The Legend of Aserdaten
Seldom is there found such a persistent legend in New Jersey than the one concerning Aserdaten. Located at the intersection of two unnamed sand roads in the Forked River Mountains, its only remarkable feature is the desolation of the area.
Henry Charlton Beck wrote extensively on the area in the book ‘Jersey Genesis’ but even in the 1930s, answers about the town or the people who lived there were not forthcoming. From the reactions that Beck and his friend Ned Knox, an artist from Toms River who was also trying to find out about the area, received from the locals, it was a story that everybody was just looking to forget.
The Cook Topo map of 1886 is one of the first maps that show the name of the area as being Aserdaten. The prevailing theory presented by Beck is that a man named named Asa Dayon started a deer preserve on that spot. I’m not quite convinced of this, considering that it’s unusual to see other Pine Barrens towns with their names bastardized so far from their founders name. It’s my own personal belief that the founders surname was Aserdaten, and that his first name has just been lost to time.
The road to Aserdaten is long and desolate, and when wet is nearly impassable. Fortunately for the explorer it has been rather dry, so the way is clear for an automobile to pass. The road stretches on for miles, and the only features that distinguish the site is the T intersection of a sand road, and a mound of dirt as the main road turns. The road that leads down the T intersection used to run straight to Lacey, but now the large road cut in by a gravel company bisects it near the site of the old Tuckerton Railroad. This road is impassable to motor vehicles, since the gravel company erected barriers near the intersection of the two roads.
On both sides of the road is a featureless forest consisting mostly of scrub pine. A few non-native trees can be found, as well as a chunk of concrete and an old rusted piece of metal. In Beck’s time there were several apple trees, however these are gone today. Beck also was able to find the remnants of a fence, most likely part of the deer pen, and two cellar holes. I have been unsuccessful in finding them. The Pines keeps her secrets hidden well.
Aserdaten seems to have vanished as quickly as it appeared. The story is that Aserdaten was not well liked by the locals, who were tired of their crops being eaten by his deer. He seems to have come to an unfortunate end, and it was hinted very vaguely by Dolf Arens, caretaker of the Eureka Gun Club located nearby. During one of Becks visits, Dolf showed Beck the location of a shallow grave located a few steps from the Eureka Gun Club door. ‘It’s a grave alright, they buried ‘em right in the yard in the old days. Who was it? How should I know?’ Dolph told Beck.
Today the Eureka Gun Club site is in ruins. It’s impossible to tell where the door to the club would have been, although the slab floor of the club can still be seen through the weeds. There is nothing to indicate a grave nearby, and even if it was found, the acidic Pine Barrens soil would have made short work of any remains of poor Aserdaten’s body.
The Eureka Gun Club has a history that stretches back far into the history of this area. The club had been known as the Chisler’s Club, and before that was Collins’s Club. Even today the area has relatively new ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted, and has had much of the tall grass cut or burnt away. Remnants of clay pigeons line one of the field showing that the area is still very much in use.
The club is located near the Chamberlain Branch, which winds through the area. Near the bend in the road at the gun club, a small bridge spans the water. It’s come to be known as Black’s Bridge. A short hike away, hidden on a ridge deep in the woods, lies a stone marked with the inscription ‘1869′ and the letter ‘B’ carved in the side. Beck mentions Arens showing him a stone marked ‘T.G. Black ‘ 1859′ that was as large as a crouching man. The stone that I found was smaller and didn’t have the same marking, leading me to believe that this was a different stone. Perhaps these stones were placed there as part of a survey to mark the borders of Black’s property? In any event, Black was in the area around the same time as Aserdaten. Perhaps Black knew of the fate that befell Asa Daton or Aserdaten?
Both men have disappeared into the unsung history of the Forked River Mountains. All that shows that man was here were the ruins of the Eureka Gun Club, and a lonely intersection of two sand roads in the Pine Barrens.