'Big Ed' Rutsch, 66, Jersey Archeologist

The Star-Ledger
July 12, 2003

Weehawken hotel clerks thought "Big Ed" Rutsch a bit odd.

The bushy-bearded giant and his companion, Patricia Condell, would check in after a night at a Manhattan jazz club and request a view of the gnarled, rusty railroad transfer station rising out of the reeds of the Meadowlands.

To Edward Rutsch, that was beauty.

"He saw a beauty in the industry, in the dirt and the grime," Condell said. "He saw the beauty in everything."

As a pioneer and standard setter in the field of industrial archeology, Mr. Rutsch made a career of admiring, documenting and, where possible, preserving the hard, hulking industrial structures of America, especially in New Jersey.

The Wantage Township man died of congestive heart failure in Morristown Memorial Hospital on Sunday. He was 66.

Mr. Rutsch was a star football player and wrestler in Teaneck and at George Washington University. He studied anthropology at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania, earning a master's degree. Later he taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and researched and published on prehistory and aboriginal cultures.

But it was more recent history that really caught Mr. Rutsch's fancy. He developed a fascination for the massive machinery lining the rivers of the Northeast.

His first major victory came in the early 1970s, shortly after the federal government passed laws requiring that sites be studied for their cultural significance before they could be redeveloped. There was a proposal to build a major road through an industrial section of Paterson, and Mr. Rutsch was hired to report on the history of Rogers Locomotive Works.

He went way beyond that. Mr. Rutsch made the case that Paterson's raceway system -- a complex of canals and waterfalls that served several plants -- marked America's first large-scale success at harnessing water to power industry. Alexander Hamilton was a key planner of the development, the centerpiece of one of America's first planned industrial cities.

By the time Mr. Rutsch was through preaching the area's significance, the plans to build the road were abandoned. President Gerald Ford visited Paterson to designate the complex of old mills a National Historic Landmark District.

It was a turning point in how the nation treated old industrial plants, said Herb Githens of Montclair, a friend and colleague of Mr. Rutsch.

"He very much invented something there -- a systematic approach to industrial archeology," Githens said.

Mr. Rutsch loved iron works, and was instrumental in the preservation of the ruins of the old furnace of the Long Pond Iron Works in Ringwood. He also studied the Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, the West Point Foundry in New York, the Morris Canal, the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Liberty State Park.

When the firm Mr. Rutsch founded, Historic Conservation & Interpretation, was hired to study these sites, he would preserve what he could, Condell said. What he could not save he would lovingly photograph and measure.

"It would be the final recording," Condell said.

But Mr. Rutsch's affection was not primarily for the structures, Condell said. It was for the workers who had labored inside them.

"He wanted to tell the story of the people through the archeology, the structures, the remains, the ruins," Condell said. "He believed that in that structure is us, is America. That's our history right there."

Mr. Rutsch helped found the Society for Industrial Archeology, which is now several thousand members strong.

In addition to Condell, Mr. Rutsch is survived by his two brothers, Donald and William. His wife, Mary Jane Rutsch, died in 1989.

A memorial service has not yet been scheduled; for details, see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Big_Ed/.