Wherein Yr Fthfl Srvnt recounts the second day of exploring the New Jersey Pine Barrens in his intrepid BMW 335i, on some of the worst roads imaginable. Fortunately, no BMWs—or Fthfl Srvnts—were harmed in the making of this story.
At the end of Part I of my Pine Barrens report, I was safely ensconced for the night after a day of exploring the lost history of the area. I’d found almost everything I’d hoped to, with the notable exception of the grave of the notorious outlaw, Joe Mulliner. I’m pleased to report that I recently returned to Sweetwater, NJ, armed with more detailed information, and managed to find the lost grave!
Of course, this tombstone is only the most recent of a series marking the possible location of Joe’s grave. At least two others have disappeared over the years. A local contractor named Sal Vito placed his one here in 1965. (And, for you perfectionists out there, the inscription should of course read “The Grave of Joe Mulliner, Hanged 1781.)
There are lots of other fun things lurking around in the Pine Barrens, including the St. Mary of the Lake log church…
…lots of leftover cellars, minus the houses that used to stand over them…
…various ruins, in this case a former cranberry storage building…
…many streams, rivers, and lakes (the West Branch of the Wading River in this instance)…
…the old fire tower on top of Apple Pie Hill, which, at only 209 feet above sea level, is still the highest elevation in the Pine Barrens…
…and the ruins of the Pine Crest Sanatorium’s bottling plant, where Dr. William White used to bottle the local well water, which was guaranteed to cure any and all maladies.
The Road to Monopoly City
But let’s go back to the morning of March 16. The J.D. Thompson Inn started life in 1823 as the residence of tavern and stagecoach-line owner J.D. Thompson of Tuckerton. From his tavern, you could take the stagecoach right across the Pine Barrens, ending up in Philadelphia. Most of the old road is still there—and scarcely changed from the 1700s and 1800s. J.D.’s home is a beautiful place, and hosts Lorenzo and Catherine Lauro are delighted to tell you about it and the surrounding areas.
Remember Tucker’s Island, which sank into the Atlantic, lighthouse and all? Well, this is what the lighthouse used to look like. It’s a replica that now houses the Tuckerton Seaport Baymen’s Museum.
Quakers began settling in New Jersey in 1663, and an annual gathering of the faithful was established in Little Egg Harbor (now Tuckerton) by the early 1700s. This Friends Meeting House was built in 1709 and substantially expanded in 1863. The Quaker gatherings met here for many decades.
However… remember Reuben and Mother Tucker’s tavern on Tucker’s Island? From its construction in 1765, it proved to be an all-too-attractive alternative to the younger Quakers, who were soon forgoing the meetings in favor of bodacious good times on the beach and in the tavern. Their truancy became such a problem that the elders stopped holding the meetings here by the late 1700s.
After looking around Tuckerton, I headed in the direction of today’s mega-equivalent of Tucker’s Island—namely Atlantic City. Along the way I found the 1884 Amanda Blake Store in Port Republic, where Amanda used to sell goods and sundries by day and host the town’s social center in the evenings. Although she had only 2 years of school, she proved to be a very competent businesswoman, and she served as the postmistress here until her retirement at age 70.
In Smithville, I found the 1798 Oliphant Gristmill. It operated at its original location until 1937 and was moved here in 1963. What about the little “islands” in the pond, you ask? They’re floating Christmas trees, with computer-controlled lights that shine and pulsate in unison with holiday music. I’m told it’s quite a show (but I didn’t have time to wait until the next one…)
None of the shops here were open this early in the morning, so the ducks (and chickens) had complete command of the place.
Atlantic City isn’t exactly a historical attraction, but it is nonetheless scenic in a slightly rundown and tacky sort of way. As you probably know, the street names in the game Monopoly were borrowed from actual Atlantic City streets—hence its nickname of “Monopoly City.” I drove in on North Carolina Avenue, which seemed fitting since I was born in Raleigh, NC. I hadn’t been here since June 1968, so I thought it might be time for another visit. Of course, Atlantic City has never been the same since they dynamited the venerable Marlborough Blenheim Hotel 10 years after I stayed there, replacing it with some crummy new casino. (Unless otherwise noted, historical photos are courtesy of The Library of Congress or Wikipedia.)
I was pleased to see that the Steel Pier still existed, where my friends and I had heard concerts by The 5th Dimension and The Cowsills. (I’ll never forget a 9-year-old Susan Cowsill walking out onto the stage by herself, holding a bass guitar that was longer than she was tall. She stood there for a few moments while the audience chuckled, then launched into an absolutely ripping bass line intro to “Indian Lake.” The song went on to sell more than a million copies.) Storms and several fires have reduced the size of the pier over the years, but it’s still the same place that once featured Miss America, the “High Diving Horse,” “Rex the (waterskiing) Wonder Dog,” John Philip Sousa, and Frank Sinatra.
The Atlantic City boardwalk dates back to 1870. I didn’t see any fashionably dressed people strolling along the boardwalk on the day of my visit, but I was able to help a number of homeless Vietnam veterans, gospel-singing women, and others who looked down on their luck. (By the way, that’s the Marlborough Blenheim in the background of the historical photo.)
The Marlborough Blenheim may be gone, but 6-story-high Lucy the Elephant remains. Created in 1881, Lucy is now 134 years old.
Ghost Ships, World War I, and les Huguenots D’Estails de la France
An hour in Atlantic City was plenty, and I was glad to find Richard Somers’ mansion in Somers Point, NJ, about 10 miles westward. It was built sometime between 1720 and 1726. In September 1804, his grandson and namesake, Master Commandant Richard Somers sailed the USS Intrepid into Tripoli Harbor carrying a load of explosives, which they planned to detonate in the middle of the Barbary States’ naval fleet. For unknown reasons, however, the “fire ship” went off prematurely, killing Somers and his entire crew. His friend and colleague, Stephen Decatur, was instrumental in the subsequent defeat of the Barbary States, thereby ending their piracy against American merchant vessels.
Throughout the 1700s and 1800s, seafaring was a very hazardous occupation. East Coast cemeteries are dotted with empty graves and headstones denoting sailors who were lost at sea. This elaborately carved monument, however, is associated with a rather different and unusual outcome.
In 1872, 21 Quaker businessmen in Philadelphia financed the construction of a three-masted schooner, named the Twenty One Friends. Captain John Jeffries III piloted the ship for 13 years until it collided with another vessel near Cape Hatteras, NC. Capt. Jeffries was able to safely transfer his men onto the other ship before the Twenty One Friends sank—except it didn’t sink. The sturdy ship sailed off with no one aboard, becoming a well-known “Flying Dutchman” ghost ship, sighted all across the Atlantic for the next 2 years! Eventually some enterprising Irishmen managed to board the ship, salvage its cargo of lumber, and use the vessel for fishing. For another 27 years!
Remember the Batsto Iron Works in Part I? A subsequent owner, Samuel Richards, also built the American Hotel in Mays Landing in 1837, complete with Pine Barrens bog-iron fireplaces. Then and now, it is one of the largest buildings in the town, and its dining room could seat 80 people at a time. With a modern addition in back, it now serves as the public library.
On the other side of the Great Egg Harbor River, I found the modern-day Estell Manor Park. It has a couple of playgrounds and a nature center, but I was more interested in its earlier history. By the late 1600s, French Catholic persecution of Huguenots (Protestants) led about 1.5 million of their number to convert and the remaining 500,000 to leave France altogether. The D’Estails family came to America in 1671, and John Estell, Sr. settled near Mays Landing in 1687, establishing a prosperous lumbering and sawmill operation. It did so well that his son, John Jr., built an impressive mansion in 1750. (Unfortunately, this mansion burned to the ground about 10 or 15 years ago. Photo courtesy of the National Registry of Historic Places.)
With a plentiful supply of pinewood to stoke the furnace, John Estell, III built the Estellville Glass Works in 1825. Aided by local sand with minimal iron content or other impurities, the glass factory prospered, and John III’s son Daniel (1801-1858) ordered up this spectacular mansion for his new bride, Maria, in 1832. Sadly, Maria died of tuberculosis only 2 years later. Daniel remarried, and he, his second wife, and their descendants continued to live here until 1933. The mansion has been owned by the State of New Jersey for the last 20 years, during which time it deteriorated substantially. It is now undergoing renovation and conversion to a Veterans Museum.
Richard and Phebe Shaw built this house in the Estellville community—and since I’m descended from a long line of Shaws on my mother’s side, I’ll include a photo of it here.
The glass works continued to flourish for many years, and the town of Estellville grew up around it, with workers’ housing, stores, gristmills, and a church and school, which still stand. Daniel and his brother John Estell, IV branched out into shipping and soon had a fleet of merchant ships for delivering glass throughout the East Coast and Europe. Eventually, however, the wood-fired Estellville plant could not compete with the more efficient coal-fired factories in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and the company went through a series of owners before shutting down for good in 1877. Its ruins remain, including this artful section of what was once the melting house.
The U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, and it soon became apparent that more munitions factories were needed. Work started on the Bethlehem Loading Company at Estellville in April 2018, with 155mm shells being loaded with TNT and ammonium nitrate only 7 months later. The new factory quickly added facilities for loading 8-inch and 75mm shells, together with an entire new town for workers, with schools, movie theatres, bowling alleys, stores, etc. When the war ended in November 1918, production continued for another year or so, and then the entire factory was dismantled. The town of Belcoville remains, however, with many of the original houses and other buildings still being used. (Historical photos courtesy of the Atlantic County, NJ website.)
The Belcoville plant itself was massive, as seen in this historical photo. While virtually the entire facility has disappeared, I knew that some small parts of it remained, for those willing to hike far enough to find them.
Walking along the old roads and rail lines, it was hard to imagine that there was ever anything here besides wilderness. It was dramatically scenic, and right up there with the best of the Pine Barrens.
Eventually I began to spot subtle signs of former structures, such as this moss-lined foundation.
I found at least four very large foundations that were nearly identical in size and shape, but I still have no idea what the buildings had been. They might have been warehouses for raw materials or finished shells, or something else entirely. I did the usual Pine Barrens “bramble scramble” to get to some of them but later happened across a couple of others that were easily accessed right from the road.
All of them had a precise series of water channels on a lower level. As best I can determine, these may have been gravity-flush latrines! But I don’t think the buildings would have been dormitories or residences, this close to the shell-loading sites.
After barging around randomly through the woods and from one little road to the next smaller one (over and over), I somehow managed to encounter the ruins of the 155mm shell-loading plant. (For reference, 155mm equals about 6 inches, so these shells were destined for large howitzers.) There had been 37 buildings for just the 155mm plant, so these ruins were only the tip of the iceberg.
Nearby, this reservoir has been faithfully holding water for the last 97 years! The associated water tower is long gone, however. All in all, I had hiked around the Belcoville munitions factory for 2½ miles and barely scratched the surface of what’s hiding in the forests here. I think this historical photo of one of the assembly plants would have been taken from the top of the water tower.
In the Land of the Jersey Devil
Given local legends, I found myself wondering what else might be hiding in these woods. In 1735, one Deborah Leeds was giving birth to her 13th child in an Estellville house. Apparently rather tired of the whole process, Mother Leeds cried out “I don’t want yet another child! Let the Devil take him!!” Or words to that effect. With the exception of Mrs. Leeds, all present were pleased when a normal child was born. But their relief soon turned to terror, when the newborn transformed into a horrific creature with wings, a goat-like head, cloven hooves, and a forked tail. After attacking the midwife, the creature flew straight up the chimney and out into the stormy night, to parts unknown.
Now, I’m fairly confident that this otherwise-compelling story of the origin of the Jersey Devil is not, in fact, accurate. My proof? Well, the Lenni Lenape Native Americans had lived in the Pine Barrens for hundreds of years before Mrs. Leeds ever showed up. They called the area “Popuessing”—which means “place of the dragon.” So, obviously, the Jersey Devil existed long before 1735.
Regardless of the creature’s origin, ol’ JD and its descendants have managed to thoroughly terrorize New Jersey for at least the last 280 years. Sightings have been frequent over the years, with such notable eyewitnesses as Commodore Stephen Decatur, Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother), various ministers, policemen, forest rangers, public officials, farmers, and even a group of about 30 normal, honest citizens who saw the Devil close up as it attacked their streetcar. The year 1909 was a particularly bad one, with over 1,000 sightings in a single week! The situation became so dire that schools, theatres, and businesses were closed across the state. Other evidence has included footprints, the occasional Jersey Devil carcass, skeletons, mutilated cattle, and a long list of missing cats, dogs, geese, and (occasionally) small children. This is a sketch of JD from the January 1909 Philadelphia Journal.
Still not convinced? Then check out this more recent sketch from Hoax Hunters graphic novels. It’s hard to dismiss evidence such as this!
Skeptics have theorized that the creature is really either a Sandhill Crane, a Great Horned Owl, or an African Hammer-Headed Bat (the largest known bat in the world, with a wingspan of up to 3½ feet). I, myself, did not encounter the Jersey Devil despite hours of hiking around the deserted grounds and forests of the Pine Barrens over a 2½-day period. But I’m willing to assume that he saw me and tracked my movements second by second. And I did hear an occasional high-pitched, scream-like sound in the distance (possibly caused by the GPS in my back pocket), and I found a dead beaver (undoubtedly one of JD’s victims). If you choose to visit the Pine Barrens, I urge that you exercise Extreme Caution!
In Search of Racetracks
Although day one of my Pine Barrens trip had been quite cold and very windy, day two had warmed up nicely, with the temperature reaching a little over 50 degrees. Accordingly, I stowed the 335i’s hardtop, looked around, and discovered a tall brick chimney in the distance.
The Weymouth iron furnace produced cannon balls and bombs for the U.S. Army during the War of 1812, along with more prosaic products such as iron pipes. The furnace shut down in 1862 and was later converted to a paper mill. This had been a huge facility, with heavy buildings supported by these twin arches over the Great Egg Harbor River. Although the buildings have fallen down, the arches still stand; I guess the ancient Greeks knew what they were doing when they developed this form of construction thousands of years ago.
Next up was a return to World War I, in the form of the lost town of Amatol. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because “amatol” is the highly explosive mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate used in artillery shells, as we saw at Belcoville. To meet the demand for munitions, another loading factory was built in the Pine Barrens, complete with a town for the workers. Some clever person decided that “Amatol” was the perfect name for both the town and factory. I was curious to see what, if anything, was left from this town of 10,000 that once featured landscaped lawns, a community center, hundreds of homes, domestic dormitories, and many other alliterative attributes. And a non-alliterative Chinese restaurant. A satellite view of the area suggested that the town’s network of streets still existed.
Getting there looked deceptively simple at first. I found what had been Ivy Street without difficulty, and there were no signs suggesting that I stay the heck away.
Appearances can be deceiving, however; this is the reason that I stopped where I did, at about Ivy and 57th Streets. To quote Clint Eastwood in his “Dirty Harry” movies, “A man’s got to know his [car’s] limitations!”
The historical photo shows how Liberty Court in the town of Amatol looked in 1918, with the movie theatre in the distance. Compare that with what I found on my visit: a bewildering set of dirt paths, but not a single house or even a visible foundation. Barren, indeed.
This large open area now looks like a playground for dirt bikes and ATV’s. Back in the day, the Catholic and Protestant “Liberty” churches were situated at the front of this area, with general and men’s dormitories in the middle and back sections, respectively. Over to the right was Liberty Court, with the movie theatre, shops, and the bank. In the distance, to the left, would have been Lincoln Square, with the firehouse, steam heating plant—and the church for African Americans. Yes, segregation was all too prevalent in 1918, even in a new, “planned” community.
Two miles west of the town of Amatol was the munitions factory. (New Jersey had learned, the hard way, that housing workers near a munitions factory was a very poor idea.) This is the only building that has survived intact from the World War I era, thanks initially to Charles M. Schwab and later to the New Jersey State Police, who used it as a regional barracks for many years.
The Amatol factory was even bigger than the one at Belcoville, and here they loaded everything from 8-inch shells to hand grenades. Once fully operational, the facility could load 60,000 shells a day.
As with Belcoville, a little nosing around in the woods revealed some leftover signs of the sprawling industrial site that once stood here. Of course, when nosing around in the woods, it’s important to avoid stepping into any old wells. Fortunately, this one was fairly obvious.
Much farther off the beaten path, I was able to locate two of the shell-loading buildings. Each one was very long and relatively narrow. It’s hard to see in these photos, but there are doorways at the end of each section, leading into the next one, and then the next, etc., for quite some distance.
Here, Yr Fthfl Srvnt poses for a selfie while taking soil samples to check for any leftover amatol or Jersey Devil tracks.
So what did steel tycoon Charles M. Schwab have to do with this area? Here’s a clue, in the form of a current-day satellite view of the Amatol factory site.
That oval-shaped path through the woods is 1.5 miles around. And, yes, it was once an automobile and motorcycle racetrack. The illustrious Mr. Schwab bought up the old Amatol plant property in 1926 and proceeded to build a steeply banked, board racetrack that was 50 feet wide and designed to accommodate speeds of up to 160 mph—which were unheard of at that time. Frank Lockhart set a lap record of 147.7 mph here in 1927—using the world’s first intercooler, that he invented, to cool the supercharger inlet air. Frank’s record lap made the Amatol speedway the fastest racetrack in the world at that time, and far faster than Indianapolis. (The prior year, Frank had won the Indy 500 as a rookie. Note his “safety equipment,” consisting of a cloth helmet, racing goggles, and a necktie.)
Mr. Schwab hoped that his new speedway would draw spectators from New York, Philadelphia, Camden, Atlantic City, and other nearby cities—and he was not disappointed. During 1926-1928, his Atlantic City Speedway attracted the biggest names in racing and drew as many as 80,000 spectators at a time, many arriving by train at the newly built “Speedway, NJ” station. Cars racing here included Millers, Duesenbergs, Locomobiles, Stutz’s, Bugattis, Auburns, Chryslers, and a host of specials, driven by the likes of Ralph DePalma, Pete De Paolo, Harlan Fengler, Harry Hartz, and Louis Meyer. A rare British newsreel, entitled At America’s Brooklands, shows the action at the track’s very first race in May 1926. (Historical photos courtesy of the excellent article Ghost Riders in the Pines by George R. Brinkerhoff and The Amatol Book website.)
By 1929, board-track racing was on the decline nationwide, with numerous safety concerns plus the impact of the Great Depression. Atlantic City Speedway held its last event, and the Studebaker Motor Company took it over for use as a proving ground. (Studebaker went on to set many endurance records here, including a pair of stock President Eight Sports Roadsters that completed 30,000 miles in 26,326 minutes—or about 19 days!)
So what’s left of the old track? Well, pretty much nothing, other than a 1.5-mile-long dirt path through the forest. In 1933, the track was dismantled, and the 4.5 million board feet of lumber were taken away and used for other purposes. I found a few pieces of wood that might have once been part of the track or grandstands. Otherwise, nature has totally reclaimed what had once briefly been the East Coast’s preeminent racetrack. But I had walked in the shadow of racing giants!
With the imaginary roar of supercharged straight-eight engines ringing in my ears, it was just a short 25-mile hop over to the modern-day New Jersey Motorsports Park, near Millville. Despite my best good-ol’-boy, former-race-driver charm, I couldn’t talk my way into or onto the track, so this is the best photo I could get. It looks like a first-class race venue, however, and I hope it survives far longer than the Amatol oval.
I was also interested in what lay on the other side of Buckshutem Road, across from NJ Motorsports Park—and close to the Army Air Corps base built here in the early years of World War II. Over 1,500 pilots received advanced training at the Millville airfield, mostly in P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter-bombers. (Historical photos courtesy of the Millville Army Air Field Museum and Baileytown: A Lost Town of Southern New Jersey.)
On what had been 20 square miles of farmland, the Army Air Corps set up mock trains and tracks, submarines, destroyers, and even an aircraft carrier for the pilots to practice bombing and strafing. For good measure, the former farmhouses, barns, and other outbuildings were also used for target practice (and soon blown to bits).
I was pretty sure that there would be something of interest hiding in the woods here. I set off on foot, following a narrow dirt road that seemed to go on forever in a straight line. Eventually I found the ruins of a concrete building of some sort, at about the same time that the road got even narrower and began to twist and turn. Walking on, I encountered a pair of long, parallel earthworks that were clearly manmade. They were about 15 feet high and separated by maybe 200 yards, and it looked as though years of hiking and dirtbike activity had carved out a handy passageway.
Thankfully I had brought a GPS with me; otherwise, I’d still be out there lost in the woods! On the far side of the second embankment, I found this concrete bunker nestled in the earth. It was in excellent condition and—impossibly—did not have a mark of graffiti on it. Subsequent research indicates that there are a number of other bunkers in the area, equally well-preserved. I looked around inside this one, hoping to find a priceless, WWII-era Zippo lighter or at least some old machine gun shells, but it was empty.
With the help of the GPS, I managed to find my way back to civilization, and from there to what had been the first Indian reservation in the country. It was established in 1758 and called Brotherton. Although the Pine Barrens Native Americans had always been peaceful and welcoming, tensions rose with the start of the French and Indian Wars. The Lenni Lenape population had been scattered almost randomly as a result of European encroachment, and they requested a settlement of their own in exchange for their promise of peace. With support from area Quakers and Presbyterians, the NJ legislature accepted the Lenape’s request and established a 3,300-acre reservation on their behalf. Soon the Brotherton Indians were farming and operating a gristmill and sawmill here, but neighboring white settlers were still intruding and grazing their cattle on Brotherton lands. By 1801, the remaining Lenape had had enough, and the once-dominant residents of the Pine Barrens migrated to a New York reservation.
The area that was once the Brotherton Reservation is now known as Indian Mills. This handsome pond was a small part of the reservation, with the Brotherton school located nearby. (Historical photo courtesy of The Brotherton Indian Community of NJ.)
The ghost town of Atsion lies just south of Indian Mills. It is neither a well-preserved historical site, as in the case of Batsto Village, nor an empty clearing with just a few cellar holes, like Friendship. It’s somewhere in between, if you’re willing to search it out. Charles Read built an iron forge here in 1765, to create finished products using bog iron from his furnace at Batsto. With the onset of Read’s financial problems, the forge went through a series of owners and failed altogether in 1820—at which point Atsion became a ghost town for the first time. This ancient furnace stack is the most prominent reminder of the industry that once defined this town.
A large log house sits nearby, and it may have once been the forge manager’s residence. It is believed to be the oldest surviving building in Atsion. As usual, a small village had sprung up around the forge, with a gristmill, houses, a general store, schoolhouse, church, and cemetery.
Atsion Lake supplied the waterpower for the iron forge and mills in the town. I’d never seen a semi-circular spillway like this one. I was tempted to see whether the rusty old floodgate controls still worked, but I thought better of it. I’d already hopped one fence to get this photo, and I didn’t want to push my luck too far!
Did I mention that in 1978 a couple was canoeing on Atsion Lake when they saw the Jersey Devil moving through the woods on the shore? And that a group of nearby campers heard its high-pitched screams, which continued for hours and kept them from sleeping that night? Just sayin’…
In 1824, our old friend Samuel Richards bought the Atsion site and soon had the forge running again. It was a profitable enterprise this time, the town was reborn, and Richards built this impressive mansion for his family. The State of New Jersey restored the old place after it sat vacant and deteriorating for decades.
The forge was later converted, briefly, to a paper mill and then to a successful cotton mill, which operated until 1882. This huge horse barn was built in the late 1800s using poured concrete. It has held up remarkably well, given that there are no iron or steel reinforcing bars.
Samuel Richards built this church in 1828 as a multi-denominational house of worship for the iron forge workers. Even though the rest of Atsion has been a ghost town for many decades, the church has continued to hold services right through the present—most recently as the Grace Bible Baptist Church, in case Cathy and Kim were wondering.
This schoolhouse was built in 1916, replacing an earlier one from 1872. It was used for only a few years before being converted to a residence. Unfortunately, it has suffered at the hands of vandals, and the interior is pretty badly trashed.
I negotiated the shifting sand and water hazards for another 600 feet past the schoolhouse before encountering an acre-wide mud bog that doomed my chances of any further progress in the otherwise-mighty 335i. At about the same time that I came to this conclusion, I bumped into two fellows who were quick to confirm it for me. Norm, on the left, was out riding his Yamaha 250 dirtbike, and said that only a tall, 4-wheel-drive vehicle (or a good dirtbike) could make it any farther along Quaker Bridge Road. Jim, on the right, actually had a tall 4×4 with him; he said he’d be glad to give me a ride, but the rear universal joint was gone and he was using front wheel drive only. That prompted Norm to offer me a life on the dirtbike, which I gratefully accepted—until we both realized that he’d removed the passenger footpegs. We stood around sharing Pine Barrens stories and having a great time for quite a while. Norm was a Camden, NJ mounted policeman before he retired, while Jim manages two northern historical sites for the State of New Jersey.
Jim and I went in search of the Raritan and Delaware Bay Railroad bridge across the Mullica River. It was subsequently used by Jersey Central but has been abandoned since 1978. We found it without difficulty, and we were happily hopping from tie to tie across the bridge when I suddenly discovered a missing tie in the middle of the span. As I hesitated, Jim said “Oh, I’m pretty sure we can make that” and promptly jumped right across the gap! Naturally I had to follow—after all, I was the one who wanted to go across so I could get a photo with the sun behind me—and I discovered that the gap wasn’t nearly as huge as it had first appeared. On the far side, Jim identified a number of young, healthy-looking white pine trees. They are beginning to repopulate the Pine Barrens after 200 years of excessive lumbering.
New Jersey’s own History Girl! has visited nearly every historic place NJ has to offer and written very nice photo journals for each one. I especially enjoyed Kelly’s “The Silent Ruins and Empty Rooms of Atsion.”
I was still trying to figure out how to get to the Quaker Bridge across the Mullica River. After all, the old Tuckerton Stage Road ran right through the Pine Barrens here, with travelers stopping at the Quaker Bridge Tavern. This is one of the better sections of the road, which is little changed from its stagecoach days. Even a regular AWD SUV would get stuck in these deep ruts (but could carefully negotiate the higher areas to the right or left).
If I’d been able to drive or walk the distance, I would have found signs of prior civilization along the way, such as this pond and millrace.
Eventually I would have reached this spot, where the road approaches the Quaker Bridge. Remember the Quakers who would hold their annual gatherings in Tuckerton, starting in 1709? They came from all across New Jersey, and many would take this road and ford the Mullica River here. One year, several of them perished while trying to cross the flood-swollen river, and their friends resolved to build a bridge. It was completed in 1772.
Traveling by stagecoach was a tiring and often hazardous proposition. The weary passengers were always glad to reach the Quaker Bridge Tavern and have a chance to rest, eat, drink, and even stay overnight if they wished. On one dark and stormy night, as a stagecoach approached the bridge, a white stag suddenly jumped out of the forest and onto the road, stopping directly in the path of the coach. The driver had to swiftly bring the frightened horses to a halt, at which point the white stag ran off. When the driver climbed down to investigate, he discovered that the storm had completely washed the bridge away! If the stag hadn’t appeared, the stagecoach would have plunged into the river below. White stags were already believed to be portents of impending danger, and this incident only added to the legend. (Digital painting by Daniel Eskridge.)
The current Quaker Bridge looked reasonably sturdy, and no deer (white or otherwise) appeared to warn me of any particular risk (other than negotiating a swampy area, island to island and root to root, just to get this downstream photo for you all!)
On the far side of the bridge, all that’s left of the 1808 tavern is this cellar hole.
The old Tuckerton Stage Road continues on, all the way to Tuckerton. But where it enters the Penn Swamp, the going gets even trickier than before. Notice the reflections of the trees: those are deep, water-filled pits, covering most of the road as far as I could see.
If I had somehow managed to get that far, then sooner or later I would have had to return to the patient 335i, back on the outskirts of Atsion. Norm had told me that I wouldn’t have much trouble taking a nearby road to the former town of Hampton Furnace. I quickly discovered that the first part of it could be negotiated fairly easily (if slowly and bumpily).
You remember my theory that, for almost any particular place in the U.S., something of historical interest has probably occurred there? Well, I had stopped on the road above to get a photo and to measure the depth of an upcoming bog. Only later did I learn the story of what had happened exactly here on October 5, 1916. That Thursday, Andrew Jackson Rider, his recently widowed daughter Elsie, his older brother Henry, and a machinist named J.H. Rigby (or Rigley) were driving along this stretch of road in a large, 7-seat touring car. Hidden beneath the front seat was Andrew’s company payroll of $4,000, which they were taking from the bank to his cranberry farm at Hampton for distribution to the workers.
Andrew Rider had helped establish what is now Rider University in New Jersey in 1866 and served as its first president. By 1916, he had become “The Cranberry King of New Jersey,” as nicknamed by Britain’s Queen Victoria after he introduced her to cranberries. As Andrew’s group drove along, Eleven men and one woman suddenly jumped out of the surrounding forest, intent on stealing the payroll. Elsie was driving the car. Once she realized what was happening, she stepped on the gas and scattered the attackers, who in turn opened fire with pistols.
Despite having been shot in the back (twice) and in the leg, Elsie managed to get the group to Hampton Forge. As the Hammonton South Jersey Republican reported, “It was a case of courage and pure nerve rarely encountered in man or woman, and deserves high commendation.” However, Andrew, Henry, and J.H. Rigby had also been shot multiple times each, with Henry dying soon after. The police were able to identify the 12 Italian immigrants who had attacked the Riders and determined that 19-year-old Millie De Marco (an employee of Andrew’s cranberry farm) was the brains behind the operation. A number of the gang were caught and sent to jail, with at least one executed. Andrew never fully recovered from his wounds and had to step down from much of his business activities, but he lived for another 13 years and passed away just shy of his 86th birthday. The old photos below are of Andrew Rider and (I believe) his daughter Elsie Rider Smathers.
The evidence for my “something happened here” theory continues to accumulate!
As I took this photo of Deep Run Pond, I realized that the sun was beginning to set. And that I was in the absolute Middle of New Jersey Nowhere, on a highly questionable road, and heading to an unsure location.
Remember the mud bog? After measuring the depth of this one I decided I could just drive on through it, but the road was definitely becoming more challenging.
With the theme song to The Brave Little Toaster playing in the back of my mind, I finally reached what had been the village of Hampton Forge. The New Jersey Forest Fire Service periodically does “controlled burns” of areas in the Pine Barrens, to reduce the risk of major fires. Moreover, the heat from the burns causes the trees to drop their pinecones, thereby promoting the growth of new trees. This bleak area appears to have recently, uh, benefited from such a fire.
Hampton Forge proved to be a good stopping point, since I was pretty much stranded between Major Mud Lakes anyway. I decided it was time to look around on foot.
Hampton Forge used to have a dozen or more houses and other structures. It “did okay” as an iron furnace and forge and later prospered as one of Andrew Rider’s cranberry farms. These tall reeds escaped the controlled burn, probably because they were growing out of a stone cellar that was full of water.
On the other side of the Batsto River, I located the foundations of what had been the 4-storey cranberry packing house, where upwards of 170 people had worked. Yet again, it was hard to imagine the magnitude of the industry that had once operated here.
With the light diminishing, it was time to figure out how to rescue my poor BMW from in between the water traps and to start heading for home. And besides, I still had two more places to see…
Everybody knows of Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 became the first person to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean. He later made a goodwill flight from Washington, DC to Mexico City, Mexico. In 1928, 22-year-old Mexican Air Force Captain Emilio Carranza returned the favor, flying the opposite route and having dinner in Washington with President Calvin Coolidge. (The trip was intended to be nonstop, but bad weather forced an emergency landing in Mooresville, NC.) From Washington, he flew on to New York City. For his return trip, he would again attempt a nonstop flight. In New York, Lindbergh advised him to postpone his return, due to thunderstorms in the area, but Capt. Carranza set off that evening anyway—some say as a result of a telegraph from his commanding officer in Mexico, ordering him to return right away. His navigation equipment consisted of a paper map, a compass, and a flashlight.
That night, only a short ways into his trip, the dashing young Mexican crashed to his death into a remote wooded section of the Pine Barrens. This large stone monument was erected in his honor using funds donated by Mexican schoolchildren. The symbol on the front of the marker depicts a falling Aztec eagle. Every year on the anniversary of his death, hundreds of people gather here to remember his life and accomplishments.
By now it was completely dark, and I cautiously retraced my path back toward civilization, dodging the frequent (and deep) potholes along the way. About 7 miles farther north on Carranza Road, I found the final historical site for my Pine Barrens trip: the one-room schoolhouse from the lost town of Friendship, where I had visited the prior day. It had been moved here many years earlier and maintained in excellent condition by the local school board. Of course, there no longer enough light for a photo, so I had to improvise…
From there, I pointed the willing 335i in the direction of home, arriving at about 10:30 that night. It had been a positively wonderful road trip, full of fascinating places to explore in an area that featured more lost history per square mile than almost any other place I could think of. And I couldn’t have had a better vehicle for the purpose; it handled everything with aplomb, from highways, to country roads, to forgotten sandy dirt paths—and always willing me to go faster! (Okay, it couldn’t really handle the worst of the Pine Barrens’ bogs. For those I would have needed an X3 or X5 with off-road tires. But it did far better than I ever might have expected.)
Here’s to the State of New Jersey, Marilyn Schmidt, Barbara Solem, and the many other organizations and wonderful people who have helped keep alive the remarkable history of the Pine Barrens!