Showing posts with label Salem County.
Showing posts with label Salem County.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Conquered by mosquitoes: New Sweden's Fort Elfsborg

Not a cloud in the sky, and temperatures were expected to hit the mid 80s -- perfect beach weather. No doubt, the sandy expanses of Long Beach Island, Wildwood, Asbury Park and Sandy Hook were already reaching peak capacity.

. On the way, I'd passed several residential garages and driveways, evidence of a shore community whose more photogenic side was pointed toward the lovely bay view.

New Jersey has its share of forts that don't exist anymore (we've shared the stories of the Revolutionary-era forts Billings and Mercer along the Delaware River), but Elfsborg is the granddaddy of 'em all. Not only is it not there anymore; it was the product of a colony that most New Jerseyans are unaware ever existed.

I first discovered the existence (or maybe the concept) of Fort Elfsborg many years ago on an aimless drive through Salem County, where there are still reliable signs at crossroads to tell you which towns are in which direction. One, somewhere, pointed to Fort Elfsborg. My trusty WPA Guide to 1930's New Jersey noted that Elsinboro Point was the site of the first Swedish settlement in the state. The colonists built a fort there in 1643 "to force Dutch trading ships to haul down their flags."

Colonizing Swedes came to the Delaware Valley in 1638, with hopes of getting their share of the lucrative New World fur trade, despite the fact that the Dutch had already claimed the area and built Fort Nassau near current day Gloucester City along the Delaware, then known as the South River. The Swedes chose to build their fort closer to the mouth of the river, figuring they'd force the Dutch and English to get their permission to sail past, rather than having unfettered access to their own territory.

It was a perfect case of "looks good on paper" - an idea that probably seemed so logical that the Swedes might have wondered why the Dutch hadn't already secured the area. Reality proved different. The true adversary did not reach the Swedish settlement by ship, but by air, as evidenced by the name the colonists gave their fort: Myggenborg, or Mosquito Castle. The marshy land on which the fort was built was so rich with the pesky skeeters and gnats and their stinging so relentless that it was said the garrisoned soldiers appeared to have been afflicted with a horrible disease. It's small wonder that the fort was abandoned not long after.

Historians suspect that the actual fort site is underwater, somewhere off the Salem County coastline. In fact, PSE&G, the Swedish Colonial Society and the New Sweden Centre funded a 2012 expedition that explored both the Delaware Bay and the phragmites-infested coastline for evidence of human habitation. While they discovered portions of smoking pipes and arrowheads, none could be linked to the Swedish settlement. Given changes in sea level, the inevitable depositing of silt and whatnot over the years, impact of storms, what was close to the surface in the 1600s is likely well buried at this point, and the complex root systems of the phragmites are unlikely to give up any secrets.

As for the beach itself, the public portion is relatively small, but serviced by a gated 10-stall paved parking lot courtesy of PSEG Nuclear (that's right - free beach parking brought to you by the wonders of nuclear power!). Fans of natural beachscapes will appreciate the rustling phragmites and the dried-out bay vegetation along the high tide line, but that's about it. It's beautiful and somewhat secluded, but best left to the locals.

The WPA guide notes that Oakwood Beach was a summer colony, named for large oaks that once stood there and were taken down to build ships before the Civil War. Given the tidy upkeep of the 七乐彩彩票app下载s there today, one has to believe that folks still enjoy living the shore life on Delaware Bay, hopefully without the relentless pesky insects.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

America's first cattle drive? Salem County's Great Cow Chase

New Jersey isn't especially known for its wide open prairies, ranches and cowboys. According to some, though, Salem County just may have been the sight of the nation's first cattle drive. And no, I'm not talking about a Saturday night rodeo in Cowtown, though the historic drive took place nearby, led by a brigadier general known as Mad Anthony Wayne.

Venture back to early 1778, when General George Washington's army was encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Beset by desertions by February, Washington still had to feed more than 2000 men, as well as the horses they relied upon, even as the British conducted their own foraging expeditions and dealings with help from sympathetic Pennsylvanians.

This specimen would have fed a LOT of Continental soldiers.
Across the Delaware River was New Jersey, known as the Breadbasket of the Revolution for its plentiful forage for animals and food for humans. Washington sent Wayne with about 550 troops down Jersey to Salem County to retrieve the life-sustaining supplies. Starting from Wilmington, Delaware to avoid the British-controlled river near Philadelphia, Wayne and his troops made their way to Salem and to the area near present-day Pilesgrove, where they gathered about 150 head of cattle. Horses and wagons, however, were in short supply, meaning that the Continentals would have to drive the cattle on the hoof back to Valley Forge, rather than transporting butchered beef.

By this point, a local Loyalist had tipped off the British and more than 2000 Redcoats were sent to track Wayne and his troops down. After an initial stab at transporting some of the cattle to New Castle, Delaware to evade the British, Wayne led the procession northward and west along the Old Kings Highway on the 50 mile journey to Valley Forge, eventually crossing the river north of Philadelphia, somewhere between Burlington and Trenton. While some say that the herd was diminished to a mere 50 head by the time Wayne reached camp, the Jersey beef and hides undoubtedly made the difference for countless hungry and shoeless Continental soldiers.

The Great Cow Chase, as it's now known Down Jersey, has been commemorated a few times in recent years. Back during the Bicentennial, road race for humans, starting at Cowtown in Pilesgrove and ending 10 miles away in downtown Salem City. It may not be the running of the bulls, but it's a truly unique way of celebrating a little-known yet important part of our Revolutionary history!

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Centerton Inn: dining and perhaps a bit of plunder

Forget about old man bars. I've got a soft spot for old inns and taverns -- the historic types where it doesn't take much to imagine the stagecoach stopping along the front porch, or the locals congregating to share news and gossip. We've been to a bunch, from the Merchants and Drovers and the Indian Queen, down to the Indian King and over to the Mill Street Tavern. All were (or had been, in the case of the Indian Queen) on busy main roads in areas that have become highly developed.

That's not to say that the lesser-populated roads don't have their inns, too. Drive through the more rural parts of the state and you may just find an aging hostelry at a major intersection, amid what constitutes the densest concentration of commercial establishments for a couple of miles. That was what I found as I traveled along Route 540 in Salem County. Built sometime in the early to mid 1700s, the Centerton Inn is a three-story Colonial style clapboard building with dormer windows interrupting the roof. Squint a little and you can very easily envision travelers dismounting their horses for refreshment and, perhaps, a night's stay.

In its day, the crossroads where Centerton Inn stands was an important one. Not only was it a significant stop on the coach route between Philadelphia and the then-vital port of Greenwich, it also connected Cumberland County to Great Egg Harbor. The Inn reportedly became not only a gathering and eating place, but a cargo storage area due to its strategic location.

According to some sources, the inn may have actually held munitions for the Continental Army, perhaps those sent by our French allies. Congressionally-approved privateers were doing a brisk business of capturing British supply ships and storing their plunder at Great Egg Harbor, so it's within reason that some of that merchandise could have had a temporary stay at the Centerton. That said, I haven't been able to nail down sources to confirm or deny. Others say that the Marquis de Lafayette frequented the tavern when he was in the area, an assertion that could be even harder to prove, unless, of course, he used his Diners Club card to settle the tab.

Unlike the Merchants and Drovers, Indian King and Indian Queen, the Centerton Inn has modernized somewhat and continues to serve meals to hungry travelers and locals alike. We didn't stop by to eat, as we were on our way to nearby Parvin State Park for some birding, but perhaps sometime in the future we'll have the chance to partake.

Friday, October 31, 2014

For Halloween, some of our favorite haunts

It's Halloween, and New Jersey-based websites are having a field day with posts citing the state's top scary and haunted places. If you're into old graveyards or things that go bump in the night, there are plenty of places where you can satisfy your itch to get a good fright.

At Hidden New Jersey, we generally don't cover the mysterious, spooky and altogether ooky places that are well known to many explorers, but the spirit of the day got me thinking. Of all the places we've been, which ones do I wish were haunted? Or perhaps more accurately, which ones have stories so interesting I'd like the chance to commune with the people who once lived or worked there?

Here are a few I'd like to revisit, this time with a Ouija board or trusty medium:

Site of the explosion
The site of the Kingsland explosion: It was 1917. The United States was on the brink of entering World War I, and Lyndhurst's Canadian Car and Foundry plant was manufacturing munitions for American allies. Saboteurs were afoot, and Tessie McNamara's quick actions were the factor between life and death for her 1700 coworkers as explosions tore the factory apart. Everyone got out safely, but the saboteurs were reportedly never found. Did they go up with the blast?

The seafaring community of Mauricetown: This now-quiet town once was 七乐彩彩票app下载 to what was probably the largest number of sea captains per square acre. I'd love to hear what one of those captains saw on his many journeys to foreign lands, long before airplanes made the world much smaller. What exotic places did he see? What did he think of the native people he met?

Along the Morris Canal
The Morris Canal: whether it's the excavated remains of an ingenious inclined planelandlocked port towns in Warren County or the canal bed that's been repurposed as the Newark City Subway, this long-dormant technological marvel has tons of stories to tell. A cooperative spirit, say of a mule tender or barge captain, might have a few words to spout about the canal's now derelict state.

The Delaware Bay lighthouses: More than one old lighthouse has a tragic story of a lonely, suicidal keeper living a solitary life miles from shore. To my knowledge, none of the Delaware Bay lights in New Jersey waters have such a tale to tell, but I'd still like to chat with one of the early keepers at Ship John Shoal, Miah Maull or Cross Ledge Light.

Gloucester City's Immigration Station
The Gloucester City Immigration Station: It was first Philadelphia's Ellis Island, then part of a Coast Guard base, then abandoned and now an office building. What were the hopes, dreams and fears of those who were detained here? Where did they ultimately end up?

Earl R. Erdner's warehouses in Woodstown: Simple, sage wisdom is right there on the outside walls, ripe for the reading. I'd love to know if the long-dead Mr. Erdner has any more advice for us from the great beyond.

Alexander Hamilton's room at Liberty Hall: While still a young student, America's first Treasury Secretary was the guest of Governor William Livingston's family in what's now Union Township. He already held ambitions for greater things and was building friendships that would serve him well throughout his career. What was going on in his teenaged mind?

Whatever you end up doing to commemorate All Hallows Eve, have fun! And if you happen to run into the Jersey Devil, give him our regards.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Reaching Delaware without the toll: the odd case of Kilcohook

Is it wrong for a loyal Jerseyperson to want to invade Delaware?

I'm not talking about the whole state, just the part you can walk to from New Jersey, toll free.

Yup, you read that correctly: we share a two mile land border with the Blue Hen State. Most maps don't do much to point it out, but a small sliver of land next to Finns Point National Cemetery in Salem County is technically part of Delaware.

To understand how New Jersey got cheated out of the acreage, we have to go back more than 260 years and beyond the peninsula that, by all rights, should be all Garden State.

First off, you'll note that the upper portion of Delaware forms an arc. It was originally drawn in a 12 mile radius from New Castle, as directed in a deed granted by the Duke of York to William Penn in 1682. The arc stopped at the low water mark on the New Jersey shoreline because the Duke had already granted the land beyond to John Berkeley, Lord of Stratton, in 1664. It's kind of an odd situation, as our other nautical borders are determined either by the center of the body of water, or the lowest elevation of the waterway.

So if the arc ends at the low water line where Berkeley's grant starts, then why does a two-mile long stretch of the New Jersey/Delaware boundary sit on dry land?

Sometime in the early 1900s, the Army Corps of Engineers started dredging the Delaware River to improve navigation up to the Port of Philadelphia. They had to put the dredge spoils somewhere, and apparently the remote, undeveloped coastline at Pennsville seemed a good option. The vast majority of human neighbors are already six feet under at Finns Point, and they weren't complaining.

The new land grew over the years, with about 580 acres of it rising above the low-water mark to become defacto Delaware territory. In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt designated the full 1400+ acres as the Kilcohook Wildlife Refuge, a pitstop for migratory waterfowl like pintail ducks and teal. Eventually, though, continued dumping drove away avian visitors, and the plot was transferred to the Army Corps as a "coordination area" in 1998. Fortunately for the birds, the existing land to the east was designated the "Goose Pond Addition" to Kilcohook in 1961, later becoming Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

New Jersey has taken Delaware to court over the boundary issue three times in the past century. In the 2007 dispute, Trenton legislators even light-heartedly considered sending the Battleship New Jersey to defend the territory. All three cases went to the Supreme Court, which ruled against us every time. (The two dissenting justices in the 2007 decision, Scalia and Alito, were born in Trenton, though their provenance seems to have had nothing to do with their opinions.). None of those decisions, however, specifically involved the dredge spoils area, whose jurisdiction remained a local issue.

As you can imagine, policing the area can be problematic. The Army Corps claims no responsibility, and technically, the Pennsville police had no jurisdiction. The spot was a magnet for mischief for partiers and a de-facto chop shop for car thieves. They knew the chances of being arrested and prosecuted were slim. When local law enforcement called the Delaware State Police to handle incidents on the acreage, it took troopers an hour to get there.

Finally, in 1989, the Delaware secretary of state agreed that this small slice of the First State could, indeed, be subject to New Jersey law. Pennsville police can now enter the territory to keep the peace and investigate wrongdoing. But I still wonder if they could get me for crossing the boundary and declaring the land to be the dominion of Nova Caesaria. Not that I would ever actually do it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Wandering around Woodstown a few months ago, I relied, maybe a little too heavily, on my trusty copy of the WPA Guide to 1930s New Jersey. If anything old and interesting were to make itself known, it would likely be noted with a line or two, at least, in the mapped tour of Salem County.

Instead, the writeup on Woodstown brought a bit of a mystery. According to the guide, the property at 158 North Main Street (also known as State Route 45) was 七乐彩彩票app下载 to a sizable auction lot. As the book describes:

"...spread over several acres, stand rows of stock and storage barns. Each Tuesday morning throughout the year long caravan arrive with everything from ancient household utensils to livestock, all to be sold at Stoney's Auction. Everything is offered: fruit, battered furniture, the old cocked hat of some Revolutionary hero, hand made needle work, livestock on the hoof, and modern refrigerators. The auctioneer wears a 5 gallon hat and high boots into which his trousers are tucked. He snaps a 20 foot whip over the heads of cattle to center the crowd's attention. Thousands attend the auction in the course of each year."

It's that kind of description that makes me wish that every copy of the WPA Guide came with a wayback machine, either to go back to the preceding Tuesday (if the auction was still there) or to 1938 (a Tuesday, preferably), when the writer had obviously checked it out. Even though I wasn't in the market for livestock, it sounded as if an afternoon at Stoney's was well worth experiencing.

A drive down Main Street confirmed my suspicion: where once there had been a sign bearing a bull and the words "Stoney Harris Sales Co. Office," there was nothing but a series of pleasant-looking houses of older vintage. What happened to the auction?

The pieces started coming together after I returned to Hidden New Jersey headquarters and did a little research. Knowing, as I did, that Cowtown had been operating nearby for quite some time, I wondered if it might have had some connection to the now-absent auction.

As the guide stated, Stoney Harris had been operating very successfully in his Woodstown neighborhood for quite some time, augmenting the weekly sales with an annual rodeo in conjunction with the Salem County Fair. Popular as the auction was, it drew increasing numbers of people and traffic along with it, which the town tried to manage through ordinance. Frustrated, Stoney bought two farms on U.S. 40 in Pilesgrove and moved the entire operation there in 1940. And though he'd already left town, Stoney wanted to make one final statement about the way his business had been treated by the local government., once the auction was settled in its new space, Stoney erected a large statue of a cow on the property next to the highway, its back end facing Woodstown.

Today the sales operation is billed as a farmers' market but sells many of the items you'd expect to see at a flea market, from apparel to used goods (vintage, anyone?) along with fresh meats, produce and plants. Come to think of it, today's wares don't sound that much different from what Stoney was auctioning in his day, except maybe now that "modern refrigerator" would be seen as a valuable antique. I wonder if that old cocked hat might show up on a vendor's table sometime?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I've driven through enough small towns in the rural reaches of New Jersey to know they can be anything from run-down shells of their former selves to quaint and overly precious scenes out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. After my stop to admire Earl L. Erdner's edge-of-town warehouse-side wit and wisdom during a road trip in November, I wasn't sure what to expect from Woodstown. It's located at the intersection of U.S. 40 and State Route 45, a logical point for commerce, yet in sparsely-populated Salem County, one can make no assumptions. It might be vibrant and well kept... or maybe not so much.

Indeed, Woodstown is one of those 'donut-hole' communities, a municipality completely surrounded by its larger neighbor. (Metuchen is another example that comes to mind, surrounded as it is by the much larger Edison.) In Woodstown's case, Pilesgrove's acres and acres of farmland (and the Cowtown Rodeo) are the moat which separate it from the rest of the world. I'd driven around the donut many times in the past, but it never occurred to me to find out what was in the center.

I had reason to be hopeful about what I'd find. The WPA Guide to 1930s New Jersey describes the town as having "many old houses, including fine examples of Colonial architecture." With development pressure far less prevalent in Salem County than it is in Northern New Jersey, I had to believe that few if any of the structures referred to would have been torn down or modified negatively.

What I found was a classic, almost frozen-in-time community, in a good way. Route 45 evolved into Main Street, and with it, an exhibit of vintage 七乐彩彩票app下载s of Federal, Victorian, Italianate and, yes, Colonial style. It reminded me in some ways of a less-traveled Haddonfield, or maybe a more rural but slightly more modern Burlington City.

Just a few of the Colonial-era houses in Woodstown.
While I could find no markers to note significant past residents or historic events at any of the 七乐彩彩票app下载s I stopped to admire, I came to realize that the structures themselves are the stars, specifically because they've survived to be appreciated over the years. Each was clearly cared for by its owner, but they're definitely 七乐彩彩票app下载s, rather than museums.

Just past the point where 40 and 45 converge, I came upon the Woodstown Friends Meeting House, built in 1783. Enlarged several times since then, it retains its classic, simple Colonial look, and one could easily imagine parishioners from any era -- late 18th century to early 21st -- entering its doors for meeting. Across the street, a simple yet rambling brick building once held the Friends Infirmary, the community's primary acute healthcare facility before the Elmer and Salem hospitals were built in the 50s and 60s. Though there haven't been overnight patients in the building in some time, its larger purpose remains to be care of those in need: several medical professionals and related agencies have offices there.

With evening approaching and a long trip ahead of me, I reluctantly left Woodstown before exploring all of its charms. I'll definitely be back, with the Historic Preservation Commission's helpful  in hand. And hopefully I'll time the trip to get to the Cowtown Flea Market when it's open, too.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bad planning is often the route to an excellent road trip. Usually when I head out on my own, I aim for one key location, anticipating that other equally interesting finds will pop up along the way. When planning the Paulsboro trip, I cheated a little and researched a few more possible destinations before I left Hidden New Jersey headquarters. Well, it's not cheating as much as preventing future remorse: there's nothing quite as frustrating as coming back from a road trip, only to discover you were two blocks from something totally astounding.

I was hoping a little extra prep would pay off. At the very least, I figured I'd find the places and decide whether they warranted further research and a return visit.

So, before I left on Veterans Day, I got GPS coordinates from the trusty , printed out the directions and took off without reviewing them. Only thing was, the addresses were missing and I'd neglected to write down the names of the destinations. When I got to what I thought were the sites in question, the markers seemed to be obscured, or even missing, so I was left idling in front of some very nice, very old houses as I paged rapidly through the WPA Guide the New Jersey, hoping not to arouse the neighbors' suspicions. (Not that I was doing anything suspicious, mind you. I'm just sensitive to the hypervigilance of the es of the world.)

Those opportunities blown, it was time to riff. Shaking off my gaffe, I buzzed past the diner where I'd had the Taylor ham/pork roll debate, through Mullica Hill and then southwest. Signs started pointing the way to towns with familiar names: places I'd been past, but never through.

Woodstown fits into that category. I'd seen plenty of signs pointing in that direction on my many trips through Salem County, but in my mind, it was just a collection of farmland with no discernible population center. It was time to find out what's there.

I hit paydirt before I got into town. At the intersection of Route 45 and Bypass Road, I saw a cluster of white cinderblock buildings, low and long. The short end of the building closest to the intersection was labeled with faded painted lettering reading "EARL L. ERDNER. WAREHOUSE No. 11 CANHOUSE BROKERS."

What's a canhouse broker? Given the farmland I'd just driven through, did it have something to do with the local harvest? Had these been processing facilities and storage for canned food?

The mystery got even more curious as I continued driving. The long side of the building, running along the road, held faded lettering, looking much like calligraphy. Rather than the loopy ramblings one sometimes sees in roadside signs, these sayings seemed to be life lessons, perhaps coined by Mr. Erdner himself. No one would ever confuse the plains of Southwestern New Jersey with the Himalayas, but had I stumbled upon the works of a Garden State Guru, the Sage of Salem? I pulled over to take a look, and a few photos.

Turned out I'd come upon Erdner's Busy Corner Warehouse. As the story goes, Erdner erected the buildings in the 1940s and soon started using their walls as a canvas to express his approach to life. He continued to paint the sayings on the walls well into the 1960s, adding the collected wit and wisdom of friends and family to his own. Among them:

"Life is like an exciting book and every year a new chapter."
"Anyone who thinks he is indispensable should stick his finger in a bowl of water and notice the hole it makes when he pulls it out."
"Keep your troubles to yourself and make people believe you're having a wonderful time."
"Rise to the occasion. But know when to sit down."

As you can see from the photos, the paint is fading, the sayings along with it. Erdner died years ago, apparently without finding someone to maintain his wise sayings. Who knows -- maybe he'd have preferred it that way, allowing his words to fade from memory as if they'd never been written.  

For the time being, at least, they're there for passers-by to read if they want to take the time to stop and hunt them down around the property. Whoever now owns the property hasn't whitewashed the wisdom over, and I'm told that many more sayings can be seen if you walk around the buildings to look. Maybe they don't reveal the meaning of life, but you could do a lot worse. And they're a thought-provoking welcome to what's a very lovely town.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Parvin State Park: more diversity in rural New Jersey

One of the big "gets" in New Jersey birding circles lately is the tufted duck, a medium-sized diver native to Europe and Asia. This fella has been hanging out on Thundergust Lake in Parvin State Park, so I stopped by  for a look after my visit to the Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center. It was a beautiful day, and I was able to spot the visitor from among a group of ring-necked ducks, who look very similar but for the head shape and the eponymous tuft.

It was my first visit to Parvin, and I was absolutely charmed when I arrived. Granted, it's the off season, but its placid environment was relaxing and refreshing, making it feel like the perfect place to cool off from the summer sun or go fishing during other parts of the year. Plus, its well-groomed parking area and entry gate feel like something out of the 1930s, for good reason, as I'd later discover.

As it turned out, the visit was a good complement to the Seabrook visit. Much like the vegetable processing town, this tranquil spot just inside the Pinelands was once a surprising hive of activity.

Parvin became a state park after land acquisitions started by New Jersey government in 1930, but it was without amenities until Civilian Conservation Corps workers arrived, sometime between 1933 and 1935. Over several years, teams of young men blazed trails, built log cabins with boat landings, and erected the picturesque entry pavilion and offices that welcome visitors to the beach. No Iron Mike stands on site to commemorate their work; the stability of their handiwork is monument in itself.

Not long after the CCC finished its work, Parvin entered what might be called its multinational phase. Though the dates and uses vary depending on which source you consult, the common link is that the park served as a temporary 七乐彩彩票app下载 for people whose lives were affected by World War II.

First, the Federal government capitalized on the park's remote setting to hold German prisoners of war sometime around 1942 or 1943. Some were transported to Seabrook to work, somewhat alleviating the wartime labor shortage.

The Japanese and Japanese-American history of the park is a bit less clear, but not surprising, given its general proximity to the large Issei/Nisei population of Seabrook. Some sources say Parvin hosted a summer camp for young Japanese American internees, while others contend that the property was used for temporary housing for those who'd left the internment camps after the war's end.

Finally, a contingent of Kalmyks stayed briefly at Parvin after their escape to the United States in 1952. The history of Kalmykia is long and complex, but these Buddhist Europeans had suffered the wrath of Stalin after they had rebelled against the Soviet Communist government. Many ultimately settled in the metropolitan Philadelphia region and the Monmouth County town of Howell.

None of this -- except the CCC work -- was even slightly evident when I visited. I wonder, though, how each of the groups reacted to living out among the pines. Did the Kalmyks yearn for the broad expanses of their 七乐彩彩票app下载land's steppes? Did the West Coast-based Japanese-Americans find the scrub pines to be adequate substitutes for massive redwoods? And did the Germans despair for the Black Forest?

One can only hope that none of them was visited by the Jersey Devil.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The massacre: not in Boston, but at Hancock's house

Several years ago, my work took me to Lower Alloways Creek from time to time, bringing me past the Colonial-era Hancock House. What I was doing in a remote part of Salem County is a story for another day. The important thing to note is that every time I went past, the house was closed, leaving me with unsatisfied curiosity.

Hancock House is more than a nearly-300-year-old house whose bricks are laid in interesting patterns. It was the site of a March 1778 massacre. When Ivan brought up the possibility of spending a day at the Delaware bayshore last weekend, I suggested that we make a visit to the Hancock. Maybe it would even be open this time.

Before we get into our trip, let's talk about the massacre. Just a few days earlier, the Americans had taken the surrounding area after the battle of Quinton Bridge, about 90 Continentals were quartered at the Hancock House. The 七乐彩彩票app下载's owner, William Hancock, was a judge and a Tory, and he'd left the area once the American forces achieved dominance. However, he returned on March 20 and was quickly taken captive.

All were asleep when a raiding party of 200 British soldiers attacked the house early the next morning. Many of the Americans were bayonetted in their sleep; others pled in vain to be taken prisoner. A precious few were able to escape, but ironically, Hancock himself was murdered by the loyalists with whom he agreed.

The house is now owned by the State of New Jersey and run by local volunteers. I'd actually stumbled upon the house being open on a March day many years ago, and found the guides to be very friendly and knowledgeable. In fact, before I left that day, they implored me to come back few weeks later for a reenactment. "You'll really like the massacre," they told me. "It's a lot of fun!"

We weren't as lucky with the latest visit, though I'd checked the website in advance for operating hours. A sign outside the house said the volunteer staff was at a street fair in Salem City, so no one was around to show us the interior. Even if you have the same luck we did, however, there's lots to see around the property. The site's interpreters probably realized that a fair number of visitors would happen by when no-one was there to tell the story, so they developed really good signage.

The house exterior is the logical first thing to check out, but it's not exactly obvious since it's on the side not facing a street. The patterned end brickwork contains both a zigzag pattern and the initials of the house's owners, William and Sarah Hancock, along with 1734, the year it was built. Overall, the architecture reflects the English/Quaker influence of the European settlers in that part of New Jersey. Salem County is second to only Burlington County in the country七乐彩彩票登录 when it comes to the number of surviving brick houses with pattern designs.

Next, there's a Swedish plank cabin on the property. This building itself was built in 1931 by the Civil Works Administration with 400 year old cedar mined from property in Salem. All of the craftsmanship is authentic to the 1700s, meaning it would look very familiar to the Swedes who settled in the area during Colonial times. An informative wayside offers all the information you'd probably want to know about the cabin.

We also took a few minutes to check out the creek that meanders in front of the house. While there was no real wildlife to be seen, I don't doubt that the occasional muskrat makes its way through, along with various waterfowl. Yet another marker explains that PSE&G has been doing mitigation work to encourage the growth of water life in consideration for the operation of its nuclear plant a few miles away.

Satisfied we'd learned as much about Hancock House as we could expect that day, we set course for our next destination. We'd learned about a massacre that didn't occur in Boston... how about a tea party that didn't happen in Boston, either? Off we went, traversing the back roads to Greenwich.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Unfazed by Shark Week? Give Heron Week a try.

Discovery Channel has Shark Week.

Hidden New Jersey had Heron Week.

Okay, it doesn't have the same menacing bite or blood-curdling suspense, and we didn't need to protect ourselves with a cage, but our bird week had the element of surprise and even a fun new dance step.

七乐彩彩票app下载tricolor heron dekorte park new jersey
This tricolor heron has been hanging around
the Meadowlands for a couple of weeks. 
Followers of our already know about our first three episodes. I'm going to cheat a little and start on August 15, when I got a view of the tricolor heron that's been hanging around DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst. Reasonably rare for New Jersey, he was hanging out among some terns, perched in the open on a railing along the Marsh Discovery Trail. (Many thanks to the Meadowlands Commission's Jim Wright for setting me on course!)

Last Wednesday, I had a three-heron day at Echo Lake Park in Mountainside. The lower lake segment yielded a not-unexpected great blue heron along with a curfew-busting black-crowned night heron. The nice surprise for me there was the presence of not one, but two green herons. While they're not tremendously rare, they're not exactly an everyday occurrence, and I was glad to have found and identified them on my own.

七乐彩彩票app下载Green Heron Lenape Park New Jersey
Green herons really seem to like
Union County parks in August.
The next day I returned to Echo Lake with my camera, hoping to get a shot of the green heron, but he'd already moved on. Just as well, as I located one (maybe even the same guy) at adjacent Lenape Park in Cranford. A subsequent trip to Surprise Lake in Watchung Reservation yielded yet another greenie, not far from another great blue.

Later that afternoon, a check of the American Bird Association bulletin boards revealed big news: a reddish egret was spotted at one of our regular birding destinations, Forsythe NWR (a.k.a. Brig). This was significant. I'd never seen one, and the range map in the Sibley guide showed it as a rare visitor to the Eastern Seaboard. Just as important, the guide described the bird as "very active, chasing fish on foot, running, jumping and spinning." This I had to see: the Bird Minister of Silly Walks. Check out for a sample, and tell me you wouldn't want to check it out, too. There's something very appealing about watching a bird that looks like a drunken frat boy hunting for his lost keys.

Ivan and I decided that waiting for the weekend was not an option. If reports in the morning said that the bird was still at the refuge, we were making the trip to see it. All egrets, of course, are herons, so a chase for the reddish egret would fit perfectly into our theme week.

Friday morning dawned, bringing with it news of the bird still in its reported area at Brig. After getting some non-birding activities out of the way, we hopped on the Parkway, hoping the shore traffic hadn't started yet. We ran into some frustrating construction delays but told each other that if fate deemed the bird would leave before we got to him, we'd accept it.

Once we got to the refuge, we blew off the usual first stops and went directly to the eight-mile loop road through the marsh. Thursday's reports had the bird at the dogleg turn about three-quarters down the road, but a crowd of cars and birders were clustered about a mile or two into the drive. If this wasn't the egret, it was definitely something worth seeing.

Ivan pulled up to a couple of the gathered birders and rolled down the window to ask if it was the reddish egret. Yup.

"I thought it was at the dogleg."

The other birder shrugged. "It has wings."

Our quarry was roosted in a distant cedar tree, along with a couple of snowy egrets. Apparently he'd already eaten, because he seemed more interested in preening than in jumping down and doing the runaround dance. Or perhaps we'd just timed it badly and had to wait for the next show. In any case, his staying put allowed us to get a good view through the scope, enough of a study to feel that we could add the reddish egret to our New Jersey birding lists. And besides, though the bird didn't seem to want lunch, we humans were famished. We'd head over to JD's for a burger and return to see what else Brig had to offer us that day.

Our hunger eliminated, we returned to the refuge, this time making our usual stops before embarking on the loop road. A stop near the gull pond produced a view of easily a dozen great egrets perched in a tree, along with assorted others wading about. In the time since we'd left, however, the tide had rolled in, displacing many of the shorebirds that had been walking around the mudflats on our earlier visit. Maybe this wouldn't be such a productive visit, after all.

A new set of birders were perched and focused at the same spot in the road as we'd been with the earlier crowd, and for good reason. Perhaps encouraged by a higher water level, the reddish egret had come down from his perch to forage for fish. We stopped again, pulled out the viewing scope and were rewarded with the sight of him pacing around the shallows. Apparently a juvenile, he didn't seem to have the silly walk down pat, but he was entertaining to watch, nonetheless. Seeing that performance, I was satisfied to have gotten a good view of a creature I might never be in the presence of again, at least not in the Garden State.

That would have been a great ending to Heron Week, but our luck continued the following day when we visited Salem County. Driving through the country七乐彩彩票登录side enroute to Hancock's Bridge, we passed the inevitable cattle and... the accompanying cattle egrets. Ten of them were patrolling the pasture, some close to the cattle and others a little on their own. Not as improbable to New Jersey as the reddish egret, it was still a nice find for us.

Heron Week aside, we've been very fortunate to see some rare and wonderful avian visitors to New Jersey over the past year. Whether it's due to global warming or just an odd coincidence for them to find their way here, I'm grateful that places exist for them to rest, find food and seek refuge. Who knows what's in store for next year's Heron Week?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Before we left on our southbound excursion to points dinosaur and elsewhere, Ivan checked the birding bulletin boards for unusual sightings.

"There are cattle egrets at Cowtown Rodeo in Salem County. And a Eurasian collared dove on Route 40."

Cowtown?  COWTOWN? I've been looking for an excuse to get there, well, forever... and with the hadrosaurus already on our itinerary, I couldn't resist the opportunity to add two oversized mammals to the list of inanimate creatures to visit.

I'd heard about eons ago but have only driven past it once. Located in Pilesgrove, it's New Jersey's only stop on the professional rodeo circuit and the country七乐彩彩票登录's oldest weekly rodeo. You can't miss it on 40: you're greeted by a dressed as a cowboy, and a statue of some sort of oversized bovine (Steer? Cow? It's got both udders and horns, so your guess is as good as mine.) I'm not much of a rodeo fan, but the lure of mammoth, non-anatomically-correct creatures is too great to resist.

We got there to find the place deserted, as the sign said that the rodeo is only open Tuesday through Saturday. Not a soul was there, but for some cattle lounging in the adjacent pasture. I took a bunch of pictures as Ivan began scouring the area for egrets and doves. He saw plenty of cowbirds and gulls, but the egrets were nowhere to be found, so we continued our wanderings around Salem County farm country七乐彩彩票登录. At least one of us had found our quarry.

The egrets? We finally found them not far away, in a grazing area on Sharptown-Auburn Road. Four of 'em were doing what cattle egrets do -- hanging out in the field with the cows. Another life bird for Sue, another year bird for Ivan. The dove, however, eluded our search.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Not all that far from the end of the Turnpike, but seemingly in another world, is Finn's Point National Cemetery -- a 4.6 acre burial place that contains the remains of over 3000 veterans. It's the third part of our refuge/fort/cemetery visit, and we found it by driving through Fort Mott State Park, first on paved road, then rutted dirt road, until we reached the simple iron gates that mark the entrance to this hallowed ground.  Visible all around the stone wall surrounding it are tall phragmites that make brushing noises as they're stirred by breezes coming off Delaware Bay.

While the cemetery still sees the occasional interment of cremains, most buried there were Civil War era deaths. Also buried there are a handful of World War Two German prisoners of war who were held at Fort Dix.

The remote placement of the cemetery begins to make sense when you understand its proximity to Fort Delaware, an installation built just a few miles away, on Pea Patch Island, in the early 1800s to protect the mouth of the Delaware River. During the Civil War, the fort was used by the Union to confine Confederate prisoners captured during the battle of Gettysburg.  By July of 1863, over 12,000 captives were being held on the 75 acre island, and disease and malnutrition took their tragic and savage toll.

Sadly, the Civil War graves are not marked individually, leading one to believe that perhaps they were left in mass pits, a theory supported by the presence of a large depression in the ground. Instead, two large memorials mark the mass graves. The older, domed Union Monument was built in 1879 in memory of 135 Union guards who were stationed at Fort Delaware and died while on duty. The Confederate memorial makes a more stirring impression on the visitor. An 85-foot tall concrete and granite obelisk erected by the US government in 1910, its base holds bronze tablets that list all of the 2436 Confederate prisoners of war -- military and civilian -- who died at the fort during the war.

You can't help but be moved by the simplicity of the site, and the magnitude of the suffering and loss it represents. A large plaque along the driveway holds the words of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, a fitting tribute to those interred within the earth just beyond. It led me to wonder how we let each other suffer so, and why there seems to be no end to the constant battles mankind wages against itself.

In an odd incident worthy of tabloid coverage, Finn's Point itself became a murder scene not so long ago. As part of a multi-state killing spree, a man named Andrew Cunanan fatally shot cemetery caretaker William Reese in 1997, stealing his truck.  Cunanan eventually made his way to Florida, where he murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace.  A few days later, he took his own life, closing a truly bizarre story.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Exploring Fort Mott

Stop two on the refuge/fort/cemetery tour was Fort Mott State Park in lovely Pennsville, NJ.

Located on the shore of the Delaware River, Fort Mott was one of three Endicott-era installations built during the mid- and late 19th century to protect the mouth of the river, and the only one located in New Jersey. Just across, on Pea Patch Island, is Fort Delaware, and Fort du Pont is at Reedy Point, just east of Delaware City.  During the summer, a ferry shuttles visitors between Mott and Pea Patch Island, but in the winter, you're pretty much on your own.

Fort Mott once had more than 30 buildings, including offices, barracks, housing and a hospital, but many structures were taken down after the property was transferred to the State of New Jersey following World War II. Just about all that's left now are the gun batteries, a few buildings, a magazine and some observation towers. Given New Jersey's budget issues, the buildings were closed, but we could still roam around and read the wayside signs to learn more.

To start, we found out a bit about the man who lent his name to the fort, Major General Gershom Mott, a native of Lamberton, near Trenton. Serving with distinction in the Civil War, he was wounded several times and eventually elevated to the rank of Major General. Following the war, he was offered a commission in the regular army, but chose instead to return to civilian life. Even then, he continued in public service as New Jersey state treasurer, major general and commander of the state's national guard. Turns out there's also a legend of questionable authenticity that his grandfather guided Washington's troops on the Delaware before the decisive Battle of Trenton. In any case, he's quite an impressive guy.

The batteries lining the shore side of the fort are impressive in length: a 700 foot expanse that's a 35 feet thick mound of earth and concrete. They once housed disappearing guns -- three 10-inch and three 12-inch -- that could fire ammo weighing up to 1000 pounds to a distance of eight miles. Several smaller, rapid-fire guns were also installed in the batteries.

Per custom, each of the batteries was named for a military veteran who had distinguished himself in service, and one has a distinctly New Jersey connection. Brigadier General Charles Harker was a local boy, born in nearby Swedesboro, and was killed in action in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, in 1864. Ivan looked him up later and found that Harker had been orphaned at a young age and commissioned to West Point on the recommendation of his boyhood employer, who eventually became a member of Congress.

I thought I had a pretty decent knowledge of battery construction and technology from all of the wandering I've done around Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook. However, there was one thing that totally threw me at Fort Mott: the latrine system. A explained that the toilets at the batteries worked on a gravity system, with the, uh, deposits running down into the moat in front of the batteries as an added deterrent for those who'd attempt to overtake the fort.  It worked for castles in the middle ages, why not forts in the 1800s? (Still, though -- if you're hell bent on invading, is a little poop gonna stop you? Can you imagine telling your commanding officer you didn't complete your mission because you didn't want to muck up your boots?)

Beyond the fort itself, the park is a relaxing place to have a picnic, play some ball or toss a frisbee on the expansive parade grounds. You can also enjoy a scenic view of Fort Delaware or the distant Salem Nuclear Power Station from the ferry dock. On the unusually warm February day when we visited, several families and couples were capitalizing on the sunny weather to get some fresh air into their lungs.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Continuing on our Salem County jaunt, we headed to a three-in-one stop that contained a national military cemetery, an army fort turned state park, and a National Wildlife Refuge. For right now, I'll focus on that last one, the .

Encompassing just over 3000 acres of Delaware Bay marshland, Supawna's mix of fresh and saltwater habitat is an important stop for migrating and feeding waterfowl and shorebirds. Several types of raptors hang out there, too. Likewise, it's a good place to tromp around if you want to get your boots a little muddy, or if you'd like to get into the woods a little bit. We found parking near the grassland trail and set out on the walk.

Given the warming temperatures and sunlight, it was really nice to be out, but it sounded as if the birds were elsewhere.  In other words:  it was totally silent, but for the pop-pop-pop of shotguns in the distance, reminding us that hunters were stalking deer in the distance. Sure, it was approaching midday, but come on, guys, throw us a bone and squawk or something!

One trail took us through a moist wooded area with wayside signs pointing out various tree species, an especially nice touch when leaves haven't sprouted yet. Eventually, we got to an elevated observation area overlooking a field of phragmites, the nearest of which appeared to be trampled down. Still: no birdies. Not even a peep, or a honk or a quack.

Another trail, in the other direction, brought us through grassland, along the edge of some more woodlands. There we heard some peeping, but alas, from frogs. Still, though, a wonderful harbinger of spring on a February day when temperatures were reaching the 50's. An elevated blind offered a view over a grassland distant; Ivan took a climb up and noted that the birds didn't appear to be there, either. We had a lot more trail ahead of us but concluded it would likely yield no more feathered fauna than we'd already seen. Thus we returned back to the car, making a note to return later in the year when more birds would likely be there.

Supawna is also 七乐彩彩票app下载 to the . Built in 1876, it looks much like an oil well or a black stovepipe supported by brackets, but it's actually designed as an aid to navigation and was once paired with a front range light on a standard lighthouse-type building, as well as another set of range lights farther south. While lighthouses help guide ships to shore and point out difficult areas, range lights help mark channels. Captains on ships coming up the Delaware River from Delaware Bay would sight both lights and determine they were on the right route when the two lights lined up.

The Finn's Point Front Range Light was demolished after damaging floods in 1938, and the nearly 95-foot rear light continued operation intermittently until 1950, when the channel was dredged and enlarged. After a persistent campaign by local citizens, the rear light was added to the National Historic Register in 1978, and fully restored by 1984 with money dedicated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In years past I've climbed the tower's 130 steps during New Jersey Lighthouse Society Lighthouse Challenge weekends (usually in October), and it's a humbling experience to tread those steps knowing the lighthouse keeper did it twice daily for years to light and then extinguish the beacon.

Reports conflict on whether the tower is open for visitation; it wasn't while we were there, and as with any site run by a grassroots group, staffing can be spotty. If you're in the area, though, it's worth at least taking a look. And definitely let me know if you hear any birds while you're there.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Heading down to Salem...

This weekend's trip brought us down to the end of the New Jersey Turnpike: Salem County and environs. Truth be told, it was a bit of a compromise. I've been wanting to get back down Jersey for quite a while now, given that I haven't made any regular trips to the region in some time. When Ivan checked his online birding bulletin board and found that a yellow-headed blackbird had been found in Mannington, the plan was in motion.

Fortunately the weather was on our side this time, as it was relatively warm with variable skies, not a lot of wind, and no precipitation. We hit the road, with the general direction of going to Exit One and making a left onto Route 45. This pretty much immediately brings you into the flat farmlands of Salem County, occasionally punctuated by a small bit of commerce or some marshy territory. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of opportunities to see random birds of interest along the way.

Now, I have to admit that when I head to Salem on my own, I always seem to end up taking different routes, driving by sense of feel, so to speak. It's kinda hard to navigate someone else with that approach, and there was the need to get through Salem City on the way to the bird in Mannington. Thus, I'm a little scrambled in my mind on which came first: the birding or the Saleming. For the purposes of the blog, I'll handle the birding first.

The bird itself had been located on Compromise Road in Mannington (there's got to be a good story around that name, don't you think?), among a flock of blackbirds. We found our way up Route 45, beyond the county hospital and just outside of the radius of the alarm sirens for the Salem/Hope Creek Nuclear Station. Along the way, we made some roadside stops against a marsh or two to scout some birds, including three bald eagles perched authoritatively in a tree. Pretty cool.

Once on Compromise Road, we were looking for a place described as "about half the way up the road, across from a house with a white sign and a couple of cows in the front yard." I wondered: what if the cows had gone in for the day? And how would we know we were halfway up the road?

Not to worry: it wasn't long before we saw a white sign advertising the Wilson Wool Works, with a few cows in the yard. Where were the sheep? Who knows? The real question became "where's the yellow-headed blackbird?" Among the birds we found along the stretch of road, none had a distinctive yellow pate. Somewhat disappointing. (And a side question: if the Wilson Wool Works had a website, would the URL be www.www.com?)

We did, however, find something interesting where Compromise Road ends: a rather large and distinctive grave marker for John Fenwick, who, with other Quakers, founded Salem in 1675 as the first permanent English settlement on the Delaware River. The Mannington area had been named for him before being renamed for the tile manufacturing company that now dominates the area.

A little later, once in Salem, we made a stop by the famous Salem Oak, where Fenwick negotiated for the land with the local Indian tribe. That, of course, would make the tree well over 300 years old, and its spread branches extend in a broad radius over many graves in the Friends Burial Ground on West Broadway. While the tree was still fertile, its acorns were much sought after and thousands were sent nationwide, meaning there are countless Salem Oaks still out there somewhere.

Now, Salem city itself is an interesting case. The WPA Guide to New Jersey, written in the late 1930's, has a description that still fits: "Salem is like an old, old sampler with a few bright spots: but it is time-worn and frayed. The old brick Georgian Colonial houses facing the brick-paved streets would stir envy in a Williamsburg reconstructionist, and the square, heavy, frame structures, typical of the Civil War era, are a living memorial to another historical period."

Not a lot has changed in 70 years. A thriving port in colonial times, its somewhat tucked-in location on the river made it difficult for Salem's nautical industry to change with the times, and it really hasn't recovered since. Over the years, the discovery of marl for fertilizer, and the growth of the glass industry helped improve the economy, but now it's back to being a backwater, with not a lot of money evident in the community. It's really a shame, too, because the architecture is a hidden gem. Someone with a lot of vision, some money and a long timeline could make a huge impact.

Across the street from the tree is another Salem Oak: the diner bearing its name. A classic Silk City diner with very little renovation over the years, it's a real throwback. Save the crummy pastel paint job on the outside, you'd think the whole thing had just come off the production line in Paterson. I was especially taken with the condition of the restroom, which reminded me that these old diners were delivered with virtually no prep needed by the owner. Just get the plumbing and wiring hooked up from the street and main, and you're open for business.

Now, the last time I was at the Oak, I had a less than stellar meal and indifferent service. This visit didn't change my opinion much. While the French toast was pleasantly thick and spongy, the bacon was disturbingly hard in places, as if there had been a rind they didn't bother to trim off before cooking. And the waitress totally blew Ivan's order, which led to a five minute wait to get resolution. She was apologetic and owned up to the mistake, but really -- there were probably about five tables occupied, and the place wasn't all that busy.

One fun find, just outside of the city center on Route 45, was , located in a restored feed mill on Fenwick Creek. I often check in on one or two favorite shops in Salem which carry 'olde junk,' but much of Royal Port's inventory are legitimate antiques found in the surrounding communities. With so many old and unpreserved farmhouses in the region, it's not surprising to find good stuff there. I had to stop myself from buying a huge old lightbulb for $5, wondering where in heck I would put it... but honestly, I may find myself driving back down to snap it up. (Yes, I know -- I'll spend more in gas and tolls to get it than it's worth, but whatever. I'm an Edison nut, so sue me.)

here's more to come on our Salem County visit... stay tuned for more!