Sparta Township is a township in Sussex County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 19,722, reflecting an increase of 1,642 (+9.1%) from the 18,080 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 2,923 (+19.3%) from the 15,157 counted in the 1990 Census.
Sparta was organized as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on April 14, 1845 from portions of Byram Township, Frankford Township, Hardyston Township and (the now-defunct) Newton Township. The township was named after the existing community of Sparta, which had been settled and named years before, the name likely coming from Sparta, Greece. Ogdensburg Borough was incorporated on February 26, 1914, when it separated from Sparta Township.
The Lenape Native Americans occupied the land at the time of its discovery by European colonists. Early Dutch explorers and traders discovered red ores in the area and attempted to mine them as early as 1750, but were unsuccessful in their mistaken attempts to extract copper from the ores. No permanent settlers arrived until 1778, when Robert Ogden built his home and constructed an iron forge on lands he had acquired. The first public building in Sparta was the Presbyterian Church which was incorporated in 1786. Schools were established in Ogdensburg by 1806 and in Sparta by 1812.
Iron, zinc, and limestone supported a mining industry for over 100 years, but today the mining operations have ceased and the township is now a residential community served by retail, professional, and service small businesses. According to the 2000 census, 65% of Sparta Township workers commute to jobs outside of the county.
Robert Ogden settled in 1778 near the present town of Ogdensburg and built an iron forge utilizing local ore from his Ogden Mine on Sparta Mountain. The Horseshoe mine was opened in 1772 by the Englishmen Spargo and Harvey who shipped ore by horse and mule to the forges at Sparta and Hopewell. It wasn't until 1868 that the Ogden Mine Railroad began operations and made it economical to ship zinc and iron ore to Nolan's Point on Lake Hopatcong where the Morris Canal had a marine terminal that could ship ore to Newark. In 1872 the New Jersey Midland Railroad (later known as the New York, Susquehanna & Western) extended to Ogdensburg and captured the zinc ore traffic.
In 1836, Henry Decker, along with Nelson Hunt and Lewis Sherman, began the manufacture of anchors at their forges in Sparta. Their success led to a small industry of forging anchors in Sparta, but by the end of the Civil War the forge industry in Sparta had come to an end.
In 1889, Thomas Edison invested $3.5 million in his Edison Ore-Milling Company to build iron operations on of Sparta Mountain. Edison hoped to concentrate the mountain's vast quantities of low-grade ore and supply East Coast mills with raw material. At its peak Edison's operation employed 500 people, but after a 10 year effort he abandoned his attempt to compete with more economical ores from Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range. The availability of the cheap Minnesota ores put an end to iron mining in Sparta.
In 1848 the New Jersey Zinc Company began operations at Sterling Hill. Earlier attempts to obtain iron from the mineral rich ore of the Sterling Hill failed because of manganese contamination, but zinc was recoverable and the ores at Sterling Hill were rich with it.
By 1868, both iron and zinc operations were in progress at Sterling Hill, but the numerous companies and claims were embroiled in continuous legal battles, the largest of which was a 12-year dispute between the New Jersey Zinc Company and the Franklin Iron Company over rights to mixed ores, each company having purchased the right to mine zinc and iron, respectively. In 1880 the Franklin Iron Company acquired the New Jersey Zinc Company's operations at Sterling Hill mine, ending the dispute. Large scale operations began in 1897 when the claims were consolidated under the New Jersey Zinc Company and by 1900 its mill was processing 1500 tons of ore daily.
Zinc operations continued until 1986 when the Sterling Hill mine ceased operation. The Sterling Hill mine site is currently occupied by the Sterling Hill Mining Museum and is open to the public for tours.
After closing his iron operations, Thomas Edison recouped his losses by opening a lime quarry near Sparta in 1919. The quarry fed Edison's Portland cement operations, and was in continuous operation under various owners for nearly 100 years until closed in 2003. During the years of its operation the limestone quarry was an important source of employment and tax revenue for Sparta. Limestone is no longer mined, but a limited amount of granite continues to be quarried by a handful of employees.
The New Jersey Midland Railroad opened to Ogdensburg in 1872 for zinc ore traffic, but in 1882 the line was extended to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and a station was built at Sparta, giving tourists easy access to the many boarding houses that served summer residents from the cities. Passenger service ended in 1935, but by then Sparta was well established as a summer destination. In 1926, the Arthur D. Crane Company along with developer and designer Herbert L. Closs constructed a 600-foot dam across the Wallkill River to form Lake Mohawk in 1928. The private resort community created by the Crane Company consisted primarily of summer homes, but the homes began to be winterized in the 1940s and the current membership of 2,600 families are largely year-round residents.