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Early 1700s
It's listed as Ralston on the state and national registers of historic places.  To the farmers, millers, and blacksmiths that settled the area in the early 1700s, it was known by its Native American name, Roxiticus.  But few people today can identify the whereabouts of this once flourishing crossroads village, and still fewer are aware of the significant role Ralston once played in the early days of an emerging nation.

The colonial history of the area dates to 1707 when an Englishman named John Brain built a small cabin at the intersection of what is now Roxiticus Road and Route 24 in Mendham.  By 1713, an area of 862 acres west of India Brook was granted to John Wills, a clerk to the West Jersey Proprietors.  His son James built the area's first home in 1724.

The land was rich in natural resources and could not help but attract colonists looking to profit from generous supplies of fresh water, woodland and fertile soil.  When the paths used by the Native Americans no longer met their needs, the settlers built roads of their own.  The clearing of trees and the building of homes brought the people of the community together, and still more fields were cleared for growing crops.  Within a few short years the area was transformed into one that thrived on agricultural development.

Industrial Growth
The north branch of the Raritan River and the other tributaries powered the mills that quickly spread throughout the region.  Among the first was a gristmill built by Edmund Martin in 1742, which also served as a saw mill.  By the time of the Revolution, it was run by John

Logan, a commissary to General George Washington who supplied the army at Jockey Hollow with food and flour ground at the mill.

Such were Logan's expanding fortunes that in 1781 he built a manor home next to the mill, complete with bricks imported from England to form the chimney.  A coach painter was brought over from London to paint the walls and ceilings of the main rooms, and slaves were housed in the third floor attic.

John Ralston Arrives and Opens General Store
But when the Continental Congress failed to pay their bill at the end of the war, Logan's business became a casualty of the war, and he was forced into bankruptcy.  The mill and manor home remained in the family however, thanks to the timely arrival of John Ralston in 1785.  Ralston was a wealthy merchant from Philadelphia who met Logan's daughter Margaret.  They married and Ralston purchased his father-in-law's mill and manor house in 1785.  Ralston then built and opened the General Store.

With the improvements in roads and the growth of the iron industry, businesses spread throughout the area.  Blacksmiths, wheelwrights and carriage-makers prospered and many of the goods were sold at the general store.

Run by Ralston and his partner Hugh Nesbitt, the Ralston General Store traded extensively with companies in New York and Augusta, Georgia.  Using a barter system common during that time (especially with money in short supply after the Revolution) Ralston and Nesbitt sent iron, peach brandy, hats,

Applejack and other goods via stagecoach to New York.

Ralston's Influence
Many of these items were then shipped to Savannah, Georgia in exchange for goods such as indigo, molasses, cotton, tobacco, silver buckles and silk handkerchiefs.  Ralston encouraged the establishment of other business ventures throughout the area, and his personal estate grew to several thousand acres.  His influence was so strong that the area began to be referred to as Ralston.  But it was not until the late 19th century that the name Ralston became official, mostly due to the efforts of his grandson, John Ralston Nesbitt. 

Originally, local farmers and millers were dependent on Native Indian trails for transporting their goods.  In 1806 the Washington Turnpike (known today as Route 24) became the main highway from Ralston to the major cities of the east.  One of the many toll gates was located at the Ralston Bridge.  

In 1891, the Rockaway Valley Railroad, on its way from Morristown to Whitehouse, passed through Ralston, crossing Route 24 about one quarter mile west of the General Store.  For 21 years, a single box car located just north of the crossing served as a passenger and freight station for local residents.  

By 1919, all the local mills had closed and farming became the main occupation.  While little remains of the way of life that once made Ralston a vital crossroads community, the buildings that survive serve as reminders of the Mendham's earliest days.  

(Sections reprinted courtesy of Country Roads Magazine, Summer 1992)