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Showing posts with label Hunterdon County.
Showing posts with label Hunterdon County.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The star of Bethlehem? An Edison mystery in Hunterdon.

Once again, it was proven to us: travel around North Jersey and you're bound to find something related to Thomas Edison.

This time, it came when we made a left turn off Route 57 West, passing Earle Eckel's Autogiro Port on our way southward to points unknown. After an enlightening stop in Asbury (more to come on that soon), we found ourselves driving on an undulating road through beautiful farmland. We weren't quite sure where we were, except that we'd left Warren County.

The unusual two-story springhouse next to the sign
that started our mystery.
And then, there it was: a Hunterdon County historic marker. Titled "TOWER HILL FARM," it continued, "Dating back to the 1840s, this farm was purchased for Thomas Edison's storekeeper, Frederick Devonald, in 1932 and remained in the family until 1983. Unusual springhouse consists of two levels."

Devonald was a name I hadn't come across in my reading on Edison's life and career, leading me to believe that he wasn't one of the Muckers, the tight-knit group who worked closely with the Old Man on his experiments. He's not referenced in two of the latest and most comprehensive Edison biographies, nor does Mucker Francis Jehl mention him in his Menlo Park Reminiscences. Who was this mystery man?

Considering that Edison's Stewartsville Portland cement plant is a 12 mile drive away from Tower Hill, I wondered if he'd been one of the many employees who'd never worked in either Menlo Park or West Orange. And who had purchased the land for Devonald a year after Edison's death? Was the gift connected to his work service at all, or was I just reading too much into a sign author's attempt at economical writing?

Back at Hidden New Jersey HQ, we set ourselves to finding out. Checking first with Hunterdon County Parks and Recreation, we discovered that in addition to the stone springhouse we'd seen, the property hosted a farmhouse that had been built in 1848. Interestingly, the Parks and Rec website said that other Devonalds than Fred -- Ira and Margaret -- bought the farm in 1932 as a family weekend retreat, with three of them eventually making it their full time 七乐彩彩票app下载. Records of the 1920 census list Ira and Margaret as two of the eight children being raised by Fred and his wife Julia in Orange.

There went my supposition that Edison had bought the property for Devonald, but what about Fred's job? His family being from Orange made it doubtful that he worked at the Stewartsville cement plant. Was he, in fact, one of the keepers of the famous storeroom in the Building 5 machine shop at the West Orange lab? The wondrous room that Edison famously claimed to have everything from the hide of a rhinoceros to the eye of a United States Senator, all in order to speed the process of invention?

As it turns out, it's entirely possible. A search of the online archives of Rutgers'  project reveals more than 70 documents referencing or signed by Devonald, mostly related to the procurement of supplies for the storeroom. One even went directly to Edison at his Ogdensburg iron mines, asking for approval to purchase chemicals. (Edison asked for prices and said he'd see Devonald to discuss.) Another source noted that Fred once turned to Julia, herself an Edison employee, to make a motion picture screen.

And that leads us to Fred's brief star turn. While not a key employee, he was accorded a role in the development of one of Edison's most noteworthy inventions -- literally. A small room on the second floor of the West Orange labs was, in effect, the world's first motion picture studio, and the Edison movie making team needed animated subjects to test the kinetoscope technology. Hams like Mucker Fred Ott were more than happy to fake a for the cameras, and it seems that Devonald was open to participating, too. You have to wonder if he's one of the men in the brief dance scene in film. We may never know which one of the subjects he was, and he certainly didn't go on to screen stardom. But it does go to show: in the right work environment, you can have a lot of fun if you show a little personality.



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Black Gold, Texas Tea: the hidden corporate headquarters in Flemington

For many years, New Jersey had the reputation of being the 七乐彩彩票app下载 for corporate headquarters. It seemed that if you were a Fortune 500 company, you either located your CEO here or had a major installation somewhere in the state. Some of them moved here from more expensive digs in New York City, finding good transportation routes and pleasant suburbs to attract employees. In any case, it wasn't hard to pick out the corporate HQs dotted along our highways, with their sprawling lawns and low-slung buildings. 

Curiously, as I discovered recently, one of the largest and most famous among them had much more modest digs on a small lot in Flemington. You might know that corporation as ExxonMobil. Back then, it was Standard Oil of New Jersey.

To say that the history of Standard Oil is complicated is a vast understatement, and I couldn't hope to explain it all in a readable blog post. For the purposes of today's story, what you really need to know is that at one point in the 1930s, the corporation's headquarters technically was a lawyer七乐彩彩票app下载's safe on Main Street in the Hunterdon County seat. John D. Rockefeller's oil behemoth was broken up in a 1911 Supreme Court antitrust ruling, with Standard Oil of New Jersey (or Jersey Standard) being the largest of the resulting "baby Standards." Operating refineries at Bayonne and Linden, it continued to evolve after the mandated breakup, making several acquisitions and eventually becoming the world's largest oil producer.     

Flemington has never been known to be a big oil town, nor has there ever seemed to be a potential for anyone to strike black gold somewhere off Route 31. And, in fact, there doesn't seem to have ever been a Standard Oil office anywhere in town, except maybe for a desk and chair at a filling station. This was not a traditional arrangement by any means.

As you might have already guessed, the company's reasons were purely economic. In one word, taxes. New Jersey law at the time stated that a company was headquartered where its incorporation papers were housed. By moving its headquarters from Linden to Flemington in 1937, Standard Oil was able to shave its tax bill by 80 percent. The company's operations continued without missing a beat.

Exxon corporate histories say nothing about this move to the heart of New Jersey's farm country七乐彩彩票登录, though I guess it's not surprising. The fact that the company had previously moved its headquarters to Linden from Newark to save a half-million dollar tax payment leads me to believe that the stay in Flemington was a relatively brief one, lasting only until a more attractive tax haven could be identified.

Despite Standard Oil's penchant for bending the rules, it's likely that its new neighbors in Hunterdon County wouldn't have minded a bit that the company had done this bit of corporate legerdemain, if they even knew the move had occurred. The boost in revenue to the county meant their own tax bills would decrease. While no new jobs were created, nor was there any additional burden placed on local roads and utilities. Maybe they hadn't struck oil, but who ever complained about lower taxes?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Eggs came first in Flemington (at least that's what we figure)

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher gave me a project that opened my eyes to the diversity of our state. Everyone in our class had to write a report about a randomly-assigned county in New Jersey and present it to our fellow students. With 21 kids in the class, we were all guaranteed to learn about areas of the state we knew little of.

I got Hunterdon. Hunter-who? Clear across the state from my Union County 七乐彩彩票app下载, I'd never heard of it. Dutifully, I sent a letter to the courthouse in Flemington, wondering what this far-off place had in store for me.

A few weeks later, I got a big manila envelope from the Hunterdon County clerk, loaded with pamphlets chock-full of facts and figures. While some of my classmates had gotten pretty tourist brochures featuring shore locations or historic sites in their assigned counties, the data-laden Hunterdon literature made one thing very clear: the county was where food comes from. And it was big business.

I was reminded of this recently as Ivan and I wandered just a block off Main Street in Flemington and came upon an office building labeled "Old Egg Auction Prestigious Offices." With a liberal number of rooster statues strewn about, the building clearly had been repurposed after an industrial past.

A county historic marker told the tale: "FLEMINGTON EGG AUCTION. The country七乐彩彩票登录's first, and, at one time, the largest cooperative egg auction operated here from 1932 until the death of the egg business in the 1960s."

The "first and largest" fit perfectly with my childhood impression of Hunterdon County, but what was this about the death of the egg business? Isn't that just a little dramatic? I mean, I'd had a Taylor ham, egg and cheese that morning for breakfast. Obviously, this warranted a bit more research once we got back to Hidden New Jersey headquarters.

Our usual sources gave but a hint of information. Published a few years after the auction's founding, the Flemington chapter of The WPA Guide to 1930s New Jersey noted that the auction had started in 1930 to ensure the county's poultry farmers could attract better prices for their wares than they presumably could by seeking buyers independently. More research revealed that the auction had operated from the basement of one of the downtown stores before moving to a Park Avenue factory that had once housed the Empire Glass 七乐彩彩票app下载. Not long afterward, the Flemington Egg Auction expanded to live chickens and other livestock, eventually becoming a model for other agricultural cooperative auctions around the country七乐彩彩票登录.

That was just the start. These days, the big Mid-Atlantic chicken states are Delaware and Maryland, but poultry was big business for New Jersey in the early- and mid-20th century. More than 1200 egg and livestock producers participated in the Flemington Auction in the late 1940s, and Hunterdon County wasn't even the largest poultry producer in the state. By 1956, sales of meat chickens and eggs accounted for nearly a third of all farm cash receipts, and we were fifth among all states in egg production. The Egg Auction alone was pulling in about $2 million a year.

Not long afterward, the tide turned, as oversupply and grain prices led egg producers out of the marketplace. Undoubtedly, improved transportation systems made it easier for lower-cost southern factory farms to ship fresh product to New Jersey at competitive prices, too. Maybe the egg business didn't die, but its New Jersey division wasn't doing very well. Farmers around the state, Hunterdon included, were discovering their land was worth more to developers than it would ever be if they continued producing eggs. Starved by a lack of suppliers, the Flemington Auction closed in 1976.

Its property festooned with painted rooster statues, the Old Egg Auction building got us thinking about evolution -- not just the fate of the egg industry, but the old chicken-and-egg question. In Flemington, the egg was clearly sold at the auction before chickens ever came before the gavel. Will it ever come back to roost? That's a debate for another day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Finding the monoliths of Changewater

The opening day of fishing season in New Jersey was a great day to take a good wander around the country七乐彩彩票登录side, and I found myself once again traipsing through Warren County, partially on Route 46, some on Route 31 and finally on Route 57. This time I was off to find a concrete house built by an employee of Edison's Portland cement company, and I actually found it, though not without a bit of discovery along the way.

I mention fishing season because it seemed I couldn't go very far without seeing anglers casting their luck for the first time in 2015. Both the Pequest and the Musconetcong Rivers were popular, with clutches of waders-wearing fishermen standing midstream or on the banks.

After taking a turn off Route 57 south of Port Colden, I found myself on Changewater Road, driving along fields, past a few McMansion enclaves and finally to the small community of Changewater. The road bends and quickly descends to the level of the Musconetcong River, which splits into upper and lower branches there, giving the hamlet its name.

An old one-lane bridge crosses the river at that point, and when I arrived, a few vehicles were parked in a small gravel-covered lot on the Warren County side. Yup -- more anglers capitalizing on a nice day for fishing. However, that's not why I stopped.

I stopped for the monoliths.

A couple of dark old cut-stone columns stood on either side of the river, and when I got out of the car to check them out, I noticed they lined up with stone structures farther up the hills on either side of the road. If you drew a straight line along the top of the several columns, you could imagine train tracks stretching across what's basically a ravine. It put me in the mind of the better known Paulinskill Viaduct, which, though made from cast concrete rather than quarried stone, is similar in that it just kind of jumps up on you when you least expect it, in a seemingly unspoiled environment.

The trestle, back in the day.
I'd found the remains of the Changewater Trestle, which predates the Paulinskill Viaduct by nearly 50 years. The Changewater was part of John Blair's Warren Railroad, which connected the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western's (DL&W) terminal point on the Delaware River with the Hampton station of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, primarily to get coal from Pennsylvania to the New York markets. (We briefly covered the technical challenges of building the Warren in an earlier Hidden New Jersey story on another discovery behind Shippen Manor.)

As it seems with so many other discoveries we make, the age of the trestle depends on who you ask. Even the twin markers on the Hunterdon County side disagree -- an older sign saying the railroad ran there in 1856 while the newer placard says 1862. Both agree, however, that the railroad, owned by the DL&W by that point, stopped running there by 1960. The rails were removed, presumably along with the track bed, at that point. I'd have to find an old railroad map to be sure, but I'd venture to guess that this stretch was connected with the length that once ran behind Shippen Manor, which was pretty much rendered secondary, and less profitable, when the Paulinskill Viaduct shortened the route to Scranton.

On its own, Changewater has a neat little story once you do a little digging. Originally 七乐彩彩票app下载 to a colonial-era iron furnace, it was apparently a productive hamlet during the 19th century. The Washington Township website notes that at various points, the village had hosted a snuff factory, a flour mill, distillery, tannery and a picture frame factory, as well as a railroad station. Locals could grab the train there until passenger service ended in 1926.

Nowadays, Changewater still has a post office, but the community is mostly residential in nature, offering the type of village living many think is impossible to find in New Jersey. Whether the fishing is any good on that stretch of the Musconetcong, I couldn't tell you, but I'd venture there are a lot worse places to be on a sunny spring morning.

And as for that concrete house I mentioned? That's a story for another day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Loyal to a fault: finding conflict in Hunterdon

In New Jersey, as in the other 12 original states, there are plenty of places and things that use the word patriot in their names. Businesses, sports teams, streets, grammar 七乐彩彩票平台s -- I'll bet you can easily come up with something in your town that evokes the spirit of the Revolutionary War.

offers adoptable cats fit for a queen). In New Jersey, where the battle for independence was also a civil war, it's virtually, if not totally impossible to find evidence of those who didn't at least remain neutral, let alone join the patriot cause, and for good reason. Revolutionaries made life exceedingly hard for many with sympathies for the British cause, seizing their property, jailing many and even resorting to tarring and feathering as a device of humiliation. Some loyalists escaped to British-held New York until the end of the war, while others fled north to the Canadian provinces or to England. When you don't stick around, your descendants don't get much of a chance to tell your story.

We've roamed thousands of miles around the state without running into a place that labels itself as a loyalist hot spot. Now we've found one, awaiting restoration next to a new middle 七乐彩彩票平台 on the outskirts of Clinton. It was 七乐彩彩票app下载 to a family whose men not only sided with the British, but actively fought their neighbors to maintain the status quo.

The heavy-timbered wattle-and-daub Vought House was built in 1759 by Christoffel (Stoffel) Vought on a 258 acre farmstead in what was then Lebanon Township. Of German heritage, the family ancestors were part of the exodus from the Palatinate to the New World, traveling first to New York and then to western New Jersey. By the early 1770s, Stoffel had married, established a strong reputation in his community and had transferred ownership of his land and 七乐彩彩票app下载 to his son John.

As the Revolution started in 1775, New Jersey's population was substantially loyalist or ambivalent about the idea of independence from Great Britain. It wasn't until the winter of 1776-77 that the state's residents' sympathies began to turn, prompted by the looting, pillaging and physical attacks of British and Hessian troops on civilians. The Voughts, however, started making their mark months earlier, when John reportedly convinced several local men to refuse to serve in the local militia.

While the Continental Congress was debating independence 60 miles away in Philadelphia in June 1776, the British were preparing to invade New York City, perhaps a sign to the Voughts that their opportunity had come. Not content to simply affirm his loyalty to Great Britain, John turned violent, leading a band of loyalists in a raid of militia Captain Thomas Jones' tavern, violently setting on the officer, threatening his young family and looting the bar. By the time John Witherspoon and the rest of the New Jersey delegation were signing the Declaration of Independence, both John and Stoffel Vought were in the Hunterdon County jail. In fact, it's quite possible they were there when the Declaration was read on the nearby courthouse steps.

Their time behind bars, however, was brief, and six months later, as the British pursued the Continental troops across New Jersey, the Voughts saw another opportunity. As some of their fellow New Jerseyans were actively declaring allegiance to the crown in hopes of keeping their property and avoiding personal injury at the hands of the invading troops, John and Stoffel gathered allies and headed east toward New Brunswick to enlist with the New Jersey Volunteers loyalist troops.

This was the start of the Voughts' active attempts to quell the fight for liberty, which ultimately cost them their property, including the house and farmland auctioned in the spring of 1779. John Vought eventually rose to the rank of captain in the Volunteers, an honor that did him and his family little good once the war was over and the British left the newly-formed United States. Finding themselves 七乐彩彩票app下载less at the close of the war and their Lebanon Township neighbors unwelcoming to their potential return, they settled in Nova Scotia, where much rockier and less arable land made farming difficult. They finally returned to the U.S. in 1792, taking up residence on land they'd long held in New York State.

After being confiscated from the Voughts and sold, the farmstead stayed largely agricultural well into the twentieth century. The house was last occupied by a renter in 2003, until the Clinton Board of Education acquired the property for the construction of a new 七乐彩彩票平台. The impending construction attracted the attention of historians and landed the property on Preservation New Jersey's of the state's 10 most endangered historic sites, based in part on its role in 18th century events and unique decorative ceiling plaster, including an intriguing serpent design.

Fortunately, concerned residents created the non-profit organization to purchase the house with an eye toward restoration and interpretation to tell New Jersey's complex Loyalist story. The timeline appears long, as with most grassroots preservation projects, but the group has already held several events, including public participation archaeology digs to broaden interest in the effort. I'm personally waiting for a chance to get inside and see the plasterwork, including the serpent featured on the sign advertising the cause in front of the house.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tomato hangover: 80 varieties at Rutgers' Snyder Farm

Wait a minute, Bunol, Spain. You may have, but you don't have the Great Tomato Tasting. Both happen on the last Wednesday in August, but we New Jerseyans celebrate our tomatoes by sampling their deliciousness, rather than letting them get overripe and then throwing them at each other in some sort of wacky bacchanalia.

Well, some of us do, anyway. For several years I've been meaning to head to Pittstown, where Rutgers and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension host the annual open house and tomato tasting at the Snyder Farm Research and Extension Farm.

This year I finally made it, and if it's possible to overdose on tomatoes, I think I did.

Before I get into that, however, a few words about the farm itself. Originally, the 390 acre property was owned by Cliff and Melda Snyder, well-known in the community for their embrace of the science of agriculture and the technology that proved to help farmers increase yield. Cliff was the longtime president of the Hunterdon County Board of Agriculture, while Melda served both there and was director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau. Both welcomed their colleagues to the farm to learn more about advances in agricultural science.

When Melda died in 1988 (Cliff had predeceased her 20 years earlier), she bequeathed the farm to Rutgers, which has transformed it into a research facility to foster sustainable agriculture. In other words, while the farm's staff works to develop crop plants to keep New Jersey farms profitable, there's a strong emphasis on environmental responsibility and educating the public.

The farm itself is a bit off the beaten track -- take Route 78 to Clinton, then some country七乐彩彩票登录 roads that bring you into Pittstown and beyond, passing a good amount of working acreage along the way. Rather than a broad expanse of one or two crops, the Snyder farm has a wide variety -- corn in one area, small orchards of apples and peaches in another, as well as other crops. It's kind of like a gardening hobbyist's fantasy, except that research scientists are closely controlling and monitoring the conditions.

And then, of course, there are the tomatoes -- about 80 different varieties, served up in bite-sized chunks for sampling. Whether you're a fan of grape tomatoes, beefsteak, plum tomatoes, sauce tomatoes, you name it and it's there. Rather than try to explain, I'll give you a look at just a few of the offerings:

The grape tomatoes were very popular and came in many
different colors.

No, that's not a small watermelon.
It's a grape tomato called Lucky Tiger.

Pear tomatoes. They had red ones, too, but these were more fun.
Imagine the sauce from this one!


The Large Tomato table, where volunteers cored
the fruit before cutting it into sample chunks. 
I lost count of my samples somewhere around 40 and felt a sudden need for something, well, NOT tomato. Fortunately several other tables were offering alternatives, including exactly what I needed: basil. Mixed with small bits of tomato, mozzarella and a dash of olive oil (we're in New Jersey, after all), it was the perfect palate cleanser. But then there were the peaches and the melon and the apples and the honey and even hazelnuts. The only thing missing was blueberries, whose season has already passed. A few bushes were still bearing fruit in the display garden, but I resisted the urge to pluck a couple of berries and run.

Needing a break from noshing on healthy food, I jumped on a hay wagon for a narrated tour of the research fields. A volunteer Rutgers Master Gardener shared insights on the studies being done at the farm: peach trees that grow more vertically to increase the number of trees that can be planted on a tract, the relative effectiveness of various fertilizers on corn (chicken guano seems pretty helpful, whole milk not so much), halting the impact of basil downy mildew on one of my favorite herbs. And in one very special area, researchers are monitoring the progress of their efforts to recreate the Rutgers tomato originally hybridized and introduced by the 七乐彩彩票平台 in 1934.

As I marveled at the number of apples and peaches hanging tantalizingly from the trees, our guide noted that the farm donates about 30 tons of harvested fruit and vegetables to food banks every year. Some fruit, she admitted, was left beyond the electrified fence to bribe deer to stay out of the farm and away from the plants.

I may have gone for the tomatoes, but I left feeling even prouder of our state's flagship university and its agricultural extension program. The folks at the Snyder farm are living up to the example of the folks who donated the land, finding new and more responsible ways for Garden State farmers to provide us with healthy, abundant produce. And, well, I ate enough fruit and vegetables to make my parents beam with pride.

But I have to admit: on the way 七乐彩彩票app下载, I stopped for some mutz and focaccia. There's only so much tomato I can eat without bread and cheese.

(Check Rutgers' New Jersey Agricultural Extension Station for more information on the 2015 event.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Waiting out a rarity: the Neotropic cormorant in Clinton

It's been a while since Ivan and I have gone for a good "chase" bird, making a trip to see a species that rarely, if ever, shows up in New Jersey. Probably the most recent one was the Snowy owl that showed up on Sandy Hook last November, starting a season of almost commonplace sightings of the usually-rare visitor. And, of course, the awful weather this winter was enough to discourage the most ardent birder from striking out to find unique species.

Spring, however, has brought more reliable weather and an end to hibernation. In fact, we were enjoying an unusually warm series of days that seemed to enliven both nature and our fellow New Jerseyans. It was in that spirit that we heard about a Neotropic cormorant that was visiting Clinton.

To put it succinctly, this guy is way out of his usual range. Neotropics are usually found closer to the Gulf of Mexico, in Texas or perhaps south of the border. Instead, for reasons unknown, this fella made a right turn somewhere and made it to a scenic town on the South Branch of the Raritan River. Perhaps he wanted to get a look at Clinton's picturesque and historic red mill, which shows up on many of the state tourist brochures. Regardless of his intent, he appears to represent the first recorded sighting of his species in the Garden State.

The discovery of "Neo," as some have been calling him, highlights the wisdom of birding your local patch. Though the reservoir in Spruce Run Recreation Area is within easy flying range, the bird had chosen a nightly roost at a pond in Demott Park, just off Route 78 near a Holiday Inn on the edge of town. A few days after the initial sighting, other birders reported seeing Neo downtown, sightseeing near the mill. A favorite spot for human fishing enthusiasts, that part of the river must be a good place for the corm to grab a meal, too.

The Neotropic cormorant at Clinton (many thanks
 to Lisa Fanning, , for use of the
photo).
When we first got to town Sunday morning, both sites were discouragingly free of birders. The river at the mill site was overrun with waders-clad men, not exactly an ideal situation for a cormorant. With directions from some friendly firefighters, we made our way to Demott Park, but Neo wasn't there, either. We saw lots of geese and the usual Mallards, but not the bird we were looking for. Once or twice, a Double-crested cormorant flew high overhead, momentarily getting our hopes up. After about an hour, we cut our losses and headed to Spruce Run, figuring we'd return to Clinton if time allowed. Perhaps we could come back to catch a glimpse of Neo as he settled in for the night.

Returning around 4 p.m., we were among the first birders to arrive for what has become a nightly vigil at the pond. Others streamed in as the sun started sinking in the sky, many having made lengthy detours from excursions to birding hotspots around the state. We stayed alert to the possibility that Neo would make a fly-by or perhaps perch in the tree in the center of the pond, but mostly we traded notes on the other species we'd seen during the day and the latest developments at our favorite birding spots.

We noticed something else as we waited, too: this local patch yields a nice variety of waterfowl, with Gadwall, Green-winged teal and Bufflehead joining the usual Mallards and Canada geese. I later discovered the site is on one of the and attracts even more ducks during the winter, as long as the pond doesn't freeze. As if to prove why a cormorant would find the park so attractive, a few fish sallied from the water.

As the glare of the setting sun faded to a glow behind the hills, tension began to build. Would Neo come to roost for the night before it became too dark to see him clearly? We'd all been very patient, but the zero hour was quickly approaching. Was it possible that he'd moved on to another location, leaving birders to hope he'd be re-spotted wherever he'd chosen for his new grounds?

And then... the cormorant came flying in, directly over our heads and gliding in a broad curve to approach his roosting tree in the center of the pond. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was making a grand entrance for our benefit. After taking a quick look to confirm the identification, birders picked themselves and their spotting scopes up and moved 90 degrees around the water's edge to get a better-lit view. I lagged behind, taking a longer look to seal the image in my mind before I changed positions.

To me, the size and shape of the bird proved this wasn't a Double-crested or Great cormorant, the two species that normally spend time in New Jersey. The Clinton visitor's tail was too long, his body too slim to be either of those in my eyes. And his feathers have a lovely chocolate tint, indicating youth. You might remember a previous post on cormorants, in which I compared one of their typical poses to that of Bela Lugosi. Well, if Lugosi's Dracula had had a grandchild, the Neotropical cormorant would be it.

Just as I was getting my view reset on him, the bird took flight, giving us all the chance to view his wingspan and another perspective of his comparatively dainty structure. Setting down again, the bird took to preening and occasionally extended his wings in the Dracula pose. The only thing we didn't get to see was his fishing maneuver, but he was probably full from wherever he'd spent the day, swimming and eating.

The origin of the Neo and his reasons for coming to New Jersey are already being debated by those who study birds for a living. Regardless of how he got here, I'm glad to have had the opportunity to see him here in the Garden State.



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gone fission: Discovering uranium near the D&R Canal

Over the years, we've found a lot of old mines in our travels around the state, so much so that they barely seem worthy of mention anymore. Iron, zinc and copper, especially in the northwestern portion of the state, were fairly commonly found and mined extensively until cheaper sources were found in the Midwest.

But uranium? That was a new one on me.

Ivan and I were departing Bulls Island after a warbler-finding excursion the other day when he spied a sign on the opposite side of Route 29 from the park entrance. "Uranium ore," it said. "Found here in 1956 near Raven Rock. Mining company formed by prospectors responding to the cold war craze was never commercially viable."

We've come to expect that two sentences on a Hunterdon County historical marker will lead to a much more involved story (see Liver Eating Johnson), and it appears that the uranium mention follows suit. According to a 1956 United Press story, brothers Alvin and Vernon Gatling claimed to have found a rich supply of the mineral element near Route 29, stating that samples from their 400 acre claim contained at least 2 percent and as high as 7 percent raw uranium. Their lawyer七乐彩彩票app下载, a former federal prosecutor, said that the brothers were licensed by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, which had confirmed the uranium content.

So... if that's the case, what happened to the mine? Why is the historical marker the only sign of anything to do with uranium? Had locals protested the inevitable scarring of the beautiful landscape? Did the brothers dissolve their business after a dispute? And why, when I checked all my usual sources, could I find no mention of uranium mining in New Jersey, the Gatling brothers, or, for the most part, Raven Rock?

I had to do a bit of digging to get the answer, and it turns out that timing worked in my favor. Local historian Bill Saja tells the story in the recently published anthology Stories from Raven Rock New Jersey.

Actually, the first sign I found that something was off was the description of the Gatlings in the newspaper story, in which Vernon claimed they were "graduates of the New York Public Library 七乐彩彩票平台 of geology" and had spent six months working in Colorado uranium mines. I'm obviously a big fan of personal study, but when radioactive elements are concerned, I'll stick with the traditionally trained scientists, thank you. Saja's account led more credence to the gut feeling that things were not completely legit with the Gatlings. They were college educated --Vernon a law student and Alvin having two years undergraduate study -- but not in the sciences. Rather, they seemed to want to cash in on the uranium craze that had hit the U.S. with the advent of nuclear fission as a clean, viable power source.

It all started when the brothers stopped by the old Raven Rock stone quarry and asked its owner, Anton Schuck, if they could check it out with their Geiger counter. Figuring they were just harmlessly exploring as so many other hobbyists were at the time, he gave them permission to go on the property. When they came back a few months later to ask if they could do some test borings, he allowed them in again. He even let them use his garage to store the results, which they said indicated the property held little uranium.

Thing was, they weren't entirely truthful with Schuck, which he discovered when they returned to the quarry and began drilling an access shaft without his permission. The brothers had been busy during the intervening weeks, filing a lease for the property at the Hunterdon County courthouse. Despite the fact they hadn't gotten Schuck's signature or permission to use the land, they felt they had standing, based, probably, on their find.

While Schuck fought to get the aspiring miners off his property, Raven Rock and its environs became the center of attention for the media and curiosity seekers. The aspiring tycoons were busy selling stock in the Gatling Brothers Mining and Development 七乐彩彩票app下载, based on the growing estimation of the value of the uranium they'd extract. Some of their contractors and attorneys agreed to take payment in the form of equity; family and friends were eager to buy in at 25 cents per share. Apparently the brothers themselves were as taken in by their dreams as their other investors were, spending their anticipated riches before seeing any marketable product from the mine.

Inevitably, the entire situation ended up in the courts for a variety of reasons, the Gatlings' claim on Schuck's land being just one. With limited funds and no income from the mine, the brothers simply couldn't pay their bills, leading to accusations they were intentionally writing bad checks. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating them for improperly issuing stock to investors. And several lawyer七乐彩彩票app下载s refused to represent them, claiming that the brothers wouldn't listen to sound counsel. Meanwhile, the mine site lay fallow, nature taking back what man had disturbed.

The whole thing was finished for good in 1963, after the Gatlings filed a suit against Schuck for damages and mineral rights. As a compromise, the brothers agreed to secure an expert who could confirm the presence of valuable uranium on the land, but they never followed through. In his judgement to dismiss the case with prejudice against the brothers, the presiding judge said, "this matter has been adjourned six times, four times at the request of counsel of the plaintiffs, and two times when counsel for the plaintiffs did not appear." I'd say the courts saw the whole thing as a nuisance instigated by two very misguided men.

It's that lack of sense that makes it all so puzzling. The brothers clearly weren't con men: they ended up just as damaged as the people who'd invested time and treasure in their scheme. Saja raises a possible clue in his account: less than a month before the brothers filed incorporation papers for their mining venture, Alvin had been released from a six-week stay at Marlboro State Psychiatric Hospital. Whether Alvin's mental state played a role in their poor business decisions or not is up for conjecture. From what I can gather, they'd formed an enterprise in search of a mine, and the Raven Rock quarry appeared as good a place as any.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Back to the same ol' 七乐彩彩票平台 in Stockton

Stockton's downtown is a step back in time, with plenty of buildings dating back well over a hundred years in age. Many have been repurposed or may have slightly adjusted their use over the years, but overall, quaint is a good way to describe the community's public spaces. I guess we shouldn't have been surprised, then, by the 七乐彩彩票平台house we happened upon as we drove down South Main Street. It's historic.

In fact, it's so historic that it's (stay with me here) the state's oldest continually-operating public 七乐彩彩票平台 on its original site. The 'oldest' designation gets a little complicated because while the 七乐彩彩票平台 has been running as an educational entity since 1832, the current building is a replacement for the original one-room 七乐彩彩票平台house. That's not to say that the current building is any spring chicken: it was built in 1873, using materials salvaged from the first one.

Look at the building from the 七乐彩彩票平台's parking lot and small playground, and with a smidgen of imagination, you're easily transported into a Norman Rockwell painting. You can just see the 七乐彩彩票平台 teacher leaning out of the doorway, urging the children back into class. The Stockton Borough School harks back to the days when communities invested in buildings to educate a few dozen children because the next nearest 七乐彩彩票平台 was just too far away, but according to the 七乐彩彩票平台 website, it accommodated up to 120 students when it first opened. It's hard to tell, but the building was actually enlarged with another room in 1884 to accommodate further growth in the student population.

With time and progress bringing evolving building codes, many towns would have shut down the building and folded the classes into regional 七乐彩彩票平台s years ago. Stockton, however, has done the proper renovations and retrofits to the existing structure to ensure it's up to code and meets accessibility requirements. Today, four classroom teachers educate students from Kindergarten to sixth grade, and the existing building has been partitioned to accommodate teaching space as well as offices and other facilities. And the kids can feel justifiably proud that their 七乐彩彩票平台 is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

A quick note about the 1832 building: it was octagonal, and you have to wonder why. Were the young students of Stockton so unruly that the teacher needed that many corners to make them sit in?


Friday, June 29, 2012

Striker to the line! Base ball with the Elizabeth Resolutes

Visit any good-sized county park on a summer Saturday, and you're bound to see a game or two of baseball on the sandlot diamonds. If you're really lucky, you'll run into one that makes you wonder if you've just stepped onto the Field of Dreams.

Well... maybe your thoughts will land a little earlier in history than that, to about 150 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped by Rahway River Park in Rahway to watch a game between the 七乐彩彩票app下载 team and the visiting Brooklyn Atlantics. Unlike the other teams playing nearby, these gentlemen were dressed in baggy uniforms and high-legged stirrups. They play a game called 'base ball' (that space between the syllables makes all the difference), following rules that differ from those most of us grew up with.

The first thing that struck me a little odd was the lineup. I got there in time to hear the Resolutes' manager reel off the batting order to his team.  "Batting fourth... batting fifth..." Okay, nothing unusual there. "Batting eighth... batting ninth... batting tenth... batting eleventh..." Huh? No designated hitter here, but apparently more players approach the plate than actually play defense at any given time.

Second, equipment is very basic: a bat, a ball, 七乐彩彩票app下载 plate and three bases. Players don't use gloves for batting or fielding, and the catcher wears no protective mask or chest padding. The top hat and vest-wearing umpire had a cane, but I never figured out why.

Third, the game is fast paced, especially when judged against today's professional matches. Pitchers throw to the plate virtually as soon as they receive the ball from the catcher, and there's no delay in returning the ball to the pitcher after a strike is called. If the umpire detects any excess time being taken, he'll hurry the game along with a call of "play ball!" This definitely is not the kind of sport where you can look away and expect not to miss anything.

Oh, and the batter? He's a striker, and he's called to bat with the exhortation, "Striker to the line!"

So what's the deal with these guys, and why the unusual club name?

The 21st century Elizabeth Resolutes are members of the Vintage Base Ball Association and honor a team of the same name that played in New Jersey between 1866 and 1878. Starting as amateurs, the 19th century team won the state championship in 1870 and decided to turn pro in 1872, becoming New Jersey's only participant in the national Association of Professional Base Ball Players. Apparently, though, the team's amateur days were their most successful, and they disbanded after just a few years of professional play.

Today's Resolutes are just one of many base ball teams competing on the East Coast, joining the  as New Jersey's two vintage clubs. Besides playing matches in local parks, they add sporting flavor to events that commemorate America's past, like Civil War reenactments and history festivals around the region. Check the Resolutes  for upcoming games -- they're definitely worth checking out.

Friday, June 22, 2012

South Branch WMA: a very birdy grassland walk (without the ticks)

Wrong turns uncover a lot of great surprises for us Hidden New Jersey nuts. I guess that's not surprising, as you don't go places you don't usually visit. (I'm feeling a lot like Yogi Berra right about now.)

It was a wrong turn that helped us discover a beautiful grassland birding spot in Hunterdon and Somerset Counties a couple of weekends ago. I won't bore you with the logistical details, but it involved taking 287 in the wrong direction to get to 78 and then wandering around looking for an appropriate ATM. The net was that after driving through some classic Central Jersey former farmland/present subdivision terrain, we found ourselves in open fields, some covered with crops, others laying fallow.

Grassland is in woefully short supply in New Jersey. With so many families getting out of agriculture over the past few decades, a great deal of pasture has been converted to residential use. The farms that do remain are often pushing to get the greatest productivity possible from their acreage, meaning that fewer fields lay fallow to recover after a planting year. Translated to bird talk, there's less room for grassland species to nest and feed, putting them in danger. A large percentage of the birds on the lists of state endangered and threatened species are those who count on this type of habitat.

Always on the lookout for good habitat, we stopped a few times to check for birdage, particularly the grassland species Ivan needs for his year list. Then we came upon a brown plank sign labeling the entrance to the . This was a new one for both of us, and if the fields we'd just past were any indication of the quality of its habitat, we needed to check it out.

A paved road leads off the road but is blocked by a padlocked gate fifty yards or so in. We parked the car nearby and walked around the gate posts to explore further up the road, which appeared to end at a crest in the hill. To the left was a broad field of assorted grasses and wildflowers, while the clearing to the right was edged by a thick stand of trees. From the music we were hearing, we could tell this was prime territory. Why hadn't we heard about this spot before?

Walking along, we were able to spot most of the usual suspect birds, as well as some of their brighter cousins. Indigo bunting, yellow warbler and goldfinch were regular sights, as were both Baltimore and orchard orioles. The orchards, in particular, were unusually plentiful; we must have seen three or four juvenile males before finding an adult.

We also scared up a fox who'd been obscured by the tall grass. Not wanting to deal with us, he trotted down the road and found refuge in the woods. He might have been the one who'd left the scat I'd noticed at spots on the pavement; we didn't see any deer. Or, perhaps, it might have been the byproduct of whoever left the claw marks I thought I saw in some mud.

In any case, the road kept going once we reached the rise, terminating at an old prefab metal building. Even though the property appeared to stretch far beyond, we chose not to do any bushwacking. We've had more than our share of post-trip tick discoveries so far this season, and we were both relieved to be birding somewhere productive that didn't require us to walk through brush. There was no need, anyway: a connecting road led across the property and was just calling out to us. How could we resist the invitation?

Like the Negri Nepote Grasslands we visited last year, this field hosts a long row of 300kv transmission lines that announce themselves with a buzzy hum as you approach. Also like last year's experience, a red tail hawk was perched about midway up one of the transmission towers, occasionally screaming to warn us away. This one, though, wasn't nesting and didn't appear to have young nearby at all. He seemed to be preening or airing out one of his wings, creating a somewhat cloaklike shape on one side. At first we wondered if he might be injured, but after taking looks from several perspectives as we walked further down the trail, we decided he was fine. Maybe a little wet from the previous night's rain, but fine, nonetheless.

The path continued down a short, gentle incline to a wooded area complete with a tiny brook, and then back up to another field. Finding nothing really different in terms of habitat or birds, we decided to turn back and continue on our road trip travels. Even though we hadn't found Ivan's target birds there, we'd seen enough to know that South Branch WMA was a definite option for future exploration.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Need true north? You might find it at your county seat.

In front of the old Hunterdon County Courthouse in Flemington, two curious granite obelisks stand, with thick oxidized metallic disks atop them. They're about 100 feet apart, and the one closer to the street corner bears a shield with the words "True Meridian 1883."

Ivan and I came upon these curious markers last month. They bear no explanation, no historical markers, and until we found the shield, we thought they might be fancy hitching posts for wagons. On further examination, and noticing the arrow etched on the top of one of the metallic discs, we knew these were utilitarian objects of a different sort.

Put together the location (the county seat) and the geographic term (meridian), and you could surmise that the obelisks have something to do with surveying, measurement or standards setting. You'd be absolutely right. After I got 七乐彩彩票app下载, I did a little research and luckily found the of how and why these markers came to be.

Before the days of global positioning satellites, surveyors counted on a number of mechanical instruments to find true north, and, by extension, property boundaries and mapped points. Trouble was, true north by their instruments wasn't always true north. Compasses can be compromised by other magnetic points in the Earth, and they're not all calibrated properly. Thus, measurements could vary from surveyor to surveyor, and they could even change from year to year. Coming to a commonly agreed-upon perpetual calibration standard for true north would go a long way toward clearing any confusion among land owners.

Inconsistencies like these were apparently frequent and troubling enough for the New Jersey State Legislature to act on a solution. In 1863 they deemed that a pair of true meridian markers be set at each county courthouse in the state, providing an easily-found tool for surveyors to regularly check the accuracy of their compasses. By law, every surveyor was required to set up his equipment on the meridian obelisk and record the magnetic declination readings at the county courthouse. (For those of us who didn't major in geography, magnetic declination is the difference between true north ("top" of the earth's axis) and magnetic north (the direction a compass needle points). I'd figure that having the measurement standard right there would prevent any monkeying around, as the heavy, immovably-placed markers were impervious to theft and vandalism.

The thing I find amazing is that they got the standard setting right. Back in the day, surveyors used celestial observation to set 'north,' which apparently took some time and calculation. The law required the county meridians to be set within one minute -- a sixtieth of a degree -- of true north. My GPS is on the blink and I don't have any other navigational devices, so I wasn't able to test the accuracy of the Flemington markers, but I have to believe they're true.

March 18 starts National Surveyors Week, so it's possible you might find some interesting events at or near any of the county true meridians. Stop by an old county courthouse to find out, and even if you don't find a surveyor, take a moment to face true north.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Voorhees, the final frontier....

Quick! Who was the first New Jerseyan in space? And who was the first state native to set foot on the moon? I'll give you two hints: they're not the same person, and they're honored somehow in Voorhees State Park.

A road marker brought Ivan and me to discover this previously unknown (at least to us) gem. You might have noticed one yourself on Route 78 or Route 22: a brown sign that enigmatically says "NJAA Observatory," with no other explanation. The traveler is left to wonder what NJAA is, and what they're observing. New Jersey Automobile Association, watching traffic? New Jersey Alcoholics Anonymous, keeping members on the path to sobriety? This time we decided to take the detour and find out.

A little blurry -- perhaps the state's largest publicly-available
telescope would have put it into sharper focus.
Another sign on County Route 513 brings you into Voorhees State Park, through deep woods and to higher elevation. Surprisingly, Ivan didn't want to stop to do any birding, having had poor luck there in the past. We continued driving until we reached a sign stating "Paul Robinson Observatory/七乐彩彩票平台 of the New Jersey Astronomical Assn."

Why hadn't we considered an actual space observatory as a possibility? It makes some sense: altitude, distance from the light pollution of heavily-populated areas, and surrounding land that likely will never be developed. The skies aren't as reliably clear as those at Mauna Kea in Hawaii, but then the average observer doesn't have to worry about sudden bouts of hypoxia, either.

The observatory was conceived in 1965 by a group of seven men who wanted to share the science of astronomy with others. Led by Paul Robinson, they eventually were able to lease land from the state, build the facility and obtain a 26 inch diameter mirror telescope from Indiana University. The larger of two buildings is named for Montclair native Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, who was the second human (and first New Jerseyan) to set foot on the moon. A smaller adjacent observatory building is named for Hackensack-born Wally Schirra, who was the fifth American (first New Jerseyan) in space and the first human to make three trips into space.

Unfortunately the place was closed when we stopped by -- they don't have winter hours until the last weekend of February, probably because the road wouldn't be that reliable after snow and ice storms. If you visit when they're not open, you can still check out the outdoor virtual solar system, which includes wayside signs describing each planet of our solar system, sited in proportion to their true spatial relationship to one another. We wondered if Pluto was still part of the exhibit, given its demotion from planet status, but decided it was unlikely anyone had ever walked out that far to see the sign, anyway.

The observatory is on our ever growing list of things to return to, once it's open again. Check out the for operating days and hours, plus a full schedule of lectures and events.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Califo(r)n(ia), here we come!

If your mind plays with words the way mine does, you often wonder about the origins of terms and especially names. It was that with me and the quaint, mile-square town of Califon in Hunterdon County. Far be it from me to cast judgement on a name, and 'Califon' is a perfectly serviceable one, but it sounds too much like something else to be a name on its own merits.

Turns out that the original name wasn't Califon at all. It was California. Resident Jacob Neighbor had gone west to seek his fortune in the 1849 gold rush, and flush with success, he returned to build a couple of saw mills on the nearby South Branch of the Raritan River. Honoring the place where he'd made his fortune, he called the settlement "California."

So far, so good, but how does California become Califon? The official story is that the name change occurred when the train station painters couldn't get the entire name onto the sign. Another version states that the painters were too inebriated to get all of the letters painted.

Regardless of the origin of the name shortening, Califon proper is a delightful little Victorian-era enclave of just over 1000 residents. They're clearly proud of their little town and its history, with 170 structures on the National Register of Historic Places and a vintage trestle bridge crossing the river. At one time, the community hosted a variety of industries, including an iron and steel works, stone quarries and even a basket factory, but there's no visible industrial activity left. It's simply a quiet community with shops, parks, and a meandering river.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Highway history, made in Hunterdon County

You know Jersey barriers, right? Those concrete dividers in the middle of major highways? The ones that are designed to keep drivers from swerving into oncoming traffic?

I always assumed that they were invented by the folks who brought us the New Jersey Turnpike. Given how many innovations its designers contributed to highway engineering, it only seemed natural, so imagine my surprise when Ivan and I passed this historical marker on Route 173 in Hunterdon County.


The Encyclopedia of New Jersey tells us that the Jersey barrier was "developed ... to minimize the number of out-of-control trucks penetrating the median and eliminate the need for costly and dangerous steel guardrail median barrier maintenance in high-accident locations with narrow medians." Sounds like a problem for a major highway, right? Who'd have thought that the first place it would be installed would be cow country七乐彩彩票登录?

On second thought, it makes a lot of sense. I can see where western New Jersey would be a good test area, with lots of two-lane roads where opposing traffic could easily stray in darkness or bad weather, or drunkenness on the part of the driver. As the sign in Bethlehem Township infers, there were plenty of bad accidents right on 173 that likely could have been prevented with a partition separating traffic.

Further research reveals that the original 32-inch barrier was developed at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, under the direction of the state Department of Transportation. The Turnpike Authority later used that design and an Ontario variant to create a highly-reinforced model that effectively shunts errant semi trucks back into the proper lane of traffic.

The irony is that while we saw Jersey barriers all along Route 78 on our trip toward the historical marker, there are no barriers at all on 173. Instead, there's a turning lane in the center of the road, shared by both directions of traffic. It's kind of a shame there's not at least a little bit of the original barrier left in the road, sort of our own New Jersey version of the Berlin Wall. Wouldn't it be cool if there's a remnant of it being preserved somewhere?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Finding gold in Lambertville

Sometimes you have to wonder if bad luck runs in the family.

You might remember the story of Hunterdon County native and Declaration of Independence signer John Hart, whom we talked about following the hike Ivan and I took through through the Sourland Mountain range last year. Hart hid in a Sourlands cave to avoid capture by British troops in December 1776, and legend says he died virtually penniless less than three years later.

About 30 years after Hart's death, one of his daughters gave birth to James Wilson Marshall in Hopewell, NJ. The family moved to Lambertville shortly afterward, settling on what is now Bridge Street.

七乐彩彩票app下载California gold rushHeading west at the age of 24, Marshall spent time in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Oregon before finding his way to John Sutter's agricultural settlement in California. The two bought land together, and Marshall started farming and ranching, even as he helped out at Sutter's mill and performed various carpentering chores.

California was still a Mexican possession during this time, and Marshall volunteered to fight in the Bear Flag Revolt during the Mexican-American War. His participation in the battle took a toll on his personal finances, as the cattle on his farm had wandered off in his absence, leaving him destitute.

Sutter, however, brought him back into partnership on a new sawmill, which Marshall chose to locate upstream from the existing mill on the American River in the town of Coloma. In exchange for his work, Marshall would get a share of the mill's finished lumber.

Construction was slow and laborious, and he found that the millrace, or trough, routing water away from the mill's wheel was too small. The best solution, he felt, was to use the force of the river to expand the millrace, routing it through overnight as not to endanger the safety of the construction team that was building the rest of the mill.

One morning, while examining the results of the previous night's water rush, Marshall saw a glimmer in the mud below. Testing proved those shiny spots to be high quality gold, giving birth to the California Gold Rush.

Marshall must have had little idea of the stampede he'd engendered. He was so focused on the completion of Sutter's mill that he didn't gather any of the precious metal himself, instead giving his workers permission to mine for it during their free time. Eventually, so many preferred to look for gold that his entire workforce had quit, and his mill went bankrupt. Prospectors threw him off his land and he was, once again, penniless.

For more than 40 years, Marshall attempted various businesses, all of which ultimately failed. The California legislature voted three times to give him a two year pension, but that, too, eventually ceased. He died in 1885 in poverty.

Like his ancestor John Hart, James Wilson Marshall lives on in the memories of American history buffs. While his last 七乐彩彩票app下载 was but a small cabin, he's now memorialized with a grand tomb. There's a statue of him on the top, pointing to the area where he found the first bits of California gold. One thing you have to say for the guy: he was never deterred by failure. He just kept moving forward.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The road wanderer's best friend (besides the GPS to get 七乐彩彩票app下载) is the roadside historical marker. More than once, we've been drawn to an interesting story purely by chance, when we've seen one of these signs on a county road or local street. Kinda gives you incentive to drive the speed limit.

Traversing county roads around Hunterdon County a few weeks ago, Ivan and I came upon a rather puzzling marker:


The title alone gives one pause. Without reading the rest of the sign, I envisioned a local oddball who made his name by ordering liver every time he went to the local tavern. Maybe he got the name by winning a bet for eating several pounds of liver which, while being very nutritious, isn't everyone's cup of tea. 

You can read the sign for yourself to get the gist of the story, but it's possibly a little misleading. While Garrison/Johnson was born in Little York (now Alexandria), New Jersey, the deed which led to his sobriquet actually occurred in the American West. 

I checked into the Johnson story and found several conflicting accounts, all basically pretty revolting. Some say that after a troubled childhood, he left New Jersey to take to the sea, serving in the Navy before venturing west to the frontier. Others say he fought in the Mexican War and enlisted to serve on the Union side in the Civil War. Allegedly, he deserted after striking an officer, which led him to change his name to avoid capture.

The liver-eating part is, well, a bit gruesome. According to legend, members of the Crow tribe killed his wife, and in revenge, he took to a 12 year murder rampage. He slaughtered several Crow, eating his victims' livers since the tribe believed that eating the raw liver of the game they hunted would give them added strength. I haven't seen the movie Jeremiah Johnson, but I'm guessing that the cannibalism story line wasn't part of the plot. After all, the title role was played by Robert Redford, not Anthony Hopkins.

My research led me to a very well written by a young student who refutes the whole 'liver eating' story. That account says that while Johnson was an ornery, belligerent man, he had largely favorable relations with the natives. His nickname apparently originated after a knife fight with attacking Sioux, when a bit of his opponent's liver remained on Johnson's knife after a stabbing. Turning to his companions, Johnson offered the blade and asked if they'd like a bite. That may be callous, but it's not cannibalistic.

Johnson lived out his life in classic 1800's Western style, bootlegging whiskey, enforcing the law (while doing the bootlegging, I don't know), prospecting for gold and eventually retreating to a cabin in Montana. He's buried in Cody, Wyoming, far from his Garden State roots. Kinda makes you wonder how many other frontier legends were born in New Jersey.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Visiting the D&R canal at Bull's Island

Alas, Sunday was to be the day of narrow bridges and muddy shoes. After a brief lunch stop in Lambertville, we continued up State Route 29 to Bull's Island, part of the in Stockton.

Essentially connecting the two rivers whose names it bears, the D&R Canal was built in the early 1830s to bring Pennsylvania coal to New York, and manufactured goods back in the opposite direction. And while it was quite busy through the mid part of the 1800's, it, like most every other canal in America eventually lost out to the railroads. Now it's one of New Jersey's most used and picturesque state parks, offering level pathways for cycling, hiking, running and horseback riding. Its 70 mile route is also 七乐彩彩票app下载 to several of the original lock and bridge tender houses, and while they're generally not open for visitation, they add a nice touch of authenticity.

From the Pennsy side.
Our visit, of course, was dedicated primarily to birding, but before we focused on that, Ivan had a nice little treat to share with me: yet another narrow bridge. We'd driven across one to get beyond the feeder canal to the island, but that wasn't remarkable at all when compared to the footbridge over the rushing Delaware. While it was only wide enough to allow maybe three people walking abreast, the bridge was plenty sturdy, with a concrete deck and firm anchors below. It was getting a lot of use while we were there, too: strollers, hikers and cyclists seemed to come out of nowhere to enjoy the trip across.

Later, I read that the bridge isn't the first to cross the Delaware at that point. The original was built in 1835 as a covered structure, but part of it was swept away by flood in 1903 and then replaced by a steel span; the whole thing was taken out of use in 1946. The present footbridge was built in 1949 to allow folks from the Pennsylvania side to get to a now-defunct passenger train on the Jersey side.

It seems that now, the only purpose for the bridge is to bring people between Bull's Island and the unbearably cute hamlet of Lumberville, Pennsylvania, in scenic Bucks County. Of course, there's an adorable inn along the river, with a general store/gourmet deli right across the street. It seems to be a good place to have one of those weekends that feels about a week long.

Once back across the river, we got the birding going. Given all of the recent rains, it wasn't surprising that the towpath along the canal had that special 'give' of mushy ground. I wouldn't say it was muddy; it was more like the consistency of undercooked brownies (mmmmm.... brownies!). Note to self: check boot treads before getting back into the car.

We weren't far down the path when Ivan spotted what, to me, was a fairly remarkable sight: a pileated woodpecker. For the uninitiated, it's best described as a big honkin' woodpecker (not that it honks -- you know what I mean). The photo to the right doesn't quite do it justice -- it's a little blurry and you can't really get a sense of size, but take my word for it when I say this is probably twice the size of the average hairy woodpecker drilling away at a tree in your backyard. We were treated to a few minutes of watching this guy checking out a few limbs, plus the spectacle of him flying away to a distant other tree. That just about made my day. It certainly made all of the brownie-tromping worthwhile.

Farther along, we navigated through and around a nest of fallen limbs to find some other feathered fauna, including a happy little song sparrow just singing away. Spring is the best, isn't it? So much cheerful noise all around.

Eventually, we decided we had enough and made our way back to Route 29 and who knows where. Trusting the Garmin to get us 七乐彩彩票app下载, we realized there were a few other places we might find along the way. What next?