Saturday, June 25, 2011

An Interpretive Platform for New Jersey

By Kevin Wright©2011

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

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


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

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

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

The Kittatinny or Blue Mountains

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Kittatinny Valley

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inner Coastal Plain

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

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

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

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

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

LINKAGES: Crossroads of the Revolution.

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


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

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

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

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

Sandy Forelands

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

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

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

LINKAGES: Coastal Heritage Trail; Native American Heritage Trail.

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

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