MILLTOWN, NJ - The work will take many months, but deconstruction began today of the former Michelin Tire Factory on Main Street in Milltown.
The 15 buildings, totalling 475,000 square feet of floor space, grew from a nexus in 1902 and then expanded to accommodate a flourishing rubber and tire industry over the next few decades. At its peak, the Michelin Tire Factory produced 4,500 tires and 15,000 tubes every 24 hours. (Images of America: Milltown)
Now, however, the unused location has become a dangerous site and the buildings are being razed. According to Mike Marcinczyk of the Milltown Office of Emergency Management, "We are operating under the safest circumstances" to protect both the township and the environment. There will be no explosives used, and the buildings have been freed from contamination by asbestos and other possible dangers to the air, water and land.
The rubber industry in Milltown began around 1843 and included the manufacture of shoes, soles and tires. The "mill" in Miltown, though, was not the large factory that was being razed today. The "mill" refers to the building that used to house the Russell Playing Card Company on Washington Avenue, across the street from the municipal building and near the train tracks that served the industrial community in town. Before that, there was Bergen's Mill which drew water from Lawrence Brook.
The Michelin Company of France purchased the factory from International A&V Tire, a Boston-based company, in 1907. Factory workers were mostly German immigrants whose names are still seen on street signs today all around town.
During World War I, the factory also produced gas masks to be used by American soldiers fighting in the trenches. It was during the year 1916 that the Milltown factory took the lead among all Michelin plants, although it was the youngest of the group. Milltown manufactured the Universal Tread tire that reveloutionized the tire industry and established Michelin's reputation for making the best tires in the world. (WPA Writers' Project Report, 1936, Milltown Public Library.)
The Michelin company also owned a 100-acre farm used to grow food for the employees. The local neighborhood (including Church and Richter streets) included 53 bungalow,s or "Michelin Homes," for employees. The strip mall across Main Street which now houses the Dunkin Donuts and Francesco's Pizza used to be the medical center and recreation center for the Michelin workers. The second floor of Ron Capadanno's gym used to be a bowling alley where the Michelin workers socialized.
Michelin closed the Milltown Plant in 1930, operating it only as a realty office until 1946. Since then, it has been occupied by various renters and has fallen into dangerous decline.
In recent years, an extensive court battle has been waged between Milltown and SB Building Associates over the decay, destruction and possible re-use of the property. At this time, the borough has succeeded in forcing the destruction of the standing buildings, the oldest of which was constructed in 1902, because they present a hazard.
The process will begin at the eastern-most section of the property, near the United Way building, and conclude with the largest structure that faces Main Street. For the foreseeable future, there will be no interuption on Main Street and Ford Avenue.
Marcincyzk also noted that effort will be made to maintain the iconic smoke stack and water tower that have become well-known symbols for Milltown.
Although several plans for the use of the Michelin location have been discussed by the borough, the focus right now lies on "clearing the property safely, " Marincyzk said.