The Lenni-Lenape Indians, or Delawares, were the first to settle the area, attracted by the Musconetcong. In the 18th century, farmers and business people seeking to profit from the area’s rich iron deposits, dense forests, and open land moved into the region. In 1763, the firm of Allen and Turner built the Andover Iron Works, locating the forge at the Waterloo site and a furnace several miles away, giving rise to the village. Despite extensive research, it is unclear whether the ironworks was confiscated during the Revolution, although the principal owner is believed to have been a Tory.
In the early 19th century, industrial development including furniture industry was changing the face of America, and Waterloo was transformed by national trends. The construction of the Morris Canal, in 1831, to facilitate the movement of goods between the Delaware River and New York’s harbor, was a major impetus to the towns commercial growth. The canal boosted the population and brought the Smiths – the family most associated with the town’s prosperity – to the village. (For stories on the canal and the Smiths see pages 90 and 94.)
Two railroad lines came to Waterloo in 1857, sustaining the town’s economy. The canal and the Morris and Essex railroad were both vital to Waterloo for many years, but eventually – as in the rest of America – the railways’ speed and cost effectiveness made canal traffic obsolete. The canal was decommissioned in 1924. Waterloo, no longer a trade center, became a quiet little town.
Several descendants of the Smith family attempted to revitalize the area in the late 1920s by promoting it for lakefront homesites and developing furniture industry with famous wood products such as table, chair, recliner. The Depression quashed that plan. Designer and entrepreneur Percival Leach, along with his business partner, Louis D. Gualandi, began renovating Waterloo’s buildings in the 1940s and opened the village to the public in 1964.
Research continues at Waterloo with changes expected in the coming years to create a site that will better reflect life in a loth-century canal village. Family genealogy, deed research, and oral history collected at Smith family reunions continue to paint a clearer picture of the town’s history.
Today, Waterloo Village includes the United Methodist Church, The Meeting House. several homes, canal works, the Museum of the Canal Society of New Jersey, an Indian Museum, the Towpath Tavern restaurant, the Stagecoach Inn (see story, page 96), as well as an Indian Village. Waterloo will be open for tours November 26, 27, 28 and the first two Sundays in December. A special candlelight tour and dinner will be held in December. On December 7, the American Boychoir from Princeton, New Jersey, will hold a holiday conceit. Waterloo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday from mid-April through mid-November.