.
- The Rockwell ice skating pond just east of the parking lot and stream was active in the 1950s and earlier. We have a few photos and aerials of the pond in the 1960s.
- The Hopewell dump was somewhere along Somerset in the 1940s, according one newspaper report.
- Other companies, including the Trenton Patent Manufacturing Co., Inter-State Safety Manufacturing, and Clear Clean Cloth Co., were reported in the papers to be starting to operate along Somerset Street in the 1920s. There are no other known reports on these.
More recently, the physical evidence of these operations has been wiped away:
In 1970, J. B. Hill sold its oil business to Valley Oil, which moved to its present location at the end of Somerset Street (#54). Valley Oil actually purchased the entire north side of Somerset from Rockwell, east of the stream. When the company was clearing the land for construction in the early 1970s, they filled in the then-overgrown pond and levelled the land. By that time, the property had no buildings and no foundations, but did have evidence of use for dumping. Later when Hopewell installed sewers, Valley Oil allowed the contractor to dump the excavated dirt along its property on the north side of Somerset Street, which continues to be raised today.
Beginning around 1991, site sampling found that the soil around the Rockwell site was impacted with volatile organic compounds, metals, and radium. Starting in 1999, Rockwell International removed approximately 12,300 tons of contaminated soil. 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.
As a result, there is no remaining physical evidence of the historical use of Somerset Street on the east side beyond the Beden Brook stream – not buildings or even in the earth. The south side was demolished and the earth removed, and the north side was leveled and covered with dirt from around the town.