The central idea back of Jersey Homesteads was co-operation. M. L. Wilson stated that the “pattern of the community itself will be as co-operative as it is possible to make it,” a sentiment that was in line with the ideas of Benjamin Brown.
Jersey Homesteads was planned as the first triple co-operative in the new world, with co-operative stores, farm, and factory. Except for home ownership and garden production, every aspect of Hightstown was to be co-operative.
According to early plans, approximately 40 homesteaders were to work the farms and service the stores, while 160 were to work in the factory. Admittedly, the garment factory was the key to the economic success of the community. But with an aggressive and well-knit band of homesteaders, it appeared that Jersey Homesteads would surely be one community where co-operative or group activities would succeed.
As the first homesteads were completed in the summer of 1936, Benjamin Brown was under pressure from the homesteaders to get the factory under way, since many of the homesteaders had suffered hardship because of having to hold themselves in readiness for moving to a colony that seemed ever-longer delayed in construction.
The factory building was dedicated in an elaborate ceremony on August 2, 1936. Nearly 2,000 people were present, observing the optimism of the homesteaders, who marched into the factory to the music of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The building was 100 feet by 220 feet, mostly all windows, air-conditioned, and declared to be the most modern in the East. Present at the dedication were union officials, sales organization executives, fashion models, and an orchestra.
Large orders for coats were announced. Benjamin Brown, who presided at the dedication, defended Jersey Homesteads against charges of communism, declaring instead that it was “common sense-ism” and in line with the Constitution and the American way.”
The trade name of the factory product was to be “Tripod,” standing for the triple co-operative foundation of the colony. Brown said: “On this tripod we will not only bring back craftmanship and pride of achievement, together with security, but we will bring back prosperity based on abundance and not on curtailment.”
Despite the auspicious opening of the factory, it failed in its first year of operation, with Brown blaming the government and the government inclined to place the blame on the homesteaders. Brown became committed to a summer opening of the factory because of Resettlement Administration promises to have the homes finished by July.
Yet, in August, only eight homesteads were completed, even as factory orders were being received. Plans to settle homesteaders in pup tents pending completion of their homes were rejected by the Resettlement Administration, which feared the adverse publicity. As a result many of the family heads came to Hightstown and found lodging in local homes, thus managing to keep the factory going.
(Photos by Carl Mydans)