Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hurricane floodwaters damage Batsto

I have just read Tom Hester's "Historic Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest seriously damaged by hurricane floodwater," posted September 4, 2011, on New Jersey Newsroom.

Having dealt with flooding from supernormal tides at Historic New Bridge Landing for several decades, I am not surprised to read that "high water initially kept DEP workers from reaching buildings [at Batsto] closest to the river and that some artifacts, such as furniture, may have been damaged. [The DEP spokesperson] said artifacts have been moved to dry storage elsewhere within Wharton State Forest where the village is located." Does it sound like he is saying museum objects were moved after the fact? Shouldn't it be obvious by now that by the time water is rising during a storm, it is too late---meaning, too dangerous---to send in workers to rescue anything. Didn't they learn that lesson from the April 2007 flood that inundated the Zabriskie-Steuben House? Dare I say: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Most people can read between the lines when a spokesperson makes a statement like: "Some things did get wet, but that might not mean they have been damaged. We are taking inventory.” One thing we know by now: bureaucratic cement is pretty much flood-proof, resisting blame or accountability. What is my forecast? It will happen again and again.

Most disappointing is the statement, "He added, 'Most of the old buildings have some water issues.'" Oh, really? Are they blaming the historic resources, rather than those paid to protect them? Aren't there any "volunteers" to blame this time around? And is this spokesperson really suggesting that old hamlets associated with water-powered iron furnaces, gristmills, sawmills, as well as river landings and canals, have "water issues"? Facing down a storm of historic proportions, didn't anyone anticipate a problem here? And what about those emergency plans that were the order of the day back in April 2007??? The best they can do is close the village and keep their latest mistake from public scrutiny.

How much more are we willing to lose before things change? This is not a disaster waiting to happen ... it is "history repeating itself." In bold contrast to the Governor's forceful leadership during this crisis, the DEP "stewards" of historic resources consistently hang us out to dry. Dear God! If they can't appreciate our historic heritage for its intrinsic cultural value, can't they at least appreciate what it could do for the local economy if we ever realized the potential for heritage tourism?

Once again, I strongly urge the historical community to get state owned and operated Historic Sites under professional management of an independent State Historic Sites Commission. I hate to say it, but almost anything would be better than this.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Montague, July 23, 2011

I will be speaking at 1 PM on Saturday, July 23rd, at the Foster-Armstrong House, 320 River Road in Montague, on my book, 1609: A Country That Was Never Lost - The 400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson’s Visit with North Americans of the Middle Atlantic Coast. Using excerpts from it, I will focus on the Minisinks of the Upper Delaware Valley. For further info: visit or the Society's Facebook page. Phone: (973) 293-3106, leave a message or call President, Richard Jones at (973) 293-3949.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

An Interpretive Platform for New Jersey

By Kevin Wright©2011

Interpretive Zones lend historical and geographical context to historic resources, linking them thematically on the basis of shared resource communities and the history of their development. It also offers a curriculum through which the public may not only access and sample particular thematic areas of interest, but also pursue either a chronological or spatial progression of thematic developments.

Lying between the Appalachian mountains and the sea, the State of New Jersey occupies a portion of the Atlantic slope, which traverses four distinct sub-provinces: the Outer Coastal Plain; the Piedmont Plateau and Inner Coastal Plain; the Highlands and Kittatinny Valley; and the Blue Mountains and Minisink country of the Upper Delaware Valley. For interpretive purposes, I recommend dividing the State into four Interpretive Zones, namely: (I) the Blue Mountains and Minisink Country; (II) the Highlands and Kittatinny Valley; (III) the Sandstone Piedmont and Inner Coastal Plain; and (IV) the Outer Coastal Plain.


The limestone bottomlands and alluvial flats of the Delaware River and the tributary Flat Brook were highly productive of cereal grains. The intervening Walpack Ridge was well wooded and mountain streams operated grist and saw mills. Footpaths passed the mountains at Culvers Gap, High Point, on Criggers Road and at Catfish Pond. Several of these became important roads and turnpikes, converging on Milford, Pennsylvania, and thus part of a major overland route from tidewater to the Great Lakes. The river road formed a secluded link in the route connecting New England to Philadelphia and the southern colonies.

The Minisinks inhabited the country surrounding Great and Little Minisink Islands, south to Walpack Bend and northward to Cashecton, New York. When the French and Indian War broke out in March 1756, forts or blockhouses were built at strategic locations along frontier, including a fort at Colonel Abraham Van Campen's on the Pahaquarry Flats and Cole’s Fort at the confluence of the Delaware and Neversink Rivers in what is now Port Jervis, New York. Despite the efforts of Jersey troops stationed at these strategic outposts, hostilities continued until June 1758. The only French and Indian War sites in New Jersey are found along this stretch of the river.

High Point and Worthington State Parks form gateways at opposite ends of the Upper Delaware Valley, flanking extensive lands of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Both of these parks developed as nineteenth century scenic summer resorts and were later acquired by private wealth and developed into summer estates and game parks.

The Kittatinny or Blue Mountains

The folded Paleozoic strata of the Kittatinny, or Blue, Mountains form an even-crested ridge that rises from 1,495 feet at Mount Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap to 1,804 feet at High Point, the highest elevation in New Jersey. From an elevation of 1,650 feet on Sunrise Mountain, the ridge descends to 1,340 feet at Culvers Gap. Several ponds fill depressions on the mountain crest and the Flat Brook intrudes upon the west slope, narrowing the mountain plateau to a width of about two miles. The Delaware River has carved its scenic passage through an offset fault in the mountain’s crest.

A mixed, coniferous and deciduous forest covers the rocky mountain summit. Distance from markets and inaccessibility limited commercial and domestic cutting. The inflammability of pitch pine and dried deciduous leaves in autumn and spring fed recurrent fires. Oak bark created the basis for an extensive tanning industry.

LINKAGES: Native American Heritage Trail; French and Indian War Heritage Trail.

CROSS-REFERENCES: Transportation Heritage Trail (ferry, roads and turnpikes); Scenic Values, Leisure and Resorts; Public Monuments (High Point).


The Highlands comprise an elevated gneissic plateau with an average height above sea level approaching 1,000 feet, covering 900 square miles in northwestern New Jersey. Its short even-crested ridges, plateaus and isolated hills are the exposed, plutonic roots of ancient mountains, elevated during the Mesoproterozoic assembly of the Rodinia supercontinent. The region cradles a spectacular stock of metallic ores and some veins of iron can be traced for five miles, extending from one deposit to another. Clustered hills of Silurian quartzite, sandstone and conglomerate, locally known as the Green Pond, Kanouse and Copperas Mountains, divide the Central Highlands Plateau from the Passaic Range.

Differential weathering sculpted the present topography: hard metamorphic rock forms the backbone of the uplands, while streams have eroded their valleys upon sedimentary shale and limestone. The land is heavily glaciated north of the end moraine, a belt of short hills, interspersed by waterlogged hollows called kettles, running through Denville, Dover, Budds Lake, Saxton Falls, Buttzville, and Belvidere. Swamps and kettle ponds dot outwash plains. Drift-plugged outlets created Culvers Lake, Swartswood Lake, Lake Hopatcong, Budd Lake, Green Pond, Allamuchy Pond, the Drowned Lands of the Wallkill, the Paulinskill Meadows and the Great Meadows. Several of these large freshwater lakes developed into popular summer resorts and campgrounds after 1875. Lake Hopatcong was first enlarged in 1766 as a forge pond and then, in 1825, as the summit reservoir of the Morris Canal. Its outlet feeds the Musconetcong River, a valuable mill stream.

In historic times, a deciduous, broadleaf forest, with chestnut prevailing over oak, clad the Highlands, with a great deal of hickory in places, intermixed with scattering white pine on rocky slopes and occasional stands of hemlock. Red cedar and black walnut grew on abandoned clearings. Scrub oak prevailed atop ridges and on sandy soils around Succasunna Plains. Maples, elms, white pines and hemlocks shaded stream bluffs and lowlands. Wooded swamps included maple, beech, elm, scattered pines, larches and white cedar. Butternut, birch, poplar and ash grow intermittently. Some hemlock is found on Jenny Jump Mountain, with oak, chestnut, cedar, ash and poplar in the surrounding valley.

Highland timber suffered considerable damage from fires, browsing cattle and cutting for charcoal, cordwood, railroad ties, mine-props, fencing and hoop-poles. The point of maximum deforestation was reached by 1850. The limestone valleys, denuded of forest except for small woodlots, were brought into cultivation during the eighteenth century.

The Highlands are remarkable for the massing of waterpower at certain points, usually near its borders, and millstreams on its eastern borders were favorably situated for transporting manufactures to market. The fortunate combination of rich ores, forested hills and convenient waterpower encouraged iron manufactures. The Kittatinny Valley also enjoyed great advantages for waterpower, but was distant from tidewater markets before the advent of railroads in 1854.

The Kittatinny Valley

Forty miles of the Great Appalachian Valley pass through Sussex and Warren Counties, northwest of the Highlands. Kittatinny Limestone and Martinsburg Shale, the product of Ordovician marine sediments, compose the valley’s undulating floor. Shale ridges run with the main axis of the valley, dividing the limestone lowlands into parallel channels, trenched by streams. The limestone soils of the Kittatinny Valley were New Jersey’s most productive farmlands and streams descending the flanking foothills gave motion to many mills. Many ponds and lakes, found in the glaciated portion of the valley, served as mill ponds, ice ponds, and recreational attractions.

LINKAGES: Native American Heritage Trail (Swartswood, Wild Cat Rock); Mineral Heritage Trail (Worthington -slate quarries; Franklin, Ogdensburg, Edison, Lake Hopatcong, Andover, New Andover, Waterloo, Wawayanda, Andover Mine- Kittatinny Valley State Park, Ringwood; Long Pond; Windsor Lime Kilns, Oxford Furnace)

CROSS-REFERENCES: Transportation Heritage Trail (Morris Canal, roads and turnpikes); Scenic Values, Leisure and Resorts (Wawayanda, Kittatinny Valley, Swartswood, Stokes); Agricultural Heritage Sites (Barrett Farm, Keen’s Mill).


The piedmont plateau extends along the Delaware River from Trenton north to Holland, and continues along the southeast margins of the Highlands from Pattenburg to Suffern, New York. Two large State Reservoirs and Recreation Areas—Spruce Run and Round Valley—are located along this boundary. The piedmont fronts the Hudson River and Kill Von Kull. Its lacustrine red mudstone and shale formed from sedimentary deposits in a deep Triassic rift valley. The exposed and upturned edges of three extrusive lava flows form the parallel, semicircular trap ridges called the First, Second and Third Watchung Mountains. The coarse-grained diabase of the Hudson Palisades indicates a sill of molten magma that cooled slowly at great depths. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Palisades Ridge in Hudson County was “rapidly occupied by a city.” Cretaceous sedimentary rocks of the Inner Coastal Plain overlap its southeastern boundary, which runs from Trenton to near the outlet of Lawrence Brook, below New Brunswick, and northeast to the Arthur Kill.

From the very beginnings of pioneer agricultural settlement, through the rise and decline of industrial cities, this hilly, red-soiled plain has been “the most densely populated and highly cultivated portion of New Jersey.” Large cities have grown from tidewater villages, often situated near the fall-line where streams descend from interior uplands, so providing ample industrial power, and always near to water transport upon navigable tidal bays and creeks. Considerable industrial enterprise centered around cascades of the Passaic River crossing First Mountain at Great Falls in Paterson and Second Mountain at Little Falls.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the suburban and urban growth of population in the Hackensack Valley resulted in reforestation of upland slopes. A mixed, deciduous growth prevailed, with oak predominating in the lowlands and chestnut on the ridges. Gum, white birch, beech, and maple prevailed on swampy ground. The Palisades was well-wooded by 1900, covering an unbroken tract of nearly 11,000 acres. Oak and chestnut predominated, with some pine and hemlock near Huyler’s Landing.

Oak, chestnut and hickory dominated the original forest covering the Watchung Mountains. An unusual growth of hemlock was noted in 1899 near Pompton Lakes and scattered stands of pine were observed on Long Hill, on First Mountain, south of South Orange, and on Second Mountain, south of Murray Hill. Gum, maple, and willow prevailed on valley bottoms. Extensive flats, such as Pompton Plains, were cleared for cultivation. Pin oak, maple, birch and elm thrived in the Great Swamp. East of the First Mountain, “the thickly settled and highly cultivated valley, whose surface appears like a plain, [was] painted with meadows, grain fields and orchards, and studded with the villages of Bloomfield, North and South Orange, and the large towns of Newark and Elizabeth ....”

Plainfield, Bound Brook, Somerville, Raritan and Flemington were thriving centers of population built upon the extensively farmed Raritan Valley. Timber was restricted to small farm woodlots, containing oak and hickory. The trap ridge of Rocky Hill forms its western rim. A broad outcrop of argillite, very hard mud rock, constitutes the West Hunterdon Plateau, which remained more heavily forested, largely with oak and hickory, but also with scatterings of pine. Trenton, Pennington and Princeton occupy a triangular shale plain, wedged between Rocky Hill, the Delaware River, and the northwest boundary of the Inner Coastal Plain.

Early footpaths, worn by use into highways, crossed New Jersey’s narrow waist between New York and Philadelphia. The Delaware and Raritan Canal carried coal from the Delaware River through Trenton to tidewater at New Brunswick.

The Inner Coastal Plain

An emerged Cretaceous sea bed, including greensand marl, forms the Inner Coastal Plain, a belt of land averaging twelve to fifteen miles in width, that extends southwest from Raritan Bay to Trenton and from thence along the Delaware River into Salem County. Isolated patches of Beacon Hill Gravel cap its highest hills, leaving outcrops of marl and sandstone to stand as a cuesta ridge, extending from the Atlantic Highlands to Beacon Hill, thence southwest between Englishtown and Freehold, continuing through Arney's Mount, Mount Holly, Mount Laurel, Woodbury Heights and Mullica Hill.

The streams are “generally crooked and sluggish; and the larger are navigable for 10 or 15 miles from their mouths.” The largest towns were tidewater entrepĂ´ts, set upon fastland fringed with fresh and salt marsh, where rivers and wagon paths debouched the products of hinterland forest, farm and forge. Along such navigable streams, convenient to city markets, farmers specialized in the “profitable culture of garden vegetables, potatoes, melons, fruit, &c.”

High tides overspread coastal lowlands and creek banks, nourishing extensive salt meadows, mown for their coarse hay. Embankment and drainage converted marshes to crop land of timothy, clover and blue grass. Cattle, horses and hogs ranged upon natural meadows.

The most valuable clay industries of New Jersey were founded upon the Raritan clays of Cretaceous age. Pine and oak timber were the most profitable crop on sandy soils. Sawmills along tributary streams converted pine and oak wood into lumber for market. Cranberry production became a major commercial enterprise on the Inner Coastal Plain. Oysters, clams and fish were harvested from bay waters.

Coastal roads connected hamlets at the head of navigation along the various streams. The Amboy-Burlington road was a much-frequented route between Manhattan and Philadelphia. The village that grew up around Daniel Cooper’s Ferry was the kernel of the great city of Camden.

LINKAGES: Crossroads of the Revolution.

CROSS-REFERENCES: Transportation Corridor Heritage Trail (ferry, roads and turnpikes; Delaware & Raritan Canal; Central Railroad Terminal); Scenic Values, Leisure and Resorts; Public Monuments (High Point); Native American Heritage Trail; Public Monuments (Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island; Princeton Battle Monument; Monmouth Battle Monument; Trenton Battle Monument); Agricultural Heritage Trail (Monmouth Battlefield; New Jersey Agricultural Museum).


The Outer Coastal Plain is a seaward, alluvial zone running from the outlet of the Raritan River eastward along Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay, then southward along the seashore from Sandy Hook to Cape May and finally northwest along the shores of Delaware Bay to the outlet of the Mullica River. Coarse sand, white clay and gravel of the Late Miocene Cohansey Formation, which locally has consolidated into sandstone, forms the surface of the Outer Coastal Plain. Except for a cultivable strip along the seashore, whereon a line of small farms formed the “shore road,” this immense sandy plain was covered with pine, oak, maple and cedar. The Pine Barrens were long regarded as “the wildest and most undeveloped portion of the State.”

Streams pursue their crooked courses through flat country, bordered by marshes, and are reliably navigable for a considerable stretch inland. The principal villages stand near the head of navigation, where streams draining the pine forest blend into their tidal estuaries. Coastal vessels carried considerable quantities of charcoal and lumber to market.

Bog iron found in this district, mixed with richer mountain ores, produced “good iron for castings and the forge.” The Little Egg Harbor River and its tributary, the Wading River, furnished “more natural water-power than is to be found in any other township in this part of New Jersey.” Waterpower operated saw and gristmills, furnaces, forges, and glassworks. By 1834, fourteen furnaces (including cupolas), fourteen forges, a rolling-and-slitting mill, a nail factory, and eleven glass manufactories, producing window-glass and hollow ware, were the chief sources of wealth, selling their wares in city and country markets while providing local farmers with a ready market for their agricultural productions.

The manufacture of iron and glass consumed timber in the production of charcoal fuel, reducing the forest in their immediate vicinities. Further commercial demand for cordwood came with steamboat travel, since charcoal made from pine was needed for kindling anthracite coal. Oak of considerable size grew on loam soils, covering the central portion of Cape May County, and was “much valued in the construction of ships.” White cedar was valued for fencing. Summer fires of great extent visited the Pine Barrens annually.

Sandy Forelands

Narrow, sandy beaches, varying in width from a few rods to half a mile, extend along the tidal plain from Sandy Hook nearly 125 miles to Cape May. Sand islands form forelands along the coast that enclose shallow lagoons or bays on their landward flanks.These barrier islands protect the coast south of Bay Head, isolating an inland waterway of salt bays, connected via sounds and crooked channels called thoroughfares. Island Beach extends south twelve miles to Barnegat Inlet. Long Beach Island extends for eleven miles between Barnegat Inlet and Beach Haven Inlet. The Great Bay of the Mullica River and Great Egg Harbor comprise the widest of the inland salt-marsh lakes. All abounded with clams, oysters and fish, providing employment to shore-dwellers. Barnegat Bay is thirty miles long, two to four miles wide, reaching a depth of about 20 feet near Lovelady Island. Southward toward Cape May, the barrier beaches are more frequently divided by inlets into islands. Ship-building and the lumber trade were major industries.

Boarding-houses were built for the accommodation of sea-bathers and summer excursionists, receiving visitors via stagecoaches from Philadelphia and steamboats from New York. In 1888, C. Clarkson Vermeule surmised that: “The isolation and the opportunities for sailing and fishing afforded by the inside waters form prominent attractions for all seaside resorts south of Bay Head, as the connections with the mainland and consequent facilities for driving and nearness to the great cities attract patrons to the more northern resorts, while the leading allurements of sea air and surf-bathing are common to all.”

Historic lighthouses and fortifications are an integral part of our coastal heritage. The twin towers of Navesink Light Station, standing atop Beacon Hill marked the seaward approach to New York Harbor.

LINKAGES: Coastal Heritage Trail; Native American Heritage Trail.

CROSS-REFERENCES: Transportation Heritage Trail (ferry, roads and turnpikes); Scenic Values, Leisure and Resorts; Agricultural Heritage Trail (Whitesbog; Batsto); Mineral Heritage Trail (Batsto, Allaire, Glass manufacture; clay industries and pottery).

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Keen's Mill at the Outlet of Swartswood Lake

By Kevin Wright

In an age of waterpower, Swartswood Lake drew attention as a potentially valuable mill seat. Millwrights knowingly searched for a sufficient volume and fall of water in hill country nearest the headwaters of a stream. Since pondage protected against seasonal fluctuations in stream flow, Swartswood Lake provided a natural regulator to ensure sufficient power in all seasons. Its watershed covers 16.3 square miles and was considered “a good example of successful utilization of a small water-shed for power by means of storage.” Drowning the narrow valley at the outlet of the lake created additional storage and a greater fall of water. About 1790, Charles Rhodes, Senior, selected a rocky hollow, where the outlet stream of Swartswood Lake makes a rapid descent, and erected his gristmill on land purchased from John Reading. The milldam raised the lake’s level between 4 and 5.5 feet, creating a 16-foot head to operate three run of millstones.

Charles Rhodes, Senior, died in February 1800, without leaving a will. Else Rhodes, Joseph Rhodes and Charles Rhodes, Jr., were named the administrators of his estate. When his real estate was divided in 1802, the Mill Lot went to son Charles. Charles Rhodes, of Vernon Township, died in 1818, devising the 18-acre Mill Lot to his son John. He sold 81 acres, including the mill, to George Keen in April 1824 for $3,200.

George Keen was born January 18, 1789, at Springdale, where he spent the first half of his life, perhaps at the gristmill there, coming to Swartswood when he was 35 years old. He built the extent stone gristmill in 1838 with three run of grinding stones. The mill operated on a 16-foot fall of water, using a “Pitch back” water wheel, 17 feet in diameter, making 20 revolutions per minute, and generating 30 horsepower. Mill gearing allowed the runner stones to turn at about 100 revolutions per minute.

Keen’s Mill was built on the model of Oliver Evan’s design for a fully automated flouring mill. A form of the bucket or gravity waterwheel, called a pitch back wheel, was selected, as it utilized the weight as well as the impact of the water. Since the water was delivered to the buckets of the pitch back wheels from above, their diameter could exceed the height of the waterfall. Unlike the overshot wheel, it had the advantage of turning in the direction of the current. To improve its efficiency, this variant of the breast wheel also turned within a close-fitting wooden apron, or “breast,” which held the water on the wheel to the bottom of the wheel’s revolution. Its large capacity and high efficiency was particularly suited to a merchant mill.

George Keen died on February 28, 1866, at 78 years of age. According to his obituary, “by a life of industry and integrity, he secured public confidence and became the proprietor of a valuable estate.” His son John W. Keen ground 50 bushels of grain per day in 1880. He owned the mill property until his death in December 1898 at 76 years of age. Being slightly deaf, he did not hear a locomotive whistle and drove directly into the path of a train approaching at high speed on the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad.

The children and heirs of John W. Keen sold the old mill at the outlet of Swartswood Lake to Dr. William H. Vail, of Blairstown, in March 1901 for $3,500. Dr. Vail acted in the interest of the Blairstown Electric Light Company, which hoped to use this “valuable acquisition for future dry periods.” The dam was to be raised to control the outflow as soon as possible. The water in Swartswood Lake was to be kept at the high water mark and this enormous reservoir drawn from as needed for power for the electric light plant at Paulina.

The Great Flood of February 26, 1902, washed out the milldam. Charles H. Crisman, a Branchville mill owner, superintended the building of a new dam with heavy timbers in July 1903. Dr. Vail had the wooden door and window frames of the gristmill replaced and he thoroughly overhauled the interior of the gristmill, equipping it with modern machinery. A slate roof was put on the building.

In 1903, Charles Crisman removed the waterwheel and installed a turbine. This is a rotary reaction wheel, which operates from the reactive pressure of the water upon the surfaces of guides or passages from which it issued. The turbine not only operated submerged, but with greater efficiency and economy that the more cumbersome waterwheel. The purpose of the 1903 alterations to Keen’s Mill remains unclear. Charles H. Crisman also operated the hydroelectric plant that supplied Branchville. At this time, many country towns were similarly provided with electric power from obsolete gristmills.

Whatever the economic motivation, the conversion did not succeed. Dr. Vail sold the mill property to the trustees of the Blairstown Presbyterial Academy in May 1904 for $4,000. They owned it until January 1969. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection acquired Keen’s Mill in July 1976.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Help Build a Future for the Past

Dear neighbor and fellow citizen,

To fully appreciate what it means to be an American, we invite you to experience History in one of the storied places where it was made. The Bergen County Historical Society cares for the American Revolutionary War battleground at the Bridge That Saved A Nation, where General George Washington led the outnumbered garrison of Fort Lee to safety across an oak drawbridge over the Hackensack River on November 20, 1776. That nearly shoeless but unyielding line of citizen-soldiers carried the hopes and future of a young Nation. In admiration, eyewitness Thomas Paine spoke of the “times that try men’s souls,” believing every Patriot who stood by the cause of Liberty in its darkest hour “deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

We offer a unique opportunity to show abiding gratitude to all those who gave so much for the life of a free nation. Relying entirely upon volunteer contributions, the Bergen County Historical Society is raising $350,000 to construct a first-rate museum building and library on the Society’s property at Historic New Bridge Landing. This museum building will be built to replicate an eighteenth-century Dutch barn, so as to visually complement the landmark stone houses while providing a proper museum environment for thousands of irreplaceable artifacts and documents of our Past. Each object gives meaning to a memorable moment in Bergen County’s remarkable transition from colonial frontier to one of the America’s most diverse and prosperous suburban counties. Better than any textbook, classroom exercise or computer, these artifacts uniquely tell our national story, allowing young and old to “touch” history in meaningful and memorable ways.

Doing our utmost to honor and teach what it truly means to enjoy Freedom, we ask your help. Join our efforts to preserve Historic New Bridge Landing as sacred ground where Americans fought and bled for the right of self-government. As a 501(c)(3) volunteer non-profit organization, 100% of your donation is expended on the fulfillment of our mission! Your donation toward this cause will “deserve the love and thanks of man and women” for generations to come. For further information or to contribute, contact or call 201-343-9492

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Background on the State Historic Sites of New Jersey

The State of New Jersey first officially marked its historic heritage by placing a granite monument at the reburial site of John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, beside the Old School Baptist Meeting House in Hopewell in 1865. Between 1873 and 1921, the State authorized the placement of sixteen cemetery markers, battlefield tablets and monuments. In 1874, the Legislature incorporated the Washington Association of New Jersey and appropriated $5,000 annually towards maintenance and perpetuation of Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown. This historic site became the first National Historic Park in the United States when the State of New Jersey conveyed its title and interest therein to the Federal government on July 4, 1933.

The State of New Jersey began acquiring and operating historic sites at the initiative of Governor Franklin Murphy, a member of several patriotic societies, including the Sons of the American Revolution. On April 2, 1902, the Legislature empowered a State commission to purchase and maintain the Old Indian King Tavern at Haddonfield. The provincial Assembly met here in 1777 and ordered substitution of the word “state” for “colony” in all public documents, decisively rooting political sovereignty in the principle of popular self-government. The State of New Jersey took possession on June 15, 1903, undertaking renovations between 1908 and 1910. The purchase of the first 100 acres forming the core of Washington Crossing State Park, including the Ferry House, was made in 1912 and the State acquired its interest in the Old Barracks at Trenton in 1917. Another historic site, the Walt Whitman House in Camden, came under State jurisdiction in 1925.

Between celebrations of the Sesquicentennial of American Independence (1776-1926) and the Washington Bicentennial (1732-1932), the State of New Jersey authorized acquisition and preservation of four more historic sites, namely: the Steuben House at River Edge in 1926; the Dey Mansion at Preakness in 1929; the Hancock House at Lower Alloways Creek in 1931; and the Wallace House at Somerville in 1931. Acquisition of Princeton Battlefield was authorized in March 1927.

The need to administer an expanding historic-sites preservation and interpretive program led to the formation of the Historic Sites Commission in 1931. It was empowered “to acquire by gift or purchase, or by the exercise of the power of eminent domain, areas, properties, lands, or any estate or interest therein, situate within this state, of historic interest or other unusual features which ... should be acquired, preserved, and maintained for the use, education and pleasure of the people of New Jersey.” At the time of its formation, this Commission was vested with the care and control of six historic homes, four Revolutionary War battle monuments and one Revolutionary War site. The Atlantic County Historical Society acquired the Somers Mansion at Somers Point in 1934 and conveyed title to the Historic Sites Commission. The Commission’s functions and properties were transferred to the Division of Forestry, Geology, Parks and Historic Sites in 1945.

Historic Interpretation

A Division of Parks, Forestry and Recreation was re-established in the Department of Conservation and Economic Development on May 27, 1966, and was vested with the responsibility to interpret New Jersey’s heritage through its historic sites. Under state law (Source: 13:1B-101, 13:1B-105), the Office of Historic Sites and the Historic Preservation Office are identified as “administrative units” in the Division of Parks and Forestry and are the current successors in “authority to the former Historic Sites Commission.” Under current law and regulations (Source: 28:1-4248), “The historic sites and historic preservation unit, with the approval of the commissioner, shall adopt regulations for the proper disposition and administration of any monuments or historic sites owned or maintained by the State pursuant to this chapter, or any non-State-owned monuments or historic sites for which the State has “responsibility.” The Commissioner has “the authority to establish by regulation such additional or subordinate administrative units within the historic sites and historic preservation unit as may be appropriate for the efficient and effective administration of the department.” (Source: 13:1B-15.101, 244 13:1B-15.102, 245 13:1B-15.105246)

Under “Powers and duties” (Source: 13:1B-15.105, 28:1-6247) the offices of historic sites and historic preservation unit:

a. Have responsibility for the custody and care of all monuments, the title to which is vested in the state, whether erected within or without the state, and which are not in the control or custody of any other state commission or agency. The historic sites and historic preservation unit may make suitable arrangements for the care of any such monuments with county or municipal officers, or with local commissions or societies, if, in its judgment, such arrangements are proper and desirable.
b. Formulate comprehensive policies for the preservation, restoration and public presentation of all historic sites within the State.
c. Make the necessary research, prepare exhibits and furnish the services required for a proper and adequate interpretive program.
d. Prepare and disseminate informational materials to inform the public with respect to New Jersey's historic sites.
e. Consult and co-operate with groups and organizations in order to advance the purposes of the historic sites program.

On June 21, 1967, the Historic Sites Council was established within the Division of Parks, Forestry and Recreation to consult with and advise the Department Commissioner and the Division Director. It was authorized to recommend programs and policies for: (1) the acquisition, development, use, improvement and extension of historic sites; (2) the development of a broad historic sites preservation program on a statewide and local basis; and (3) the identification, authentication, protection, preservation, conservation, restoration and management of all historic sites within the State. The Council consists of eleven members who are known for their competence and experience in connection with historic sites preservation and related areas, appointed to a four-year term by the Governor with advice and consent of the State Senate. As presently constituted, the Historic Sites Council does administer a broad historic preservation program through its administration of State and Federal historic preservation policies and laws. It has never been active in the acquisition, development, use, improvement or extension of historic sites. While its activities related to the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places involve the identification, authentication, protection, preservation, conservation, and restoration of privately and publicly owned historic properties, it has never been directly involved with the management of State Historic Sites.

The Division of Parks, Forestry and Recreation joined the new Department of Environmental Protection in April 1970 and was designated the Division of Parks and Forestry in 1971.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Historical Interpetation: Connecting People to the Resources

Interpretation centers upon an age-old dilemma: How can I explain? Most dictionary definitions of the word “interpret” offer such meanings as “to explain the meaning of, to conceive the significance of, to present or conceptualize the meaning of.”

Interpreters work to explain whatever is the immediate object of the beholder’s attention and curiosity. The art of interpretation differs from academic teaching in that it seeks to shape the intellectual and emotional content of a first-hand experience. Heritage interpretation always strives to enlighten people as to their interesting and significant surroundings. It never merely describes or recites; it reveals. It does not simply ask us to look; it asks us to imagine. Heritage interpretation places past cultural and natural environments before our mind’s eye.

Heritage interpretation is the instructive act of building context around what is sensibly apparent, exposing, in a sense, the architecture of meaning. As naturalist John Muir once said: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Context is any setting or set of circumstances that lends interest or meaning to an individual, object, act or event. As intellectual reconstructions, “contexts” continually evolve as better models are better able to explain what is sensibly apparent. Since good interpretation sustains curiosity, it is an open-ended process.

Heritage interpretation employs the skills of storytelling. It communicates through a variety of media and techniques, working to correct and clarify people’s perceptions of what they have come to experience. An interpreter may choose to blend into the interpretive setting, recreating, for example, the dress, language, skills and activities of a past environment. Or an interpreter may choose to join his or her audience as investigators, exploring and conceptualizing the significance of interpretive clues. But good interpretation is always resource-driven; its themes contextualize and explain the resource; it avoids preconceptions in shaping its message.

Good interpretation tries to capture the “big picture,” yet condenses it into an accessible and digestible storyline. Interpretation only succeeds when it engages the visitor’s level of experience and interest. It builds from a statement of significance, conveying useful information on the meaning and lasting value of the resource. Good interpretation offers insights and does not merely impose conclusions or advocate causes. It leaves judgments to the visitor.

We should acknowledge, however, that present concerns continually reshape our interest in the past and draw our attention. In particular, we search history for insights into the human condition that may prove useful in some present or future context. Without a proven method for predicting future outcomes, we can only look to the past for a sense of how humans have reacted to similar sets of circumstances.

Good and sufficient information underlies all good interpretation. A system of research and development hones conceptualization, performance and content. Professional peer review and visitor response build confidence and ensure accuracy and balance.

Culture can be described as a set of adaptations, which a particular group of people make over time to a particular environment and its resource-based opportunities. The relationship is subtle and reciprocal: people shape the land even as the land shapes its inhabitants. We must recognize that New Jersey’s state parks, forests and historic sites preserve cultural landscapes with nary an untrampled acre of true wilderness — every forest is regrown, every stream diverted to human ends, every lake level raised, and every floral and faunal community manipulated by human activities. Both historical and naturalist interpretations arise from a common resource base.

New Jersey compresses every natural feature of the Atlantic slope — from Appalachian mountains to littoral sands — within a relatively short distance. It boasts many scenic works of nature, but few, other than the Delaware Water Gap, that may be described as filling grand vistas with monumental splendor in the way that the Grand Canyon does. New Jersey, however, encompasses many splendid and diverse cultural landscapes, from its mountains to its seashores. And our historic and natural heritage enriches us by its mere presence; the intricate web of life always evokes wonder and demands explanation.

The broad stream of history certainly flows in our midst. Speaking of New Jersey, the English historian Winterbotham, who published a history of the United States shortly after the Revolution, concluded that: “This State was the seat of the war for several years during the contest between England and America. Her proportionate loss of men and property was greater than any other of the thirteen colonies. While Washington was retreating through New Jersey, almost forsaken by all others, her militia were at all times obedient to his orders and, for a considerable length of time, composed the strength of his army, and the military achievements performed by New Jersey soldiers gives this State one of the first ranks among her sister states in a military way and entitles her to share praise that bears no proportion to her size.” And the story does not end there. Out of all proportion to her size, New Jersey also figures prominently in the political, military, cultural, commercial, industrial and technological development of the United States. But many people have come to believe that History is so remote in time and place that it has lost its power to inform our future. That is why it is now more important than ever to rediscover our Past in those places where it yet has the lively power to quicken the intellect and to enthuse the spirit.

Reviewing Interpretation in the National Park Service: A Historical Perspective, Barry Mackintosh writes:

“Generally speaking, historical parks need interpretation more than natural and recreational parks do. Natural parks, typically encompassing spectacular or outstandingly scenic natural features, may be enjoyed aesthetically by most visitors regardless of whether they understand the geologic or biologic phenomena underlying them. Relatively few visitors to parks established primarily for active recreation are receptive to interpretive programs. But although many historical parks have aesthetic appeal and some accommodate active recreation, few can be greatly appreciated without some explanation of who lived or what occurred there. At historical parks, too, altered or missing features are often restored or reconstructed to better ‘tell the story.’ In far greater proportion than at parks established for other purposes, the [National Park] Service's task at its historical areas — indeed, the basic rationale for its involvement with such areas — is interpretation.”

Institutional compression has made forest management and the interpretation of historic sites subsidiary to a system of recreational parks. This may unduly exaggerate the “recreational” aspects of historical interpretation and environmental education. Furthermore, with the advent of mass entertainment through cable television, the internet and “digital realities,” park interpretation competes with sophisticated nature shows and historical dramatizations for viewers’ attention. The advantage of heritage interpretation over both classroom and screen experiences resides in the inherent quality and value of the first-hand experience.

Oftentimes, scrutiny of a specimen or object opens the best approach to conceptualization in an interpretive environment — a specimen, for example, evidences advantageous adaptations to the particular ecological niche it fills. Likewise, an artifact offers insight into the world of its maker and users. The perception of “authenticity,” or “actuality,” powers the viewer’s imagination. Objects, appropriately described in relation to their original context, contribute significantly to our understanding of past persons, places and events. Arminta Neal, author of Exhibits for the Small Museum, knowingly said:

“A museum is the best device our culture has developed for the transmission of ideas to large numbers of people through the exhibition of genuine objects. This is a museum’s strength. This is what it can do better than any other kind of institution yet devised.”

The goals of the a good historical interpretation may be summarized as follows:

• Meeting the highest standards of scholarly research, develop good and sufficient information necessary to the fair, open-minded and inspired interpretation of our historic and natural resources.

• Relying only upon documented facts, interpretation must be accurate and not merely entertaining or agreeable to popular preconceptions.

• Recruit competent interpreters, possessed of the necessary communications skills, background knowledge and enthusiasm for their work.

• Train and equip them to do a professional job.

• Encourage a variety of interpretive strategies, methods and media, to reach the broadest possible audience.

• Address varying levels and fields of visitors’ interest and experience.

• Seek to inform and not to preach.

• Promote respect for the resource and infer the value of its preservation.

• Acknowledge disagreements and different points of view as helpful to the process of understanding.