Learning to Treasure Trenton, NJ

by Diana Riker

Trenton, New Jersey used to be a center of industry, a manufacturing giant. Its beloved Lower Trenton Bridge provides a grim reminder of this past with its slogan, Trenton Makes – The World Takes. It used to be home to hundreds of factories, supplying goods to businesses all over the country and the world.  My grandmother lived in Trenton during this time.  She and all five of her siblings once worked in its factories, proudly making contributions to the city’s economy and to their family.  Sadly, now these factories are either gone or abandoned.

The Horsham Doll factory, where my great aunt used to work making clothing, is one of these abandoned skeletons of Trenton’s past.  I visited this factory in an attempt to reconnect with not only Trenton’s past but my family’s as well since they used to live across the street from this now dilapidated factory. What I saw was disheartening. The doors are locked and chained, and graffiti decorates the brick facade. Leafless trees grow beside it, threatening to smash the remaining intact windows.  Only its faded signs provide a reminder of what it once was.

However, there is hope for some of these old factory buildings.  Several groups are working to preserve some of them.  For instance, Trenton’s old cracker factory has been preserved and turned into loft apartments. The company that performed the renovations, HHG Development Associates, is a member of the US Green Building Council and a proud supporter of Preservation NJ. Part of their company’s mission statement is to “preserve and enhance the City’s urbanity through historic preservation and adaptive re-use.”

Presently HHG is turning its attention to the Roebling Steel buildings, which will also be preserved and turned into lofts, meeting historical restoration standards. The development project is targeting individuals working in New York City and Philadelphia who find the cost of living in those cities to be too expensive.  These buildings are close to transportation and will provide residents easy access to their places of employment.

Clint Zink, the historian who wrote the original redevelopment and preservation plan for the Roebling buildings in the 1980s, is very excited about the choice of HHG as developers of the project.  This is not only because of their experience, but because they actually live in the city unlike other developers. This move towards preservation gives the city hope that it will resurrect itself. And though it’s doubtful Trenton will ever return to its former state as a manufacturing giant, it is clear that they are working towards improving the city for the future.

About caitlinchart

A recent graduate from Tufts University interested in centuries-old houses, cultural preservation, screen printing, modern dance, and reading as much fiction as she can.
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