Spring at Paint Island Spring

Skunk Cabbage by ammodramus88
Skunk Cabbage, a photo by ammodramus88 on Flickr.

It’s easy to miss Paint Island Spring, even though the road that runs past it is named after the spring. It’s just a tangly wet spot at a dip in the road, with nothing obvious to distinguish it. You have to stop and take a closer look to notice its most distinctive feature; the ground around the spring is a rich ochre color.

Beck’s account of the spring quotes Gordon’s Gazetteer at length. I’m not sure if the extensive chemical analysis of the spring that Gordon gives is up-to-date with the most current understanding of chemistry (the book was published in 1832), but suffice it to say that the spring provided the raw material for paint manufacturing.

Apart from its commercial uses, the spring was also believed to have medicinal properties, and it was a popular spot for picnics. According to Beck’s informants, there was even a dance hall and a carousel there.

Today, the spring is overlooked by McMansions. Its waters ultimately make their way to the Toms River. The spring lies not far west from the stretch of the Monmouth-Ocean County border that is marked by the old Monmouth Road (now Rt. 537).

The last time I visited the spring was on a gray January day. It was a pleasant surprise to stop on the first day in April and find the ochre watercourse accentuated by fresh green skunk cabbage.

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Federal City


A couple of weekends ago, my friends and I went birding. Most of the day was spent along the coast, but we finished up west of Princeton at what is now known as “the AT&T Tract” of Mercer County Park NorthWest (Mercer County Park NorthWest covers a number of different properties). Birders know this place as “the Pole Farm” because it was once a trans-Atlantic radio station forested with poles (a single pole remains today). In case you’re wondering why birders would be attracted to a forest of poles, the area attracts wintering birds such as Short-eared Owls and Rough-legged Hawks.

Before AT&T set up its radio station, however, there was the dream of a “Federal City” or capitol to be founded in the area. All that remains of this dream is the road named Federal City Rd. (which provides access to the AT&T Tract). Today, the surrounding area is still farmland, and weather-beaten farm buildings on the AT&T tract add to its attractions for the decay-minded photographer.

The near-mythical Federal City looms like Atlantis over the portions of Henry Charlton Beck’s The Jersey Midlands that are concerned with the western part of Mercer County. By now, the Pole Farm days are fading into history alongside the dream of a Federal City. Meanwhile, the birds continue with their business, being less concerned with the past than we humans often are.

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Harrisville Video Podcast Tour

While roaming the wilds of the internet yesterday, I came across a video made by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. It’s intended to be downloaded to an iPod or an iPhone, and features Barbara Solem-Stull giving a tour of the ruined factory town of Harrisville. You can find the video (and an accompanying map) at this page.

The tour (a little over ten minutes long) shows Harrisville’s remains as they are now, interspersed with period photographs and drawings that show the town’s buildings as they once were. The old paper mill ruins dominate the site, but with the help of this guide, one can also find cellar holes of workers’ houses and the Howard Harris mansion (not to mention the foundation of the town gristmill). Solem-Stull gives an overview of the town’s history as she walks the site (there’s also a chapter on Harrisville in her guide book Ghost Towns and Other Quirky Places in the New Jersey Pine Barrens). The video concludes with a few words from Rob Auermuller, Superintendent of Wharton State Forest (Atsion mansion gets a cameo appearance in this section).

One thing that struck me as I was watching the video was that some of the paper mill footage shows places where there are holes in the walls; you can actually see through the wall in places where bricks are missing (not just in the places that used to hold windows when the building was functional). I was last at Harrisville at the end of 2006 and didn’t note anything like that; on the other hand, I stayed outside the fence like a well-behaved tourist and there has been a lot of bad weather since then. It’s a reminder that these ruins, exposed as they are to the elements, are slowly deteriorating. Just compare the photo of the paper mill ruins in Beck’s Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey with those ruins today, and you will see that they have diminished since the 1930s.

Other cultural organizations have started experimenting with using mobile technology to give virtual tours (this post from Mashable gives some examples). It will be interesting to see whether or not more tours are forthcoming from Pinelands Preservation Alliance (this one was funded by a grant from the Fred J. Brotherton Charitable Foundation). In any case, this Harrisville tour is a good start.

Update/disclaimer: While I was writing this post and wandering around the PPA’s website, I found out that they were on Facebook. I “liked” PPA on Facebook. Little did I realize that I was the 1300th person to like PPA on Facebook. As a result of being #1300, I won a baseball cap and a t-shirt from PPA.

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Blackwell’s Mills

Last Sunday, the 2nd, was the day of the Somerset CBC (Christmas Bird Count). My team’s territory runs from Blackwell’s Mills up through Hillsborough and to Manville. We’ve been doing this territory for 15 years (although I have missed a number of years), and a lot has changed in that time. Apparently there is always room for a new housing development, even in a recession with a weak real estate market.

We start our Somerset CBC day at Blackwell’s Mills on the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The original canal buildings are still there, including this little building along the canal, which was a toll booth in its time. If you search for “Blackwell’s Mills” on Flickr, you’ll find some photos of it in the summer, when it is almost overgrown from its neighboring garden.

The other end of the causeway from Blackwell’s Mills proper is still farmland; there’s even one barn with the classic Dutch roof line. On Sunday, everything was misty with the fog rising from the snowbanks left over from the big post-Christmas snowstorm. I was sorry I couldn’t stay at Blackwell’s Mills and keep photographing, but there were birds to count.

Beck didn’t give a lot of time to Blackwell’s Mills when he wrote about it in The Jersey Midlands (in “Locked with the Past: Further Along the Old D. & R.”) but he did include it in a list of towns along the canal, and quoted Gordon’s Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey (one of Beck’s favorite sources for quotes) about it.

Posted in Industry, National Register of Historic Places, New Jersey Register of Historic Places, Somerset, The Jersey Midlands | Tagged | 1 Comment

For Veterans Day: Jackson Quigley


Arney’s Mount is the highest point in Burlington County. It also boasts an old Quaker meeting house that is still in use today. Attached to the meeting house is a cemetery, which includes the grave of Jackson Quigley, who died in 1893. Jackson served in Company I of the 4th regiment of NJ Volunteers in the Civil War. The 4th regiment saw action throughout the war.

Posted in Burlington, Cemetery, More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey, National Register of Historic Places, New Jersey Register of Historic Places | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Waln’s Mill Stencil


Beck wrote a particularly elegaic piece about Walnford in Monmouth County. His piece evokes a nostalgia for older and simpler times. The interpretive signage now posted in the buildings at Walnford tells a somewhat different and less romantic story about the village, however. The blue mill that is so picturesque today was originally a commercial enterprise, like any other mill.

Having said that, this place along Crosswicks Creek in the uttermost western corner of Monmouth County is still a peaceful place to visit. The gristmill is still operational and when the wisteria bloom in spring, they look spectacular.

This photo shows a stencil that was used to mark bags of flour milled at Walnford (also known as Waln’s Mill).

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Rockingham Path

Henry Charlton Beck visited Rockingham, but the house in which George Washington resided at the end of the Revolutionary War has moved several times since Beck wrote about it in Fare to Midlands (aka The Jersey Midlands). At present it sits upslope from the Delaware and Raritan Canal in Franklin Township, Somerset County.

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