When Milltown incorporated in 1896 it had already been a mill-centric village for more than a century. Rubber had arrived in 1843 when a New Brunswick firm that made rubber overshoes relocated, but the tire hit Milltown’s road in 1907 when the French manufacturer Michelin, presciently hoping to capitalize on the burgeoning American automobile market, chose Milltown for its first American tire factory. (They were a year ahead of the Ford Model T.)
The 21-acre site soon boasted its own railroad siding. In 1916 Michelin began producing its very successful Universal Tread tire in Milltown bringing national attention through advertisements that ran in popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. In 1919 Michelin built 53 bungalows for workers’ homes. In the 1920s more than 2000 people worked for Michelin in Milltown in 15 buildings that contained 475,000 square feet of factory floor. But Michelin’s market had a blowout when the economy collapsed, and they closed their Milltown facility in 1930.
In the past 75 years businesses have come and gone, and parts of the complex are lost. What remains, however, are distinctive rows of relatively low, connected, brick buildings with stepped gables that conceal peaked triangular green-ribbed sky lights. The buildings are currently about one quarter occupied, and the owner is allowing them to deteriorate. A developer is poised to demolish the entire complex in favor of a mixture of affordable apartments and market rate, age restricted units as soon as an environmental clean up is completed.
PNJ wonders why this whole site needs to be demolished and filled to capacity with new housing: why a core element in the town’s identity must be sacrificed in its entirety. Some of the buildings could be adaptively reused for housing or to meet community needs such as for a new firehouse. Important symbolic elements such as the water tower and smoke stack should be retained.
David Schewendemann, Milltown Historical Society
PO Box 96
Milltown, NJ 08850