Famed South Jersey Estate is a Romantic Area

Now that the vast Wharton estate, tri-county treasure trove of many of these stories, is back in the news, I feel impelled to refresh your memory concerning it. I do that knowing that there will be as many exaggerations as there may be fantastic tales concerning its places and people before, if enabling action follows Gov. Driscoll’s budgetary proposal, the area becomes a state park.

It was the governor’s idea that the tract variously estimated upward and downward of 100,000 acres be taken over as a park, water reservation, and wildlife preserve, with $2,000,000 set aside in the 1952 New Jersey budget for that purpose. However, the motive in giving you a clearer picture of what there is and what there was springs from current rumors of what there is to be. Beyond all that, I would eliminate, even before they are re-confected, those silly notions about the people called “Pineys.”

Perhaps it is that I am unduly alarmed by the reports that are already rampant among my Down Jersey friends, some of them those very people. It is common gossip that even before the Legislature can act to preserve this primitive woodland, with a colorful history reaching back to Colonial days, competitive bids are in from government agencies as well as from commercial organizations in search of additional sources of wood pulp. There can be little doubt but what government men are interested in at least an area bordering what always has been familiar to me as the old Washington Turnpike for here, as well as in adjacent lands, test borings and surveys have been made. I would not fear the invasion of these forces as much as I would the pulp people who, even now, on land outside the Wharton estate, have taken what they wanted and left many neighborhoods desolate.

The governor’s proposal seems to be a popular one and even the editorial writers who come equipped with scratchy pens have commended It. One of them waxed unusually poetic in recent days, ruminating with incredible accuracy In this strain:

‘Wild’ territory abounds in area

Those who know this territory can testify to its fascination. Take winding roads north either from Atco or Hammonton, turning off the White Horse Pikes and one soon enters what some would call ‘wild’ territory. For miles there will be only woodland and then, suddenly, lovely lakes and streams. In this region the Mullica begins as a tiny creek to become the broad river along which boats once traveled to Batsto and Pleasant Mills to get cannon bails, made of bog iron, for our Revolutionary armies.

Two other rivers – the Wading and Great Egg Harbor – run through the tract, and it was this broad watershed which led Joseph Wharton, founder of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, to begin buying up these tracts about 1876, with the idea of providing potable water for Philadelphia.

I think I know who it was who swerved from the main highway of ordinary commentary to the sequestered byways among some of my favorite forgotten towns. If I am correct in my conclusions, he once was a music critic and so it would be easy for him to drift off into these lyric cadences too often eliminated from pages assigned to commentators. Boiling down the chain of events from 1876 to the present, at least from his point of view, the writer went on:

“It was a great idea. There were two drawbacks: Philadelphia politicians preferred Delaware River water, and the New Jersey Legislature banned piping of water outside the state. The idea died. Before Wharton bought the properties they had known the feudal barony of Jesse Richards, who had mansions In Batsto and Atco and who operated two bog iron furnaces, a glassworks, a paper mill, farms, and minor industries. These had largely gone, leaving ghost towns behind them, by the time Wharton took over. Since then the great tract has known little activity save that of workers on cranberry bogs, cottages dotting the lake at Atsion, explorations of naturalists and historians, and the rustle and tempo of abundant wildlife.”

“It is a great preserve which the State of New Jersey would acquire, less some 10,000 acres which the Navy is reported to want for an air training field, and the cottage sites which would be sold to their occupants.”

The writer concluded by commending the purchase so that New Jersey might boast an area comparable to Fairmount Park, as meaningful in other ways to Philadelphia – but I must reassure you quickly, as one who picknicked as a boy in all sections of Fairmount Park, that the comparison is unfortunate. To transform the Wharton tract into another Fairmount Park would be a nightmare to those who love the wilds and, even if it were part of the plan, would require many more dollars than those set aside as presumably sufficient purchase price. However, it is at this point that I catch my breath a little for unless some provision is made for maintenance of the park in the years to come, with guards and caretakers and those who will tell its wonderful story, the dream will indeed be empty. I say this parenthetically with considerable concern in knowing what could have been done long ago in smaller state parks but, as you know, has not been for lack of funds.

Legacies often present problem

Too often an agency, be it, state or a diocese or even a family, accept as a gift or purchase reasonably an estate or a big house only to discover that moving in is one thing and staying on is something else. Even if no major improvements are undertaken for some time to come, guards and guides will have to be provided – guards to prevent ravishment of pulp lands such as has been experienced already even on private property adjacent to the Wharton tract, guides who will know and be able to tell the colorful story of the park in a way that will take history out of its moth balls.

Custodians of historic sites are in most instances earnest people but time and again they affect an air of boredom or show themselves to be annoyed by questions they cannot answer. All of It gets back to the same thing – funds were provided for acquisition of this site and that park but funds for maintenance with suitable personnel have not been forthcoming.

I say this almost in a whisper for I have long advocated the purchase of the Wharton lands by the state, if for no other reason than to preserve what remains as compared to what there used to be when I first began wandering across and through and around the Wharton lands more than 20 years ago. Some of my most memorable adventures have had their background there, along the little rivers – and there are more than the two named in the commendable editorial along the unsung roads that preceded ribbons of concrete in days when shovels and axes were taken along for safe passage, and along the swamps and cedar water that give a strange and clinging perfume to every season of the year.

It has been given to me to talk with men and women who knew Joe Wharton and I have written down recurrently what other men and women have told me about the forges and furnaces of the Richards empire which before that was the empire of Charles Read, intimate friend of Benjamin Franklin, collector of the Port of Burlington, secretary of the province, speaker of the Assembly, member of the council, justice of the Supreme Court, colonel of the militia and commissioner to treat with the Indians – Mrs. Read was a Creole, daughter of a planter in Antigua.

I have listened, time and again, beside the potbellied stoves of country stores where history is passed around verbally, generation to generation, and have heard of Joe Wharton’s fragrant “fish factories” along the coast. And so, in the land of Joe Mulliner, the Refugee who was hanged in Burlington and taken to property of his wife now in the Wharton holdings, I have been steeped in the atmosphere of Atsayunk of the Atsiyonks (now Atsion) and the Mordecai Swamp where a pile of cannon balls are said to have sunk to China by now.

One of the books that ought to be read for greater appreciation of the probable Wharton or Richards or Read state park is Carl Raymond Woodward’s “Ploughs and Politicks: Charles Read of New Jersey and His Notes on Agriculture,” published by the Rutgers University Press In 1941 and never fully appreciated. Charlie Boyer, to whom you have been introduced already, also gives many pages of his “New Jersey Forges and Furnaces,” published by the University of Pennsylvania Press 10 years before, to what he calls the Charles Read Enterprises. Carl Woodward’s book the by-product of a search for Benjamin Franklin’s New Jersey farm near Burlington where both Ben and Read experimented in agriculture and where Read may have taken for his studies in farming which were included in “Ploughs and Politics.”

Burlington had a customs man

The Wharton land, then, covers much of the territory where Charles Read, In the years from 1715 to 1774, spent his youth, became a customs collector when Burlington was a port, speculated in pinelands as did his successors, set up the operation of bog ore furnaces and forges on a chain-store basis, became a leading politician of the Jersey provinces and died in exile in North Carolina. And if you would like to compare what I have called the things that were with the things that are in the area of the proposed park, you have only a glance at some of the illustrations in Carl’s book, then those that appear in “Jersey Genesis and finally, what you will see with your own eyes today.

Reproductions of scenes in the Burlington of Charles Read’s day make me wonder why Burlington, celebrating its anniversary, made little effort to become another Williamsburg, unless It was that the foundations organized for such purposes let officials down. The magnificent old houses assigned to the forge masters at Taunton, Atsion and Batsto, as well as the old store, long closed among its Batsto memories of merchant craft that dared the river, have lost a little more than face. At Atsion the mansion whose portico is supported by pillars of Jersey iron is used for storing materials of the Wharton Estate, inasmuch as the estate manager lives nearby.

The mansion at Pleasant Mills, not far from the little Methodist Church dedicated by Francis Asbury, is maintained in good order inasmuch as the Lippincotts of Philadelphia publishing fame, use it as a sylvan retreat – they, you see, are descendants of the Whartons. If you would concentrate on forges and furnaces, Martha, Taunton, Etna, Batsto and all the rest, you had better pore over Charlie Bowyer’s notes.

The editorial used the word “fasting.” It is wholly accurate. No matter how many times you have wandered through the Wharton estate and it’s wonderful neighborhoods, and no matter how long you have been away, something calls you back to again look upon the unbroken expanse of scrub oak and stunted pines as they can be seen from Jemima Mount or Bear Swamp Hill; to dig into the ruins of a tavern at Washington Field, where Joe Mulliner was caught at a dance; to await the harbingers of spring, herring in the Mullica River whose story took a whole book to tell, and to listen for new stories at Aunt Hattie’s store at Green Bank, now ably carrying on its traditions under the direction of her nephew, Rod Koster. Aunt Hattie, God rest her sweet soul, taught school at Harrisville where there was a town, now recalled in broken walls and cellar holes on the road down from Chatsworth, a road I like to travel late in May or early in June when the Jersey cactus or prickly pear decks the Indian grass with yellow bell like flowers.

I was thinking of that in Aunt Hattie’ store the other day, just after the announcement had been made to buy the Wharton lands. I have thought aloud for Arthur Sooy of Green Bank, spoke up. “I remember Joe Wharton” he said. “I was here in the day he came down this way to buy Harrisville.” I told him that I was old enough to recall a time when the Wharton estate men had to employ a watchman to live beside the Harrisville ruins to prevent theft of the native stone from the crumbling walls.

Roasted oysters on store ledge

“Billy Sooy owned the store, then,” said Rod. ‘He used to roast oysters right there on the ledge that goes all the way around the stove. Once he fell asleep in the chair and some of those who were in the store pried the oyster shells and ate the oysters inside. When Billy woke up and reached for what he thought he was going to enjoy, he found the oyster shells empty. I’m getting worse,’ he said. ‘I open oysters in my sleep and can’t remember eating them.’”

“Jackie” Ford, who still lives up the road, not far from the banks of the Mullica, is one of many still living in the neighborhood who worked for Joe Wharton when Joe ran a fleet of boats that supplied “fish factories” with mossbunkers, sometimes called greentails as the mainstay of early glue and fertilizer. Jackie told me long ago that Joe, once a mayor of Philadelphia, operated boats that plied from the Virginia Capes to Rhode Island.

“Most people know mossbunkers as menhaden, minnies to you maybe” said Jackie. “Joe Wharton’s factories were at Lewes, Delaware; Tiverton, Rhode Island, and a place called Promised Land which was out at the mouth of the Mullica. Steamers loaded up and brought fish to the factories for whatever factory men were paying. We could bring in about a million in a load,” said Jackie Ford.

Leon Koster, Rod’s father, also worked at the fish factories. Now Leon Is part of the Green Bank tree farm of the state which, already state property, will concentrate its routines nearer Trenton. The nursery once was Sooy land and was taken over by the state in a mixup that involved debts and politics. Joe Wharton bought the vast estate in foreclosure proceedings and, writing “Jersey Genesis” almost 10 years ago, I said, “There are always recurrent expressions of belief that the dreads of the Wharton Estate as a watershed will come true.”

The land is as plentiful in water as it is in legend and history, with the most colorful legends centered at what used to be “The Forks” – now Batsto and Pleasant Mills. “It is surely ironical,” I wrote elsewhere, “that of all the landings up and down the Mullica, The Forks, signally celebrated in every record of the countryside, should have gone so fast asleep, its kings and captains departed for so long.”

Now, quite obviously, the glorious wilderness in which some of the richest lore of New Jersey is concentrated, will awaken and some of us must guard against a rude awakening.

There must be those who will guard the placid lives who always have lived in the woodlands – the mossies who gather sphagnum, the little mills that make shingles in old-fashioned ways, the berry pickers never at a loss to find ways to make a modest living at any season of the year, the men and women and children who gather and color pine-cones, and all the rest. New Jersey, buying a place, cannot, buy a people and beyond the people a way of life that is New Jersey’s own in what I have called a never-never land. Later on, when, more details of the prospective park purchase are more certain, I will tell you of the descendants of titans of early industries who, as resourceful giants of the forest themselves, will he memorialized in a new and seemingly limitless state park.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, Feb. 24, 1952. 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 https://www.njpinebarrens.com

Ghosts of By-Gone Glories Haunt Quiet Lanes and the Memories of Batsto’s Old-Timers

I could lead you down ordinary ways to Taunton, Etna, Atsion and Batsto, without more to-do. I could tell how that old sailor with the Creole wife, Charles Read, listed Taunton as Tanton when he advertised its sale in 1773, or how, three years after, Tom Maybury moved there to make cannon and shot under the noses of British and Hessian soldiers in Mount Holly.

I could take you to Etna, called Aetna by the third Charles Read who inherited its headaches, and there we might dig up, if our luck held, some pig iron, a stray cannon ball or, more, surely, some buried slag near the dam where those who live in Medford Lakes stroll by unwary every day, we could follow modern concrete down to Atsion, the Atsyunk of the Atsiyonk Indians, once owned on shares by David Ogden, Lawrence Salter, and the man who fell in love and married in Antigua. There, beside a little church and some never-painted houses, an old store and the empty manorial retreat of the forge managers of long ago, we might talk of iron that was sent to equip what in those days was renowned as the Pennsylvania Navy.

Or we could go the long way to Batsto by the Nesco road from Hammonton down through Pleasant Mills, old Nescochague – Sweetwater now, a trail which for a long time was the shortest and surest route to Tuckerton and Long Beach, known well by rustic patriots who fashioned stoves, salt pans, fire-backs, Dutch ovens and even ordinary skillets, turning quickly to vital munitions for Valley Forge when the emergency came.

But I would rather follow the low roads, if you don’t mind-the Jackson road that comes over from Berlin, old Long-a-Coming, to join the Tuckerton road at what as Delilett’s, the road through Piper’s Corner and Indian Mills, once the first and New Jersey’s own Indian reservation I prefer and I know you will like the road that parallels the Mullica river and then twists through rutted sand to the Batsto river until it emerges in the back yards of Batsto, the old furnace town.

Here we can take note of the red and white signs that post the land telling us that this is the estate of Joseph Wharton and that there are rules and regulations we must observe, now that we are on what was his property.

Joseph is dead but in the days when he was Philadelphia’s mayor, even as was the first Charles Read of Batsto, he had notions of piping water from the tract-It now measures 95,000 acres-to the fair city which, from all accounts, has had need of it., The project failed by a few votes in the State Legislature and so the wilderness and water have returned, for the most part, to the condition in which God gave them-except that men have taken most of their feudal ways to the cities and numerous birds and beasts have vanished together.

You should remember, however, when you read these warnings against trespassing, that somehow from the very beginning, one dynasty has given way successively to another-first came the Reads, then the Richards, and then the Whartons whose heirs now employ men who chop wood, build cabins, lease shooting rights, and tack up more signs. So let us see now if we can bring to life a few lost lords of the wildwood, in words of these who recall some of them, in phrases of old friends who say they do, and in what remains of a New Jersey industrial empire that has vanished away.

Ghostly Region on First Visit

When first I went to Atsion it was a far more ghostly place than you will find now. The road from Berlin, Camden county, ran through the brushy clearing that was Jackson Glassworks, and the Wharton heirs had built no cabins along Burlington county’s widened Atsion lake. The dam was old, nothing at all like the modern replacement crossed today by the wide highway that cuts directly down through Columbus and Red Lion over the flats and bogs and cedar swamps.

Jim Armstrong was living then, still a tax collector of Shamong Township as he had been more than 30 years, and at 70-plus he smiled when I told him that he was, from all that his neighbors said of him, man who held the keys to all Atsion’s secrets.

“Don’t even have a key to this house,” he said, outside the place which he lived, up toward Indian Mills, “and I’ve lived in it 67 years.”

From, the way in which his choice Indian relics had a habit of disappearing, especially after the visits of collectors, I can now reflect that a lock or two would have served him well.

So, after displaying his mortars and pestles Jim Armstrong took me to the pipe that served an alien capacity under his barn. “See the letter ‘A’ at the bottom?” he asked, with quiet delight.

“Know what that means? Made at Atsion Furnace, it was, just like those pipes that people take for pillars on the porch of the old Sam Richards house at Atsion. That ‘A’ is the official stamp, yes sir!”

It is probable that Jim was one of the first who confused me, in those days, on the essential differences between forges and furnaces, an uncertainty that earned me many a dark look from the late Charles Boyer (no relation to the Hollywood Frenchman who at last report was still alive) when he used to come in to see Ben Courter. I was always saying “forge” when I meant “furnace” or “furnace” when I meant “forge” and it was not until long after, when Nat Ewan took time to set me right, that I realized how important the distinction is. I note the variance well, for there will be other furnaces and forges beyond these feudal lands:

Furnaces, you see, converted the native Jersey bog ore into pig iron and then the forges hammered the pigs into wagon tires, sheet iron, gratings and bars, or smithy and household equipment. Some New Jersey ironworks combined forges and furnaces, it is true, but usually there were separate water wheels and tilt-hammers erected in other buildings.

“Might as well begin your looking at Atsion,” Jim Armstrong advised me. “There ain’t much to show as Taunton or Etna to remind you of the old days.” He was almost right although I took occasion to remind him of the boast that Taunton was better than some of the other neighborhood furnaces because, a boast in the ancient advertisements never lacked for water power, was so accessible that a good team could haul three loads a day, or was so close to the woods that the wagons could get six loads of cut fuel.

I pointed out that old Taunton’s iron, rolled up to wharves long removed at Lumberton, went down Rancosas creek to the Delaware River for as little as 12 shillings ton. The reference made little impression, however: Jim said that 12 shillings was alot of money. “Any how, you history birds won’t like what’s at Taunton now, with picnic and new names and all-and I’ll bet you the Sunday Schools that come down for, outings to Taunton. don’t know we used to call the place Whiskey Hollow!”

Shop Remembered by Folks in 80’s

They didn’t know, either that although historians as doughty as Woodward an Hagaman passed up tracing owner of Taunton furnace or forge up to 1800, there were Medford folk of the 1880’s who remembered Richard Edwards running the iron-work there, wanderers who used to go down the low roads to see the abandoned trip-hammer and anvil-block which presumably joined a junk dealer’s collection, the blackened ground of the clearing that was Thackera’s Coal-Mill where charcoal was pulverized at another Fairview which had been another Cross Keys, or even the seldom remembered mills of the Branms, the Oliphants, or the Haineses.

I asked Jim Armstrong about Mark Reeve who was said to have made the first cut nails with heads that ever were fashioned in America but Jim said that every trace of Mark’s inventive genius was gone, along with his cumbersome horse-power machinery in Medford or the strong “pigtail” tobacco he sold at one cent per yard. Mark, the stories go, forgot to protect his system of making nails until a Yankee tin-peddler wandered in to watch the process all one day and then beat Mark to the patent by a week.

It was on the day when I first saw Jim Armstrong that I first heard of Frank Peck – and I was all ears because the Pecks had been among the first residents of Batsto. Down-country folk who didn’t always remember his name called him “the Water Wizard.” I was told first that he lived in Indian Mills and later that it I would be more likely to find him at Tabernacle or even close by Batsto itself.

Batsto’s the village that was built on the site of Batstoo, which to the Indians meant “a bathing place” and Tabernacle’s a crossroads with a church, a school and an impressive cemetery where they buried Indian Ann who returned to sell her woven baskets up and down the country roads long after her companions had been taken to Oneida, NY.

Charlie Remine, in Wrightstown, said that Frank liked wandering but that I’d probably find him closer to Red Lion than anywhere else. That was how I found “the Water Wizard” in the small weather-black house that appeared permanent enough, basking in the dubious glory of being Burlington county’s last “water-finder.”

‘Miracle Man’ located water

For years uncounted Frank had been the Pineys’ own Miracle Man, the fellow who walked across fields with a pointed stick, telling professionals where to drill for water that they always found. Out in the country Charlie said, you got water, usually from a spring, a pond, or even a creek. But sometimes, he explained, you liked a piece of land where none of these was available. That was when, unless you didn’t mind wasting days that could be used more profitably otherwise, you called on Uncle Frank.

What was more, according to the story that was being passed around even then, a legend that still bobs up in a Medford Lakes and other pinelands hideaways that have been modernized, newcomers enlisted Frank’s help to find water for lakeside cabins. Frank told me that he got $5 every time he found water and that the routine made more sense than blacksmithing, his old trade.

Frank was 77 when I talked to him. Except for a rheumy limp, he seemed younger by ten years. His frame was gaunt and his face as lean but his eyes were of that particular shade of blue which, when focused, bores through you and beyond. They were, I think, the more penetrating because they were set off by Frank’s full gray beard. And If you doubted his powers by either expression or implication, Frank, gave you one of his looks and then remembering that he was “the Water Wizard” of whom you had been told, the gushing of water from your vest pockets would have caused no surprise.

I found Frank at the back-door of the hideaway he shared with Mrs. Peck who betrayed her whereabouts occasionally furtive glances between a torn blind and the frame of a window. Frank, who said he had sons who had “moved away somewheres,” wore no coat and his shirt was wide-open even though the false spring day was damp and chill. “They told me,” I said, after some preliminary skirmishing “that you were the Water Wizard.” He stood silent, watching me for a moment, so that I concluded that he was deaf and had not heard. I repeated my words and this time, without any reply at all, he began to perform, as if his moment of concentration was a necessary part of his act. If you have never seen a “water-diviner” in action, you’ve missed something.

Prongs Twisted Despite Grasp

Uncle Frank unsheathed a murderous-looking knife and began looking for a stick which, he mumbled indistinctly, must be forked and green, must have a six-inch “handle” and must be equipped with prongs 18 inches long, with a size equal to one’s little finger. Grasping a stick be had thus prepared, he started walking over his land, first straightening himself upward to added dignity and striding forward like a man in a trance.

The first stick broke in a way that still mystifies me but a second was quickly provided. Then the walk began all over again, with Frank’s jaw set, eyes fixed on space, and long gray Whitmanesque wisps of hair flying in the cold wind. Suddenly, with the so-called handle pointed away from him, the prongs began to twist, apparently in spite of Frank’s firm grasp, so that the handle turned toward the ground.

“There’s water!” Frank Peck exclaimed, relaxing and tossing the divining rod away. I had to take for granted that water was where he said It was and the spell, obviously, was over. I spoke no word but Uncle Frank must have included mind-reading among his talents for, without explanation, he began his routine all over again.

This time he explained that the rod must be Hazelwood, although I could have sworn he cut it from a peach tree. As the second part of the double feature came to an end, Frank turned, showing me his hands as a kind of clincher: Fragments of bark clung to the skin. The old man wanted to prove that although his grip had been one like steel, nothing natural could have kept the handle from turning toward water, deep down.

“How do you do it?” I remember asking, speaking quietly because I wondered if words would cause trouble.

“Don’t know,” Frank answered. “Was getting old when I found out I could. Not anybody can. But this here way’s the trick the Indians used when they found water for the Reads and Richards down Batsto way.” I wanted to ask why the Indians were employed to find water in a place the Lenne Lenapes called “bathing pool” but I held my tongue. And so, scanning my notes, I can tell you that this was my first and last experience with a New Jersey “water wizard” although I know full well that back in the open country up in northern New Jersey and off hidden paths to the south others are still operating.

Famed Old Towns Went Fast Asleep

So, then, we go to Batsto and Atsion. Somewhere I have remarked how ironical it is that of all the landings up and down the Mullica, “The Forks” – Batsto and Pleasant Mills, so signally celebrated in every record of the countryside, should have gone so fast asleep. Here at the head of Mullica river navigation, five or six miles from Elwood, once Sailor Boy, there is a kind of island formed by the meeting of the Batsto river, Nescochague and Meschescatauxen creeks, and the Atsion or main branch of the Mullica itself.

Pleasant Mills, once Sweetwater, is on the island and Batsto, separated by the bridge, is just beyond. In Revolutionary days there were houses and barns and wharves along the shore, and in the river were hundreds of ships, privateers, and their prizes. Now there is an old church, an empty paper mill, some old houses and the mansion of Kate Aylesford.

Batsto was the objective, you remember, when the British fleet anchored at the river mouth and, frustrated in its plan to get up that far, resorted to burning Chestnut Neck and whatever else came handy. An iron furnace had been established in Batsto ten years before independence was declared, and then with the coming of war the output became exclusively cannon, shot, and shell.

Israel Pemberton, first owner of the furnace, called the place Whitcomb Manor, the second establishment of its kind in the state. Later it was sold to Charles Read and still later to Col. John Cox and Thomas Maybury. Joseph Ball, a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker, was there when peacetime manufacture gave way to wartime munitions, sending the first of the Batsto giants, Willliam Richards, to become the manager in 1784. By this time “The Forks” was well populated and a mecca for those who wanted to dodge the draft by working in the early wartime industry.

Much that was Batsto, sometimes spelled Batstow, apart from the village of the workmen, is as it always was, except for the unnatural but delightful quiet. No one goes to the old store for there is nothing to buy. The old Richards manor house, with Its 36 rooms and a tower that once was used as a forest fire lookout, remains high on the shaded knoll, restored and maintained by Joseph Wharton, who bought the vast estate in 1876, and now kept up by his descendants, the Lippincotts of Philadelphia.

The store, the manor and some of the old barns went unscathed Jan. 23, 1874 when a spark from the chimney of Robert Stewart’s house set fire to the dwelling and, before the flames were checked, laid mots of the village in ashes.

The first villagers were fisher folk and lumbermen. The cost of transportation on cedar boards and shingles taken to Philadelphia was high and although people of Batsto and its neighbor across the Batsto river, Pleasant Mills, required and still ask little from life that they themselves can’t supply and build, the going at the beginning was hard.

Perhaps Charles Read knew that he would have little trouble in gaining cheap labor from natives so content with what they had but, whether be knew it or not, Batsto gave little resistance to the coming of a new industry, the “mining” of Jersey bog ore. Charles Read, a nephew of Israel Pemberton, began buying and selling land the vicinity as early as 1754 but, although he is sometimes given credit for building the Batsto Works, actually he owned but a quarter interest, later selling out to such notables as Col. Cox, Tom Maybury and Joseph Ball, the rich Philadelphian who paid $275,000 for Batsto just like that.

Col. Cox was no small fry – a merchant who had taken an active part in the proceedings that led to the Declaration of Independence, he was a member of the first General Committee or Correspondence as well as one of the Council of Safety. An intimate of Generals Knox and Greene, his appointment as Assistant Quartermaster General in 1778 should serve as an index to a man who was more than a staunch patriot, but there are few in Batsto or Pleasant Mills who will tell you much about the Reads or Col. Cox or even Col. William Richards, who came there in 1784 to manage the iron-works for his nephew, young Mr. Ball.

Old Tory Legend Caused Reticence

The reticence of the few who know is something I have learned to share-and there is a reason. On recent journeys to the twin villages I have avoided the full measure of my usual enthusiasm. I say merely that Col. Richards, the man who was caught while wandering and who was suspected of Tory sympathies, an accusation which well may have been the price of expediency, was a good humored gentleman who, judging from, his portraits, was usually in need of a haircut.

He was fellow of “wonderful energy and enterprise” according to the records, the sole owner who “lived like a prince” when, as one of six uncles and aunts, he inherited Mr. Ball’s estate. I concern myself, usually, with the grave of Jesse Richards, his son. In the shadow of the lovely old Methodist church, built in 1808, remarking that the huge stone, the largest In the Pleasant Mills graveyard, is adequate really because Jesse “was very large and powerful, weighing close to three hundred pounds.”

Even before the death of the Colonel In 1823 Jesse had succeeded his father as master of the manor and from the house on the hill “he ruled Batsto as his father had done with great energy and success for thirty years.” This was the period when the estate was enlarged and made more prosperous, with the manufacture of glass, pottery, and iron adding companion ventures in lumber, faming, and shipbuilding. Then, to those who will listen I quote records to prove that all was well in Batsto until somebody thought of the railroads, and steam power, and better iron closer to where it was in demand by a more concentrated population in Philadelphia.

I remember sentimentally that the fires at Batsto went out in 1848 and that the heart of Jesse Richards died with them, that Jesse’s sons – Thomas, Samuel, and the second Jesse-tried valiantly to carry on against new inventions and greater competition. Sometimes I recall such stories as the one about the Quaker captain, David Mapps, who sailed away with an empty boat rather than carry as cargo a load of , Col. Richards’ best munitions which, he said loudly, “were the devil’s own pills.” But to tell you the truth, I am always a little fearful of a newer invasion, not by an overseas enemy but by people like the bus driver who, one day recently, asked me who owned Pleasant Mills corner and what I thought it could be bought for.

“I’ve got an idea,” he said earnestly, “a swell idea. I don’t want to drive a bus all my life. Give me that corner and a big hot-dog stand and I’ll clean up. It’s a natural with a great future.”

Refuse to Worry About Newcomers

Then I fly for refuge to old Bob Ford, 78, the oldest man in Batsto, who has lived in the village all his life – first in the house that Bob Stewart’s father – Bob still lives up the road toward Hammonton – set on fire. Or I seek out old Joshua Brown, who looks like Carl Sandburg at 65 and is a brother of Mrs. Bozarth with whom I used to talk in the evening on the steps of the Richards manor house. Bob and Josh assure me that there’s nothing to worry about, that they haven’t worried all their lives, and there have been and always be ways of taking care of those who have notions about importing noises and smells and carnival trinkets.

Josh and Bob sometimes wander up the road together, telling their tall tales to Batsto children of today, among them Elaine and Nancy Adams. Even so, I don’t think children of New Jersey anywhere are sufficiently aware that Batsto and Pleasant Mills was a refuge for those who fled the persecutions of the Stuart kings and that these villages must always be a sanctuary from cluttered-up living.

Unless Bob and Josh and many more speak up, no one will recall that Baxters, MacGillans, Campbells’ and Pecks, members of an exiled company maintained their own church standards, followed their own precepts and worked shoulder to shoulder every day.

No one will recall that Charles M. Peterson wrote the earliest American novel of New Jersey around the Kate Aylsford house in Pleasant Mills.

No one will remember that the little Pleasant Mills church was dedicated by Francis Asbury, first Methodist bishop in America, a guest of Jesse Richards, a Church of England man who liked Presbyterians, employed Quakers and Methodists, and built the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption for his Roman Catholic employees down the road.

Ghost Might Walk to Still Old Tales

Perhaps I had better conjure up a ghost to frighten the disrespectful. If so, I can think of no better a phantom than the Charles Read who turned up In Philadelphia in 1739 with a cargo of rum and a Creole bride. This was the Charles who was to become “the Hon. Charles Read, Esq.” and who, described In Aaron Learning’s caustic diary of Colonial days as “whimsical to the borders of insanity,” disappeared and then, long later, died as the keeper of a dirty little shop in Martinburg, NC.

“Charles sold out,” Aaron wrote, “and married the daughter of a rich planter on Antigua. She was very much of a Creole, no hansom, nor genteel but talked after the Creole accent…” For all that dusky Alice Thibou was “decently interred in the Burying Ground of St. Mary’s Church” in Burlington. So I know where Alice, the Creole, lies but-watch out for Charles.

Any man who had so many nasty things said about him when he couldn’t defend himself is likely to be back, in one shape or another, puttering about the familiar paths that lade the vicinity of a fading feudal dynasty.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, June. 22, 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 https://www.njpinebarrens.com

Old Jersey Forest Fire Fighter Borrowed System Used by the Indians

“An observant traveler, taking his way through the bleak woods in November, especially, along the tangled and moss-carpeted trails among forgotten towns, must sooner or later acquire something of a philosophic viewpoint.

“If he goes down to Retreat, four miles or so out of Vincentown, as we did, he will hear people recall how Charlotte Cushman, one of the most famous actresses of her time, spent Vacations there.

“If he presses on to South Park, on the trail that carries through miles and miles of desolation to Chatsworth, he may see a small truck marked “Fire Patrolâ” emblazoned with red diamonds of the Fifth Divisionâ – the carryall of hard-working Albert B. LeDuc, who guards 80,000 acres from forest fires.

“If he goes on down to Eagle, beyond Apple Pie Hill, along Bread and Cheese Run; he will find, forgotten among the trees, a line of charred wooden grave-markers, near a lone stone inscribed “Charles Wills, 1839.”

“Weighing these considerations, the traveler will consider them in relation to the information that no one now remembers how Apple Pie and Bread and Cheese Run got their names, still retained on modern maps; that Retreat once was a thriving little town with four mills and 14 dwellings; that Fire Warden LeDuc remembers his artillery service in World War I and so goes every Memorial Day to decorate the forgotten grave of a colored soldier, and, finally, that nobody recalls much about that cemetery at Eagle except that it was and is consecrated ground.

Before I go on with this record of my own, written in 1936, let me say that Albert LeDuc is dead and that what I am writing is his memorial. For much that I learned of the country on and around Apple Pie Hill came long ago from this old and kindly friend who died in the land he loved best, the pinelands he once guarded from fire long before protection became more highly organized by the state.

He lived to 74 despite asthma

Albert was 74 when he died. He had not been well for many years, almost from the day of his retirement from the forest fire service in 1944. His death was not attributable, however, to the asthmatic plague which, in the beginning, brought his uncle and thus, Albert, himself—to New Jersey. Albert’s kin, seeking relief from the disease in Death Valley in the 1880s, picked up a copy of the New York World In which, as he told me long ago, there was a full-page advertisement concerning a Jersey town named Paisley.

Paisley, as it-was called In days before it became White Horse, was proclaimed as a haven for all asthma sufferers and Albert’s aunt and uncle hurried back east. They arrived in the New Jersey pinelands of Burlington County, discovered that most of the claims about Paisley began and ended in real estate advertising, and remained even though the town’s hopes blossomed and then faded before there was a bloom.

I know that there was a Paisley newspaper and I think I have shown you a copy, it was one of those publications Issued as part of the business than went on in New York, offering “indisputable proof” that there was a town, sure enough, with a factory making mattresses of pin needles, a conservatory of music, and much more.

Albert LeDuc was a native of Marseilles but he had been a very real American almost from the moment his feet touched American soil. He had been in Burlington County since the early 1900s and I know that if my mother were here she would remember well the night that we joined Albert at a Harvest Home dinner somewhere in the vicinity of Indian Mills, a night when Albert showed his joy in eating. A veteran of World War I, he was an active member of the American Legion, having served as Commander of the Mt. Holly post. It was Albert who led other searchers to the place where Emilio Carranza, the Mexican flier, fell in the Jersey Pines and it was Albert who was a leader in the movement that brought a permanent memorial to the airman deep in the woods beyond Tabernacle.

Evolved system for forest fires

Albert, who evolved the system of fighting forest fires with fire, a plan first used by the Indians which, these long years after, has gained new acclaim, had a secret passion for discovering forgotten graves as well as towns and, as you might suspect, placing flowers where others had passed by. It was Albert LeDuc who made a point of joining other officials in a ceremony at the Carranza monument every year. In the beginning, however, I came upon Albert and his little car almost anywhere far from civilization and we became fast friends.

Albert lived in a woodsy retreat called South Park by forgotten real estate dreamers who sold lots over and over again to absentee purchasers who never bothered to find out. It wasn’t more than a year before his death that I paid him belated tribute, telling you and all who wanted to listen how Albert LeDuc was the man who pioneered in fire-fighting methods in the woods, methods belatedly receiving attention. How glad I am that I wrote what I did and how wonderful it was to know that another friend had sought out Albert to tell him about it. A letter came In from Chatsworth which began, “Dear Old Friend:

All those years ago it was Albert LeDuc, the man with the quick, erratic gait and the spasmodic way of speaking who took me down a sandy road to a forgotten cellar from which he dug faded real estate brochures of the area telling how Dr. William A. White, a New York physician, was going to build a sanitarium at Pine Crest. Then he found a bottle of “Pine Crest Water” for me, saying it was pumped from the pines and sold as magical in New York. I remember his laugh when he told me that the natives used the water in their car batteries.

That was when, although I didn’t realize it, Albert LeDuc of the little red truck was telling New Jersey authorities to burn the woods in Winter, protecting the land the way the Indians did. Albert preferred to remember the legends of Retreat and how Charlotte Cushman used to come down into the woods when she was managing the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia.

“We went to South Park where Albert LeDuc was waiting for us,” I wrote in that first record of a venture into a land of mystery which always will have its lodestone for me. “Rather, he was putting in his time by sawing wood. His fire district is certainly one of the most extensive and important in the pinelands. However, despite the breadth of his territory and the alert anxiety he must observe for breaking out of fires somewhere in that vast stretch of 80,000 acres, he maintains a cheerful mien and a surprising agility for his 57 years. That, you see, was long ago. “What is more,” I went on, “Albert knows these back trails, lined with brambles and pine and cedar scrub, like a book and so he told us why we missed that cemetery near Eagle on earlier excursions.

Apple Pie highest South Jersey hill

“Warden LeDuc did not take us to Eagle immediately. Recalling how well the late Warner Hargrove, our first guide, had spoken of him, we were only too glad to listen.

“We had been up Apple Pie Hill before, of course, but his companionship made this journey like a first visit. The hill, you see, is the highest point in southern New Jersey, 210 feet above sea level. Albert said that if the woods were cleared and the hill surfaced in packed snow, the impetus given by the slope would carry a bobsled 10 miles. The bill is scarred with sharp ravines and on its top is an emergency fire observation tower. From its lookout platform one can see far across the blue haze of the barrens, 20 miles in any direction. On a clear day the masts of the radio station at Tuckerton are etched against the sky.

That was the day Albert told me about Dr. White and, at the same time, showed me his white- painted dwelling in the midst of a cluster of small buildings on the hill, all of which have disappeared. “Down the slope, I wrote then, “is a small bottling house where Dr. White obtained and circulated a health water under a State license, water Albert said was so pure that natives claimed it to be as good as distilled.

“The fate of the hospital, called Pine Crest on the labels of the health water bottles, has been uncertain since Dr. White’s death. A key to the place was on Warden LeDue’s large jingling chain but he used it only for those interested in another broken dream of the pine country. From Apple Pie Hill he led the way to Eagle, across the Jersey Central at Sandy Ridge. There is the evidence of one large dwelling here on a surprisingly green rise, shuttered by buttonwoods, trees that do not belong in this area at all.

This is the McCaimbridge house, the warden said, and it was built of logs. The McCaimbridges and a family called Wills were the only settlers in the vicinity. The old fences leading down the hill into pine timber that was worth looking at until the fires choked it out stand forlornly askew. Then, where fires have cracked through time and again, Albert LeDuc found the cemetery for us – you’d hardly call it that – even though a wandering priest came and made it hallowed for all time. Headstones and footstones never were stone but pine boards. Today the beavers have eaten all along the ground to leave them standing on mere spindles.

Gravestone Tells of Older Homes

The one inscribed stone in the line half covered with the muck of the years gave authenticity to the legends of habitation there: “Charles Wills – 1839. So ended the record of the journey with an old friend who knows more about Charles Wills then he ever could have on [word missing].

Perhaps Albert DeLuc and Uncle Till Estlow who until he died lived in Brookville are comparing notes on Eagle now. For it was later on when something that became ‘Jersey Genesis’ was being put down in scribbled notes that Tilden Estlow took me there. Uncle Till lived in Wells Mills and I have always wondered if the Wills had become Wells in later days. When Godfrey Estlow died an entry in an old diary said that he was buried at “the Barnharts Place and some of us have always concluded that Barnharts was Eagle. I know that when Uncle Till took me to Eagle he said that his grandfather, Christopher Eatlow, lay buried in one of those graves marked by a fire-charred spindle.

I must go down along those trails again, at least to pay my respects to Albert’s widow, Maude, known throughout the area as a very real missionary on a frontier that most of New Jersey overlooked. Mrs. LeDuc founded the Oak Grove Presbyterian Church near her home and continued her philanthropies among the people of the area in a way, which to my knowledge, never has been mentioned in Albert’s obituary notice. Albert died at what is known as Johnson Place but Oak Grove is really just up the road.

There have been many changes in that pine country beloved by Albert since my first journeys down that way, at the beginning with a bored photographer who thought I was crazy, and later with a night police court reporter who had a car so full of scratches that a hundred more among the brambles of the faraway didn’t matter. Albert’s aunt was living then, in a house not far from the mythical Paisley. The house was burned, I was told the other day, when Albert allowed its sacrifice so that pinewoods firefighters might try out their equipment.

How did Palsey get its name? Reaching back for scraps of conversation, I suddenly remembered Albert’s story of his uncle, the Frenchman in search of a hideaway from asthma. “He had a Scotch maid who came from Paisley, he said, “and he named the town to please her. “Who, your uncle? I remember asking. “No, of course not, he said. “It was the real estate man. Paisley was here long before my uncle came although nobody seemed to have done much with it. The mattress factory was just a building and a few people going through the motions. The hotels and conservatory of music pictured in the newspapers were never built although work was expected to start any day. That’s what they always said.

Concrete Covers old Sand Trails

By now there are ribbons of concrete across the lands that were hard to come by even in those first journeys of my own. Most of the sand trails we traveled with an ax and a shovel kept handy have added hard surfaces where there were deep ruts. You can go through White Horse and South Park and Retreat at a high rate of speed compared to the snail’s pace of long ago. However, the ways of life that Albert LeDuc showed me up from a rise called Apple Pie Hill and a broken ridge called Chicken Bone are to be found today much as always they were.

The men who gather sphagnum moss, used by florists and, in emergencies, for surgical dressings, still find life sweet in the simple ways of living it and, I heard the other day, do much better than they did when first I knew them. One family, I am told, goes off to Florida when the cold stiffens the swamp muck. “We don’t have to dry sphagnum in the sun the way we did when you came down in the beginning with Albert, one of the Andersons said “We don’t have to bale it, either. We sell it wet.”

The cranberry men have more bogs than ever but they scoop the berries much as they always did. Go down to Hog Wallow and Haines Bog and Speedwell along the Chatsworth road when the seasons on and you’ll see the scoopers in action. Albert sold much of his uncle’s land to expanding cranberry growers.

The old tower on Apple Pie Hill should be, it seems to me, Albert LeDuc’s memorial Having escaped fire after fire, it has been replaced in service by a modern steeple of much impressive height. As for Paisley itself, only one cellar hole remains to prove it was ever there; a lone cellar hole and an apple tree, still bearing in the remnants of an orchard.

I want you to remember Albert LeDuc even if some of the firefighting experts of a new day choose to forget him. I want you to recall him not because he was my friend but because, through his kindly recollections, you have some knowledge of a never-never land in which anything can happen and often does. Whenever I go back to the Pinelands, as I like to do often, things in general get a little [word missing] tight for comfort. I don’t think I will miss the pioneer warden of the forest for his spirit, somehow will still be there.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, Oct 14, 1951. 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 https://www.njpinebarrens.com

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 https://www.njpinebarrens.com

Abode of Jersey Hermit Blossoms Into New Fairyland

If the ghost of Turner Brakeley is as benign as I feel he must be, he must approve, I feel very sure, of the La-Ha-Way he knew in the quiet days he passed there more than 50 years ago. For, I must report to you, a gentleman whose name is Stanley Switlik has not only restored what first were the La-Ha-Way plantations to the glories Turner evolved but, in terms of peacocks, swans, trustful deer, lakes, cranberry bogs and even piney retreats themselves, the present has exceeded every dream of the past.

There was a time when I began to doubt some of the things that had been told [to] me about the Bordentown man who, disappointed in love as they say, deserted his fathers fashionable school for young women to hurry away to this woodsy retreat, grow a beard, and chronicle the goings and comings of birds and flowers and other seasonal indices. There are some who have said that Turner Brakeley seemed to emerge as a kind of ogre from the records that remained and the rumors that went around. For my part, I never thought of Turner, the hermit, as an ogre but rather a sensitive soul having much in common with my friend, the Boston man who deserted almost certain success at the bar to fall in love with a mountain in Maine.

Many of my doubts were dispelled when, at one of those services in which you may have joined me at St. Thomas’s, Alexandria, the little church near Pittstown where we will hold our first reunion of another year May 24, a kinsman of Turner Brakeley, journeying over from Easton, PA, thrust a sheaf of the hermit’s notes into my hand. Until then I had been told that all such records had been lost, presumably in a cleanup of La-Ha-Way after the hermit had died. From all that I have learned since then these may be the only writings of a truly unusual man — and I shall quote from them for your benefit anon.

Other doubts were dispelled, I remember, when, after I had mentioned the hermit in Newark, new corroboration was supplied.

Tycoon Restores Old Planations

“You have begin to doubt the existence of Turner Brakeley,” said John Herron, Newark supervisor of schools, when I had finished. I demurred and John smiled. “He was very much as you have written and spoken of him,” he reassured me. “I ought to know. I lived in Bordentown when he was in La-Ha-Way and I was often at the plantations doing erranfs for him…”

I doubt if John Herron, or Mrs. Lewis C. Bayles of Easton, or any of the others appreciate fully what a wonderful place Stanley Switlik, parachute manufacturer and philanthropist, has made of La-Ha-Way. It is almost as if the new owner, working with the hermit long since departed, had resolved to realize what Turner Brakeley mooned over and then, having achieved that, to go far beyond in remaking the economy of the whole neighborhood. And so I say again that Turner Brakeley returning at least once a year to his haunts as some have said he does, must be more than satisfied.

What all that as preamble, let me reach back to what I wrote in the first book for forgotten towns, a volume that appeared after many delays in 1936 and which, much to my own surprise, has become a collectors item. “Northeast of New Egypt and Prospertown,” I said in words that well may date me, “and not too far from the east of Ivanhoe Brook, there is a strange named deserted village whose story struck us as decidedly unusual. Here, where older maps of the locality mark it down as the Lahaway Plantations and where those who know all about it call it Layaway, is La-Ha-Way. The name is an Indian heirloom…”

I could not swear to any aspect of a village even noew. It may be that I blotted up too much of what was told me by my guide of those times, Warner Hargrove of Pemberton. However, I can assure you that Warner had been picking up the folklore of the neighborhood for years, perhaps without realizing it, and I, in my generation have passed on only what he and others have said, no more and no less. I do not know for sure if there were Indians but Warner said the name of La-Ha-Way came “from a tribe of Indians once making it’s headquarters in he locality roaming the wilds of the Central Pines dividing the provinces of East and West Jersey, and making easy marches to the seashore for wampum.â€? That there were Indians in the vicinity is proven by relics now in the La-Ha-Way collection.

“The Indians are mostly forgotten,” I confessed all those years ago, “except when relics are turned up in the woods and fields. However, two well-preserved dwellings, vacant, on the crest of a graceful knoll, remain to recall the memory of the strange man who spent his life in La-Ha-Way in voluntary exile.”

“The road to La-Ha-Way,” I wrote then, “is narrow and winding” and so it remains from the Court House road that links Freehold and Mount Holly, an ancient county line. “Without a guide who knows his business you may miss it altogether,” I went on, revealing that it was the late Charles Remine of Wrightstown, who took all of us there. “Close by each side, we saw a tangled mass fighting the invasion of an automobile. There was just room for a car to get through cautiously, but the driver was ever alert for boggy ruts, fallen and broken limbs of trees, and possible traffic the other way. As on many such paths, one vehicle would be compelled courteously to back out of such a crisis.

Shaggy Gardens Blooming Again

“Suddenly the pathway twists left through a cluster of pines and cedars. Through them, in passing, there is a glimpse of two more deserted buildings, weather-beaten and windowless. Then there is an unexpected halt for it is impossible to go any farther: The road, high on an embankment, attains an impasse where once there was a bridge. This has fallen among the charred, timbers of a broken dam.” I must remind you again that this is the description of La-Ha-Way as I saw it long ago and as it will never be again.

“There is no need to ride on,” the record continues. “From here the exploring is interesting on foot. On the hill are two painted and well-preserved houses, with barns behind them. Near them is a shaggy garden, uncared for, unappreciated, contrasting the dried-up berry bogs across the way. There was a little pond where water lilies were to bloom, when we were there, and across it was a shaky, rustic bridge. This was La-Ha-Way, the inhabitat of the Poet-Who-Never-Wrote-Verses.”

In the folksay of the country-side Lahaway, which is how they spell it now, is inseparable from its post-hermit. The recluse was John Turner Brakeley, I wrote, giving a full name I don’t know even now. I have a signature, J. Turner Brakeley, followed by a characteristic “Brakeley of Lahaway” but the “J” may stand for John.

Turner has been remembered as a tall, well-built man with whitish hair and a well trimmed beard. Born in Bordentown, he was the son of John Howell Brakeley, D.D., a Methodist minister and proprietor of what used to be the Bordentown Female College. Parenthetically I must explain that I have never sought out the relatives of the hermit because, I discovered many years ago, ago, few wished to say anything at all for publication. This is why the notes, given to me at the old pre-Revolutionary church, are so precious, so priceless in their way that I intend to present them, for framing, to the man who has made Lahaway what it has become.

“Brakeley,” I must again transcribe from the old record, “an only child, was well educated. Aiming to prepare himself for a career at the bar, he was graduated from Princeton and later studied law at several other colleges. He was personable, a good-looking young devoted to his father, and unusually energetic. At 25 he seemed possessed of all that one could wish for. It is with considerable reluctance,” I wrote then and I repeat now, “that one makes public the intimate details of Turney Brakeley’s personal life, as gleaned from Remine, our guide who knew the hermit as well as Mrs. Miller Emley of New Egypt, widow of Brakeley’s caretaker . . .”

Exile Was Caused by Love Affair

Whatever the reluctance may have been in those earlier days and whatever it may be now, I can only assure you that at no time has there ever been the slightest contradiction of what I presented almost in a whisper in the beginning. “If the ghost of the poet should tap you on the shoulder at this precise moment and, pointing to this account, say:

“I only told that story once, so why should it be revealed after all these years?” the writer, as well as the reader, would be decidedly at a loss for a reply.

“But since there is little likelihood of such a supernatural occurrence, I continued bravely in that chronicle of more than 20 years ago, and since Brakeley’s love affair was at the bottom of his exile at Lahaway, perhaps we can take a few liberties. Surely, there have been a score of stories of what happened and if this one is true, as I have every reason to believe it is, some small service may be achieved in the task, even so.”

Mrs. Emley did not know the name of the girl who changed everything in Brakeley’s life, nor did she have any idea what became of her. Turner Brakeley spoke of her but once and then, remembering quietly, used no names.

“She was very beautiful, Turner Brakeley said, recalling how they had been betrothed. Apparently he was to establish himself in the law, and then the wedding would be planned.” As Mrs. Emely recalled the story, the young woman was a student at the Bordentown College directed by the elder Brakeley. Stories that Turner was jilted, as were told from time to time, were seemingly without foundation. Turner informed Mrs. Emily that it was he who broke the engagement.

In the hermit’s brief, hesitating description of what happened, it came out that Brakeley unintentionally came upon the girl one evening in the arms of another man. He said he would not have seen the incident at all if it had not been for a sudden glance in a betraying mirror.

“Apologies, explanations, and pleas were to no avail. Turner Brakeley’s dream had been forever shattered. Turner went to his father with the disturbing announcement that he was going at once to live at Lahaway. He said that he wanted to be out of the sight of women and away from “the noise and bustle of the city.” His father, the pastor, owned land in and around the secluded spot and had built the dwellings that were there. Being interested in the cranberry culture, the Rev. John Brakeley had developed berry bogs, where he found the plants already growing in wild profusion.

“The minister,” my record proceeds on pages you would have difficulty in finding now, received the news in astonishment. Here was his son, educated at considerable expense, on the threshold of a career and the more certain of sucess, because of a comfortable legacy to which he had just fallen heir, telling him in a few terse sentences that he wanted nothing more than permission to take his few belongings and live in the heart of a desolate wilderness. Whether Turner went into details as to his reasons or whether his father remonstrated at any length with him one can only surmise. At any rate Brakeley was soon established at Lahaway as a recluse.

Poet Led the Life of Naturalist

From then on began the living of a strange life almost out of contact with the world, and those who had been the young student’s friends. Brakeley took enough furniture to Lahaway for simple comforts, with some writing materials, small plants and seeds, and a supply of well-chosen clothing. For the most part, he put people out of his mind. He began to concern himself with the natural world.

First, he made the clearing around the house larger. Then he planted many varieties of flowers throughout the vicinity. At long intervals he returned to the home town but such visits were as infrequent as they were brief. Back he would come with more clothing and more books, requirements that he could not send for. Brakeley’s study of wasps was, among many other studies, more than ordinary. “Pouring plaster into their earthen tunnels and digging out cross-sections wrote Charles Remine on one occasion, “he demonstrated for his satisfaction just how they lived. Several of these exhibits are on view in the collections at Princeton.”

In one room in his house Brakeley placed five desks, arranging them like the points of a star, with a swivel-chair at the center. In these desks he filed away unlimited data on the winds and weather, the stars and birds, and all the other wonders of the days and nights that were never monotonous. He read his barometer at eight each morning, at noon, and five each afternoon and at midnight just before he went to bed, I was told.

Even a letter he wrote to Rhoda Brakeley Correll, which I have before me, underscores this information for at the top is the fact that at 9 PM Oct. 14, 1909, it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit on the bogs. Notations for several days, which I intend to present to Stanley Switlik, record the wind’s velocity and direction, the temperature and the fact that there was a fine frost, as the hermit called it.

Many of the records, as remembered by Mrs. Emley, would seem worthless but, I have it on excellent authority, the observations he made from the top of what he called Cock Robin Hill on such matters as the habits of wild duck and how they moved their young, were valuable in correcting certain suppositions. One of the legends is that Turner Brakeley imported the first carp from Germany but that his experiments ended when a storm washed out the dams. Mrs. Emley told us those long years ago that prior to her coming to Lahaway with her husband as caretakers— who ever heard of a hermit with caretakers—a certain John Dove and his wife had charge, John being recalled in a story that involves the cooking and eating of a cat that had devoured a choice rabbit that had been shot for supper. It seems that the rabbit just couldn’t be wasted, inside or outside the cat.

As far as I have been able to determine, Turner Brakeley died in 1912 in Bordentown where he had been taken when stricken ill at Lahaway, having lived at his beloved “Plantationsâ€? about 30 years. It was always said, and never denied, that stacks of records and writings were lost in the invasion that followed Brakeley’s death and that among the treasures that disappeared were pieces of New Jersey glass and Indian artifacts. Many of the naturalist’s flowers were still blooming there when I first was taken to the retreat although these had all but disappeared when Stanley Switlik came upon the place in the years of the depression. Intending to make Lahaway only a summer hideaway, Switlik quickly caught much of the charm that Turner Brakeley had known and so restorations were begun wholesale, many of them undertaken to give work to men from the Trenton area without jobs.

Mosquito Named for the Hermit

Bearing out the note I made in 1934 that a mosquito had been named for the so-called hermit, Lottie Switlik, daughter of the man whose enthusiasm for the retreat she shares, told me that Brakeley had worked in cooperation with those who were fighting malaria carried by mosquitoes in the days of building the Panama Canal. Coming over from Red Valley, Stanley and his family weren’t sure about the isolation at first and then, perhaps like the man who lived almost alone there for so many years, they came to love it. Restoring so many of Brakeley’s little ponds and cleaning out his bogs painstakingly, Stanley has become something of a cranberry grower, not only at Lahaway but over at Lakehurst and back of West Creek.

The Switlik story and how the energy and imagination of one man has induced a restoration that has gone beyond Lahaway to bring about a transformation of the economy of Jackson township is something to which I hope we can return. For the moment I must be content, and so must you, with assurances that the Brakeley ghost is pleased with a lily pond dug out by hand, by a duck pond entirely restored, by the creation of Mink Island Lake and by the creation of an entirely new lake that took many years to clear.

Others find satisfaction in a game preserve given to the state and dedicated in October, 1951; many adjoining acres given to Girl Scouts of Trenton, and deer and other creatures of the woodlands grown tame in the new safety of the old Lahaway. Fifty years from now some children aren’t going to know what a tree looks like, Lottie Switlik said, quoting her father.

“Unless – – – ,” I began, and looked all about me, through magnificent rooms and beyond their windows into the acres and acres of unspoiled pine- lands. There was no need to go on. A new genius has taken over where a dreamer began.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, March 15, 1953. 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 https://www.njpinebarrens.com