Friday, July 29, 2011

No EZPass here: the Holland Tunnel at the Newark Museum

Few people know this, but one of the original Holland Tunnel toll booths is in Newark.

Huh? you ask. Did they start collecting tolls on McCarter Highway? 

Uh, no, it's in the Alice Ransom Dreyfuss Memorial Garden behind the Newark Museum on Washington Street.

Well, that makes sense. It's old, so it should be in a museum collection.

You're right, sort of. The Holland Tunnel opened back in 1927 as the first automobile tunnel under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey. It's been designated both a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark, well worth noting in a museum. Its original toll booths, now replaced by more modern versions, were bronze art deco masterpieces, at least as far as I'm concerned.

So that's why the toll booth is in the sculpture garden.

Well, it's a little more complicated than that. Not only is it a great representation of late '20's structural decor, it's a newer work of art because it houses sculptor George Segal's Toll Booth Collector.

Segal was an influential member of the Pop Art movement and had his studio on a chicken farm in South Brunswick. Many of his plaster-cast sculptures reflect everyday occurrences and are installed in mundane environments like city streets and New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal. It's not surprising that he chose the toll booth as a setting for his work.

The bored-looking attendant inside the booth was life-cast from Sam Miller, the Museum's director when the sculpture was done in 1980. Reportedly, Segal was inspired to use Miller as a model because "one of the responsibilities of a museum director is to always hold his hand out, seeking donations."

Despite that, you don't have to pay a dime to see Segal's work in Newark. The garden is open to the public during museum operating hours, and Toll Booth Collector is one of a handful of sculptures and notable structures to be seen there. It's also a calm, green oasis in the middle of the city, and like the museum itself, well worth a visit.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Long Pond Ironworks: walking through a century in an hour or so

Long Pond Ironworks Historic District is literally hidden from the average motorist driving by on Greenwood Lake Turnpike in Hewitt. From the road you can see a restored building that held the old country store, plus a Victorian-era church and an aging house or two, but even more is obscured until you get out of the car, grab a map and walk the path back into the woods. As you leave the highway behind, you'll be walking into a mine area that dates back to the 1760s.

Before we even get into what's there, I've got to mention that on our visit, there was more interpretive literature outside the closed visitor center than you'd get at most museums that were open and staffed. I found no less than four separate leaflets packed with information from the Friends of Long Pond Ironworks. They've done a fine job of research and restoration, but for the quickest overview on a first visit, it's probably best to consult the eight-panel self-guided tour document. It contains a nicely drawn and labeled map that separates the area into seven briefly-described areas.

The original mine and ironworks at Long Pond were established in 1767 by Peter Hasenclever, a German working on behalf of a British company. When operating under Robert Erskine in the 1770's, Long Pond supplied the Continental Army with iron products. Eventually, the property came under the ownership of Cooper and Hewitt, which built new furnaces and continued the proud tradition of supplying American troops, this time for the Union cause during the Civil War. The furnaces finally stopped producing in 1882 as the iron industry moved westward.

A walk around the property reveals structures built at different points of the ironworks' history, from a stone double house all the way to the Victorian church. If you look really carefully through some overgrowth, you'll also see the remains of an arts-and-crafts style house just off the road. The visitors center map shows the location of most, if not all of the buildings, but as you walk around, you'll see that while some of them are in relatively good shape (i.e. they look like buildings), others are mostly just foundations or crumbling stone walls. Ivan had been there many years ago and commented that a lot of work had been done on the property over the years to stabilize what was still there. All of the windows were boarded over, with fake window panes painted on them so that from a distance (and with bad vision), one might even think the real windows were still there.

Besides the living quarters and company store, the historical society is working to recreate the waterwheels that used the Wanaque River to power the blast furnaces back in the day. According to the map, these are the only surviving waterwheels from the region's iron industry.

Hasenclever and the host of other ironmasters who succeeded him lived in the nearby Ringwood Manor, which still welcomes visitors today. The Long Pond property and the manor were once linked by a well-traveled road, now a several miles-long hiking path dotted with interpretive wayside signs. Note, however, that a portion of the path near Peters Mine is closed.

Long Pond has some potential as a birding spot, both from the woods and the nearby Monksville Reservoir. Our mid-summer, midday visit didn't result in many finds, though we may have seen an elusive green heron.

If you choose to check out the area, be sure to stop by the visitors center to pick up the previously-mentioned literature and look in on the small but informative museum display. Browsing for a few minutes will give you a good idea of the area's history, and an appreciation for the work the that was done there by the ironworks' staff and the volunteers that strive to bring their story back to life.

Monday, July 25, 2011

History and hiking by the spoonful in Boonton

You know the way it goes: when you get all sweaty just standing outside, you don't really want to do a lot of hiking or venturing. Thus, Ivan and I found ourselves sticking relatively close to home during the recent heat wave.

Driving around after breakfast, we found ourselves roaming through a less-developed area of Boonton, out by a small farm and environs. On Powerville Road, we came upon a small parking lot and trailhead for a county park Ivan hadn't been aware of, Kincaid Woods. We certainly weren't prepared to do a hike in 100 degree heat, we weren't going to pass up a chance to get a lay of the land. The kiosk held a map that showed that the trail that starts there eventually joins up with the trail system at Pyramid Mountain, meaning that if we were of a mind, we could venture back on up to Tripod Rock. That, however, would have to wait for another day.

We got back in the car, and it wasn't long before I noticed a set of ramshackle barns on the right side of the road. Ivan saw a county historical marker on the left, and we pulled over to read it.

Old house: okay. Kincaid homestead: makes sense. Spoon-worked plaster walls and folk art face? Wait! I know this place! I read about the spoon art face in Weird NJ several years ago, but I had no idea it was a county historical site. Perhaps the magazine had featured the 'devil face' before the township had gotten possession of the property.

The house is a nice little farmstead, painted white and clearly well-cared for. A look into the front windows revealed that there are some exhibits inside, but since the house was locked up, we didn't get much of a look. Just within the front door you can see the dark whorls of decorative spooned plaster on the wall, but the famed painted face wasn't within view. There was, however, a sign with a picture of the face, plus a request for visitors not to touch it. From what I understand, the whorled patterns were made by heating a large spoon over a flame until it's covered with soot, and then pressing it into unset plaster and moving the spoon in a circular motion.

All in all, the area is a good trip for another, more temperate day, and no doubt, we'll get to it. With both hiking and history on the agenda, it's a can't miss.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Take Raritan, spell it backwards...

Based on a suggestion from a Hidden New Jersey reader, Ivan and I recently visited Natirar, a new park within the Somerset County Park System. Nestled in the rolling countryside of Peapack-Gladstone, it's in an area of old estates I've long been curious about.

So how did a county park get located in such lush and, most likely, costly real estate?

More than 100 years ago, lawyer Walter Graeme Ladd and his wife Kate Macy Ladd began purchasing land in Peapack/Gladstone and Bedminster, eventually amassing over 1000 acres. They built a 40-room Tudor mansion atop a hill on the land, also constructing additional outbuildings to accompany maintaining structures that had been on the land since the 18th century. The estate was named for the Raritan (spelled backward), the river that flows through it.

Not long after they acquired the property Mrs. Ladd built a convalescent home for women there, and that entity gained control of Natirar after her death in 1933. Consistent with Mr. Ladd’s will, the convalescent home was disbanded 50 years later, and the property was sold. The King of Morocco acquired the estate but never lived there, ultimately selling more than 400 acres of it to Somerset County. Rather than keeping the house and many of the buildings, the county is leasing them to outside operators, including entrepreneur Richard Branson, who’s turning the mansion into a spa.

Today, great expanses of well-manicured lawn and open space welcome you as you drive past the gatehouse onto the property. Park visitors are directed to a parking lot near some barns, while spa guests are guided up to the mansion, high on the hill.

The evidence of human intervention on the land is strong, as you'd expect on an old estate. This park definitely isn't a Sierra Club project. That said, there's about four miles of gravel pathway on the property, a good stroll for visitors and anyone wanting to take their regular daily walk in very pleasant surroundings. We visited on a very sunny, very hot day and pretty much had the paths to ourselves.

The closest path crosses the well-kept lawn, with very few trees nearby to provide shade or habitat for birds. We saw a bluebird or two, but other than that, the main attraction was a couple of vultures and hawks above. Eventually, the path started to hug a shady tributary of the Raritan River, which we crossed on a broad carriage bridge. A temporary sign advised us that bees were at work, and that we should stay on the path. Indeed they were. In droves.

Farther down, the path splits, with the left fork veering upward and through additional woods, including some very mature rhododendrons. Reaching the top of the hill, we found the designated nature path, a loop around a broad field of tall grasses, thistle and the like. Again, much of this path lacks trees, though a few benches are thoughtfully placed in shady nooks. An unoccupied stable stands pretty much in the middle of all of it.

The birding got a little better at this point, though most of the avian activity was either far above us or somewhere in the distance. The vultures and some redtail hawks seemed to find this area a bit more interesting. Plus, I was happy to spot a pileated woodpecker in the distance, bare-eyed (to be fair, Ivan made the ID by sound; I was just the first one to lay eyes on it).

The real fun was in the butterflies. Ivan spotted three or four different types, including a black swallowtail and a buckeye, and the volume of butterflies in the area seemed especially high. Neither of us is very well versed on the topic, so we couldn’t identify some of them accurately, except to say there’s a good variety.

Summing up the Natirar experience, it’s not exactly the place for a hiker or naturalist, but it would be a nice spot to share a cultured picnic, perhaps after the fox hunt.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Greenwood Lake Airport: not quite history, but nearby

I'm always amused by the international road signs that point the direction to airports in remote areas. Usually, they depict a silhouette of a jet and are supplemented by a small sign showing the name of the airfield in question. Mostly, the fields are essentially airstrips with a bit of tarmac, a wind sock and a small office, and maybe a snack bar or restaurant. One or two might have a long enough runway to serve as a last-chance landing spot for a smaller passenger jet, but nothing along the lines of an airbus.

We saw one of these signs on our recent travels through mine country in the northwest portion of the state, and the accompanying name raised my enthusiasm level. "Greenwood Lake Airport!" I exclaimed. "That's where the first air mail was sent from!" Or something like that. Naturally, we had to check it out.

Following the road signs, we found our way to a small airstrip with a couple dozen small planes tied down on the tarmac, plus a small restaurant and office which has a 'Rent a Wreck' banner up. Oh, and the fuselage and wings of a Lockheed Constellation emerging from the building. It looked promising, but we couldn't find any markers or signs telling the story. Perhaps someone inside would know. 

Well, I was wrong on both counts, as we found out from an employee inside, and from subsequent research. It wasn't the first airmail, nor was it from the airport itself. Rather, it was in 1936 that a stamp collector and American Rocket Society member named F.W. Kessler combined his passions to form the Rocket Airplane Corporation of America. He wanted to fly mail from New York into New Jersey by rocket plane, and he chose to attempt it from the shores of Greenwood Lake. While he found a way to sell inflated postage for 6000 letters to cover the cost of his experiment, it didn't quite work. Instead, the rocket tore the plane's wings loose before it reached its intended destination. As one observer was heard to say, "a husky man could have heaved that ship across the state line."

According to the airport employee, photos and the story of the launch are preserved at the West Milford A&P; we checked later and couldn't find the store, let alone the photos.

That's not to say there's nothing of interest at Greenwood Lake Airport. The partial Lockheed is open and available for a quick view. While they've taken the seats out in favor of high-top cocktail tables, the airport has installed several informative signs that relate the history of the Constellation model, including its storied history as Eisenhower's plane of choice. The cockpit is also still intact, complete with pilots' jackets draped across the seat backs. You can also step outside the forward door to a deck overlooking the runway, which could be a lot of fun if pilots are practicing their touch-and-gos.

According to their website, the airport will also host an airshow in late August, complete with World War II historians and 40's-era reenactors. No word on whether anyone will try to recreate the rocket mail experiment, but for airplane enthusiasts, it could be a lot of fun.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Disappearing Newark Holsteins

We have a mystery on our hands. Cows are appearing and disappearing in Newark.

Yes, you read that correctly. Cows. In Newark.

Here's the story: on occasion, I travel into or through Newark by train, and as most people do, I often stare absentmindedly out the window at the world going by. On a trek in about a year ago, I noticed a cow statue on the rooftop of a building in the Ironbound area, which would be the right side of the train as you're coming in from the west. It was probably about as big as a live adult cow, just tall enough to be seen over the roof ledge. Smiling to myself, I tucked the vision away for future reference, expecting to see it every time I traveled through the area by train.

Only thing is, you can't count on the cow. Sometimes she's there. Sometimes she's on another part of the roof. And sometimes there are two cows. There's nothing visible to explain the presence of the cows, or lack thereof. Perhaps they're moved from time to time, and they're just not visible from the train, but it still begs the question: why? Or maybe the better question is, 'why not?'

I'd be inclined to go to the building and root out the story of the cows, but in some ways, it's more fun not knowing.

Check it out yourself the next time you take the train in or out of Newark Penn Station. The building is brick, about three or four stories tall, and rather old, with the name "Crane and Co." in concrete near the top. It's visible a few blocks after the train gets past the McCarter Highway viaduct at the edge of the city. The address is 90 South Street, and if you get the satellite view from Google Maps, you can clearly see the two cows on the roof, one being in the upper left corner.

Any ideas why the cows are there? And why cows, and not sheep or pigs or giraffes?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rooting the canal at Griggstown

Wandering around Somerset County gave us the chance to visit one of my favorite, "Wow, this is New Jersey?" destinations, the Delaware and Raritan Canal at Griggstown in Franklin Township. I discovered it a few years ago on one of my dreary-winter-day drives to nowhere, and it seems to be one of those places that's beautiful during every season of the year. For some reason, I never actually consult a map for my trips there. I generally drive by internal GPS, knowing that if I stay on the Canal Road with the canal in sight, I'll eventually get to my destination.

Today, there are enough houses and traffic on the road to make the place feel populated, but back in the days when the canal was the focus, Griggstown must have seemed like one of the few bustling points between Princeton and New Brunswick. Most parts of the canal don't have much in the way of contemporary structures, but here many buildings were constructed to serve its operation. A combination mule drivers' barracks and barn still stands, as well as a lock tender's house and a few other stone structures of indeterminate purpose. There's also a small bridge tender's station at the foot of the wooden Griggstown Causeway crossing the canal and adjacent Millstone River.

Originally a mill town, Griggstown also hosted a copper mine which operated on and off from 1790 to the early 20th century. The community also saw its share of notables during the Revolution, as Washington marched troops through after the Battle of Princeton and Rochambeau led his troops through on the way to Yorktown.

As for us, we just wanted to take a stroll, maybe see a few birds and enjoy a sunny afternoon after tackling the Sourlands. Parking at the lock tender's house, we took to the tow path with the intention of walking to back to the Causeway. We didn't run into too many other walkers, but there were plenty of cyclists and runners capitalizing on the soft, level surface. From the looks of things, a few horses had likely been there, too. The birds were fairly quiet, given that it was already mid-afternoon, but a chickadee or two obliged Ivan with a quick view.

Just east of the Causeway there's a canoe and kayak rental, though we didn't avail ourselves this time around. It didn't seem to be too buggy at all on the water, so it might even be an option for a return trip in August.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hiking a sweet spot in the Sourland Mountains

Given how much I've knocked around central New Jersey, it's rather remarkable that it's taken me this long to get to the Sourland Mountains. Located in Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, the range seems to have gotten its name from the fact that the underlying geology can't support a decent well, leaving prospective settlers without a reliable source of water. Other sources say that the name is a corruption of the word 'sorrel,' which the Germans who settled there used to describe the reddish-brown soils in the area.

Despite the water-related drawback, the Sourlands have hosted their share of history. For one, the range played a strategic role during the Revolution, keeping the British to the west from raiding the wheat fields of Hunterdon area farmers. John Hart, one of the New Jersey delegates to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration, hid in the Sourlands for an extended period of time after the British drove him off of his nearby farm. And more recently, Charles Lindbergh selected the area for a remote home for himself and his wife Anne Morrow, seeking to avoid the incessant attention of the press. Unfortunately, the home they built in Hopewell was the site of the kidnapping and death of their first child, Charles, Jr.

Today, both Somerset and Hunterdon Counties maintain open space parks in the region, and Ivan and I chose to visit the Somerset County Preserve on the Belle Meade side. The mountains seem to rise up out of nowhere in the relative flatness of the area, so it wasn't hard for us to get our bearings as we approached on US 206. There's an ample parking area at the traihead off East Mountain Road, along with a kiosk holding maps. Four trails cover about nine miles in total, the longest one rising about 400 feet in elevation as shown on the topographic map. The trail blazes aren't quite as helpful, as they go by geometric shapes rather than color, and the shapes aren't denoted on the map.

We decided to check out part of the five-mile-long ridge trail, since the map showed that it goes through an area called the Devil's Half Acre. Perhaps this is where Mother Leeds' 13th child hangs out on jaunts outside the Pinelands? The trail starts fairly level and includes a few wooden boardwalks before it gets rocky and takes on some altitude. Since it had rained recently, some of the path was muddy and the rocks could be a bit moist, but for the most part, it's a good trail. The preponderance of stones means that there's not too much underbrush encroaching, which was a bit of a relief, since we'd reached our limit on ticks at Negri-Nepote.

While the rise was continuous, it was by no means a scramble as we'd experienced at Pyramid Mountain. If you're accustomed to the rocks, it's an easy route; if not, it offers a satisfying workout. One could see why British soldiers chose not to venture through the area -- it would be a challenge to bring purloined supplies up and over the mountain, and chances would be good that you'd lose a fair bit of it along the way.

It doesn't take long to get to the boulders of the Devil's Half Acre, and the trail winds through interestingly-shaped formations with trees growing somehow through cracks and crevices. Much as you would with clouds in a blue sky, we traded ideas about what the big rocks were shaped like, and we wondered how they'd come to be there. According to the park map, the area consists of Triassic Age sedimentary and igneous rock deposited between 150 and 180 million years ago, when the region was underwater. However they got there, it's fun to walk around, through and over the rock piles. You can definitely see why Hart would have chosen to hide out in the area, if other parts of the Sourlands are as rocky as what we saw.

Once you get past the Half Acre, the trail levels out a bit, dipping and rising more gently than before. Rather than take the full route, we decided to take advantage of one of the connecting trails to truncate the trip and make our way down the mountain to the trailhead.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Behold the Trojan Cow!

In my report about the Negri-Nepote Grasslands a few weeks ago, I mentioned that we'd driven past the farm holding the Trojan Cow, a large Holstein-looking cow statue that stands in front of a farmhouse on South Middlebush Road in Franklin Township. We drove past again today, and as luck would have it, we found a side road that hadn't shown itself in the past, allowing me to pull over to get a picture.

Look closely, and you'll see that the cow is standing on a trailer. All the more to transport it to its intended destination with the invading force inside, I suppose.

Rather than standing next to the Trojan Cow as they did the last time we passed by, the live Holsteins were across the road, clustered around a 300kV transmission tower. We could hear the lines crackling overhead. You have to wonder: do they get some sort of milk production boost from all that voltage? Or do they just like the tower for another reason? I guess we'll never know.

Incidentally, you might wonder why I didn't stop by and ask the farmer about the Trojan Cow. There were enough No Trespassing signs around the farm to dissuade me from stepping foot on the property. I suppose they'd probably dealt with their share of pranksters and curiosity seekers, and I didn't want to add to the hassle.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hidden Heroes: a few words on Isaac Gordon

On the Fourth, after the reading of the Declaration of Independence in Morristown, Ivan and I took a ride through Madison to visit the grave of a little-known Civil War notable, Isaac Gordon.

The story goes something like this: Born into slavery in the South, Gordon escaped to Union lines in Washington County, North Carolina during the Coastal Campaign in 1862. Intelligence he supplied to the Union Army eventually led to several key victories against Confederate troops in North Carolina and Virginia.

During his time with the Union soldiers, Gordon befriended Colonel Edward E. Potter, who commanded a newly formed African American regiment. Following the war, Potter brought Gordon back to Madison, where the Colonel, by then a general, retired as a gentleman farmer. Gordon served as Potter’s coachman and servant and died in 1917.

Gordon is buried in a back corner of Hilltop Cemetery on Main Street in Madison, and unfortunately on a day when flags had been placed on the graves of others who’d served our country, there was none on his. His gravestone, however, gives some indication of his contribution. If you get the chance, stop by and pay your respects.

Not much other information is readily available about Gordon, but I'll be looking into his background a bit more over the next few weeks. He's just one of many African Americans who risked their lives and freedom to help the Union cause during the Civil War, and his story deserves telling.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Solving a Revolutionary mystery in Cranford

This weekend we took our own sage advice and visited Morristown National Historical Park, not just for the reading of the Declaration of Independence, but for a chat with the Revolutionary War soldier who fought with the Second New Jersey Regiment at the Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield. I was thoroughly impressed by the discussion - though challenged to speak as if it were July 1780 - and had the chance to get a few small but important questions answered.

For one, I've long been curious about markers like this one in Sperry Park in Cranford:

I knew, of course, that Washington's troops wintered in Morristown in 1779-80, but what were these others doing in Cranford? With the arrival of the army in Jockey Hollow, Morristown had become one of the most populated (if not the most) areas in the States, so was it that there wasn't room for Irvine's men? Why in heck were they stationed on the Rahway River, roughly 20 miles southeast of Washington's headquarters? Naturally, I couldn't tell the reenactor about the monument in the park; instead I had to tell him there had been troops in Crane's Ford recently, but I didn't know why.

The reason for the encampment becomes clear when you look at a map, particularly the hand-drawn one the reenactor had helpfully drawn of the area around Springfield, Union and points east. The British were stationed in Staten Island and made regular forays into New Jersey for food and other supplies, along with the occasional thwarted attempt to kidnap Washington. Troops like Irvine's (possibly the Second Pennsylvania, which he'd led at the Battle of Monmouth in '78) were stationed at various points between New York and Morristown to stop the Brits from coming any farther inland. Besides being defensive mechanisms, these troops also served as an early warning system, letting Washington and his subordinates know about enemy troop movements.

No doubt, the Continentals established dozens of these camps near the logical entry points from New York, meaning that there could be an equal number of small memorials around like the one in the picture above. So many of us in New Jersey could be living and working on top of former Revolutionary War camps without even realizing it. Perhaps blood was not shed there, but each of these spots played a strategic role in protecting Washington, his army and the people of New Jersey from raids and worse. I, for one, am going to open my eyes a bit wider and keep an eye out for them, and I'd love to get a list going. Do you know of any memorials like these anywhere else in the state?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Huzzah! Celebrate Independence in Revolutionary Fashion

If you’re as much of a history geek as I am, you’ll want to find suitable activities for Independence Day. Yes, the fireworks and barbecues are required, and in fact, John Adams predicted that the day “should be commemorated with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forever more." Among all that, though, there’s time to take a, well, revolutionary spin on the day.

The Ford Mansion site of Morristown National Historical Park will host its annual reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, starting at noon. Far from a solemn event, the reading generally takes on a raucous tone, with reenactors encouraging audience members to shout huzzahs and heckle King George during the airing of grievances. There’s nothing quite like hearing the words of 1776 punctuated with a clearly 21st century “no, he di-in’t!” Everyone has a good time, and in the process, we all get a better view into an event and people we thought we’d already known so well.

If the program runs as it traditionally does, the first hour will include colonial jokes and stories, with the reading of the Declaration starting at 1 p.m. Following the reading, there will likely be a celebratory fusillade from reenactors in the New Jersey Regiment. It’s loud, but it definitely gets you in the mood for fireworks!

Also of note, on the afternoon of July 3, the Wick House at Jockey Hollow will host a colonial soldier just back from the Battles of Connecticut Farms and Springfield. It’s good to see the Park Service taking interest in these long-forgotten battles. No doubt there’s plenty more to learn!