County: Burlington County
The Roebling wire rope prestretcher and its buildings are the last remaining industrial structures from the John A. Roebling’s Sons steel and wire mill, which operated in Roebling, NJ from 1905 to 1974. The company pioneered suspension bridge construction, as the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, and fabricated the cables of the George Washington Bridge (1931) and the Golden Gate Bridge (1937). The prestretcher machine was invented by Roebling engineers in 1928 to stretch the elasticity out of the massive 3,750-foot wire ropes spun for the George Washington Bridge.
The prestretcher is significant as an artifact of Roebling engineering, New Jersey industrial history and the history of bridge building and civil engineering. The Roebling Museum, located in the former mill gatehouse, interprets the significant history of the mill, the company town of Roebling and its largely immigrant workforce. Descendants of those workers continue to live in the former company town today. The town of Roebling is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places, and the prestretcher and other areas of the former mill site received a Certificate of Eligibility from NJHPO for Historic Register status in 2017.
The Roebling mill was closed in 1974, and the 150-acre mill property was named a Superfund site in 1983. The EPA has demolished nearly every building on the property and now seeks to demolish Buildings 92 & 93 that house and provide the original context for the prestretcher. Under Section 106, EPA is required to consider the effect of its actions on historic properties. In 2004 EPA designated the prestretcher and Buildings 92 & 93 as historic and emphasized the significance of the prestretcher’s location and the spatial relation of the two 90-year-old buildings.
The EPA now argues that demolishing the two buildings and moving the equipment to a new building on the property will be most cost effective. The NJ State Historic Preservation Office has suggested alternative preservation approaches to the EPA, but the agency remains unmoved. Section 106 only requires consultation with NJHPO and interested parties before it makes its final decision. Preservation New Jersey urges the EPA to allow for the prestretcher and Buildings 92 & 93 to remain on-site so future generations can view this industrial feat in its original context.