Friday, May 25, 2012

The Jersey Devil and the Pot House: glassmaking at Estellville

Fresh from our find at Weymouth, Ivan and I headed a slight bit eastward on the Black Horse Pike. I'd heard about another ancient Pinelands factory nestled within an Atlantic County park. We were so close by, we had some time before we were expected elsewhere, why not go for it?

The former Estellville glassworks operated from 1825 to 1877 and was reportedly among the first to produce both window glass and bottles. About three and a half miles south of Mays Landing proper, it's now surrounded by an expansive parkland of playgrounds, picnic areas and untouched woods. The factory site itself is about halfway along the circular park road, well marked out with wayside signs. Though the buildings have deteriorated to about the same level of falling-apartness as the site we'd just visited, helpful numbered maps direct visitors to various features of importance in glassmaking.

Like the Weymouth Furnace, the glassworks was made up of several buildings, but in this case, each represented a stage of the manufacturing process. We first went to the pot house where workers made the vessels in which sand, potash and limestone would be mixed and melted to make glass. According to the wayside, replacement pots were needed often, as they'd become damaged by the high heat of the melting process.

Several steps away, a three-room building once held the furnace where the raw glass was made. It was also where glassblowers would shape the molten material into cylinders that would be flattened in another building and eventually cut into windowpanes. Here's the wild thing: the blowers would often strap themselves to the wall as a counterbalance against the 80 pounds or so of molten glass they'd pick up from the vat with their blowpipes. Those who chose not to take the safety step might -- and sometimes did -- find themselves falling into the pit to meet an unfortunate and painful end.  

Between the furnace building and the flattening building, I noticed several small objects glistening in the sun. They turned out to be weathered pieces of glass, possibly from the factory itself, as none of it seemed thick enough to have been broken bottle shards from a more recent visitor.

The park signs and online guide led me to believe that foundations of workers' houses could be found in the far reaches of the tract, so Ivan and I followed a path into the nearby woods. As we walked, I remembered something I'd read in the handy WPA Guide to New Jersey, which only mentioned the glass factory as a side note. The writers were more interested in highlighting Estellville as the birthplace of the Leeds Devil, more commonly known these days as the Jersey Devil.

Before we go much further, I want to make a statement: we here at Hidden NJ try to avoid the usual Jersey legends and apocryphal stories in favor of the more obscure yet plausible. I'm rather proud that we've published for nearly a year and a half without making hay of Mother Leeds' thirteenth child, but when you stumble upon the purported birthplace of the ol' JD, you have to say something. Plus, he's got wings, so I figured I could include him as a birding feature.

I mulled the possibilities as we walked farther down the path than my research had indicated the workers' homes would have been. The path was well maintained and lined in places by flowering bushes, but who knew if we were walking into territory where a cloven-hooved flying beast would rather be to himself? Focused on finding some of the birds whose songs he'd been hearing, Ivan ignored my suggestions that maybe I'd misread the map and we should instead be looking for the buildings elsewhere.

We decided to turn around after we reached a small deck overlooking a creek and pilings that once apparently supported a bridge. Walking back to the glassworks, we did find an elusive flying creature, but it turned out to be a yellow billed cuckoo rather than ol' JD.

Given the park's size and diversity of habitat, we'll likely be headed back to Estellville sometime soon for birding at a more productive time of day. I guess that means we'll also have another chance to check in on the state's scariest and most active citizen, the immortal Mr. Leeds.

1 comment:

  1. I was hiking there a week ago.very interesting place.easy to get to

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