In 1849, an association of New York financers organized the Florence City Company and purchased 600 acres of land that was laid out as city lots. The original Constitution of the Florence City Company called for the issuance of five thousand shares of stock. Four thousand shares were used to pay for a tract of land in Mansfield Township along the Delaware River. This tract consisted of 1000 lots measuring 16 feet by 100 feet and one 1000 lots of not less than 100 feet square. These lots, together with land for public streets, parks, and public landings, were all part of what Florence today. In addition, 1000 shares of company stock was issued for the purpose of constructing wharves, water works and a city hall. They built the magnificent Florence Hotel and wharf on the banks of the Delaware River where the municipal boat launch is now located. Front Street was the main residential street, intersected by Broad Street, the main commercial road in Florence.
The hotel was a mainstay for visitors, social gatherings and eventually served as the Municipal Complex until it was destroyed by fire in February 1979. A hotel register of visitors who stayed at the hotel during the 1800s is stowed safely away at the new Municipal Building on Broad Street.
Despite the promise of the area, the Florence City Company eventually succumbed to poor management and fell into bankruptcy. Despite the demise of the company, the town and its inhabitants remained.
The Florence Iron Works was established along the Delaware River in 1857 near present day Foundry Street. In 1867, Richard D. Wood purchased the plant which became the driving force behind the continued development of the community. Homes, recreation facilities, stores and a library were erected for the company’s workers. In addition to providing reading rooms and books, the library also housed game rooms and conducted classes on home making.
Mr. Wood established his residence next to his foundry which is now the H. Kenneth Wilkie Memorial Park. The R. D. Wood mansion, as it was known, stood until the mid-1900s when it was eventually demolished to make way for public use of the land that surrounded it. The R. D. Wood company created most of the present day water and sewer systems in the community. Some of the companies valves and fire hydrants are still in service today. The company was also responsible for exporting pipe, fittings, hydrants and valves to Europe. Much of Paris, France is fitted with equipment forged at the R. D. Wood Company in Florence. IMO and Amstead Industries are now located on the site of the R.D. Wood Company. IMO creates nuclear submarine components for the United States military and Amstead creates pipe as the R.D. Wood Company had done.
Florence was also a noted vacation spot along the Delaware River. Young couples paying a visit to the area were a common scene, sitting along the Delaware’s sandy beaches enjoying the day far from the hot and overcrowded cities of Philadelphia and New York. Florence was a short and pleasant boat ride from the cities. An advertising circular from 1850 said:
“the town is laid put on a gradually rising slope while overhanging the town is an elevation which for its natural beauty and adoption to elegant improvement, is wholly unrivaled by any spot accessible to Philadelphia.”
In 1850, Florence was billed as an ideal place to spend carefree days or to invest in real estate to profit from vacationers. Boats such as the Pekenoket, Columbia, Springfield, Burlington, John A. Warner, and the steamer Florence all served vacationers flocking to our shores. Chartered ships would moor for the day just off the banks to allow their riders to partake in the town’s offerings.
Dr. Trall of Philadelphia also found Florence to be a lucrative and relaxing locale. He took advantage of the wealth of fresh water springs from the ground above the banks of the Delaware. Around 1872, Dr. Trall erected a massive, four-story “Hygeian Home and Hygero Therapeutic College” along at the top of the hill overlooking the Delaware River. The building was located between what is now Cedar and Oak Streets. The purpose of the home and college was the well being of its guests through Hydro Therapy. Very little information remains about Dr. Trall’s operation and its eventual demise.
The story of Roebling began in Mulhausen, Prussia on June 12, 1806. On that day, John A. Roebling was born. John was fortunate enough to study architecture, bridge construction and hydraulics at the Polytechnic Institute in Berlin. He was also a student of the famous philosopher Hegel from whom he learned the doctrine of self-realization and independence, which characterized his life. It was his belief in this doctrine that led to his decision to leave Prussia in 1831 to get away from the political and religious tyranny that was taking place. John and a group of young people who emigrated with him eventually settled on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pa. where they founded the town of Saxonburg.
It was here that he began to fabricate rope out of wire. He used his wire rope to build suspension bridges and it became very much in demand. In order to meet the increasing demand for his rope he built a factory in Trenton, NJ. in 1848. In 1850, John Roebling began to build a suspension bridge across the gorge of the Niagara River. Along with his two sons, Washington and Ferdinand, John completed the bridge and became world famous.
In 1866, John began to build the Brooklyn Bridge that would eventually connect the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City. However, John died as a result of a construction-related accident in 1869 and his son Washington took over the task of supervising the project to its completion.
Around the turn of the century, the Roeblings decided to build a steel mill to make their own steel to be used in making their wire rope. They wanted to build the mill in Trenton, close to the existing plant. However, due to high land prices they decided to look elsewhere. After much searching, John Roebling’s third son, Charles, purchased a 115 acre peach and potato farm near the railway station called Kinkora from Jacob Hoffner for $17,000 on June 25, 1904.
Charles and his brother Ferdinand then spent $4,000,000 to build their steel mill, wire rope plant and the town of Roebling to house the workers that they required. The nearest experienced workers lived in Trenton, twelve miles to the north of the new plant and the Roeblings felt that the only way to ensure success was to have the workers nearby. Charles conceived the design and lay-out of the town of Roebling and thus, he is considered to be it’s founder. The area was made ready for industry by filling in approximately fifty acres of marsh lands along the Delaware River, building roads along which 750 new brick homes were constructed.
History of the Village of Roebling