Lore of New Jersey’s Forked River Mountains

Now we have come to a land where clam and corn fritters are often “flitters,” where wasps are “waspers” and where the industrious ant, according to size, is either an “antymire” or something not sufficiently elegant for quotation in this family journal.

We have arrived together in an area roughly bounded by Mount Misery, once called “Misericorde” wandering grape planting Frenchmen; Dover Forge, reaching back to Jersey bog ore days; Double Trouble, named by an old preacher compelled by beavers to build a dam at least twice, and Forked River – where the “Forked” is still pronounced with two syllables.

On the fringe are Waretown, last stronghold of the militant Quaker Baptists; Good Luck, birthplace of Universalism; Brookville that was Miliville and before that, Tattletown; Cedar Bridge, an early celebrated tavern-stop, and Woodmansee. Here, as you may have guessed, are the Forked River Mountains, a wide expanse of tall barren hills and a region of much taller stories.

This is the country where old men and women pronounce names like Nescochague as if the “g” were the “ch” in chocolate, a trick that is an heirloom of the Lenni Lenapes, without counterpart in even the Elizabethan English that persists in such words, as “strip-ed” for bass. This is where, when you have all but given up your quest for Mr. Hatch, whom you conclude must have named Hatch’s Creek, you stumble the explanation that the stream was Hatchet Creek a century ago.

Botanical shrine famous in Europe

We are up and away from Quaker Bridge, which has lost every vestige of its houses, its tavern, and the bridge that was built without a nail and remained intact, within my own recollection, until a disastrous forest fire. Even so, Quaker Bridge remains a botanical shrine, better known to students, especially in Europe, than many a big city, simply because it was here, in 1805, that the schizea pusilla was found. “Over the name hangs an aura of interest in lands you may never see,” Hollis Koster my Green Bank naturalist told me not long ago. Yes, we are up and over from Quaker Bridge where John Torrey, of New York, “remained two days at Thompson’s Tavern” and was, as he reported to Zaccheus Collins, of Philadelphia, in a letter of July 9, 1818, “very well entertained.” Cedar water, white sand and endless groves of pitch pines would be John’s lonely entertainment now.

As for the wilderness beyond, land watered by the sometimes curiously – spelled “Poppose,” Tub Mill, and other branches of the Wading River, even Mr. Torrey admitted that there were moments of anxiety, just as there would be today. “After we had left Quaker Bridge,” he wrote, describing a journey along a road I would not advise you to take, even though I have splashed my way through, “we fared pretty hard. Some places called taverns that we put up at were not fit for an Arab. At a place called Ten Mile Hollow, or Hell Hollow, we expected to sleep in the woods, for it was with difficulty that we persuaded them to take us in. This was the most miserable place we ever saw; they were too poor to use candles” and had “no butter, sugar, etc. A little sour stuff, which I believe they called rye bread but which was half sawdust, and a little warm water and molasses, were all we had for breakfast. For supper I could not see what we had, for we ate in the dark.”

This, more than a century after, is proposed as an introductory warning for, if you have a mind to explore the mysterious land long set apart as the Forked River Mountain, you had better bring at least a serviceable compass and an ample lunch. Years ago, when I was trying to fight my way through to the hills that seemed ever within reach and yet remained far away, I was deluged by natives of Forked River, Waretown, and other villages along the shore with offers of guidance. These I spurned, for the most part, mistakenly or not, preferring to follow ever abandoned roads that rose from yellowing maps.

GI trails fade in rugged land

Even now, when I have discovered that secret wartime installations bulldozed their way into the most remote fastnesses, bringing even the topmost “peaks” within reach – although GI roads are falling apart even as the old logging trails did before them – I cannot say that I am sorry. I would have missed half the fun.

This “fun” was the thrill of pushing east of the flowering wastelands through which Audubon rode in a produce wagon on his way further south, a journey described in “Great Egg Harbour,” an episode of the third volume in his ornithological biography. It was, and still can be, the delight of traveling the lonely land north of where necessity developed one of the earliest toothless cranberry scoops, used in gathering “true” or upland berries, divided by the natives Into classifications like “boggles” and “staggers.” Like so many tools and utensils, the scoop was born of necessity, isolation and evolution from the first picking by hand to Rob Ford’s use of a basket and cloth covered [text missing] this device of a Green Bank genius whose name is unknown.

So, remembering Quaker Bridge as one of a half-hundred forgotten towns where elections or “caucuses” were held by the simple process of lining up those in favor of one candidate on one side of the “road” facing those preferring an opponent across the sandy way, let’s linger for a moment in Double Trouble, the settlement to which troublesome beavers gave a name; in Williamsburg, which lost itself in Cedar Creek and then Lanoka, and finally in Dover and Good Luck. It is evident that in Gazetteer Tom Gordon’s time there already was a tendency to mangle the name of the stream that flowed seaward from Dover Forge with that of the town, for Tom wasted no time on duplication. Willimsburg, he wrote in 1834, was a village of “10 or 12 dwellings, two taverns, two stores. Good Luck,” he added as if in an afterthought “is a thickly settled neighborhood. The country on the E,” he concluded, “is salt marsh; elsewhere sandy and covered with pine forest.”

Plane Still Lost after 15 Years

Williamsburg lost no time in becoming Cedar Creek and next, with equal facility, Lanoka Harbor. Lanoka, enterprising real estate men used to tell me, was an Indian maid, as real as Indian Ann or the aroma that engulfed her. However, I must assure you that this was where George Lane planted oaks, deriving temporary delight in Lane’s Oaks Harbor, streamlined into Lanoka as soon as George died. In a land where the moving of a forge, piece by piece, caused little concern, and where, when the first airplanes dared a crossing of the Forked River Mountains, one of them dropped from sight in the wilderness 15 years ago and was never heard of again; the changing of a name was nothing at all.

Dover was the forge that was moved. “I have learned,” wrote Charles W. Austin in a letter to the late Charles S. Boyer, author of the hard-to-find “Early Forges and Furnaces in New Jersey,” that an iron forge was in operation at a place called Old Hampton by my grandfather, Joseph Austin, and he demolished it and carted it to Dover with eight-mule teams.” There, where you will find blueberries and cranberries, grown in bogs and on plantations on the road over from Whiting through the Keswick that was Giberson’s, or Guilbertson’s, Mills our estimable Joseph dreaming of uses to which this desolate expanse might be put, rebuilt the whole structure and had it going again, full-tilt, prior to the 1830s.

Charles Austin was born at Dover – and please don’t confuse it with the Morris county Dover that remains. He said that bog iron there was made into pigs and taken away to become a variety of serviceable articles. There was a saw mill, too, where cedar shingles, siding frames, plaster 1ath, fence pickets and all [text missing] even the business in plentiful cedar was less than a memory. I talked with Walter Price, then the overseer of the Holloway cranberry bogs, which long after the forge was swallowed up by the saw mill that ended its days as a barrel factory, expanded across the intermittent lowlands. Walter had worked at Cedar Crest, he said. “Been there” he inquired, I told him that I had and that I worked the signals at the abandoned railroad station near Bamber before the station and tracks were taken away.

“Ever see the peach trees?” he demanded suddenly. I surprised him with an affirmative, remembering some rotting peach baskets in a shed near the Cedar Crest station. “I was a part of all that,” Walter confessed, giving me the only first-hand explanation of another broken hope that I have had. “It was the New York Fruit Co. that came there, almost within sight of the Forked River Mountains,” he went on. “They was going to grow peaches all over the place, and you know, peaches all over the place was what licked “em. Maybe the borers got those trees in the end, over there back of Bamber where you’ve wondered at “em, but it was a bumper crop that ruined the owners. First of all, not many people live around there and they couldn’t get enough pickers for Jove or money. Then, everything was too far away from decent transportation, even if the fruit got picked. If somebody had only thought of a canning plant in those days…”

Water so cold “it kills teeth”

The ruined outline of the forge itself was visible in those days, close to the edge of a flooded bog often rimmed with the red of cranberries that had floated away. The cedar water was crystal clear and down at the bottom were fragments of telltale Dover slag. Below the spillway of what used to be the sawmill was an “ice-cold North Pole” spring which Walter, as I recall it, pointed out with boyish delight. This, he said, was once a kind of community refrigerator for workers on the bogs – jars and crocks of edibles had been, plunged deep In the water which, Walter said, was “too cold to drink.” It kills your teeth and poisons your gums and cuts your tongue out while you’re talkin’,” Walter said, spitting to punctuate his declaration. It was Walter Price who sent me to Double Trouble, first drawing a map of the road in the sand and then suggesting that it had been the Indians who had left such a gloomy name behind them. When I left him he provided a helpful Introduction to J. Reed Tilton, then superintendent of the cranberry bogs at Double Trouble, holdings of the Double Trouble Cranberry Co. Tilton quickly denied that the Indians were responsible. “Only goes to show how stories get around,” he said. That was how I heard the legend of the parson and the beavers who fought it out with dignity, time and again.

“Sometimes they use muskrat in the tale,” the supervisor said, “but beavers sound much better. First the old man would build up the dam and, when it was busted, with the water sluicing through, he’d say to his wife, “Here’s trouble!’ – just like that. In the end, when the dam was eaten through twice in one week, the old preacher really put his heart into what he had to say. “Here’s double trouble!’ he hollered, with his voice as loud as one of his sermons in his good days. All I can say is,” Mr. Tilton concluded soberly, “it’s a good thing he was a preacher. Anybody else’d ha’ used a lot stronger language!” I am, in my errant way, inclined to agree with him.

This may be, as my unidentified man of God must have thought, a land of errant fortune but it is, as well, the country of Good Luck, Which requires the telling of another tale about another preacher, one who built a church and then settled down to wait. This is the story of the Rev. John Murray, first preacher of Universalism in America, who sailed from England July 1770, as supercargo on the brig, “Hand In Hand.” You must have seen a sign designating Murray Grove, even if you have been intent im making something of a speed record down along the coastal highway. It is probable, however, that you missed the little church at the end of the lane and, to be frank, would go on missing it, if I were you, until the first frost comes. I will whisper the word, mosquitoes, and then say no more.

Ship struck bar in berry inlet

As for John Murray, he has long since ceased to worry about such matters. He was, however, a little concerned in the September of that same 1770 when his ship struck the bar of the old Cranberry Inlet, now closed, where he remained several days until help arrived to get her off. Great quantities of romance have been woven round Tom Potter, the man who built the church Mr. Murray was to use, but I prefer to conclude that there was a far more practical idea involved especially behind the notion that Potter’s house could be used for services no longer and a sure-enough church must take its place. “My wife became weary of having meetings held in her house,” wrote Tom Potter, “and I determined to build a house for the worship of God…” So, you see, once again it was a matter of disrupted housekeeping, mud tracked into a tarnished living room by clodhoppers, and unexpected visitations of the clergy at ungodly hours.

“While lying here the provisions of the brig,” wrote my old friend, the late Freddie Bunnell, who used gild the story of Mr. Murray and others under the shudderous sobriquet of June Daye, “became exhausted, and after locking up the vessel, the entire crew proceeded cross the bay in search of sustenance. Being unacquainted with the main, they spent the greater part of the day before they could effect their purpose and, it then being very, late, they proceeded to a nearby tavern to reman over night. (Mr. Murray’s mind seems to have been much exercised by eventful scenes in his previous life, and he longed to get to some place where the busy cares of the world would’ not disturb his meditations.”

And so has each of us reacted at [text missing] soon as the boatmen arrived at the tavern, Murray left them for solitary walk through the dark forest. “Here,” said he, I am as such alone as I could wish, and my heart exclaimed, O, that I had in this wilderness the lodging of some poor walfaring man, some cave, some grot, some place where I might fish my days in calm repose.”

This was when, as if Mr. Murray had rubbed a magical Aladdin’s amp, a log house appeared, and in it, in Fred Bunnell’s version, a young woman who was cleaning some fish.

Collectors Items as Gustave Kobbe’s “Jersey Coast and Pines,” Mr. Murray didn’t flee the motion of a bar room, didn’t wander off into the woods by choice, and certainly did lot come upon a comely young woman. “Murray,” wrote Kobbe, separating from the rest, came to a house where he found a tall, tough-looking man standing by a pile of fish. “Pray, sir,” said Murray, “will you have the goodness to sell me one of those fish?” “No, sir,” was the old man’s abrupt reply. “That is strange,” replied Murray “when you have so many, to refuse a single one.” “I did not refuse you a fish, sir; you are welcome to as many as you please. But I do lot sell fish; I have them for the taking up, and you may obtain them the same way.” The upshot of this singular conversation,” continues Mr. Kobbe who was, as you bay remember, the musical traveler of the New York Times in the 1880s, “was that Murray, after taking up some fish to a tavern where the crew had put up for the night, turned to potter’s house.”

If the conversation was singular before, it was phenomenal from this point on. For the moment, however, let’s resort to Tom Potter’s own words. “I am a poor, ignorant man,” he said. “. . . I was born in these woods, and my father did not think proper to teach me my letters. [Text missing] away and returned. I entered into navigation, constructed a sawmill, and have got together a large estate. I opened my house to the stranger, and especially if a traveling minister passed this way, he always received an invitation to put up at my house and hold his meetings here. I continued this practice for years and was fond of asking them questions,” It was at this point that Mr. Potter also disclosed Mrs. Potter’s estimate of seven years of question-and-answer programs as the dubious reward for extra laundry.

Dedicated church for use by all

Neighbors offered assistance in the building of his church, Potter went on, each with an eye to business in view of subsequent developments but, such proposals were successively declined. Tom Potter said. merely “that God will send me a preacher, and of a very different stamp from those who have heretofore preached at my house and are perpetually contradicting themselves. . .” Baptists asked for the church, once Potter had completed it, and were refused, presumably because they wanted to exclude others. Similar denials were given to both Presbyterians and the Society of Friends, whereupon old Tom “engaged the first year with a man whom I exceedingly disliked. We parted,” he explained briefly, “and for some years have had no stated minister.”

This was an interim in which representatives of a variety of denominations, thwarted in their own plans to use the meeting house Tom Potter had fashioned with his own hands, taunted him with the sarcastic question: “Where is the preacher of whom you spoke?” “My constant reply was,” he wrote afterwards, “He will by-an-by make his appearance.” So, when John Murray had returned from the tavern to Mr. Potter’s house, he was astonished by Tom Potter’s heartness of greeting. “Come my friend, I am glad you have returned,” said he. “I have longed to see you; I have been long expecting you.” Following other details of his story, pieced together before a warming fire, and probably with worrisome Mrs. Potter hovering around in the background, Tom said that at the very instant he saw John Murray’s ship stranded he felt a sense of great happiness. “It seemed as if a voice in my ear said, “There, Potter, in that vessel cast upon the shore is the preacher you have been so long expecting.” I heard the voice and I believed the report and when you came and asked for the fish the same voice seemed to repeat, “Potter, this is the man – this is the person whom I have sent to preach in your house.”

John Murray was clearly amazed. Some say he had preached in England. Other accounts declare that he had been among the Universallsts but had been nothing more than “a believer.” Tucked away at the back of Dr. Brainerd’s “Life of John Brainerd” is the statement that “the wind continuing unfavorable for Murray’s departure, he on Saturday afternoon consented to, preach, and servants were sent on horseback to give notice, far and wide, until 10 in the evening.” It was, continues this fragmentary entry, “September, 1770, when John Murray consented to accept Potter’s invitation, and remain a few years preaching universal salvation.” Kobbe says that Murray, who had preached In England but had decided never to preach again, succumbed to the quiet at the “foothills” of the Forked River Mountains. Tom Murray wrote in his journal that John Murray begged God to send a changing wind to carry his ship away and when there was no wind, he remained. The “unpretentious, white, oblong structure” still stands mostly as it must have been in 1766 when Murray first preached Universalism there, surely as it was when Gustav Kobbe came upon it in 1891.

Today, when the makers of modern maps have for the most part discarded the name of Good Luck as a village, I wonder if it is true that the brig on which Mr. Murray was supercargo gave Good Luck Point its name or if, as no less than Gustav Kobbe has written, the reference is to an episode in the revolution when a refuge, McMullen, spurred his horse into the water, eluding his pursuers with the wholly inadequate cry, “Good Luck!” So it is, as I remember that It was from Good Luck that I once tried to attain the Forked River Mountains, that I reflect on Mr. Potter’s disdain of Baptists in the light of what happened from 1809 to 1874, when Methodists and Universalists worked out a joint schedule of worship in the Good Luck church. And I have always wanted to know something of how Mr. Potter would have felt about the somewhat ornate brick church the Universalists built on the lot adjoining Murray Grove.

Woman dug graves in old cemetery

Especially would I give much to know something more of the old woman who told me she was a grave-digger, there in the Good Luck cemetery, for although my experience with grave-diggers has been limited, I assure you that this one, buxom, full of talk, and leaning on a shovel with a technique developed by long service, is the only one of her sex I have encountered in this vocation. Still in quest of “the way” to the Forked River Mountains in the old days, I was there when she urged me to try another road from Waretown, or Waeirtown as it used to be.

The usual guidebooks dismiss; Waretown as a quiet village, disowned by the Jolly Tar Highway in quest of fewer curves. They call it, ordinarily, “the home of retired sea captains and of many who earn their living from salt water,” Reluctantly, it seems to me, they go on to admit that the name once was Waer Town, even Wiretown in the writings of itinerant divines who used a Universalist headquarters there when other church doors were closed to them, Waretown is the namesake of Abraham Waeir, an early settler who died In 1768. Abraham, it seems, succeeded John Cover as the local leader of some Rogerines, thrown out of Connecticut, who came down the low roads to the shore in 1737. Although I went to Waretown armed with facts, first that the Society of the Rogerine Baptists was founded about 1674 by John Rogers; second, that John was for baptism by immerslon and celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the evening, and finally, that every day of the week should be observed as a holy day, my good friend, the woman who dug graves at Good Luck, had put some strange ideas into my head, not all of them having to do with “flitters” and “waspers.” These, for better or worse, were confirmed by those I met in Waretown.

“To the believers of John Rogers,” they said, as if they had been reading an encyclopedia, “the Sabbath had no special sanctity, It was held that since the death of Christ all days had become holy alike. Rogerines scorned the use of medicines and even of tonic herbs, employing neither physicians nor surgeons. They refused to say grace at meals and insisted that all prayer, except that which might be inspired by extreme occasions, must be mental.” To these Quaker Baptists, all unscriptural religious ritual was idolatry and all good Christians, therefore, must exert themselves against idols, infant baptism and observance of Sunday were idolatry and the Sabbath, obviously, was a New Englaid idol which must be forever shunned.

I was told long ago in Waretown that Quaker Baptists there insisted on observing their own Sundays, if they knew which day it was and that they made a point of upsetting the church services of others. Since that time others have come to me with the variation that Waretown Rogerines never took their knitting to rival churches, seldom banged on church floors with hammers to the distraction of alien preachers, and rarely resorting to sawing pews apart in protest against distasteful sermons, although I may say that I have heard some sermons which, could, I am sure, inspire similar reactions in me. The Quaker Baptists who spent 11 years in Ware- town, says one record, “made no attempt to disturb other societies, although more ardent members seem to have found it convenient to be at some manual labor near meeting houses or in the way of people going to and from church.” All I know now is that they seem to have left Waretown in a hurry, expressing a preference for Northern New Jersey mountains higher than those at hand, where, I hope, they found God from a higher pinnacle.

Mountains found but didn’t know it

It may have seemed to you that I have scuttled all around the Forked River Mountains without actually getting into them. This would not be a fair conclusion. You may try various ways in, just as I have done through the years, only to emerge with stories of Good Luck, Waretown, the Lacey road, the way, only to be told that you have wandered into the “mountains” without knowing it.

This is what they have told me, time and again. Now it is different and there is little point in merely writing paragraphs of description, however mysterious and limitless the wastelands may seem, when one ridge of scrub pine and stunted oak seems like the next. Apart from mortalized in the village that bears his name. You may emerge, crestfallen, believing you have missed and even Nathan Whiting in that, standing the other day on the highest elevation of all, 175 feet above the sea where I never had been before, I realized suddenly that the high moors were not the same. The far-away, kept intact in peacetime; had lost some of their charm in an accessibility made possible by war. I wonder if the challenge of the unknown has gone.

Deep down, I know that it hasn’t for I always like to think of the Forked River Mountains as belonging to Adolph Arendes, long ago a forester in Germany but a lean and ageless man who has been wandering these hills since 1906. “Dolph” has been my friend for many a year, even if I did call him a “woodjin” in a book long ago only to discover afterward that the name had been taken as anything but a compliment.

A woodjin to me is a Down Jersey man who knows the woods better than anybody else and that was what I told “Dolph” when 1 got around to seeing him. He laughed but down at the home of Dr. Nelson & Newbury in Waretown, not long ago, I found out that the old pet name still rankled. This is something that must be cleared up some day soon and until it is the puzzle of the dwarfed mountains will plague me and remain unsolved.

For “Dolph” has a wise head crammed full of lore, stories bristling with odd names of the hideaways he knows better than – Chicken Bone, Red Oak Grove, and Cat-n-Rat. I want to know more about Cave Cabin Hill, about Rutherford Stuyvesant and the Frenchmen he imported to these mist-curtained hills, about Lacey Station that vanished with its railroad, and about John Chamberlin who, they say, was farming those flatlands as early as 1740. I must learn something of the Ransomes who boasted everywhere of Indian blood, of James DeBow, of Sally Brown, Sally Griffee, and the Bowkers. Until I can corner “Dolph” for at least a full day of tall talk, that grove of Australian pines he planted across from the trail the jeeps used from the Lacey road to Whiting will haunt me in a never never land where fritters are “fritters” and tiny ants an unprintable name.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, Sept. 7, 1947. Reprinted with permission. Transcribed by Ben Ruset. The Star Ledger requests that you do not copy, retransmit, or link directly to this article. Please link to our homepage at http://www.njpinebarrens.com

You may also like...