The Magical Land of La-Ha-Way
This paper, about the area that is mostly Great Adventure Six Flags today, was written for the July 27, 1916 Allentown Messenger by R. P. Dow, Secretary of the Brooklyn Entomological Society and member of the American Museum of Natural History.
(Provided by, and reprinted with permission from John Fabiano, president of the Allentown-Upper Freehold Historical Society.)
On the excellent maps issued by the State of New Jersey and the U. S. Government from the surveys of 1883, a spot just east of the northwest edge of Ocean county is marked in letters of unusual size “Lahaway Plantations.” One might imagine from the map that quite a village was there. Two miles to the west is Prospertown, distinguished on the same map by its large mill pond. To the southeast, about four miles is a town called on the map “Cassville,” but even to-day more generally known by its original name of Goshen. The large towns are all about fourteen miles away-to box the compass, Lakehurst, Lakewood, Freehold, Hightstown, Allentown, Robbinsville (still popularly known by its original name of Newtown), Bordentown, New Egypt, Burlington and Mount Holly.
But there is no village at Lahaway, not even a highway approaching the place. The survey party had floundered long through a tangle of marsh in the pine barrens when they discovered a single inhabited house on a high dry islet. Here they met the owner, J. Turner Brakeley, graduate of Princeton College and the Harvard Law School, who in 1872 decided to forgo the society of his fellows and adopted the hermit life which endured to until his death in 1915. Brakeley knew every path of the whole region, and aided the surveyors so much that in gratitude they put a name on the map, the name of Brakeley’s choosing.
The creek which rises on the spot and flows into the Delaware River has been known for a century and a half at least as Lahaway. The accent is on the second syllable. Farther down most people pronounce it as though spelled “Lay away.” There is a legend that a Jewish pack peddler passed by and stayed a night at the house of a poor farmer. He was never seen again, but thereafter the farmer became wealthy. The peddler was supposed to have much jewelry, and it was surmised that murdered and robbed he was laid away in a secret grave by the bank of the creek. The story is rather absurd, and it is more probable that Indians named the stream. It was from nearby that the Indians carried cranberries to the early settlers near Camden. The first mention of cranberries in literature is dated 1684. They were found wild everywhere in marshy places. So the name of Lahaway Plantations was taken from the creek.
A century ago the region all around Prospertown was much more prosperous than now. Its wealth has faded, but its character remains. Its people are poor, simple, hospitable and self respecting. The stranger coming within their gates likes to come again. But the grist mill below the dam is silent. The last tenant found it too hard to make a living. The saw mill has rusted away. A mile down the road a branch stream was dammed to operate an apple jack distillery, but this dam was washed away many decades ago. People do not drink much apple jack now.
The bogs of Lahaway were famous iron mines a century ago. Prospectors walked through the wet moss thrusting an iron rod far down through the soil. The experienced touch knew every obstacle encountered. Most were cedar roots which never rot. The harder and larger boulders of bog iron ore, masses of red oxide of iron. These were dug out and smelted. The first railways were laid with them. Some of the oldest houses cling with together with nails made from the iron of home making. But this industry, too, has gone the way of progress. It cannot compete with iron digging on the Mesaba, where equally good ore is scooped out with steam shovel, loaded on cars alongside and transported to steamer at a cost of not over a dollar a ton. New Jersey is dotted with blast furnaces abandoned half a century or more ago.
The through stage from Trenton to Toms River and Atlantic City, etc., passed by Prospertown four corners. This, too, has rusted away into the eternal silences. The railroad is roundabout, but it killed coaching.
Years ago Bill Horner’s father made hand shaven baskets of white oak. They lasted a life time and no wetting could hurt them. But the industry is gone, for it cannot compete with cheap machine made baskets which warp to ruin at the first wetting. And so it has come that the people of Prospertown merely till the soil of an unfertile pine barren. No church is there. Religious meetings are in the little school house in the pine woods.
To understand, the scholar first studies his map, especially the geodetic and geological. This tells the story. Across the State, somewhat on the slant and about following the Camden and Amboy Railroad, runs the line of red shale. The whole soil is red with land which makes the pink blush on the sunny side of each peach. This was once the seashore line. The fresh water streams took down another kind of rich soil. They made the land which is now largely grown to rye, the stand of which is fair and tall. In another place, sloping to the west, the alluvium of a geological age deposited soil so rich that the hay is wonderful. The cattle now graze all the unmown lots, and it is no wonder that the place is called Cream Ridge. It flows with milk and honey.
On a line southward from Cream Ridge lies a stratum which no geologist has ever understood. Past Hornerstown as far as New Egypt there lies pockets of marl, a substance of unknown origin, possibly vegetable. The peculiar soil supported once a big industry. It is a splendid fertilizer. But, a quarter of a century ago the phosphate rock of Florida and Georgia was dug up and treated with sulfuric acid. It cost so little that it drove marl as a fertilizer wholly out of the market.
Marl is now coming again into use. It is the base of some of the scouring powders. It is strange stuff, an impalpable powder, feeling soapy to the touch, and always of bright color, green, red, blue, etc. Some remote age the sunlight kissed it and gave it rainbow hues. To Science to-day it has an absorbing interest. It preserves the bones of all animals which happened to die in it. The seashells from the Hornerstown marl are among the oldest evidences of life, perhaps tens of millions of years ago.
Less than half a mile east of Hornerstown railroad station the country changes. Great patches of bare sand support cactus and a gray-green weed peculiar to the seashore. Here begins the land which was ocean bed and which rose from the sea very shortly before mankind was evolved. In geology we call this period the cretaceous, for at this time chalk (which is merely the bones of countless sea creatures) appeared on the dry land. This sea sand now becomes the surface soil all the way to south and east. Lakewood and Lakehurst are in the same geological belt. All, except where reclaimed by cultivation, is pine barren, for this only is the vegetation springing naturally from the sea sand made dry a quarter of a million years ago.
Few readers of the Messenger are unacquainted with the aspect of the sandy seashore on all the low lands from Long Branch to Cape May. We all know how back from the shore lie the dunes, sand, sand, and sand shifted hither and thither by the winter winds. This was the soil of Prospertown, Lahaway, in fact all the way to the coast. Little by little through many centuries plants thrust down their roots and fixed the soil until it no longer shifted, except in isolated spots. Little by little the streams trickled over, dropping clay to keep the soil from blowing around and making swamps of the whole region.
The secret of Lahaway is now easier to explain. It lies exactly on the height of land, the mid-rib of New Jersey, which is almost too feeble to be noticed to the south, but which becomes mountainous west of Plainfield. For untold centuries the sand shifted year by year. Long before the pyramids of Egypt were built the pines took root and began to fasten the soil. The oaks soon followed (there are twenty species of oak tree at Lahaway). The hickory took root and the slopes were covered with mountain laurel, still white and sweet in early June. At one spot the windswept pile is still 179 feet high. At the exit of the creek from the estate the level is 97 feet. A plain was washed from six hundred springs. Underneath, from two to ten feet, lies clay, water proof and giving endless nourishment to plants having roots long enough and strong enough to reach it. On the hillside this clay may be a hundred feet below the surface. Over the clay there has developed a wonderful flora. Feeding on the diverse flora has evolved a wonderful fauna.
Lahaway has been aptly described as an islet of the Delaware River transplanted into the pine barrens. Mr. Brakeley built a lofty stand on each of his two hills, from which one may look many miles around. To the west the woods cut off the view. To the northwest lies Cream Ridge, almost of equal height at the summit. A little east of north is a hill five miles away, higher by sixty feet. To east and southeast lie miles upon miles of pine swamp, low lying, rising a few feet here and there, swamp and dry island, pathless. Anyone losing his way may easily remain lost a day to come out he knows not where.
There are almost no stones in the region, only rounded sea pebbles and irregular masses of pebbles cemented together by liquid iron rust. One such pile lies in the swamp, from which the Indians carried stones for many miles to make the little piles necessary to support their cooking pots.
The prosperity of Prospertown died when the railroads came. The Camden and Amboy was the back door route from New York to Philadelphia. It was a poor line. Passengers had to cross the river from Philadelphia to Camden by a poor ferry boat. They were landed at the shore across from the extreme south end of Staten Island. To continue to New York they had still to take a boat requiring two weary hours. Still, this was better than the old stage coaching. Some years later a railroad line was built across the State, the Seashore and Atlantic. Then branches were projected and built. “Bill” Allen projected and built one of them. It ran 25 miles across an agricultural country, from Hightstown, a thriving town, to Pemberton, which was little except a junction point on the Philadelphia-Seashore line. He got backing from the Pennsylvania Railroad, then beginning to revolutionize the East by railroad transportation, and having leased the Camden and Amboy.
The public traveled thrice as fast and as comfortably as ever before, and at first were properly grateful. But the little line did not pay. There were no factories on the line. One factory gives more freight than fifty farmers do. The farmers produced milk and they demanded an additional train, and early morning to carry milk. This spelled more loss for the railroad. The extra train was refused and the threat was made to tear up the tracks. The sturdy farmers then leased the road and ran trains to suit themselves. The result is a lesson to the entire United States, provided that heedless land might profit by example. The stock of this roadlet, which did not pay operating expenses, now pays ten per cent and never appears in market unless some one dies. It is a remarkable tribute to the zeal and will of Yankee farmers. It now runs thrice as many trains as were once considered possible.
But of course, the railroad ruined the stage line to the county seat, which ran through Prospertown. It was easier and cheaper to take the railroad, although one might have to wait a couple hours at Pemberton. This stage line was wholly forgotten, until the track through the sand was re-discovered by a New York Scientist in May 1916. This side of Bullock’s cranberry bog lie the remains of the foundation of the roadhouse where once a good dinner was served to passengers at 12 Â½ cents. Thereafter the land east of Prospertown went further and further toward original wilderness. Miles and miles were without a house, without cultivation.
About 1855 a brave gentleman, Rev. John Henry Brakeley, who had founded the Bordentown College for Women, had married an heiress, and was a naturalist of no mean ability, very often consulted by the authorities of the Smithsonian Institution, tramped the country far and wide. He found Lahaway and recognized its possibilities. He bought it, at first a quadrangle of 201 acres. Later purchases extended it like a maltese cross in each direction. It was to be a mission, in a way. It was to be made a garden to teach the neighbors how scientific farming could be done. Peach orchards, cherries, apples were planted. The culture of alfalfa was subsequently introduced. Fields of fertilized corn grew where now is only pine barren. The wilderness began to blossom like the roses of Sharon. A new era of prosperity seemed impending. The plain was built up into leveled cranberry bogs at great cost. It seemed justified, for the iron fed berries were wonderful, fetching a cent per quart more than any other. Each season the picking gave employment at unusual money to all natives for miles around. Each owner of a piece of wild bog learned how to grow cranberries for himself.
One matter was overlooked. It was in a “frost belt.” There is a geologically peculiar strip of land, about fifteen miles long and four miles wide. Without apparent reason killing frost visit it any time up to June 10 and as early as August 20. The nip the crops terribly, even blighting the cranberries, killing the huckleberry blooms, reducing the strawberry yield to nil and killing all garden truck, sweet potatoes, lima beans and the like. The peanut crop assailed by an independent enemy-the moles. Little by little the peach orchards died. The alfalfa grew to grass. The strawberries yielded little. The great bodies of water grew wonderful pond lilies. But the land grew few salable things.
Here it was that J. Turner Brakeley came in 1872. He had all his father’s zeal and scholarship. Here Rev. J. Henry Brakeley died in extreme old age. The younger Brakeley a divided motive. He was just as keen as ever for the uplift of the countryside. He was a naturalist by taste. He inherited a financial independence. He harvested his berries because the pickers’ wages were needed by the countryside. That is all. If some rare orchid sprouted in his bog, berry culture gave way to the matter of botanical interest.
Once each year the recluse went away. He controlled the local cemetery of Bordentown. Years previously he had bought the Jerome Bonaparte mansion in Bordentown. It was a magnificent place, crumbling when he got it, and thereafter going much further into decay. All winter long he dwelled in the fastness of Lahaway. Little by little his fortifications were built around him. No highway approaches Lahaway, only crisscross woodroads. The way out is easy, the way in only findable by map and compass.
To the east Mr. Brakeley bought a piece of wild land to give him the height whereon he built his lookout tower. To the north he bought a piece lest some lumberman cut timber, whereas the Master of Lahaway never allowed a stick to be felled. To the west he bought a very long narrow strip of land from twofold motive. The ladyslipper orchids grew on it, and he wished to prevent their being picked. Also his purchase would keep neighbors and highways away. To the south he bought land lest some one start a cranberry bog.
Until about 1884 cranberries grew wild in New Jersey. Cultivation was a matter of getting a large number of plants in one place, weeding them, etc. Occasionally some one had by artificial cross-fertilization produced a larger, handsomer berry, but they were not so well flavored as the wild ones. During 1883 a pest was discovered in the bogs of New Jersey which threatened the whole crop. In April and May large numbers of tiny caterpillars entered the bogs and ate the vines. Rev. J. H. Brakeley wrote in alarm to Charles V. Riley, then the Government entomologist at Washington. As the force of field investigators was then small, Riley engaged a young Brooklyn lawyer, who was greatly devoted to insect study, John B. Smith, to become traveling agent at $15 a week to investigate crop pests. Smith afterwards became State Entomologist of New Jersey and Professor of Entomology in Rutgers College, dying there in 1912.
The nature of the cranberry pest was easily ascertained; the cure a much more difficult matter. There are two species of little Pyralid moths, which live for the most part on wild huckleberries, but which found easier food where the cranberries grew thick. The progeny of a hundred moths, say 300 eggs laid by each, consumed an acre a day. To poison them by spraying the vines with arsenic would cost prohibitively, the poison having to be renewed after every shower. J. Tuner Brakeley himself devised the remedy. At the foot of each leveled bog the dam was higher and stronger. At the insects laid eggs in early spring, all the bogs were covered with water, remaining covered until the middle of the following May. Unable to reach the cranberry plants, the moths had to back to their original foods. Therefore all cranberry bogs are winter flooded to this day.
At the first flooding John B. Smith was present. The water rose slowly over the fields always theretofore dry. Myriads of insects climbed every weed to get away. The two entomologists gathered them by the bushel. The whole yield was shipped to the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences to be studied for several years, for unknown forms, rarities, and to gain a comprehensive idea of fauna of this treasure-filled region. About one-third of all the hosts of insects known in the eastern United States have been registered as found at Lahaway.
Brakeley lived, as we have said, the life of recluse. His father stricken by slow creeping paralysis, the Bordentown College was closed and dismantled. Its scholarly founder died at Lahaway in extreme old age. Thereafter the son gathered the berries every year because the people from miles around depended more or less on the berry picking for wages. But his interest in life was rather to watch the bloom of every rare or beautiful flower, to note the spring arrival of each bird, to keep every stick of timber safe from wanton axe, to exercise far and wide a prudent helpful aid in public affairs. The income of his at first ample fortune went mostly to public helpfulness. A few hundred dollars a year sufficed for his simple wants. Skilled labor for the bogs is worth $2 a day as a minimum, and the workers have more than they can attend to. So the bogs deteriorated for lack of skilled repairers. Brakeley income and part of principal went for rebuilding of burned industrial plants, for the beautification of the Bordentown cemetery, and a thousand and one other things. Through Brakeley’s soul surged the melody of unwritten song. It was worked out alone.
Between Brakeley and the young Rutgers professor there grew a strange deep friendship. Brakeley’s researches into mosquito life started the latter on the career from which he is chiefly known and revered throughout New Jersey today. Smith found a second home at Lahaway. A room was known as his. Three meals a day were there for him, whether Brakeley was there or not. But overwork killed Smith at the age of 54, leaving Brakeley a little more lonesome than he understood. Smith was faithful to the Brooklyn Entomological Society, of which he had been non-resident president some years. The friendship, the kindly interest of the sweet-souled hermit was transferred to the secretary of that Society, and in this way Lahaway became far more widely known to science than ever before.
The first glimpse of Lahaway is quite unforgettable. One approaches through the level typical woods of the pine barrens. A little decline through a turn reveals the flat bogs, rusty gray in spring, white with berry blossoms in midsummer, red with fruit in September. Beyond on all sides lie the hills. To the eye at least the height of a mountain is only comparative. Mt. Everest in the Himalayas is the highest in the world, summit seems a climb of half an hour. Pikes Peak seems so close to the Colorado plain that one imagines he could throw a stone to the summit. Yet, if the observer approached for two whole days the sight of the summit would seem no nearer.
At Lahaway the bogs stretch in level plain below. The hills are less than fifty feet above. One can imagine at vast Greek amphitheater, the flat big enough to seat a million spectators, the semicircle around lined with scrub pine, the slope seemingly big enough to seat another million onlookers. Back of the path lies the house upon a knoll. It is simple, unpainted and weather-beaten. Around are barns and other outhouses. Above stand great black walnut trees. The vista to the north includes a single giant sweet gum tree. Beyond, across more bogs, is another bit of highland. It is Mink Island, so called. Another unpainted house is visible.
On the government map a contour line shows the bounds of Mink Island. It is a sandbank, once a wind swept dune. The mink have always fished around its border. In later years the otter has gotten in again, to the terror of all other creatures. A spring on the slope has the sweetest water of all. A fallen, rusted line of barbed wire marks the boundary of Brakeley land. Beyond is the estate of the Star Cranberry Company, which bought and tried for success. The bog was not suitable. The clay bottom cracked and would not hold water. No crop was ever harvested. The $5,000 that the stockholders put in is there yet. All subscribers are dead and gone.
It would be impossible to clear title to add to Natural History this land, almost absolutely worthless. Twenty centuries ago the place was famous. It was the home of a tribe of Indians. They were not aboriginal. They came each year for the fall hunting. It is not hard to trace their path. The men who made and repaired the stone arrowheads sat in one spot of sand where the sun kept them warm in the frosty Novembers. The chips of stone betray their origin. They crossed the Delaware River at Trenton, for they carried big pieces of the hard, compact Trenton stone. They passed by Allentown, Pa., for a black basaltic stone used for axes. They came from the south shore of Lake Erie, where the winter fishing through the ice kept them from hunger. Occasionally they made a long detour. A knife for skinning deer was dug up by the writer and now rests in the American Museum of Natural History. It is of rose quartz, which occurs only within two hundred miles, at Bedford, Westchester county, New York. They did not control the hunting ground undisputed. At least one terrible battle occurred in the plain below, as evidenced by the stone tomahawk, which the chance plow turns up.
The fireplaces are there. Cooking kettles were suspended on piles of bog iron stone, carried from the swamps. Sixteen encampments are still distinctly visible. Here and there around the whole countryside are the remains of smaller camps, some only a single fire where a brave and a squaw spent a week. Through the woods lost arrowheads show where they shot pigeons or partridges. A hostile tribe dwelled east of Cream Ridge. They put up at least one terrible fight in the swamps. Their cooking pots were of cut soapstone or of baked clay. All are so broken that only inch pieces are left.
The weather-beaten house has its history. It was first the center of an abandoned farm. “Bill” Horner, for whose grandfather Hornerstown was named, raised his family their and was general factotum at Lahaway. Later, a well-known physician, broken in health, brought a family and maintained a chicken farm until restored to health and usefulness, getting the place rent free from Brakeley. The timbers are sound, but the only denizens are field mice, the mason bees boring in the posts, the mud wasps building yellow fluted tubes of homes, prey of small insects. The superannuated willow behind the house has a population all its own-moths, beetles, bugs, each to remain as nature dictates, fighting the fight of survival of the fittest. In the sand the pepo spiders burrow freely. Tiger beetles seek prey without let or hindrance.
On Mink Island grows the beach plum and the trailing dewberry. The latter are so soft when ripe that they cannot be shipped. But they make most delectable pies. Hither came each July Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers, for ten years the housekeeper at Lahaway, to pick a peck of dewberries either to stew or for pie. No pie maker in the world quite like Mrs. Rogers. Years ago the writer, at a school in New England, went often with other boys to the house of a woman who eked out her income by selling home-made pie at five cents per cut. One day she announced gleefully that she had all kinds, having just baked yesterday. Being pressed for particulars, her pies were of three classes, “kivered [covered], open-face and cross barred.” So also Mrs. Rogers’ pies of many fruits. Besides, she could cook cranberries in fifty-seven different ways, each more tasty than the preceding. Nearly at the same time she picked the beach plums, relics of bygone ages when the place was seashore. Such plum jam! She picked only on the sunny side of each bush, for on the shady the plums are bitter. The beach plums grow in several places nearby, notably the roadside just east of Prospertown milldam and on the banks of old sea sand a quarter mile east of Hornerstown.
Mink Island slopes westerly into the headwaters of Lahaway Creek. Alongside is the built-up dam to impound the water of the lowest bog, still called bass pond, because in 1866 Rev. J. H. Brakeley stocked it with black bass, all long since dead. On the north side of the dam is the deep forest of deciduous trees, the cool wet ground the favorite home of the black snake. It runs like a deer. When caught it bites savagely with teeth as sharp as a rat’s, but of course it has no venom. There are no rattlesnakes here. The black snakes killed them all ages ago. In fact, there is no dangerous snake. The bright-mottled water snakes are good friends to man, for they feed upon noxious insects. In the dry pinewoods are plenty of pine snakes, much hated by the farmer, for they are most fond of hens’ eggs and newly hatched chickens. I have a specimen from Lahaway 7 feet 3 inches long, and another from whose stomach was cut an uncracked egg of a partridge.
The deer have been so hunted that there are few at Lahaway, although Blakeley hated a poacher. The raccoons moan by night from many a tree. The muskrats are a nuisance, breaking down dams by their ceaseless burrowing. The opossum comes occasionally, although preferring the persimmons and pawpaws of farther south. The gray squirrel is rare; the red squirrel chatters here and there in the woods. The chipmunk, the striped ground squirrel, is ubiquitous, heaping the wild cherrystones at its hole mouth in thousands of decaying trees.
Bird life is in its glory at Lahaway. Very occasionally a bald eagle circles high in the air, only to return to its mountain home. More often the fish hawks follow unresistingly the east wind, but they, too, go back to a seaside home. The great winged herring gulls also come up from the sea, following the lowest land from near Ocean Grove, but they find no food to their liking and they nest in the far north, Labrador or beyond. The lazy blue heron stands meditatively on one leg, especially in star pond, perhaps four feet tall, looking for frogs, taking young eels, not (if really hungry) disdaining pollywogs. On approach of man the great bird slowly expand its wings and flies to another corner of the pond. Thank God, no scoundrel who murders birds for milliners, who get the so-called egrets, has ever entered the sanctitude of Lahaway.
During my many visits to J. Turner Brakeley he conducted me over as many trips through the forest as then seemed to me possible in the time. My own progress was slow, for I often liked to linger a half hour over some ants’ nest stretching for many feet or some strange bird’s nest of some insect haunt. Only after his death I discovered that his favorite walk had been concealed from me as from everyone else. The wood road toward Hornerstown lies in the open sun and all summer long under a temperature which assails the very upper portion of the thermometer. The ruts of the path are many inches deep with dry sand, so that one can make as little distance per hour of walk as anywhere in the world, even in the desert of Sahara, southwest from Egypt, where no plant grows and where a sand storm is more terrible than a western cloudburst.
There is a by-path starting almost from the manor house of Lahaway, at first following close to the westerly road. All the natives know it, but they did not often use it, respecting Brakeley’s wish for solitude. It turns off where stand the three cottages which Brakeley built so that the berry pickers could live with families instead of having a long walk night and morning. It is far most beautiful about the end of May. Then the locust trees at the turn of the wood are in full flower, their great racemes of blossoms hanging down for the accommodation of unnumbered honey bees, their fragrance traveling far and sweet upon the night air.
Then the walk is under the shade of scrub pine and dwarf oak, to the edge of the swamp. Two flowers make it glorious. The blue lupine grows only in very sandy soil, its intensely blue spikes of blossom perhaps a foot long. They attract the bumblebee, but not the honeybee. Did you ever notice that the bees pay great attention to the color of flowers?
The honey bee comes only to those which are white, pale blue or sap green, the bumble bee those which are pink, purple or deep blue. There is a crimson Italian clover, much valued as a plough-in crop, which grows wonderfully here for a year, but does not perpetuate. The reason is that the color does not attract any of our home bees, and therefore fertilization does not go on. All flowers depend for the most part on cross-fertilization by insects.
Without the bumble bee the red clover cannot grow. Many years ago this staple crop was introduced into Australia and grew into richness the first year. But no seed was produced. This was the experience of several years, and no one knew the reason why. Finally a traveling entomologist was consulted. He noticed there were no bumble bees in the region, and finding that the red clover was imported from England, suggested that they bring five thousand bumble bees from the red clover fields there. This done the red clover in Australia produced seed at once and is now a staple crop. We must import the bee which fertilizes the Italian crimson clover. Did you ever notice, too, that the wasps visit almost entirely flowers, which are yellow, red or brown? Each and all of flower kind has its own fertilizing insect.
The lupine has long roots, often six to twelve feet, until moisture is found over the subsoil. The slender, thread-like roots were much esteemed by our great-grandmothers, for a decoction of them was held to be a sure specific for consumption-tuberculosis. This belief exists today among the elderly folks of Prospertown, and it may be safely said that the simple herb remedies of three generations ago are not wholly unfounded in reason.
The other flower giving glory, to the path is the lady slipper, the pink wood orchid, the Cypripedium. From two hairy green leaves rises the flower stalk, a single blossom being as large as a mouse. All orchids are peculiar among flowers. Each blossom has a cup and is absolutely dependent on insect fertilization. In some species the bee entering to get honey is imprisoned within the cup and cannot get out until the flower fades. But its food is so sweet and abundant that she does not care. Many flowers depend on artificial fertilization. The date palm, cultivated for numberless thousands of years, has to be fertilized by hand. A man has to climb each tree and shake the pollen of the male tree into the ovaries of the female.
Many years ago Brakeley observed a sport blossom of the lady slipper. It was a little larger than the normal and almost pure white, but again lost it. By an odd coincidence, while he was describing it, I spied the blossom itself, a little to the north of the main road. This single freak has bloomed true to its type for fourteen years. With an axe we marked it by cross bearings in the scrub pine. Just beyond, past the sand where the wild morning glory (Convolvulus) renders the ground white all around, is a unique patch where the lupine loses its color and becomes almost white or several shades of rosy pink. Near this place there is the home of several remarkable and rare insects. Of them perhaps more anon, but we are losing our way from the path to Emley’s.
Soon the path leads us near the swamp, just after the boundary of the Lahaway estate. Here for the moment the oaks grow tall, precious timber for the wanton who would murder them lumber. The under waters approach the surface, making vegetation everywhere more luxuriant. It is the northeast end of the Bullock cranberry bog. Then the walk turns through the Heyke farm.
The Heyke house is perhaps three hundred feet from the main pathway. Going straight on one comes out through the pines to Prospertown school house. The straightway in the sun is the favorite haunt of the tiger beetles, those remarkable insects which fly with the agility of a bee and creep as rapidly as a ground Carabid. They are the only beetles which catch living prey upon the wing, and I have seen them capture and devour butterflies several times as big as themselves.
The Heyke house has been long deserted, its timbers sound, but every window glass gone and the floor yielding many inches under foot. Of the family I can learn but little. Suffice it the testimony of the nearest neighbor that the Heyke children were well clothed, well bred, and that Mrs. Heyke was a good neighbor whose going left a distinct sense of loss. Nothing is left except the mortgage on sandy soil, almost worthless to the upper corner, where the cranberry bog begins.
From Heyke’s the path becomes only wide enough for single file march. It crosses the old stage route. Alongside in some seasons are piles of cranberries, many hundred bushels. For if those cranberries, held over winter for better prices, go to rot, they are not put back into the bog, but are left in the woods. The bog itself has too much fertilizer, rather than too little fertilizer. The path crosses the bog itself, one’s footsteps becoming wet. In the trees are strange frogs, such as the Hyla andersoni, which were not recently represented in the collections of great museums. Then upward again until we cross a garden patch and to the roadway, the highway from Prospertown to Cassville. Houses are few and far between. Next, to the east, is a bungalow inhabited only by summer visitors. To the west, the first house is three quarters of a mile away, at Prospertown Four Corners.
The house at the end of the path is occupied by the family of Garret Emley. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the whole region. The farm was coveted much by Brakeley, but always withheld by inherited family pride. The house is humble enough. Its walls were reinforced by timbers taken from the abandoned stage coach house in the woods. A tool house was entirely built from the same timber. Across the road a dam ran over the stream, longer ago than our grandfathers can remember, even by hearsay. In this whole countryside, where grass is scarce, the turf is notable from its fresh short clipped green, made by cattle for a century or so. Today three cows graze, three generations in a direct line, the oldest still a good milker. Just across the road is a hill rising a hundred feet of more, the summit mounted by a grove of chestnut trees. They are now all dead, killed by the imported fungus blight which has spread out a hundred miles in every direction from New York. Their gaunt limbs are skeletons to catch the shadow of the sunset.
The Emley house has much to recall it. I do not know in what generation it was built. The doors are cut in half, upper and lower. Thus air could enter from the upper and the children prevented from straying by the lower. The latches are those used in England many centuries ago. They are on the inside and a string passes through gimlet hole to the outside. Here is exemplification of the historic phrase of the “latch string.” A French song, many centuries old, is “tirra la bobbinnete,”-pull the bobbin string and the latch will come up. Beside the old chimney is built a bin, not to keep the sweet potatoes cool, but to keep them from freezing during the long winter.
Second only to Lahaway, the historian and naturalist finds the interest of the Emley farm. The Indians camped at the foot of what is now a corn field and most of the remains of the cook fires have been ploughed under. Wherever they camped vegetation died and never sprang up again. They always chose a sunny spot, and nearby is always to be found a choice spring of water. Mr. Emley has quite a collection of arrowheads and axes picked up from time to time. The naturalist misses here the rich sphagnum bogs, the feature of Lahaway, although it grows freely around what was the mill pond. Here the cranberries grow wild, yielding an annual crop of 20 to 40 bushels, deeper red, smaller, but more distinctly flavored than the cultivated berries, and commanding excellent prices. Under the surface there are several pockets of marl, through one of which the digging of a well uncovered many fossil shells. Close by the road a petrified log, the wood resembling pine, was found, but it has now almost entirely disappeared, having been taken away in small pieces by curio hunters. A similar log about eight feet long was found at Lahaway, buried in sand in the bed of what was once a brook dried up many centuries ago. Still another petrified log of a wood resembling the present day hickory lies exposed below New Egypt.
When I began this series of papers it was with considerable misgivings, not yet cleared, lest they should lack personal interest. For, after all, they must degenerate more or less into essays on natural history, which J. Turner Brakeley loved and which I came to study, as well as to rest and to find a peculiarly pleasant companionship. But during the summer there have been not a few pilgrims to Lahaway who have read these articles and who have followed the various paths to the Indian Village, the old house on Mink Island, Observatory Hill, and the walk through the woods to the Garret Emley farm.
Entrance to Lahaway is now a little easier, since last Decoration Day I tacked up pasteboard direction signs on many trees. Visitors have generally found affable “Bill” Horner willing to take a couple of hours off and show the sights with many anecdotes of his own. He is now William H. Horner, of Lahaway Plantations, Esq., to use the English term denoting landed proprietorship, and this is well, for he has been faithful to Lahaway for many years. No doubt he has now picked his own huckleberry crop and is working overtime to gather the cranberries, the leisure coming later to sit back and enjoy with complacency the ownership of broad acres.
So while a few pilgrims are coming and going over many roads, including the rather sandy one from Freehold or the very difficulty way from Cassville, I may revisit Lahaway by one of my favorite entrances.
On summer Saturdays a train comes through to Hornerstown, but at other times it has proved pleasantest to come to Hightstown or Robbinsville, where Mr. Waddy, who keeps the general store at Hornerstown, will meet scientist or pilgrim or both and carry him by auto anywhere at less than a fourth of New York prices. There is a good road from Allentown and Imlaystown, and pretty good to Hornerstown. For light cars there is no difficulty either way direct through sandy roads to Prospertown Four Corners.
Mr. Brakeley had a favorite remark that there were twenty ways to get to Lahaway, all bad but one. The only way to know the good one was to “ask Billy Quicksill.” Mr. Quicksill is station agent, express agent, telegraph operator, etc., at Hornerstown, and knows every pathway in the whole region. William Quicksill, Sr., who last year joined the silent majority, used to like to come to the station around time and discuss matters, including the famous marl pits, of which he was superintendent for many years, and the queer fossils left in them. To make the direct road to Lahaway, turn the corner through the village, past the post office presided over by Miss Ida Quicksill. Business there is not what it used to be for Mr. Brakeley himself bought over one half of the stamps sold at this office. His letters to me averaged to cost about 40 cents each, for he was apt to enclose a quart jar of specimens and pay letter postage on the whole package!
As you go through the village, at the root of the maple tree by the roadside there lies a chunk of sandstone, weighing perhaps fifty pounds. A close observer will notice that it is well hollowed out. It was once a mortar in which Indians with stone pestle used to grind their corn. Broken pestles are frequently picked up in the fields.
It takes sharp eyes to find the arrowheads, and they are mostly in the woods or near old camp sites. Most of them were cast aside, being broke. It took at least three days to make a fine arrowhead, so the Indians hunted long before abandoning one as lost. The large and finely finished ones, often made of quartz, were designed for deer shooting.
For partridges and smaller birds the arrow was often made triangular and sunk into the shaft without tying. Many arrows found around here are roughly made of shale, a rather soft stone. These were the ones with which the Indian children practiced shooting.
Farther out on the road there lives a lady who is direct descendant of the Indians who used to traverse Lahaway and called it home. When it comes to genealogy, the descendants of the Mayflower are infants in comparison. It is probable that those same Indians owned New Jersey before the Anglo-Saxons reached Europe.
Leaving Hornerstown the road divides, the right branch being the highway to New Egypt, the other branch leading to Prospertown. One cannot miss his way, for it is followed by telegraph and telephone lines numerous enough to supply a city. It is a trunk line to the places on the coast. On either side there are some woods, but for the most part the land is plowed or in pasturage for about three miles. A range of hills to the south shows among the green one large brown wound. This is a stone quarry, the only one for miles around. It was used by the Indians and produces the mortar already spoken of. Two miles down the Prospertown road there is another branch in the road. This is the corner of RFD 2, Cream Ridge. Rain, shine or snow, a carrier delivers mail from here to the junction on the Cassville road beyond Prospertown. Nearby, in the white house close to the road, live Mr. and Mrs. Elisha Jones, both enterprising young people well past eighty and well disposed towards scientists. Their watchful white-breasted collie is on guard, but very amiable and playful when once acquainted. From time to time they have picked up many interesting fossils and there are marl pockets on their land.
The enjoyment of any tramp through the country can be heightened by taking along little bags of sugar and salt with which to make friends. Both horses and cattle get too little of either, and there is nothing more to their liking. I like to stop and give some bossy a lick at a cake of rock salt, after which she will surely follow me to the limit of the pasture. Even the big brown bull will stretch the tether attached to his nose ring to get a taste, regarding me with complete friendliness. Almost all animals and birds crave sugar, and the soft brown variety is the handiest to carry and tastiest. The dogs do not take to the rock salt, but they generally like pretzel or saltine cracker from my lunch basket. After one has passed by, the birds will come down to pick up all the crumbs.
Following still the telephone lines, a road leaves northward toward Freehold. Near the corner is an unpainted house none the less picturesque because in front of it is a grove of chestnut trees all absolutely dead. The blight disease imported from Japan has killed them, as it has everywhere around New York. It is to be feared that twenty years from now few chestnuts will grow in the eastern States.
The wayfarer passes the Lawrence farms, with their big new silos and other evidences of modern farming. On the other side of the road there is a little cottage surrounded by button balls and other old-fashioned flowers. There is little use knocking at the door, for the occupant is one of the few bachelors of Prospertown. Early and late he attends to his own five acres, but between times he is generally working on some other farm. The next one spies are five or more flat spaces north of the road, looking for all the world like magnified gray-brown tennis courts, each a few inches lower than the next. These are brand new cranberry bogs, pride of the Imlay farm. A few steps farther, at a huge imported white pine tree, the driveway goes back sixty yards to the house and here I invariably stop.
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Imlay are comparatively newcomers, for it was rather less than thirty years since they came to this farm from Cream Ridge. To the elect, however, they are Uncle Henry and Aunt Beck, and no other names fit them perfectly. I have never been up early enough in the morning to ask the rising sun when Uncle Henry started his day’s work, but by nightfall he is apt to find a little leisure during which he can tell his many travels, for he was at many army posts in the sixties all the way from Virginia to New Orleans.
Aunt Beck is no less busy, for she has a large house to attend to, three meals a day to get, the bogs need watching, the incubator in the back garden works day and night, and armies of little chicks and ducklings are eternally getting caught in gateways or needing food or water. So she meets the newcomer with a puzzled frown. But if perchance he mentions that an entomologist, she is apt to decide that, although she is housecleaning, she might fix up a spare room and keep him. It requires some planning, for the school-ma’am is boarding there this year.
Soon supper is ready, and such suppers! Mrs. Dow was there with the party of scientists last Decoration Day, and ever since she has made auditors envious by accounts of Aunt Beck’s suppers. Not much “boughten stuff,” but great pitchers of that day’s milk and cream, clotted cream of that which is left over, chickens (yes, for chickens are on all sides), eggs of each gathering, night and morning, vegetables of many kinds picked daily from Uncle Henry’s garden, and jam! (Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers, the famous preserve maker, is Aunt Beck’s sister.) And, too, it costs just the same a week at Aunt Beck’s as a day on Broadway, with no better bed, and provender such as Broadway never dreamed of.
The huge bronze turkey gobbler is a mauvais sujet. Last spring Mrs. Turkey was confined in a pen, for she has a habit of walking her chicks to death. Mr. Turkey enticed away the chicks to walk with him, so he was sentenced to confinement. He resisted and flew, but arrived in a wire fence. First grasp of him was too timid, for he left all his tail feathers behind. I wished to gather up all these feathers for some New York milliner, but, taking feminine counsel, refrained. The next flight of Master Turk brought him again in a fence. Therefrom he was ignominiously dragged into the confinement of a pen. Pride certainly goes before a fall. He was too ashamed to utter a sound for days to come. The little turks stayed near home, almost out of danger of being trodden upon. The little ducks and chickens have more liberty, but they have to be closely watched. One never steps upon a twig without a gasp, lest it be some fledgling chicken. The ducklings may not go freely to the cranberry bogs, for in their unawareness they might be seized and dragged down by some snapping turtle. The humble shall be exalted. There is on record a protest of some slaves in Maryland against the constant diet of terrapin. Now, terrapin fetch something like thirty dollars a dozen on Broadway. The snapping turtle is more delectable than any terrapin ever was. Ask Mrs. Bill Horner; she knows. Moreover, if rightly approached and cajoled, she might be persuaded to set forth a supper of Lahaway turtle, soup or steaks, or a la Maryland.
From the Imlay kitchen once was a hole through the house wall, making exit for a water pipe. This disused hollow is now the home of Mrs. Jennie Wren. Mr. Wren is a useful adjunct, but he obeys his wife’s orders and has nothing further to say. The gray mare is oftentimes the better horse. There is an English folk-song hundreds of years old: “The rosemary grows where the mistress is master.” Jennie designs the taking in of the many twigs to form the nest, and she governs the entrance of all the worms for food for littlings. She scolds her man thoroughly. Mr. Brakeley was very fond of wrens, and there are many nests for them at Lahaway.
One might linger indefinitely at the Imlays, but there is still a full statute mile to Lahaway, and it seems much longer by the sandy road. If there is any local history left unwritten in our eastern States, there is no better text than Prospertown Four Corners. In the first place, its name. I suppose that it spells prosperity, which dwelled there in marked degree in the coaching days. The southwest corner has never been built upon, and carries a grove of native trees. The northwest corner accommodates a white frame house, unoccupied last year, well built, originally costly and surrounded by imported trees apparently fully a century old. It has a history, beyond a doubt, for which let some local chronicler speak.
On the southwest corner is a large cellar, the superstructure having been destroyed by fire. It was a store, and its owner did not consider business good enough to warrant rebuilding. To the south is the little blacksmith forge, itself a relic of stage coach times. Across the road is a large frame house, which looks as though it had once been a public hostelry.
At the northeast of the Four Corners still stand public horse sheds, rarely if ever occupied. These cannot but excite curiosity. A century ago public horse sheds were a recognized institution everywhere, especially beside country churches, where the congregation, if coming at all, had to spend the day. But they are becoming scarce and when age topples them over they are seldom rebuilt. Possibly the storekeeper maintained these-here again some local chronicler may say.
The road to the north passes over the mill dam. The pond runs back a long way. It contains but few fishes, for the dam breaks occasionally and the pickerel are swept down to find haven in some eddy or lose in the eternal contest of survival of the fittest. The bass-voiced bullfrogs remain and are stalked with light in the bow of a boat to be knocked on the head. Their hind legs run four or five pairs to the pound.
There are two mill sluices in the dam. One feeds the grist mill, still sound, though last year it did not have a tenant; the other long since broken down, which fed the saw mill. The old carriage for logs is still there, and even the saw blade, deeply covered with red rust. The shed has partly fallen into a picturesque mass of unpainted drab wood.
Oh, little Prospertown by the edge of the pinewoods! May thy prosperity be restored to thee? May thy mill wheels turn and thy four corners be again busy with profitable industry, thy roads carry many people, and thy citizens be both proud and contented!
But we must away toward Lahaway, lest the hour be late.
Past a couple of houses where the people speak a cheery greeting and over the branch of the mill pond, which is the mouth of the creek flowing the Emley farm, the highroad continues. To the left is a field of sand sparsely covered with grass and red cedar. Here flies in April a beetle which is common enough in the far south, but so rare in New Jersey that a couple of dozen I caught were at once seized at the meeting of the Entomological Society to go into the collections of members. They fly bumblebees, and one has to run to catch them in a net. On the other side of the road live five children who gleefully announced one Sunday afternoon as I passed that they did not want to go to Sunday school and weren’t going to. Confidentially, I think God loves them just as much as the rest, even if they do occasionally throw a handful of sand at some old patient mare jogging by. The older ones are famous scouts and can guide you by a score of wood paths to bog, moor or fen in any direction, and they know, too, the favored trees, which have the crows’ nests. From here it is a few steps to a corner. The highway is northern-most, our path comes next and may be recognized by a glimpse of the school house.
The sign over the door reads: “School No. 4, Jackson Township,” or something like it. But we shall know it only as the Prospertown School House. I have always been interested in it, for Brakeley was proud of it and was attending a school board meeting the first time I ever saw him. Happy chance brought me to Prospertown this year in time to attend the exercises of closing day. The teacher was Miss Mary Grosch, of an old Pennsylvania Dutch family, a Moravian, knowing every hymn in the books, including the simple old Moravian ones seldom heard in our generation, herself a slip of a girl only out of school and barely older than her oldest pupils. They say that this made discipline hard to maintain and vexations often well nigh unbearable.
The closing ceremonies were an event, attended by parents from far and near, by children too young to be pupils, by youths and lasses too old to be scholars. The school possesses a phonograph and a score of records, mostly Foster’s Negro melodies and national and patriotic anthems. Miss Mary herself played the parlor organ and led the singing, for the voices of the chorus were none too strong and the little boys at the end of the line were there to swell the numbers, not a sound issuing from their small throats. Pieces were spoken and a playlet given, wherein a small boy in auto goggles administered medicine of water and pink coloring matter to the dolls of several small girls, with a good moral lesson at the end. I was asked by many if I did not think the scholars made an excellent showing, I replied emphatically yes, but with the addition that if scholars do well half the credit is due to the teacher. Down there are almost as many classes as pupils, which adds greatly to the difficulty of teaching. Time will come when they will look back on Miss Mary with deep affection and gratitude. As it has been in the past it will continue that that there is far more likelihood of great men and women coming out from district country schools than from the great city places of education, where the individual is lost in the whirlpool of numbers.
I can remember but few of the pupils’ names. Bill Horner’s youngest daughter was there with pink hair ribbon, conscientious ideas of duty and an enthusiasm over the entrancing Third Reader. There were three sisters, of Italian parentage, lately moved into the district, who were neither absent nor tardy at school or Sunday school for the entire year, and whose sweet, pretty manners promise glorious womanhood and useful citizenship.
There being no church in Prospertown, the schoolhouse is also place for the Sunday school, which meets each Sunday after dinner. Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers, known to the elect as Aunt Lib, housekeeper at Lahaway, into the region. When she moved temporarily to Ocean Grove, Aunt Beck succeeded her. Then after a year came Mrs. Garret Emley. As it has to be church as well as Sunday school, the grown ups outnumber the children.
You remember that we said early in our papers that no highway went within a mile of Lahaway. The highway, telegraph wires and all, soon crosses Lahaway Creek to the northward. What used to be highway and stage road passes Bullock’s Bog.
For the distance of three stones’ throw the road now goes through tall timber, then emerges into the open where the glare of the sunlight becomes intense on the deep sand. Here the timber was cut not many years ago and the new growth is scarcely head high. It is mostly oak, or the pine tree once cut down never springs up from the root. This was known long before Christ, when a king of some land in Asia sent to a neighboring king a twig of pine. His veiled message was: “When I kill you it will be with all your descendants and relatives, so that stock shall never again appear on earth, any more than a cut pine tree.”
It is wonderful, however, how many things grow in such sandy de-timbered land. The very wagon ruts display more grasshoppers, crickets, tiger beetles, and dung beetles than elsewhere. The lazy Strategus, beetle with three great horns, breeding in rotten wood, here climbs clumsily from rut to rut. Here grows in unusual abundance checkerberries, low bush blueberries, trailing arbutus, many mosses, and many fungi rare elsewhere.
Soon again comes woodland. One path leads to Bullock’s Bog, as a sign, now almost unreadable, says; another to the Heyke house, and this is that pleasanter walk to Lahaway. The straight path is deep and dusty, even though it does go by the Indian camp, the spot of the white orchid, the pink lupine, and the honey bee tree. It is not much farther until the vista breaks through trees over the level amphitheater of the sphagnum bogs of Lahaway, the spaghnum, father of coal and petroleum, the curious formation of which makes Lahaway truly the magical land.
The manor house of Lahaway stands on a slight eminence a couple of hundred feet north of the pathway, itself artificially raised in laying out the bogs. The house was built by Rev. J. Henry Brakeley, but there was an older foundation, for the two red cedars in front of it sprout from an artificial level and have been growing much more than a century. All this mound was once covered with loam carried from a distance, making the lawn grass heavy, whereas it will not grow at all in the sandy soil on the level.
All of Lahaway slopes very gently toward its northwest corner. Here the waters join to make Lahaway Creek. The springs are too numerous to count, but come in three general lines. The best spring of drinking water on the place is on the north slope of Mink Island and was the determining factor in the location of the largest Indian village. Other springs combine to make Star Bog and the stream through it, which flows through Lahaway.
The largest volume of water flows due north, fed by springs beyond the boundary of Brakeley land, making nearly a mile of wild swamp through the tangled saplings on which one would have to flounder knee deep in wet moss. Another branch joins at the corner of the largest of the cranberry bogs, making an independent stream big enough to fill a six-inch main the year around. These combined streams have during countless centuries leveled the land, until there are three feet or so of old sea sand left above the impervious clay bed. All this land was swamp until it was leveled, sanded and grown to cranberries. On every foot of it there once grew wild sphagnum.
What is sphagnum? It is merely a moss which grows as plentifully as any other all over the northern hemisphere. There is scarcely a rain pool southward of Allentown which is not fringed with it. Each plant is a single stalk a few inches long, rich brown except for the bright green bud at the top and the dead root end, which turns pale like any other dead plant. As one generation of the plant dies another begins growth on the top of it, and in this way the beds become three to six feet deep. The plant is longer and larger in the New Jersey bogs that in most other places and is much used by florists, for it will hold water for a long time and thus keep flowers fresh. Every botanist lines his collecting box with sphagnum so that his specimens may be safe for many days.
The European war has within the last six months created a new use for sphagnum in the manufacture of high explosives. Guncotton is nitrocellulose; gun powders a mixture of saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur. In both cases the explosive power is the result of the effort of the nitrogen to get free from its compounds, which it turns from solid to gas so quickly that the air is violently shocked. Our supply of nitrates comes mostly from saltpeter, found most plentifully in Chile, in South America, and the great demand has quadrupled its price.
Nitrogen floats free in the air, being about half its weight, but the chemical abstraction has always been impracticable and exceedingly costly. Now, however, the chemists are working hard to find a cheap method to accomplish it, and a company has been formed, backed by the Standard Oil interests, ready to spend $25,000,000 to get nitrogen from the air. The chemists are also constantly working on the task of getting nitrates more cheaply from those plants, which contain that element abundantly. Among them is the sphagnum.
The sphagnum is also one of the best fertilizers in the world. Its abundance coupled with the peculiar climatic conditions is what gives to Lahaway its matchless variety of flora. It is a well-known scientific fact that many plants will only grow in a soil in which some other especial plant has previously lived and died. Thus the mayflower, the trailing arbutus (which carpets the Lahaway woodland), the chosen flower of the Pilgrim Fathers, only grows where the pine has been and might well be called “the Soul of the Pine Tree,” for the pine, when once cut down never sprouts again. The cranberry will only grow on top of a sphagnum bed. The huckleberry thrives best in a mixture of dead sphagnum and sea sand; the best high bush species is hardly found anywhere else. It cannot be cultivated, nor is it at best when wholly wild.
No friend of Brakeley, no visitor of Lahaway in July, can forget the wonderful huckleberries growing in the artificially made dykes between bogs. A bushel of berries often come from a single plant, of such size that they always fetch a fancy price in market. There are two species on the dykes, one with blue bloom and very large, and there are the marketable ones; the other black, but not in favor in the New York market, although they are sweeter and for pies or preserves are better. A different plant still is the low bush blueberry, which grows wild all through the shady woodland. It is shipped to market more than any other kind, is sweet as honey, but the picking is a backbreaking task.
Many other plants depend on the dead sphagnum, including the choicest of all the northern orchids. These were plants that Brakeley loved best of all. If they took root in the bog, cranberry culture was abandoned at the spot. There is but one clump of Arethusa bulbosa on the whole estate, far down in the wild swamp. It consisted of four roots, the rosy purple flower coming at the end of May. Now there are but three, for Brakeley some years ago yielded to the pleadings of a botanist and allowed one to be dug up, but they are in a spot hard to find and surrounded with iron pit holes, so that the searcher may find himself waist deep in water.
The two swamp pinks, Calopogon and Pogonia, are plentiful and make their glorious show in early June. The field orchid, the deep purple Habernaria, comes in July.
I was in Prospertown on the first of October this year, when the foliage is in the height of its autumnal glory of color. There I saw in great abundance the pure white Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes gracilis, rising six inches to a foot in every sphagnum bog, not conspicuous from a distance, but when seen close at hand as beautiful and fragrant as an orchid.
The pitcher plant, the red, yellow and magenta side-saddled flower, is another beauty, which grows only among the sphagnum. A particularly fine specimen grew just south of the pond of the wonderful pink lilies and was carefully hedged in by Brakeley, lest it be mowed down or trodden upon. In this plant last year I found the rare moth which feeds on the root. The entomologists of Newark hunted long for this moth and dug up thousands of the plants around Lakehurst in their effort to find it.
In Ireland especially, but also in Germany and elsewhere, the dead sphagnum cut out of bogs, stacked like cordwood to dry, and is the peat used for fuel. Our own species is not so good for this purpose, but it burns well. Each year it will improve. It is of the greatest interest because it illustrates the first step in the natural formation of coal, petroleum and natural gas. It is especially interesting just now, as I note in the Messenger of a few weeks ago a report that the Washington experts are to begin experiments near Lakewood to ascertain the prospects of oil and gas, and that perhaps $15,000 are to be devoted to the investigation. Every one knows that there are both in New Jersey. There is a spot in the ocean southeast of Sandy Hook known on every chart as the Oil Spot. Here the petroleum rises to the surface, but it takes a very little to make a film on the water conspicuous for a long distance. Whether oil and gas will be found in the State in paying quantities is a different matter.
In peat the process of petrifaction has scarcely begun. The pressure above the dead sphagnum sends out more or less oil to ooze through the sand until it lodges in some pocket of the impervious substratum. Dead wood half petrified by ages of pressure becomes lignite, fuel already much used, though it still has a large percentage of ash. After additional pressure for a geologic age, it becomes coal, the newer bituminous or soft coal, and the older anthracite. Petroleum and natural gas are the lighter elements of this material, driven away through the soil by accumulated pressure.
There was an age in the history of the world when vegetation was vastly more plentiful than now. It is called the Carboniferous Age, for carbon is the element making plants. This occurred before the southern half of New Jersey was raised from the sea for the final time. The whole world looked very different then. The seashore ran through Pennsylvania, northeast to southwest. Dead trees piled up for hundreds of feet along it. The Gulf of Mexico started first away up in Illinois. The Great Lakes extended into Wyoming. Dead wood piled up on all these shores. As the sea receded, or rather the earth was raised, the shoreline, still in Carboniferous Age, went through the middle of Alabama. A lake went a thousand miles north into Canada. In all these places great deposits of coal have been created from the driftwood.
After New Jersey rose from the sea level it was again submerged, to be raised again. The first time was in the so-called Secondary Period, somewhere between the Age of Mollusks and the Age of Fishes. The dead creatures cast upon the shore, the line being roughly from New Egypt to Hornerstown, are among the very oldest forms of life. The animals dying and being washed up on the shore during the second creation of shoreline in the same places were largely mammals and existed possibly so recently that they were hunted by man. A date must be wild conjecture, perhaps 25,000, perhaps 250,000 years ago.
One would imagine, then that the supply of oil and gas in New Jersey coming from vegetation of the Second Period would be too small to be of value, and that if a large supply exists it must be the seepage, the flow by gravity, under the Delaware River from Pennsylvania where the geological source of supply was immeasurably greater.
Let me, however, impress one fact upon every reader of this paper. All mankind are not honest and simple hearted. Even now there are men trying to sell stock in companies formed to search for oil in New Jersey. Nothing is so easy as to work with O. P. money (Other People’s money). At best such promoters intend to get profit without cost to themselves. At worst-well, in the past there have been some notorious swindles. No matter what money we sink, we shall get no return from treasure found on some other man’s property. He himself will take it all, unless he, in turn, is wheedled out of it.
The law of the Jungle has become a familiar term largely through the popularity of Kipling’s Jungle Books. It is the Law of Life, of the Survival of the Fittest, the Extinction of the Weakest, the law kept by all animal kind except man. To man alone belongs the element of mercy, of sparing and forgiving, but to him alone, also, belongs the habit of killing for mere pleasure, of hunting and fishing, not merely for food (for that is the justifiable Law of the Jungle), but for the joyous excitement of the chase.
Some of the cat tribe seem, indeed, to share the practice of unnecessary killing. The household cat will catch far more half-fledged birds than it needs for food, but there is probably present the instinctive idea of concealing a food supply for the day’s when game is too scarce to satisfy present hunger. It is man’s practice to hunt for pure pleasure. “It is such a pleasant day,” says he, “let us go out and shoot something.” And so he catches a hundred trout after he has had so many to eat that he has to throw the rest away. He shoots partridges of quail as long as his cartridges last, not knowing what to do with the birds, but grieving at each “miss’ and rejoicing at each “good shot.” Modern game laws do not allow him to kill as many deer as he would like.
The Law of Survival, too many hunters, has at last made game scarce. Three centuries ago, when the population of Lahaway was wholly Indian, there was plenty of game for all, and the supply did not decrease from year to year. The Indian obeyed the Law of Jungle, killing only for needed food. In this respect he was vastly above his cousin, the white man.
When the Brakeleys bought what they afterwards named Lahaway Plantations they took steps to preserve all life, both plant and animal, except that which was directly injurious. For nearly fifty years the estate was “posted” against trespass with dog or gun. Of course, violations were plenty. Many thousand rabbits have gone illicitly into the stew pot, but, after all, it was in obedience to the Law of the Jungle. They were killed to satisfy hunger, not to satisfy murderous pleasure.
Mr. Brakeley himself was an expert shot with rifle, and occasionally in season brought home a deer. Every autumn he liked to get a few partridges and quail, and took a few wood ducks from the many feeding in the ponds. But, all in all, Lahaway was the safest place in New Jersey for wild animal life, and even today is a veritable bird haven. The deer are very scarce, indeed, for they like to roam far and wide and are never safe from gun. In all my visits to Lahaway I have seen only one, a two-year-old doe cropping the branches of birch on Mink Island. Presumably a fawn was near, but kept out of sight down toward the swamp. I watched the mother for a long time in the idle hope that she might be trustful enough to taste some brown sugar, but the deer, hunted for tens of thousands of years, trusts no one. I whistled and the doe pricked up both ears. It was not the voice of any bird she had ever known. And so one long leap and away.
There is no spot on God’s earth where I love to sit as well as the sandy top of Mink Island. The soft sand retains for weeks the track of every living creature. On that particular occasion tracks were unusually numerous. Those with three toes pointing forward and one behind were the ringed-necked plover, a bird frequent in every ploughed field around Prospertown. They come to stick their long bill in the earth and find grubs. One on Mink Island looked up curiously at the sound of my whistle, then wheeled away with incredible rapidity. As well tame the waves on the shores as these wild plover. The tracks of the rabbits criss-cross like a Chinese puzzle, near together when the times are peaceful, but sometimes showing long leaps. Master Fox also has two tracks, one when he saunters, the other when pursuing.
I like to carry a lettuce leaf in my pocket in early June when I ramble through woods where rabbits breed, for the young are fairly easy to catch and after the first fright become tame enough to settle down in my hands and munch the leaf. They are content to be stroked over the back and the long ears, almost as long as the whole body. The mother Bunny cannot be tamed, but lingers near, watching her baby, and from time to time stamping her feet on the ground to make a noise designed to terrify. The rabbit has no defense except flight, but none will desert her young, even for a minute. I have caressed a little rabbit for half an hour, but the instant I released it, it darted toward the mother and with her disappeared from sight and sound in the fewest possible number of leaps.
The skunk, too, leaves many tracks on Mink Island, stopping often to nose and to dig holes in the ground. From the sand bank one can look over into the pond and watch the wood ducks. This species nests in the tall trees. Forty years ago I watched them from underneath, but it took at least three years to observe how the young birds came to the ponds. One day they would be swimming and perfectly at home. The day before they had been nestlings, stretching up their bills to take food from their constantly visiting parents. Finally I learned through a field glass. The mother took the chicks one by one on her back and flew to the water.
The woodcock roams over Lahaway, its long bill thrust into the wet ground perhaps five hundred times and hour in search of insect grubs or fresh water crustaceans. Once only in my life have I crept stilly and seen Mrs. Woodcock on her nest. The quail run through Lahaway stubble, seeking mostly insects. I have caught many chicks, to caress and let go in a few minutes. Mother generally scurries out of sight.
The partridge is a familiar denizen, frequenting the dry slopes. Her chicks are the color of the fallen leaves, and they hide among them. No little partridge was ever tame enough to take a seed or a bug from my hand, when nestled in my other hand. Each watched its mother, who circled nearby, generally pretending to have a broken wing, and each, when released, hurried to hide in the leaves. The instinct of the hunted goes through countless generations. The Law of the Jungle might spare the little partridge, but man does not.
For over forty years Mr. Brakeley kept a journal. Every evening after supper he went to his den, where he sat until bedtime, which was never before 11. Into that book he copied each daily observation. For forty years the bird movements were chronicled. His favorite was the chimney swallow, which came each spring for many years to renew her nest and never ceased to protest loudly against the wood fire which is almost a nightly necessity at Lahaway. Her coming never varied more than a week, and she left for the South with exceeding regularity. For many years it was not known where the chimney swallows wintered, although many were tagged with metal band for identification. Not long ago one was captured in the mountains of Peru, whither it had come from northern New York State.
Into the Brakeley journal went the nightly record of a particular whippoorwill which used to haunt the porch outside the dining room, attracted, no doubt, by the insects gathering to seek the light. It sometimes arrived by 7:30, but on cool evenings often waited until a little after 8. Many of the wrens were known to Mr. Brakeley as individuals, each keeping to its own nest, many boxes for which had been nailed to pole or barn side. All the birds were chronicled.
The passenger pigeons whose flight was once in such flocks that the sun was hidden have long since disappeared before their human murderers. The little ground dove is still common and quite tame, often haunting the roadway. The many kinds of warblers found Lahaway in the line of easiest progress while going north to nest or returning south. They keep to the woods and are almost never seen in an open meadow. Their nesting places are far north, Newfoundland, Labrador, and even Hudson’s Bay. Every one who knows birds them and loves them. They make sweet, but never loud song; they harm no one except the insects they devour from day to day. There are plenty of other birds which keep to the deep woods.