Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sound the Alarm! Closure of Pennsylvania Historic Sites!

A friend informs me the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has decided "to get out of the 'history' business." As of November 20, 2009, eighty-five workers, representing one-third of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's staff, were laid off and numerous Historic Sites across Pennsylvania, including Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County, were shut down. According to the report of Charles Thompson and Jan Murphy in The Patriot-News, "Some historical sites will close for the winter or have responsibility for their operations shifted to outside groups." Governor Ed Rendell suggests, "volunteers and local groups should be prepared to absorb the responsibility of running the sites for several years, given the economy’s slow growth rate."

Bureaucrats have attempted similar transfers of New Jersey's most significant heritage sites in recent years, further burdening volunteers who already contribute substantial amounts of their time, talent and treasure to the cause. While these same administrators would not recommend turning over recreational park administration, programming, maintenance and policing to volunteers---for obvious reasons---they nevertheless are eager to dump responsibility for irreplaceable historic resources, so as to be able to shift the blame for their inevitable decline and loss upon those who recognize their value and care most about their protection. We must also remember that, however well meaning and motivated, most volunteers cannot provide the time, resources, practical experience, historical background, or technical knowledge needed to make valuable museum collections and historic buildings safely and widely accessible on a consistent basis. And as we all know too well, with exceptional demands on their time, with both heads of households working and with some folks working more than one job to get by, volunteers are becoming scarcer.

Why are Historic Sites so often the first publicly owned resources to be threatened with abandonment? One reason is that they touch a deep chord and rouse public support. Otherwise, they are an easy category of expenditure to eliminate on specious grounds: The attendance at long neglected Historic Sites, often lacking such basic amenities as adequate parking, restrooms, marketing and staff, are compared with popular beaches and large venue parks and found wanting, supposedly justifying their removal from the public inventory. What will the result be? A generation of school children and new Americans denied the educational opportunity to discover their history and to connect with core American values.

Reportedly, the December 25th program at Washington Crossing Historic Park will still take place (as well as the rehearsal crossing), not only to keep the event going, but also to allegedly keep the public from protesting before widespread media coverage. The New Jersey Friends of Washington Crossing Park are planning to protest on the New Jersey side during both the rehearsal crossing on Sunday, December 13th, from 12 noon to 2 PM and on Christmas Day, Friday, December 25th, from 12 noon to 2 PM. They need people to show up during the actual reenactment of the famous crossing at 1 PM, so please support their efforts. While some protest signs will be available, you are encouraged to bring your own.

We understand severe budget cuts must be made to restore health to our public finances, but what little is spent on state owned and operated Historic Sites can hardly be categorized with the wasteful spending that brings us to this great crisis. The lessons of History, made meaningful through the experience of storied places and objects, should be considered fundamental to a thorough and efficient education for every American.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Looking ahead, looking back...

Another transition team is busy laying the groundwork for a new administration in Trenton. What are the implications for public history? Few people realize that our most important state owned and operated Historic Sites were devised to the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks and Forestry, where they have languished for decades, ever diminishing in their visibility and care. While we look forward in anticipation and hope to what may come, perhaps we should also look back, and consider how we got where we are today.

For historical interest, consider what the "environmental policy group" of the last gubernatorial transition team concluded four years ago. The following extracts from the Final Report of the Environment Transition Policy Group, submitted to Governor-Elect Jon Corzine on January 10, 2006, make interesting reading. Even though many of New Jersey's most significant historic sites are "managed" by the Department of Environmental Protection, the word "historic" is not to be found in the text, even under the misleading heading of "Prioritize Eco-Tourism and Heritage Tourism." Equally revealing, ignoring the fact the DEP's Division of Parks & Forestry "administers" the largest system of historic sites and museum collections in the state (and one of the largest in the Middle Atlantic States), no historians, historic site administrators, museum experts, or professionals qualified by experience in marketing heritage tourism destinations were included on the team that prepared the report.

Most disappointingly, perhaps, while there is mention of stewardship of the "state's land," there is no suggestion of any commitment to protect a single splinter of significant historic resources upon that land---I believe the results of this "oversight" are broadly evident. While there is perhaps justifiable outrage that "farmland assessment forestry owners are forced to cut down tress to be eligible for the program," not even a verbal yawn was expended on the deteriorating condition of historic resources across public lands or stagnating bureaucratic indifference to the State Historic Sites.

In my opinion, state government owns nothing---it merely administers what truly belongs to the people of New Jersey. Imagine where we might be today if this document had recommended: "the Governor should dedicate particular historic resources as “Forever Historic,” to protect physical evidence of our common heritage so valuable in its shared meanings that it should never be allowed to deteriorate."

The full report is available at

Here are relevant extracts:


Create A “New Jersey Natural Heritage And Cultural Treasures” Designation. Create a “NJ Natural Heritage and Cultural Treasures” designation, applying to areas with unique and threatened environmental resources. These “treasures” should be based on the DEP’s rich, extant spatial data sets including mapping in the Wildlife Action Plan, the Landscape Project, Important Bird and Birding Areas, Garden State Greenways, Heritage Priority Sites, critical fish and shellfish areas and nurseries, land cover (e.g. large estuarine marshes)and existing federal and international designations. These
designations should be used to focus acquisition, stewardship, access, landowner incentives and natural resource based planning. Furthermore, the Governor should dedicate particular parcels of open space as “Forever Wild,” for land so valuable in its natural state that it should never be diverted.

Institute A Moratorium On Horseshoe Crab Harvest To Protect The Red Knot. Protection of the Red Knot requires the immediate institution of a moratorium on the 2006 horseshoe crab harvest. The moratorium should persist until a management plan is developed and approved by a peer-review panel including shorebird ornithologists and horseshoe crab ecologists. The State should explore economic compensation for those who can document that they have been adversely impacted while continuing its leadership in the research and management of these economically important species.

Widen Public Access To New Jersey’s Public Lands. The Policy Group recommends that the
Governor demands that the public is able to benefit from any projects spending taxpayer funds for passive or active recreation. The access provisions must take special note of the need to protect environmentally sensitive areas. A wider plan for public access to the state’s recreational resources should include mapping and guides of potential and existing access points and acquisition priorities.

Federal funding for widening access to natural resources is available under the Birding and Wildlife Watching Trails Program – NJ DOT has been successful at receiving these funds in the past. Wildlife watching generates $2.4 billion annually in the State.


Start A Statewide Stewardship Initiative To Increase Protection And Attract Federal Dollars. A statewide stewardship initiative is fiscally sound policy that will protect the investment of taxpayers and attract federal matching funds. Stewardship practices implemented on most public land in New Jersey are eligible for up to 75% cost share from USDA and USFWS through landowner incentives. New Jersey gets a smaller share of these funds than other States, and struggles to spend its portion. Programs such as the New Jersey Habitat Incentive Team (NJ HIT), that seek to improve coordination
and cooperation among all public and private stakeholders, are critical.

Provide A Stable Funding Source For Land Stewardship. The Policy Group recommends that you develop a stable funding source to preserve the value of New Jersey’s investment in open space and to ensure that preserved natural and cultural areas are accessible. One potential funding source would be the renewal of the Garden State Preservation Trust. The value of the State’s investment in open space has decreased with overabundant wildlife populations, and the proliferation of invasive plants, insects
and diseases.

Promote Non-Lethal Wildlife Control. The Policy Group recommends that you promote existing laws to reduce human conflict with wildlife. As Governor, the Group encourages you to continue feeding bans, and expand awareness and availability of tools to reduce interaction between humans and wildlife, such as bear-proof garbage cans.

Reward Farmers For Maintaining Forested Land. Support legislation to allow landowners to receive farm assessment on woodlands for natural resource conservation and habitat protection, under a forestry plan. Currently under farmland assessment forestry owners are forced to cut down tress to be eligible for the program.

Members of the Environmental Policy Group Who Have Signed on to the Above Report

Valorie Caffee (Co-Chair), Organizing Director, NJ WEC
Tom Gilmore (Co-Chair), President, NJ Audubon Society
Eileen Swan (Co-Chair), Member of Highlands Commission/Former Mayor,Lebanon Twp
Wyatt Earp, IBEW
Mort Goldfein Attorney, Saiber Schlesinger Satz & Goldstein
Dr. Sunil K. Garg, President, EcoShelf Group
Bob Medin,a Engineering Consultant, Medina Consultants
Joe Morris, Interfaith Community Organization
Rev. Willie Anderson, Chairman, Camden Churches Organized for People
Rick Engler, Director, Work Environment Council
Andy Willner, Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper
Cate Litvack, Executive Director, Crossroads of the American Revolution Association, Inc.
Jeff Tittel, Chapter Director, Sierra Club of New Jersey
Sherry Ramsey, Humane Society of the U.S.
Tom Fote, Legislative Director, Jersey Coast Anglers Association
Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper
Dr. Stephen J. Souza President, Princeton Hydro, LLC
Ella Filippone, Executive Director, Passaic River Coalition
Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society
Sharon Finlayson, Chair, New Jersey Environmental Federation
Lisa Garcia, Assistant Attorney General New York State/ Fmr Assistant Clinical Professor,Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic
Stewart Abrahams, Practice Director for Remediation at Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc.

Members of the Environmental Policy Group

Valorie Caffee, (Co-Chair), Organizing Director, NJ WEC
Tom Gilmore, (Co-Chair), President, NJ Audubon Society
Eileen Swan, (Co-Chair), Member of Highlands Commission/Former Mayor,Lebanon Twp
Dr. Sunil K. Garg, President, EcoShelf Group
Bob Medina, Engineering Consultant, Medina Consultants
Joe Morris, Interfaith Community Organization
Rev. Willie Anderso,n Chairman, Camden Churches Organized for People
Rick Engler, Director, Work Environment Council
Andy Willner, Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper
Cate Litvack, Executive Director, Crossroads of the American Revolution Association, Inc.
Jeff Tittel, Chapter Director, Sierra Club of New Jersey
Sherry Ramsey, Humane Society of the U.S.
Tom Fote, Legislative Director, Jersey Coast Anglers Association
Bill Sheehan, Hackensack Riverkeeper
Dr. Stephen J. Souza, President, Princeton Hydro, LLC
Ella Filippone, Executive Director, Passaic River Coalition
Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society
Sharon Finlayson Chair, New Jersey Environmental Federation
Dr. James Sinclair, Former Vice President, New Jersey Business & Industry Association
Mort Goldfein, Attorney, Saiber Schlesinger Satz & Goldstein
Prof. Robert Willig, Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton
Wyatt Earp, IBEW
Lisa Garcia, Assistant Attorney General New York State/Fmr Assistant Clinical Professor, Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic
James Hughes Dean, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
Richard Hluchan, Attorney, Ballard, Spahr, Andrews and Ingersoll
Stewart Abrahams, Practice Director for Remediation at Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure Inc.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Proposal to Create Special Funds

Talk about Balkanization, well, check this out! The Assembly Environment & Solid Waste Committee reviewed Assembly bill 4121 today, which would dedicate up to $400,000 annually of fees collected at Island Beach and Liberty State Parks to special funds to be used to support certain park programs. In other words, it would create special funds from fees collected at Liberty State Park and Island Beach State Park to be used for staff salaries at these locations. Unbelievable! These are considered prime assignments in the park service and both sites have benefited from out-sized public funding for many years. This will protect these jobs while the remainder of the Division of Parks & Forestry, including the State Historic Sites, dwindles away. The state owned Historic Sites have long been underfunded and understaffed. Some, including the Steuben House, are closed.

It's time for change.

UPDATE! Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle informed me on December 1st that "this bill was pulled."

UPDATE! 12/06/09


Senate Bill 2977, which dedicates up to $400,000 annually of fees collected at Island Beach and Liberty State Parks to special funds to be used to support certain park programs, and makes appropriations from the funds, was advanced by the Senate Environment Committee and sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee. According to the release on this legislation, Senator Christopher J. Connors and Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf state, “We introduced this legislation after meeting with individuals comprising a coalition who, collectively, had undertaken great efforts to protect the Island Beach State Park Interpretive Program. During the meeting, these individuals discussed in depth the disparity in resources provided by the state for the interpretive program at Island Beach State Park as compared to the program at Liberty State Park. There was even deep concern the program would be terminated due to lack of funds. Since the Park does collect fees, we felt it appropriate to introduce legislation establishing a dedicated revenue stream to fund this important program which serves dual purposes as both an attraction for tourists and an educational forum for students.”

I ask, "What about interpretation and public access at all remaining state parks, forests and, most significantly, state owned and operated Historic Sites?" We are now carving out a popular public ocean beach and Liberty State Park from the rest of a poorly run public system of historic and natural resources, which is on the verge of collapse. Instead, why not find a dedicated source of income---even this source of income, if necessary---and begin to repair unmaintained and badly managed historic sites that belong to the people of New Jersey. I would suggest that people do not go to Island Beach for their interpretive programs, but they do go to Monmouth Battlefield, Historic New Bridge Landing, Princeton Battlefield, the Wallace House, Twin Lights and other State Historic Sites precisely for that reason.

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 unfortunately made forest management and the interpretation of historic sites subsidiary to a system of recreational parks. Our state owned and operated Historic Sites have sadly languished under bureaucratic indifference and neglect, lost in an environmental regulatory agency that does not comprehend their needs or purpose.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Out With The Old, In With the New.

With all that lies before us in restoring the financial health of a state bankrupted by poor management and chicanery, rescuing our depleted heritage seems a distant priority, a noble but hopeless cause. The truth is, the State Historic Sites have never known good times, but are paraded out like poster children when New Jersey's cultural Brahmins want to tug at patriotic chords to fleece the public treasury. In the end---as with the Bagger bill of years ago, which created a grant fund for operating support and programming for history organizations---the State Historic Sites are quietly disqualified in the final equation from public funding as being too needy after a generation of neglect and administrative indifference. Likewise, the state owned and operated Historic Sites serve to inflate the salaries and self-opinion of unqualified managers and political appointees who can always be counted on to do more harm than good.

Yet, in truth, we can do something of great lasting value for the people of New Jersey without much, if any, expense. Since the adoption of the state constitution in 1947, the state owned and operated Historic Sites, including our Revolutionary War battlefields and monuments, have been tossed into the bureaucratic netherworld that became the DEP. In a revision of state law in 1966, the Historic Sites Council was created as a panel of experts to succeed the old Historic Sites Commission in the administration of the state owned and operated Historic Sites through an Office of Historic Sites. The Historic Sites Council never functioned in this assigned role, becoming instead a review board for historic register nominations, while the State Park Service absorbed the Historic Sites in its recreational embrace. Consequently, each Historic Site was assigned to the management of the nearest park superintendent, which amplified their salary range, but left this irreplaceable heritage as the widely-acknowledged "orphans" of the Division of Parks & Forestry.

To justify this takeover, allowing persons unqualified and even hostile to assume paid control, the DEP has deeply entombed the State Historic Sites within its bureaucracy, so that after 106 years, they no longer have even token organizational presence in state government. Formerly, under Title 13 (Source: 13:1B-101, 13:1B-105), the Office of Historic Sites and the Historic Preservation Office were identified as “administrative units” in the Division of Parks and Forestry and were the current successors in “authority to the former Historic Sites Commission.” Under the former 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 the former statement of “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.

The DEP evaded the letter and intentions of the law. Several years ago, a former Parks Director "created" a so-called Office of Interpretation and Resource Management at a bureau chief level to supersede the Office of Historic Sites, even though he had no authority under the law to do so. Now they have apparently "updated" the laws to entirely eliminate the Office of Historic Sites from its former legal responsibilities.

I keep asking: Why is New Jersey the only state without a professional system of state-owned and operated historic sites? We have learned from sad experience that the State Park Service lacks the professional qualifications to administer such cultural treasures. The inevitable consequences are tragic. Dispersing the various sites under the supervision of the nearest park superintendent is wholly dysfunctional. More importantly, no one in the management hierarchy has relevant background in historical interpretation, historic sites administration or museum collections management. When a professional support system is desperately required, all we get is window dressing. I point to the long-standing Federal model---despite its imperfections---where national historic parks operate under the Department of the Interior and are not assigned to an environmental regulatory agency.

As a no-cost solution, we urge legislative creation of a State Historic Sites Commission, composed of volunteers with experience in historic interpretation, historic sites management, museum studies, artifact conservation and public history, appointed by the Governor with State Senate consent, to take over the administration of the state owned and operated Historic Sites, overseeing the Administrator of the Office of Historic Sites, with direct line-command of all Historic Sites personnel and budgetary expenditures. Even in this climate of financial emergency, lending dignity and respect to the hard-learned lessons of history will enrich present and future generations, even with reduced budgetary support. And, simply said, no money could be better spent towards the education of our children. Without adding to the already crushing economic burden heaped upon the people of New Jersey, we can and must remove the State Historic Sites from the dark cellar of the DEP. Most importantly, we encourage the incoming Administration to clean house and to send those responsible for this sorry state of affairs out into the economic mess they helped to create!

Friday, November 20, 2009

You Won't Believe Your Ears! New Bridge Not A Revolutionary War "Battleground"?

The astounding and frankly bizarre claim is now made that Historic New Bridge Landing is not a "battleground" of the American Revolution and therefore is somehow not entitled to the protection from modern intrusions that we have long fought for so diligently or to the reverence it is due as "sacred ground" where American blood was shed in defense of Liberty. This assertion is just the latest literary contortion of those who wish to pursue their own agenda at the expense of truly historic ground.

Please note that we call New Bridge a "battleground" to recall that this strategic pass, arguably, "the crossroads of the American Revolution," was repeatedly contested by opposing armies throughout the war, preferring this description to "battlefield," which carries the more temporal connotation---at least in my mind----of a site where a major clash of arms, decisive or otherwise, occurred on one or more consecutive days. In fact, we proudly assert that New Bridge witnessed more of the Revolutionary conflict than any other place in America.

The Bergen County Historical Society and the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission organized the initial campaign in 2001 to include Bergen County sites associated with the American Revolution within the boundaries of the then proposed Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area. Below is the form of the resolution, which we prepared, and which was subsequently adopted in support of our efforts by the County of Bergen, several local municipalities, historical societies, Federal and state legislators. I think it summaries the historical facts as well as expresses our undiminished commitment to proper stewardship:


(County or Municipality)

WHEREAS, the United States Congress has authorized the Department of the Interior to conduct a Special Resource Study and National Heritage Area Feasibility Study for the Crossroads of the American Revolution in central New Jersey; and

WHEREAS, the (Name of County of Municipality) has a rich heritage of Revolutionary War history; and

WHEREAS, Historic New Bridge Landing, where the Zabriskie-Steuben House, a State Historic Site, still stands, is the site of the Bridge That Saved A Nation, where General Washington and the American garrison of Fort Lee crossed the Hackensack River in the face of the British invasion of November 20, 1776, as immortalized in Thomas Paine’s American Crisis; and where British troops under Major General Vaughan attacked the American rear guard on November 21, 1776; and where British and Loyalist troops under command of Captain Patrick Fergusen attacked about 40 Bergen militiamen on May 18, 1779; and whence Major Henry Lee led American troops on August 18, 1779, to attack the British earthworks at Powles Hook (Jersey City); and where a force of Bergen Militia and Continental troops attacked 600 British troops and German auxiliaries on their retreat from Hackensack and Paramus on March 23, 1780, during the two hours it took for the British to repair and cross the New Bridge; and where a body of 312 British, Loyalist and German infantry, attacked and overwhelmed an American outpost commanded by Lieutenant Bryson on April 15, 1780; and where 8 British soldiers were killed, and several wounded, by friendly fire when British troops attempted to attack a body of Bergen Militia in the Zabriskie-Steuben House on May 30, 1780; and whence Brigadier General Anthony Wayne led American troops on a raid against the Bull’s Ferry Blockhouse on July 20, 1780; and where General Washington made his headquarters in the Zabriskie-Steuben House during the encampment of the Continental Army at Steenrapie (River Edge) on September 4-20, 1780; and

WHEREAS, New Bridge was strategically located at the narrows of the Hackensack River and set in a no-man’s land between the two opposing armies, it served as a fort, military headquarters, intelligence-gathering post, encampment ground and battleground throughout the American Revolution; and

WHEREAS, American soldiers fought and died upon this ground, leaving future generations with a sacred trust for its stewardship in their honor and memory; and

WHEREAS, John Zabriskie and Lt. Colonel Abraham Van Buskirk, of the Third New Jersey Volunteers, were prominent Loyalists whose homes at New Bridge were confiscated by the State of New Jersey; and

WHEREAS, the State of New Jersey presented the use and income of the confiscated estate of Jan Zabriskie at New Bridge, to Major-General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Inspector-General of the Continental troops, on December 23, 1783, in recognition of his “many and signal services to the United States of America,” and

WHEREAS, General Steuben “thoroughly rebuilt” the Zabriskie-Steuben House before selling the premises in 1788, making it the only extant dwelling owned by him in the United States; and

WHEREAS, the (Name of County or Municipality) recognizes that a National Heritage Area (NHA) designation will recognize the unique importance of the NHA to our country’s history, and will provide additional benefits to local communities toward resource protection, heritage tourism, and other economic activities, and related educational initiatives.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the (Name of Endorsing Entity) supports the designation of a Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area in central New Jersey, and will take such action as it deems appropriate to support the designation; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT copies of this resolution be forwarded to the following:

New Jersey Congressional Delegation
Senator Robert Torricelli and Senator Jon Corzine
Members of the New Jersey Legislature
Michael Henderson, Superintendent, Morristown National Historic Park
Linda J. Mead, Project Leader, Crossroads of the American Revolution
New Jersey Historic Preservation Office
New Jersey Historical Commission
All Local Officials

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bureaucratic Cement Atop Ancient Cemetery?

Was the Simulated Lenape Village at Waterloo Built atop an Old Burying Ground?
By Kevin Wright

Wrights Pond in Byram Township is named for my Sussex County progenitor, Charles Wright, who purchased land on the Punk Horn Creek in 1767. The creek’s name derives from the Unami word, pankhanne, describing “a steep stream bank.” When I was still in college, I attempted to locate the burial site of Charles Wright and his son Samuel, but they were not to be found in any of the extant cemeteries in the surrounding towns of Andover, Sparta, Stanhope, Lockwood, Waterloo, or even in an old burial yard under the waters of Lake Lackawanna. Or so I thought.

My grandfather, V. Ivan Wright (1893-1971), told me his mother took him in a carriage from Newton to visit his ancestors’ graves in Byram Township. They first stopped at the old Lockwood Burial Ground, alongside what is now Route 206. The rubble foundation between the cemetery and the road marks the site of the Lockwood Methodist Church, which collapsed into its cellar hole not many years before my grandfather’s visit. There they decorated the graves of his mother’s grandfather, Frederick Queren, a French ironworker employed at the Columbia Forge, her grandmother Sarah Ann Sutton and her great-grandparents, James and Sarah Sutton. Since this burial ground opened when the church was dedicated in 1835, it could not harbor the interments of Byram Township’s pioneer settlers. So, where were they? Mentally retracing his steps, Grandpa recalled riding south a short distance along the old turnpike road (Route 206) before turning west onto Waterloo Road. When they arrived at their anticipated destination —an ancient burial ground on a spit of land projecting into Waterloo Lake— my great-grandmother was quite taken back to find some of the headstones removed. According to Grandpa, she rode to a nearby house and inquired about the disappearance, but the occupants pleaded ignorance. When they were leaving by the kitchen door and returning to their carriage, Grandpa said he felt his mother squeeze his hand, pointing unobtrusively downward with her free hand and winking knowingly. Overturned slabs of what appeared to be broken tombstones paved the walkway around the house under their very feet.

It would be another seven or eight years before I was able to confirm the existence of this ancient burying ground on the banks of the Musconetcong River at Waterloo, for myth obscured history, here as in so many other places. James Snell, in his 1881 History of Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey, alludes to the existence of a large aboriginal cemetery located about a quarter mile north of Waterloo: “About a quarter of a mile from the village may be seen the remnant of what was once an Indian graveyard, where numerous jagged headstones proclaim how the savages sought in their crude way to set a sign upon the last resting-places of their dead. These relics have been scrupulously respected by the Messrs. Smith, owners of the land, and, although the plowshare has freely invaded the domain about them, it has not been permitted to disturb the bones of the long-departed children of the forest.” (Snell, 468)

This story is easily traced to its source, for Seymour Smith, a partner with his brothers in the operation of Waterloo’s store and mills, and whose residence stands nearly opposite the canal store, supplied a poetic narrative of the same curious resting place to the New Jersey Herald in 1876: “...To the east [of the Indian village], lies an old Indian burying ground, in which the rough stone marks the final resting place of many a departed child of the forest. The wild grass grows rank and thrifty over the graves, the rude plow of the husbandman having never entered the sacred precincts to disturb them from their sleep that knows no waking, or to imprint a single furrow on the bosom of those driven from their native homes. There they rest in a quiet nook, nestled securely at the foot of the mountain side, over which they have time and again chased the fleeing deer and the wild game, while the calm, clear waters of the modest little lake, on which they have trapped the otter and the mink, washes the eastern and southern shore.”

The promotional booklet for Lake Waterloo Estates, published about 1927, reports: “An old Indian burying ground apparently was located in a rise of land which juts into the waters of what is now the main lake of a chain.” A portion of this burying ground became an island in Waterloo Lake when the Mountain Ice Company excavated a channel to redirect the river’s current along the northwestern bank and thus create a deep quiet pool of water, free of debris, for their ice harvests. Remnants of a dike, which once channeled the flow of water around the ice pond, are still discernible at the upper end of the lake. This short canal or ditch detached the peninsula bearing part of the cemetery from the shore, thereby creating the smaller and more westerly of the two islands in Waterloo Lake. This old cemetery reportedly encompassed about 50 interments.

In 1979-80, I interviewed Seymour Smith’s nephew, Sanford Roy Smith (1887-1982), the son of Peter D. Smith, of Waterloo. Pointing out the site on the lake shore, he easily recalled archaeological explorations there, saying, “From what father told me, he said that it was never, in his opinion, an Indian burial ground.” In helping to dig a new channel for the river, Roy Smith excavated one of the burials on this artificial island, saying he “was in the early twenties at the time and I had this canvas up over me, and I was down six feet, ‘til I come to that doggone coffin down in there. Well, I didn’t know the sun had gone out, and there was a WHAM! The most God-awful shock I ever saw and the top of the coffin fell in and I went down about two feet. Holy smokes, I didn’t know what was happening!” A skeleton was found with pewter buttons and a clay pipe with flowers painted on it and a deer-horn stem. Had Roy found my great-great-great-great grandfather Wright?

Sandford Roy Smith was born in the southwest second-floor bedroom of his father Peter D. Smith’s home at Waterloo on August 21, 1887. He died at his residence in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1982. Two years earlier, in 1980, he provided tape-recorded answers to questions that I prepared for him. Based upon these taped interviews, my friend Robert Smith provides a verbatim transcript of Roy’s description of the excavation of graves in the Old Indian Burial Ground at Waterloo, which now underlies the simulated Lenape Village: “There is an area that has been known as the Indian burial ground, which is, of course, doubtful because Indians didn’t bury below ground; they buried above ground. With that in mind, approximately 60 years ago [circa 1920] a group of Antiquarians legally came and opened three graves in the area. There are some 50 graves that are marked there but three that were opened—these men knew what they were doing and it was judged that one was Irish, one was French, and one was an Indian. The graves were all eight feet deep to the top of the coffin and the coffin was of the antique shape, narrow at the top and long to the feet, wide at the shoulders and had been made of hand-hewn planks and hand-wrought nails used to seal them up. In these graves were found several artifacts such as brass buttons, a pipe, and the quantities of hair still visible. These graves were closed subsequently and they are still there the same as they were in early times.” (Sandford Roy Smith, Tape 1, Transcript, 15-16)

Of course, Roy was wrong in saying “Indians didn’t bury below ground” as numerous such inhumations have been discovered over the years in and around Sussex County. It is clear, however, that the Waterloo graveyard was not “completely looted”in the early twentieth century---as some have claimed---or at any time previous to the Second World War, while Roy was associated with his home village.

Making some allowance for the date, it is conceivable that Professor Max Schrabisch was involved in opening, examining and respectfully closing these graves while he was exploring throughout Sussex County for evidence of prehistoric Indian habitations. From local newspaper accounts, we know Professor Schrabisch was wandering on the mountain above Waterloo May 1913, where he met with a copperhead, three and a half feet long, which he quickly dispatched. He proceeded but a short distance when he heard the sound of a rattlesnake, possessing six rattles and a button, which he also vanquished. According to the local correspondent, Professor Schrabisch, the master of several languages, thought it might be necessary “to take up snakeology if he decides to pass the summer in Sussex.”

Apparently, this sacred precinct for the dead does contain the bones of the ancient people, who first appear to us in history as the Allamuchahocking (“the land at the foot of the mountain”) This cemetery also contains interments of the ironworkers of Andover Forge and of the pioneer settlers of Byram Township. Another story tells us that this burying ground holds the bones of Lafayette’s soldiers, who supposedly died of smallpox while quarantined in huts at Waterloo, The promotional booklet for Lake Waterloo Estates, published about 1927, states, “The health-giving atmosphere of the territory is attested by the fact that during the time of Washington’s occupancy of headquarters in Morristown many of his French allied soldiers attacked by a small-pox were encamped in quarantine on a bluff overlooking the valley. A group of stones facing east marks the spot.” (Lake Waterloo Estates, 16-17).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Events Postings

1609, A Country That Was Never Lost
Pascack Historical Society, 19 Ridge Avenue, Park Ridge, NJ 07656
Sunday November 22, 2009, 2:00 PM

Author and historian Kevin Wright, past president of the Bergen County Historical Society, has written a new book about Henry Hudson and his visits to the Mid Atlantic coast. His book, 1609: A Country That Was Never Lost, has long been anticipated by his many admirers and readers who know that his research is always airtight and his prose-exciting, educational and enjoyable.
A Q & A period will follow.

Free Admission - No reservations, Complimentary cake & coffee, Children welcome accompanied by an adult

Holiday Weekends at the Foster-Armstrong House in Montague

The Montague Association for Restoration of Community History [M.A.R.C.H.] will celebrate the season by hosting an extended offering of its annual Holiday Weekends. Come out to experience a wonderful Christmas tour through the historic Foster-Armstrong House, which dates to circa 1790 and sports a Dutch Gambrel roof. The house, specially decorated for the holidays, is located in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area at 320 River Rd./ C.R. 521 in Montague, NJ - north of the Milford Bridge. The house will open between the hours of 1pm and 4pm on the following Saturdays and Sundays: Nov. 28th and 29th, Dec. 5th and 6th and Dec. 12th and 13th [weather-permitting].

At the culmination of Montague’s celebration of its 250th anniversary, you will be able to revisit key places from the township’s past. Featured will be the Minisink Reformed Church, whose congregation dates to 1737 and its current church to 1889. Aspects of the Martin Cole Store will be recreated, along with an old-fashioned Barber Shop and Post Office, and the Brick House Hotel. Items representing the Foster and Armstrong family connections with this colonial farmhouse will be on display. Also recalled will be the famed Rock View hotel, which sat on upper River Rd., and the one room Brick House schoolhouse in the village. Santa will make a special appearance on Sat. Dec. 5th as will some “townspeople” to give visitors an experience of stepping back in time.

Costumed society volunteers will welcome and tour the special exhibits with visitors. It's a great opportunity to stop by this historic site, share some refreshments, and get into the spirit of the holiday season. Come browse the books and the handmade craft items offered for sale in the gift shop that help to support the society. Signed copies of the MONTAGUE book will be available for purchase. No admission is charged, though donations are welcomed. Call 973-293-3106 for more information or email

At The Bridge That Saved A Nation!
Holiday Entertainments at Historic New Bridge Landing
Tickets Now Available!

Winter Tavern Night. Enjoy the holidays with friends and family in the setting of an authentic 18th-century Jersey Dutch tavern. The Bergen County Historical Society's Winter Tavern Night features light tavern fare of soup, herb biscuits, finger foods, desserts and musical entertainment at two seatings, 7 to 8 PM and 8:30 to 9:30 PM on Friday, December 18th in the Campbell-Christie House at Historic New Bridge Landing, 1201 Main St., River Edge, NJ 07661. Each seating is limited to 30 persons, so advanced reservations are advised. The cost is $30 per person. An open-hearth Out Kitchen and Gift Shop will also be open.

Colonial Christmas Concerts. This holiday season we return to the Steuben House, 1209 Main St., River Edge, for our Colonial Christmas Concerts, featuring Linda Russell & Companie, on Saturday, December 19th at 7 and 8:30 PM and on Sunday, December 20th at 6 and 7:30 PM. $25 per person. Limited to 40 guests per show. Tickets may be purchased at the door, only if available, so reservations are advised. The Tavern and Gift Shop in the Campbell-Christie House will be open from 7:30 to 9:30 PM on Saturday evening, so please leave time to visit after the first show or before the second show. On Sunday, the Tavern and Gift Shop will be open from 6:30 to 9:30 PM.

For tickets to the Winter Tavern Night or the Colonial Christmas Concerts, send SASE and remittance to BCHS Holiday Events, PO Box 55, River Edge, NJ 07661. For concert tickets, send SASE indicating 1st and 2nd choice of show. No refunds or exchanges. For Paypal ticket purchases, visit:

Sint Niklaas Day Open House at Historic New Bridge Landing
Sunday, Dec 6, 2009, 2 - 4 PM

Enjoy holiday treats, a visit from Sint Niklaas, open-hearth cooking in authentic Jersey Dutch Out Kitchen and gift shop. Takes place at the Campbell-Christie House, 1201 Main St, River Edge, NJ 07661 Suggested donation for events unless otherwise noted: $7 adult, $5 children, BCHS members free. We welcome new members.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saving America's First Frontier: the Minisink Country

Emptying the upper Delaware Valley of its inhabitants and landmarks half a century ago touched nearly everyone of my generation in Sussex and Warren Counties. We all knew someone, some friend or relation, who was driven from their land. Then, as quickly as the old families were pushed out, the Federal government began leasing their former homes to squatters, many of whom were hippies in search of a return to nature and simpler life ways.

The best memories!

How happily I remember swinging out over the river on a rope hanging from a tree on the riverbank at Harry’s Farm, just above the northern boundary of Worthington State Park. In the last summer of his life, I took my grandfather Wright to see archaeologists dig in the abandoned field there. According to my earliest memory, there was a semicircle of small cabins on this farm, which the owner rented out to hunters and fisherman. I particularly remember the fine stand of blackcap bushes growing along the river lane, at the edge of that field, which we harvested in early July to have Grandma make her famous blackcap pies.

Going with the current, you could swim across to Tocks Island, where there was a cornfield. Later, I remember a hippie commune—which I think was called Cloud Nine—occupying the old farmhouse and barn. They used to share food with us, whenever my friend Bill Glover and I would stay at his father’s camper, parked near the Copper Mine Inn. I also remember going over to Delaware Water Gap to a fabulous health food store in Hauser’s old storehouse, downhill from the wisteria-wrapped Moosehead Inn, where we enjoyed the best granola I ever had and tasty vegetarian pizza! Then one day, when we came to the old river farm to swim, everything was gone—the Feds had bulldozed all the buildings into their cellar holes. Today, you can’t even find the old dirt lanes down to the river, though by canoe I think I’ve spotted the old tree that held the rope swing.

The cry of eagles!

Outdoor recreationists and lovers of nature will recognize the sentiments of state geologist C. Clarkson Vermeule, even though he wrote admiringly of the upper Delaware River as long ago as 1888, saying, “This quiet and beautiful Minisink Valley, with its wealth of romantic aboriginal traditions and associations and its tragic colonial history, has long enjoyed a well-merited reputation as a charming, restful summer retreat for those who admire simple nature, and as a paradise for the sportsman and angler. On the southeast rise the long, forested slopes of Kittatinny mountain, with its continuous level crest, and bold front raised as a final bulwark against the busy, bustling world beyond, and giving to the valley its air of remoteness and seclusion.”

Paddling downstream in the warmth of July, silent hills and discarded boulders embosom its mercurial waters. For twenty–five miles between Port Jervis and Walpack Bend, the Delaware River occupies a flat-bottomed, gravel-filled trough about two miles wide. The erosional history of the stream is evident in four levels of terraces on its flanks. According to Vermeule’s observation and report, “On these terraces, and particularly on the lowest, which is composed of finer material than the others, were the level and easily cultivated Indian plantations and later the farms of the pioneers, which gave, early in the eighteenth century, a wide reputation for fertility to the Minisink country.” At Walpack Bend, the Delaware River turns sharply east, taking advantage of an offset in Walpack Ridge. Dropping into a parallel valley, occupied northeastward by Flatbrook, it again flows southwest toward the Delaware Water Gap. For much of this distance, the river hugs the base of Kittatinny Mountain. The gravel terraces are broadest upon the west bank, whereas the Pahaquarry Flats on the east side are quite narrow and disappear altogether at Worthington State Park.

Connections to the land

With all its many charms and dangers, the river runs belongs to everyone. But for those of us who connect to the Old Settlers, there is sadness and longing in every turn of the Mine Road. My great-grandfather, John Edward Brink, was born in Walpack Center in 1878, one of eleven children born to Jonas Brink and Sarah E. Snook. “Ed,” as he was called, learned to be a wheelwright and cooper in the smithy at Millbrook. His oldest brother, William Brink, married Emma Hill and lived in a farmhouse, still standing, on the Old Mine Road atop Van Campen Glen, which, in my childhood, was called either Brink Glen or Laurel Glen. My grandmother, Gertrude Brink Wright, spent summers there as a child. We used to go up and swim in the Big Pothole or Teacup in the falls of the ravine, where you could read initials carved in the rock wall, some dating back to the nineteenth century. Coming from Newton, we regarded the aloof and beautiful Minisink Country as “Over-the-Mountain.” We traveled there either by Culvers Gap or south on Route #94 to Millbrook Gap, turning at Marksboro.

Free flowing

The river still runs free, a legacy of generations of raftsmen who daringly navigated its treacherous rifts. Daniel Skinner conceived the idea of binding together a number of large pine logs and floating the first timber raft down the Delaware River to Philadelphia in 1764, where he sold the timber for masts. Nearly a century and a half later, William Skinner, of Callicoon, Daniel’s direct descendant, was to be the last steersman capable of navigating lumber rafts down river—all the other steersmen either being too old to undertake the work or dead. These raftsmen rode either the Jefferson or rafting flood, caused by spring rains and thaws in April and May, or the so-called Pumpkin freshets in September and October.

In May 1913, William guided a raft, measuring 250 feet long and 54 feet wide, down the river from Equinunk, in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, to Bordentown. This large raft, made up of spile lumber worth $1,000, was probably the last of its kind and Skinner’s voyage therefore marked the end of an era. Thereafter, railroads would ship what little lumber remained to be cut. To partake of the historic occasion, half a dozen citizens of Equinunk accompanied Skinner on the first leg of his journey; many onlookers gathered at different points along the banks to cheer the raftsmen and guests as they floated downstream. To add to the excitement, the raft struck a swift current above Flatbrookville and got completely turned around, casting some of the party into the river waters.

Rafting kept the river free flowing and undammed. Now the rising industrial cities within reach of its basin eyed the headwaters of the Delaware River for a potable water supply. Philadelphia proposed a reservoir impounded by a dam at Walpack Bend, but acceded to the Army Corps of Engineers in April 1946, when they instead recommended a dam site at Tocks Island.

Preliminary surveys, completed in 1956 encouraged construction of a flood-control dam near Tocks Island. Lieutenant Colonel John C. Lee, Jr., of the Army Corps of Engineers, testified before the Delaware River Study Commission, suggesting a dam at this location, if the site proved practical, was preferable, since a dam at Walpack Bend would not provide “dependable” flood control. He emphasized that a dam at Tocks Island was judged suitable purely from an engineering standpoint without any conclusions on its economic feasibility. Previous studies, however, some dating as early as 1942, had declared the site unsuitable for supporting such a dam.

The vision was truly astounding and in keeping with the great public works projects of the Great Depression that harnessed the flow of great rivers in the West and Northwest. A Tocks Island dam would have created a huge reservoir covering 14,100 acres with a total storage of 214 billion gallons, while a Walpack Bend dam would have created a reservoir covering 9,500 acres and have a capacity of 121 billion gallons. A study of the comparative costs of the two dams was scheduled for completion in January 1957. Local opposition was loud from the start, but construction of the Tocks Island Dam was authorized in 1965.

Under an agreement with the state of New Jersey, Pennsylvania was authorized to construct a dam at Walpack Bend within the next 50 years. By paying 30% of the cost of construction, New Jersey reserved the right to 30% of the water from the proposed reservoir. The right for a Sussex County water supply was also included in the agreement. Several power companies expressed their interest in buying hydro-electrical power generated by the flow of the river over any such dam. In 1967, opposition to the development of Sunfish Pond as a reservoir for generating hydroelectric power broadened into a fight against the whole dam project.

The Army Corps of Engineers began forcing residents from their homes through use of condemnation. After more than half a century of heartbreak and destruction—nearly the whole of my lifetime to date—you wouldn’t think there would be much left to lose or to save, but there is. What survives is all the more precious for having withstood the storm of time and neglect.

Residents Get A Voice

Congress established the Citizen Advisory Commission on October 31, 1988, to advise the Secretary of the Interior on matters pertaining to the management and operation of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, as well as on other matters affecting its surrounding communities, re-chartering this Federal citizens advisory committee in 1998 for an additional decade. The Secretary of the Interior appoints the eleven-member committee, which consists of two members nominated by the Governor of New Jersey, two members nominated by the Governor of Pennsylvania, two members nominated by the Superintendent of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and five County members, nominated by the county administrations of Sussex and Warren Counties in NJ and Pike, Monroe, and Northampton Counties in PA.

When re-authorization expired in October 2008, Representatives Scott Garret (R-NJ) and Christopher Carney (D-PA) introduced a bipartisan bill (H.R. 3476) to reauthorize the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Citizens Advisory Commission through 2018, saying “Communication is the key to addressing and resolving citizen concerns, and it is clear that residents and park users value the opportunity to respond to park decisions, as well as propose alternative ideas.” Garret’s bill passed the House on Representatives on October 13, 2009.

Demolitions Threatened

On October 29, 2009, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) announced that the Senate has approved the final version of the FY 2010 Interior and Environment Appropriations Act, which includes $15 million for projects in New Jersey to preserve open space in national wildlife refuges, protect forests, renovate infrastructure and help local communities provide clean water. The legislation also provides federal funds to develop a management plan for the Great Falls National Historic Park. The Appropriations Act also funds several historic preservation projects in NJ, including $200,000 for the preservation of the Mansion at Georgian Court University, a centerpiece of seven historic buildings on the campus, and $150,000 for the restoration of the South Orange Village Hall. Of most concern, however, the act appropriates $2.2 million to demolish and remove hazardous structures throughout the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. This legislation, already approved in the House of Representatives, was sent to the White House for the President’s signature.

The National Park Service is in the process of compiling a list of structures that they plan to remove. Citizens are naturally wary, since a number of historically significant structures have been benignly neglected since the Tocks Island project was initiated and may be designated as "hazardous."

Please stand up and be counted

We must save what remains of America’s First Frontier, the magnificent Minisink Country. Save our heritage from further destruction. Contact your Federal representatives today!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What do we value?

In October 1986, New Jersey Monthly published Tom Dunkel's eye-opening article, "A State of Ruins," asking in subtitle, "Is New Jersey committing historical suicide?" So here we are, twenty three years later, checking for vital signs.

Ever stood on the battlefield at Gettysburg? Or at New Bridge? Princeton? For our generation, the question remains unanswered: Is anything sacred? What stories, persons, places and events are worthy of memory? On the other side of the equation, looking beyond the spiritual and emotional returns, history sells! Many communities around the globe thrive as heritage destinations, albeit not always tastefully or respectfully. Truly, well-managed and well marketed, heritage tourism contributes to prosperity.

Up until the 2008 economic downturn, the tourism industry grew by leaps and bounds. In 2006, tourism generated $37.6 billion for New Jersey's economy, up from $24.6 billion in 1996. Seventy-one million visitors came, creating jobs for one out of every nine workers in the state. Atlantic City casinos and the Jersey shore, however, are by far the biggest draws, while a majority of other destinations attracted fewer than 10,000 visitors annually. Smaller attractions lack the infrastructure, staff and visibility to compete in the metropolitan marketplace.

Obviously, we need to strike a balance: Some places and objects are to be valued, not merely for the revenue stream from souvenirs they generate, but for the hard-learned lessons of history they illustrate? So where does New Jersey stand? What do we value?

The difficulties with preserving significant reminders of our past in such a densely populated state are manifold. Under the myth of "open space," myopic bureaucrats acquire more and more land, but lack the interest or ability to maintain significant historic features upon it. They race developers to erase notable landmarks from the scenery. Pointing fingers at everyone other than themselves, they throw money at the crisis du jour to buy off negative headlines. As soon as other concerns divert public attention, demolition by neglect sets in. Demolition by neglect is very much an act of cultural vandalism and economic suicide.

I also encourage you to examine credentials---all too often, it seems to me, those in charge would probably not even visit a historic site unless they were paid to manage one. Placing the State owned and operated Historic Sites in the NJ DEP's Division of Parks & Forestry has had disastrous consequences. On the Federal level, the EPA oversees environmental issues but not parks, forests and historic sites; likewise, we must free our most important heritage destinations---natural as well as historic---from the death grip of both an environmental regulatory agency and the recreational parks bureaucracy. Most importantly, we must place this cultural legacy in the hands of those who are caring and qualified to protect and promote them.

Come meet our Waterloo. The yellow tape, reading "Do Not Cross," appropriately marks this as a crime scene. Tens of millions of dollars in public money invested in tourist infrastructure once made this one of New Jersey's popular cultural destinations. Now it rots away. This is historical suicide at its most sensational.

Thirty years ago, when I began my career as an historical interpreter at Waterloo, the village slept indolently among the hills, awakening only rarely and grudgingly to acknowledge the jab of modernity. The air of authenticity was often chilling and visitors sometimes complained of rude ghosts inhabiting porches and garden paths. The story of Waterloo's remarkable rise and decline through an era of turnpikes, canals and railroads captured the eye of the curious beholder.

According to the "State of Ruins," Waterloo received "a line appropriation of $500,000, plus $400,000 in DEP preservation money, as well as a $405,000 grant from the State Council on the Arts" in the 1986-87 state budget alone. That was almost a quarter century ago. How much public money is invested there? Who knows. Most visitors were blissfully unaware the State of New Jersey owned most of the land and buildings. The state also employed a maintenance crew. Over the years, the Waterloo Foundation embodied one of the most highly powered and apparently successful public/private partnerships in the state. But it all crumbled into ruin. How? Was it a lack of professional oversight? Was it a hopeless mismatch of goals?

Today, not only is the historic fabric of the place passing beyond salvation, but an expensive public investment in restaurants, conference centers, concert facilities, gardens, paths, snack bars and bathrooms is rusting and rotting into oblivion. The DEP complains of its burden and invites private interests to ride to the rescue. Dedicated volunteers and an irrepressible church congregation keep the lamp of life burning. But I ask: Is New Jersey the only state in the Union not to have a professionally managed system of publicly owned Historic Sites?

A picture is worth a thousand words. Caution! Put on your hardhat and visit some of the historic sites owned by the people of New Jersey as administered by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks & Forestry. Included are scenes depicting the barns on the Rutherfurd-Stuyvesant estate and a rare example of an English stone house in Allamuchy Mountain State Park, High Breeze Farm in Wawayanda State Park, Crill's Log Cabin in Stokes State Forest, and the fading village of Waterloo, complete with a latrine dug into an ancient burying ground, where both Native North Americans and Revolutionary War veterans are interred.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Crill’s Log Cabin, Stokes State Forest

A small lot, comprising three-quarters of an acre on the southeast side of Flatbrook Road in Sandyston Township, was added to Stokes State Forest in February 1988. This property harbors an old log house, commonly known as the “Roper Cabin,” being identified with Roswell M. Roper, who purchased the property in 1946. His sons and heirs, Sherwood and Roswell Roper, Jr., sold the old cabin to the NJ DEP in 1988.

Despite the rarity of its survival, relatively intact and unaltered, this primitive log dwelling sits abandoned and largely ignored. In the twenty-one years since the state acquired it, its fieldstone foundation has crumbled and its sill logs rotted. Collapse into its cellar hole appears imminent. Without immediate appreciation and intervention, its survival is doubtful. If nothing else, this report at least documents this architectural landmark for posterity.

The Crill Cabin uniquely tells the story of Stokes State Forest, a recovering wilderness on the crest of the Blue or Kittatinny Mountains. Frederick Crill, an eccentric woodchopper and collier, built this log house in 1861. He transformed the surrounding woodland into earth-blanketed, smoldering domes of charcoal, making fuel to supply a burgeoning iron industry. Across the valley, Highland furnaces and forges worked overtime to meet wartime demands.

According to historical geographer Peter O. Wacker, log structures mark the initial stage of pioneer settlement, being generally “associated with minimal clearance and a general lack of improvements on the property that contained them.”[1] Following a centuries’ old tradition, Crill stacked interlocking squared logs to form his primitive dwelling. He used American chestnut, a wood known not only for its abundance, but also for its resistant qualities. Unfortunately, after a century of blight, dwindling stump sprouts are all that remain of this stately native species, which was once monarch of the surrounding forest. Crill remained on the land for only six years, abandoning his mortgage payments after either exhausting the local wood supply or confronting a postwar recession.

Stone hedges running through the forest tell the next chapter, testifying that even this glaciated mountain crest was formerly dedicated to agriculture. The extension of the Sussex Railroad to neighboring Branchville, begun in 1866 and completed in 1869, made dairy farming an economically viable pursuit. Beginning in 1867, Augustus Grau, a German immigrant from Saxony, who served with Company C, 173rd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, during the Civil War, converted this stump land into pasture and croplands, residing with his wife and son in the small log house along Flatbrook Road. He was severely injured in a fall from his wagon in August 1892 and died on April 9, 1894, aged 66 years. James M. Stoll, of Sandyston Township, took ownership after Grau’s death. Mark Utter resided in the cabin and farmed a portion of the former Grau farm from 1906 to 1924.

Farming persisted until around 1925. Frederick G. Handel, of East Orange, bought the old log house on 13.5 acres, adjacent to Stokes State Forest, in June 1931. The Handels used it for a hunting lodge and summer cabin. His heirs sold to Roswell M. Roper, of East Orange, in 1946. The Ropers added a small wing of log construction to the north gable end of the original house. Roswell Roper’s heirs sold 0.783 acres, situated at the intersection of Skellenger and Flatbrook Roads in Sandyston Township, to the State of New Jersey, DEP, on February 17, 1988, for $38,300.

Log Cabin: Symbol of the American Frontier

Swedish, Finnish, German and Swiss colonists introduced log dwellings to the lower Delaware Valley during the late seventeenth century, making New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania the primary hearth for a type of vernacular construction that would become forever associated with the westward expanding American frontier.[2] Log houses were widely seen on pioneer farmsteads in northwestern New Jersey. When John Iliff settled upon the Wilson Farm at Hall’s Pond (now Lake Iliff, Andover Township, Sussex County) in 1812, he occupied a “log house on the place that had been built by a tenant. There was not a framed house nearer than Andover, Sparta, or Newton.”

Untold Stories

While the great houses of the rich and famous are rightly preserved for public edification, simple dwellings representing the lifestyles of hardworking common folk often fade unnoticed, except in a few instances where company-built workers’ housing survives in association with industrial communities, such as at an ironworks. Crill’s Log Cabin in Stokes State Forest tells a story of the strenuous life and physical hardships, which defined the American Dream for most Americans throughout the nineteenth century, when an unprecedented industrial revolution propelled the United States into the foremost rank of world powers. Except for its decidedly American setting, the story of Frederick Crill reads like an excerpt from the character-rich imagination of Charles Dickens.

Frederick Crill

Frederick Crill was born on March 1, 1815, just across the line in Warren County, probably in Hardwick Township, a son of Joseph and Katie (Card) Crill. He removed to Vernon Township with this parents when four years of age and resided there most of his life. In his younger days, he was employed as a woodchopper and collier along the Vernon range of mountains, residing at “Canistear, Vernon, and other places” during his life. His companions considered him to be quite shrewd and a sort of leader among them. He reportedly lived and died in poor circumstances, despite his shrewdness.

Frederick Crill married three times. He married his first wife in the vicinity of Swartswood, but they separated after living together only two years, both signing a bond, which he authored. She removed to Warren County and remarried. The history of Crill’s second marriage is shrouded in mystery. It was said that he shot his second wife after they lived together but a short time, escaping punishment by claiming it was an accident. He always evaded all questions about the circumstances of this supposed accidental shooting. Shortly thereafter, he married his third wife, Elizabeth, in Paterson.

Frederick Crill was used to handling a gun and was known to shoot partridge. Stephen Smith, who owned the Vernon farm where Crill later resided with his married daughter Eliza, reported that Crill “could shoot well, saw him shoot a crow once flying, as far off as a cannon would shoot.”

Around 1859, he professed conversion at a Methodist revival in Vernon Township, and took to holding meetings at his home and in neighbors’ houses. He received a medical exemption from the draft during the Civil War.

On November 1, 1861, John Wilgus and his wife Eliza sold 54 acres of land and premises, being part of Lot #8 in the Sussex Allotments, situated in Sandyston Township to Frederick Crill, of Lafayette, New Jersey, for $324. Frederick Crill built the log house presently standing on the southeast side of Flatbrook Road in Stokes State Forest, northwest of Lake Ocquittunk.

The log house and premises were sold at Sheriff’s sale on April 1, 1867, to satisfy a debt amounting to $292.16, with interest; the sum secured by a mortgage given by Frederick Crill to John Wilgus in 1861. Augustus Grau, the highest bidder, purchased the property for $400.

Local folk began to notice Crill’s increasingly eccentric behavior. He appeared quite nervous and spasmodic, wearing an overcoat and hat, even in warm weather, and wrapping a tippet or muffler around his neck. He lived almost entirely on molasses, vinegar, sour milk, and bread. Doctors treated him for “dyspepsia, a stomach difficulty,” and some kind of “nervous affliction.” People who knew his family recalled that his mother, Katie Card, had suffered some kind of similar disorder. In 1879, Crill’s daughter, Hannah Crill, testified that he stopped doing any hard labor or working out doors around 1867, corresponding to the date that he lost his Sandyston property. He also reportedly abandoned the practice of religion at this same time, becoming a pettifogger, who tried lawsuits in local courts. He gleaned his legal knowledge from several unbound copies of the laws of New Jersey, which he kept in his room. Members of the bar gave him credit for displaying considerable skills in conducting minor lawsuits.

The Murder of Eliza Babcock

Frederick Crill gained notoriety for the murder of his own 24-year old daughter, Eliza Babcock, on June 5, 1879. Beginning April 1, 1879, Crill’s son-in-law, William Babcock, worked the Stephen Smith farm on Pochuck Mountain, located about two and a half miles from Hamburg, on shares. He had married Frederick Crill’s daughter, Eliza, around 1875. The extended family residing on the Smith farm included William and Eliza Babcock, their two young children, William’s brother, George Babcock, Frederick Crill and his wife Elizabeth.

After the noon meal on June 5, 1879, William Babcock cut some wood and then went to work in a field about 100 yards from his house. When he left, his wife was nursing the baby. Frederick’s wife, Elizabeth Crill, was the only eyewitness to what happened next. She said that Fred Crill entered the house with an old half-bushel measure and placed it in the room. He would later claim that the children were destroying this old measure by cracking nuts on it. His daughter Eliza complained that the house was not the place for it and to return it to the old woodhouse, a small building located about six feet from the kitchen door, which was also used for a summer kitchen. At this, Crill flew into a rage and commenced verbally abusing his daughter. He finally carried the old measure upstairs, where he left it. A short time later, Eliza Babcock went upstairs and brought it down. She then began wringing out a pail of wet clothes.

According to Crill’s own admission, “the trouble came about a half bushel measure which he had taken upstairs and Mrs. Babcock brought it down again; she was talking in her long tongue, and in a passion I shot her.” As Mrs. Crill, who was in the room, passed into a small pantry, just off the kitchen, Crill stepped to a door leading into the sitting room. He took down an old fashioned musket, which hung on two pegs over the door. This musket, which had been converted into a percussion lock, was heavily loaded with No. 3 shot. He then stepped to the center of the room and within a few feet of his daughter, who was stooping down over the wash, with her back partly turned toward him.

Frederick Crill shot Eliza in the temple at close range, while she stood wringing clothes in the kitchen. Crill later told Dr. J. B. Pellet that he did not take aim, saying, “Heavens, no, I just held it out and fired.” The charge entered the right side of her head, creating a triangular wound between the ear and eye, two inches long, blowing out two ounces of brain matter, and leaving powder burns on her face. The shot tore away the exterior portion of her ear, completely shattered her upper jaw, and broke her lower jaw in two places. The hole in the side of her head was reportedly “large enough to insert a hen’s egg.” Her brains oozed out onto the kitchen floor.

Immediately after the shooting, Crill made his way into Hamburg. He stopped to tell Caleb Scott that Eliza was dead and asked Scott to have his “women to go up there and lay her out.” Coe L. Smith, a Hamburg merchant, saw Crill at Smith’s Hotel “and heard him say that he had shot Eliza Babcock and killed her dead and that he wished a thousand times he had done it before.” Charles Woods also heard Crill say, while drinking a glass of liquor at the hotel, “that he had shot Eliza Babcock and was not sorry for it; that he was sorry for the children, but not for her.” Thomas Lawrence, who had known Crill for about 20 years, said that he noticed nothing unusual in Crill’s manner at the hotel that afternoon, but that “he is peculiar at all times.” Lawrence heard him say that “he was taking the gun down to go to the cornfield, after he had it in his hand he saw the half bushel measure out of its place, spoke to his daughter about it, became angered and shot her; he had lived in hell for years.”
Frederick Crill surrendered to Justice Jacob B. Hendershot in front of Smith’s Hotel in Hamburg.

During his trial, Frederick Crill sat beside his counsel, “closely enveloped in his overcoat, with his tippet drawn tightly about his neck and over his mouth.” The reporter for the Sussex Independent noted he was “allowed to keep his hat on and occasionally gets up and moves around within the bar.” The defense pleaded insanity. After deliberating for about seven and a half hours, the jury convicted him of first-degree murder. Crill’s counsel requested a new trial, claiming that one of the jurors was deaf and unable to hear the testimony; the appeal was denied. Governor George McClellan gave him a brief reprieve, but Crill was hung outside the Sussex County Court House in April 1880. At his request, he was buried in the cemetery of the Vernon Methodist Church, beside his son and daughter.

A Word About Stokes State Forest

Governor Edward C. Stokes established our system of state forest parks in 1905 to restore and protect watersheds, potable streams, woodlands and wildlife, while providing public parklands for nature outings, camping and picturesque drives. Fittingly, when the State Board of Forest Park Commissioners purchased 5,432 acres on Kittatinny Mountain, near Culvers Gap, in May 1907, it was named to honor the “Father of the Conservation Movement in New Jersey.”

Over the past century, Stokes State Forest has tripled to nearly 16,000 acres. Between 1933 and 1941, the Civilian Conservation Corps, housed there in two forest camps, undertook extensive reforestation and the construction of Lakes Ocquittunk and Wapalanne (now the NJ School of Conservation), beaches, bathhouses, hiking trails, scenic roads, bridges, benches, parking lots, picnic tables, fireplaces, cabins, and shelters. This rustic park architecture remains unexcelled in its quality of craftsmanship and scenic values.

[1] Peter O. Wacker, The Musconetcong Valley of New Jersey, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1968, 82

[2] Ibid., 76-77

"A perpetual memorial to coming ages"

Several years ago, my wife and I were dining in downtown Freehold. We were astonished when our young waiter, being a local resident and graduated from local schools, knew nothing of the Monmouth Battle Monument on Court Street in Freehold. He was only vaguely aware of the Revolutionary War battle that it commemorated.

Joel Parker of Freehold, Governor of New Jersey in 1863-66 and 1872-75, suggested erection of a commemorative monument during an address delivered June 28, 1877, at ceremonies marking the 99th anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth. The Monmouth Battle Monument Association was formed in October of that same year with Joel Parker, president, and Major James S. Yard, editor of the Monmouth Democrat, secretary. Three representatives were chosen from each township in Monmouth County and county residents subscribed $10,000 to the project. Monument Park, comprising 3-1/4 acres on a knoll near Freehold's main thoroughfare, was donated by the heirs of Daniel S. Schanck, namely, Mary A. Schanck, Theodore W. Morris, Alice C. Schanck, Andrew H. Schanck, Daniel S. Shanck and George E. Schanck. Governor George B. McClellan laid the cornerstone on the date of the battle's 100th anniversary. The State of New Jersey appropriated $10,000 in 1881 and, a year later, Congress appropriated additional funds for its completion.

Architects Emelin T. Littell and Douglas Smythe designed the Monmouth Battle Monument. Maurice J. Power, of the New York National Art Foundry, designed the gun-metal bronze reliefs, which were executed by sculptor James E. Kelly. The monument was made of polished, New England granite at a cost of $36,000. Three granite spurs form an equilateral triangle at the base of the shaft with cannon at each angle. The sides of these spurs are inscribed: "Monmouth Lost Great Britain America," "One Country," and "One People." Above the base is a large circular step displaying twenty medallion portraits of prominent officers who participated in the battle. Above this step, the drum-shaped base of the shaft bears five bas-relief panels, each five feet high and six feet long, executed by James E. Kelly, illustrating incidents from the battle:

1. The Council of War at Hunt's House, Hopewell. This scene takes place on the morning of June 24, 1778, in a low-raftered room with a tall chimney-piece, it being the southeast room of Hunt's House, Hopewell. Present at the Council were Generals Washington, Lee, Greene, Stirling, Lafayette, Knox, Enoch Poor, Baron von Steuben, Anthony Wayne, William Woodford, John Paterson, Charles Scott, Duportail and Colonel Alexander Scammell. Washington, standing on the far side of the table, listens to Lafayette urge an attack upon the British. The table is covered with an out-spread map of New Jersey. Alexander Hamilton is seated to Lafayette's right, following the proposed plan of attack on the map with a pair of pointers. Colonel Daniel Morgan, dressed in hunter's attire, listens intently. General Anthony Wayne and Brigadier General John Cadwallader stand in the background. Generals Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, chief of artillery, are seated to Lafayette's left. Behind them, General Charles Lee looks on with an air of indifference.

2. Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Ramsey's single-handed combat with British dragoons. Colonel Ramsey of the Third Maryland Regiment promised Washington to hold his position with two cannon, manned by Eleazer Oswald and crew, until the Commander-in-Chief had deployed the main army. The British Light Horse charged, but he stuck to his post. The artist shows Ramsey beside Eleazer Oswald's cannon, about to plunge his sword into a British cavalryman whose horse has fallen under him. The Lieutenant-Colonel tried to mount the fallen Dragoon's horse, but was wounded in the attempt. To the right, another British horseman levels his pistol at Ramsey. The retreat of the American advance corps and the old Monmouth County Court House are depicted on the left of the panel. Lt. Colonel Ramsey killed several British dragoons before being captured; he was returned to General Washington the next day by General Tarleton with a note commending his bravery.

3. Washington Rallies His Troops. Washington's approach at a full gallop is greeted by cheers and the waving of hats. In the distance, artillery pushes forward to check the enemy advance.

4. Molly Pitcher serving the gun. This panel depicts Molly, twenty-two years old, with her wounded husband lying at her feet, taking his place at a cannon, rammer in hand. The sponge-bucket with which she had supplied the crew with water lies discarded on the ground. A soldier with is right arm in a sling, carries a cannonball on his left arm. Another is prepared to fire the piece. In the background, the horses of the field-piece are placed between the gun carriage and the caisson to protect the gunpowder. To the right, General Knox on horseback holds a field-glass to his eye. Freehold Meeting-house stands in the distance.

5. The death of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Monckton of the Second Grenadiers Battalion. The artist depicts the death of Lt. Colonel Monckton who led the Royal Grenadiers' charge against Americans under General Anthony Wayne near the Parsonage. Hand-to-hand combat rages over his fallen form. General Wayne on horseback is shown to the left.

The coats of arms of the thirteen original States, festooned with laurel leaves, are mounted above the historical tableaux. "Monmouth" is incised upon a smaller drum near the base. The column consists of three sections, joined with rings of bay leaves, and crowned with a Composite capital and a statue of the Goddess of Liberty. Governor Leon Abbett unveiled the monument on November 13, 1884, before a crowd of twenty thousand people. It stands close to the spot where the Queen's Rangers encountered the vanguard of the American army, comprised of the Ninth Pennsylvania Regiment commanded by Colonel Richard Butler.