Rockwell Fire Brigade on Somerset

Part of the joy in exploring Hopewell is discovering history in unexpected and even undistinguished places. For example, there is a small one-story building at 8 Somerset Street in Hopewell Borough – at the intersection with Hamilton Avenue, on the railroad side of the street, just past the Tomato Factory and before the parking lot. The other side of the street is filled with the large former Rockwell and Kooltronic industrial facility, with its history back to before 1900. But this building has its own story as well.

View east down Somerset Street from Hamilton Avenue – 2020 [DD]

This small building seems to appear on maps back to 1927 as a “Stock Shed,” but the first known specific use was for the Rockwell Fire Brigade, which served Rockwell and Hopewell from 1954 to 1968.

The building then was used for a variety of purposes – J. B. Hill hardware, the Mower Ranch, the Hopewell Antique Cottage, the Princeton Doll and Toy Museum, and now the twine gift shop.

This small building has continued to provide useful service to a variety of organizations in Hopewell, during all the changes from the growth of the Rockwell facility, and with the dramatic clearing of Somerset Avenue as the result of cleanup from soil contamination.

== View the full brief on 8 Somerset Street for more information (PDF) ==

1927, 1935 – Stock Shed

Sanborn 1927 – Somerset at Hamilton

In 1927, the Smith Manufacturing Company built the first part of what became the large Rockwell complex, along the south side of Somerset Street at the corner of Hamilton Avenue. (Pink in the map, diagonally across the intersection from the Tomato Canning Factory.)

The 1927 and 1935 Sanborn maps also show a small “Stock Shed” east of the end of Hamilton Ave., that appears to match the location and size of the current 8 Somerset building. (Previously, the 1900 and 1912 Sanborn maps appear to show a different, larger shed positioned directly across from Hamilton.)

Rockwell Fire Brigade (1954 – 1968)

Rockwell Engine Company No. 1 – 1957 [RMA]

In January 1954, Rockwell organized its own Fire Brigade, Rockwell Engine Company No. 1, at 8 Somerset Street. Rockwell employees were active in the Hopewell Fire Department, but the new industrial fire fighting unit provided both protection for the Rockwell plant, and served as a backup for the town.

Its fire engine was donated by Hopewell Borough – an old American La France truck that was purchased by the Fire Department in 1923, and had been in continuous use since then.

In 1968, “after many years of good service,” the Rockwell equipment (“Old Number 1”) was returned to the Fire Department, and the Rockwell Fire Brigade was presumably disbanded.

J. B. Hill Hardware (1970s)

8 Somerset Property (large “12”/6)
[1993 Hw Boro Block/Lot Conversion Tax Map]

In the 1970s, the 8 Somerset Street building was used for a period as an outgrowth of the J. B. Hill hardware store (diagonally across the intersection at 43 Railroad Place), apparently as a kind of garden shop with outdoor furniture and the like.

The current lot and property lines were established in 1975 by Joseph B. Hill II and Arthur M. Wright, who consolidated the property from parts of two tracts that they had previously acquired through J. B. Hill and Rockwell. (The 8 Somerset Street property is currently designated as Block 12, Lot 6 on the Hopewell Borough previous tax map, and was previously Block 4, Lot 79 before the renumbering in 1994.)

Mower Ranch (1980 – 1988)

Mower Ranch – 1979 [RMA]

In 1980, Merrill and Beverly Mellott opened the Mower Ranch at 8 Somerset Street.

The Mower Ranch provided mower sales and service from 8 Somerset Street. The building front had a bay window on the left, a center door and a garage on the right.

After selling the property in 1988, the Mower Ranch relocated up North Greenwood Avenue (aka Hopewell-Wertsville Road). In 1993-94, the business went mobile, using a mobile workshop to provide lawn mower repair service on the spot.

Hopewell Antique Cottage (1988 – 2003)

Hopewell Antique Cottage – 2003 [Audrey Jones]

In 1988 David Dutch and Wiona Frye opened the Hopewell Antique Cottage at 8 Somerset Street.

Wiona Frye had previously been one of the dealers at the Brookside Antique Center at 43 West Broad Street in Hopewell. Her husband, David Frye, also was involved in the business. David Dutch and his wife Karen Dutch also operated an antique store in Lambertville for many years.

The front of the building now had a window on the right side, replacing the garage door. David Frye also was responsible for acquiring the big green moving truck that still sits behind the building to provide extra storage on the site. After it was in place, the engine was removed for use on the Borough fleet.

Princeton Doll & Toy Museum (2003 – 2016)

Virginia Aris outside the Hopewell Center – 2017 [Museum]

In March 2003 the Princeton Doll and Toy Museum opened at 8 Somerset.

The Museum was the project of Nancy O’Connor, an antique doll collector in Princeton, and her friend, Virginia Aris, who was an antique dealer and collector, and became Executive Director of the Museum. The Museum’s collection included rare dolls from O’Connor’s private collection, as well as those of Aris and many other donations and acquisitions.

After O’Connor fell ill, the property was put up for sale, and in October 2015, the Museum relocated across Somerset Street into a larger space in the Hopewell Center (the former Rockwell complex). Then after the death of Virginia Aris, the museum was closed in July 2017 and the collection was disbanded.

twine (2016 – present)

twine at 8 Somerset – 2020 [DD]

In October 2016, Melissa Cookman moved her twine gift shop to 8 Somerset Street.

Twine had previously been at 10 East Broad Street (behind Nomad Pizza), where it had opened in October 2011.

The building was gutted, adding new floors and windows, the side room on the right was added, and the the building was painted the distinctive red.

We have limited information and only a handful of photos of 8 Somerset Street – More materials are most welcome on this and other sites around Hopewell.

See the associated brief on 8 Somerset Street for full references, and acknowledgements to the principals and families of these organizations that provided information and materials for this research.

== View the full brief on 8 Somerset Street for more information (PDF) ==

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.



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