By Managing Editor Mike Schneider
At first glance, Ringwood looks like another beautiful section of the Jersey Highlands. The forests, the rolling hills and the beautiful lakes. But these hills have some very special history.
A couple hundred years ago, these hills were the scene of a teeming ironworks. The problem was for the owners back in London, business wasn’t good enough. So they sent in one of their best — Robert Erskine — considered to be a brilliant engineer. Some say he invented the field of hydraulics. Others insist he was also one of the best surveyors around.
When hostilities started to build up between the colonies and Mother England, Erskine didn’t want to lose his men to the army. So he formed his own militia. He sided with George Washington. Washington took note of that fact and took note of the fact that he also needed a brilliant surveyor. He arranged a meeting with Erskine and shortly thereafter, Erskine became the surveyor of the United States Army — the very first surveyor.
Most of the maps used in this war, certainly almost all of the maps used in the northern section of the war, were created by Erskine and his staff. In many ways, it can be accurately said that Robert Erskine helped write the map that led to the victory.
So Erskine and his staff spent the next four years moving around the various roads in this region of the country, putting together the maps that would allow George Washington to retreat when necessary and to attack when possible.
Meantime, back at the ironworks, Erskine and his staff were also designing the instruments of war. Much of the artillery that was used by George Washington’s army — designed, produced right here. Also, the obstacles in the Hudson River aimed at keeping the British fleet from moving up and dividing the colonies in half — designed here by Robert Erskine.
But in the autumn of 1780 while out on a surveying trip, Robert Erskine fell ill and by the time he got home to Ringwood, it was a lot more serious than that. In October, he died of pneumonia. When George Washington got the news, he came right here to say goodbye to his friend, a man that history now refers to as the forgotten general.
General Washington would later return to Ringwood. In fact it was here that he announced to his troops that an armistice had been reached with Great Britain. The American Revolution apparently had been won. The American experience was just beginning.