Originally constructed as a gristmill, the Lower Squankum mills were typical of local milling operations found throughout New Jersey. Custom mills, such as this one, ground grain for nearby farmers, who paid a fee for the service (often a fraction of the grain they brought to the mill). The original owner of the gristmill at Lower Squankum was Solomon Wardell, who held a considerable amount of property in Howell Township along the Manasquan River. Wardell settled in the area of Lower Squankum during the late 18th century, and in 1779 purchased a tract of land that included the future site of the grist- and sawmills and a tavern. Although there is no evidence to indicate that either the gristmill or the tavern had been erected by the date of this transaction, both existed by 1803 as they are mentioned in Solomon Wardell's will.
Early on, the Lower Squankum mills were an enterprise fraught with instability, evident in the continually changing ownership, a condition that would plague the facility throughout its history. This was a fairly typical practice for milling operations, as the initial construction and maintenance of mills required substantial amounts of capital. Few people had sufficient funds with which to operate a business, usually leading to heavy indebtedness of mill concerns in the form of one or more mortgages. Financial reversals often led to a foreclosure on the property and the sale of mills at public auction. Since the new owner assumed all financial obligations, this usually doomed the operations to continue this pattern of financial instability and repeated foreclosure.
One method to circumvent the cycle of ownership turnover was to attract more capital into the concern by taking on one or more partners, which occurred extensively at the Lower Squankum mills during the mid-19th century. Despite the expanded financial resources of multiple investors, this was often insufficient to keep small milling operations such as those at Lower Squankum in business. Although this pattern of multiple ownership seems to imply an unstable local economy, it could well be that this was inherent in the conduct of 19th-century small business.
A sawmill was added to the Lower Squankum gristmill around 1866 by then-owner Charles Hulit, who also had rights to repair the dams, and a piece of land on the other side of the road. The property changed hands a few times more before it was sold outright to John Marshall in 1873. Marshall owned it for only four months, selling it to former part-owner William Prickitt, who held a large tract of property across Lakewood-Farmingdale Road (County Route 547).
In April of 1894, George Warner, William Prickitt's father-in-law and part-owner of the Lower Squankum mills, died and passed his land, then known as Mill Farms, to his daughter Elizabeth Prickitt. It was during this period that William Prickitt converted his mill complex into a cannery. It is not clear at this time whether he continued to operate the grist- and sawmills. The canning concern, which used blue glass Mason jars, likely processed the vast tomato and vegetable crops from the extensive surrounding farms.
The cannery continued to operate until 1920, when the old frame mill was utterly destroyed by fire. The Lower Squankum mills were never rebuilt, and the ruins were left to disintegrate, until the State of New Jersey acquired the property, eventually filling and grading the mill site for use as a fishermen's parking lot.
from NJDOT Cultural Resources Digest – July 2005