The True Story of Aserdaten

A bit of determination and hard work can sometimes pay off, especially for the ghost town hunter. Just today I had finished an article about the legend of Aserdaten, the forgotten town near the Eureka Gun Club in the Forked River Mountains. I had explored the area yesterday and, despite the success of finding Black’s Stone near the Chamberlain Branch at Eureka Gun Club, had come no closer to finding out any new information about the history of Aserdaten.

For over 20 years Beck had been unsuccessful in finding out anything more than a vague and sinister story of a man named Asa Dayton who was murdered because the deer that he was raising in a pen on his property broke free one day and ravaged the little farms that once dotted the landscape in the Forked River mountains. It had been hinted by ever so slightly by Dolf Arens, then the caretaker at the Eureka Gun Club, that he had been murdered and buried in a grave near the door to the club. It seemed that the matter had been put to rest. By the time the story was published in the Newark Star Ledger and later in the book “Jersey Genesis” it seemed like Beck’s theory of the murder of Asa Dayton was correct.

It took one of his readers to finally share the correct information regarding the truth of Aserdaten. Unfortunately this information hasn’t really seen the light of day since it was published in 1959, just six years before Beck’s death. I was fortunate to come across this article, written after Jersey Genesis was published, that finally tells the truth about Aserdaten.

Asa Dayton was a man who did tend a deer farm at Aserdaten for the Stuyvesant Estate. The deer that Asa Dayton raised were red deer, a non-native species. It would be several years later before the state would begin breeding the same type of deer. Besides raising deer, the Stuyvesant Estate was also involved with winemaking and cultivated grapes throughout the area. Dayton died a natural death, luckily escaping the terrible fate that Beck and others hinted at. After his death, a second caretaker Henry Branson took over. It was one of Branson’s ancestors who finally corrected Beck.

Branson lived at Aserdaten as late as 1884, leaving for the town of Forked River as an old man. The house where Henry Branson lived in burnt down one Halloween, leaving just an empty clearing and the remains of the deer pen, the operation having ceased before the Stuyvesant Estate was sold in 1909.

Beck claims that as recent as the 1950s there was a remarkable clearing and cellar hole. Today there is no trace of people ever living there. Aserdaten exists only as a name on old maps, it’s last great mystery now solved.

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