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!