Friday, April 19, 2013

A real hot potato: the Morristown community fireplace

Sometimes stuff looks a lot older than it really is. In some cases, it's because it's weathered and ramshackle. Other times, it is old, but not quite as old as the structures in the immediate vicinity. A road-tripper can be enticed to check out a curious ruin, only to find out that it's not a ruin, after all.

That's what happened to me recently, as I was travelling down 202 in Morristown. I was about to pass Historic Speedwell when I noticed some stone ruins in a park near the waterway across the road from the museums.

One bit was, indeed historic: the crumbling walls of the Speedwell Iron Works that once operated there. A quick look in the WPA guide revealed that in 1819, the Iron Works produced the drive shaft for the first ship to make a transatlantic crossing using steam power as a backup to sails. Across the street, of course, Alfred Vail and Samuel Morse developed the magnetic telegraph, but that's a story for another day.

My question was about the large hearth and chimney that dominated what looked like a stone house in ruins nearby. It could have been the remains of an early settler's sturdy cabin, or perhaps the home of the iron works' superintendent. A plaque on the front of the fireplace looked as if it might offer some clues. Could this be a remnant of the earliest settlement of Morristown, here on a pastoral pond?

Well, no. Here's what I found:


Not nearly as interesting as I'd have liked, but it's still nice. Turns out that in the late nineteen-teens, the leader of the local Camp Fire Girls approached Morristown officials with the idea of creating a central place where her troop and others could have their baked potato and toasted bacon parties. Contemporary newspaper accounts observed that the fireplace would be constructed in a 'new' park, and the Boy Scouts and other local residents could use it as long as they made reservations for it.

The WPA later improved the adjacent pond with picturesque spillways and brickwork, presumably making it a lovely place to enjoy a cool evening, or maybe even some ice skating if the pond was frozen solid. A roaring fire, some marshmallows (and potatoes) would be a nice respite from the chill.

From the looks of it (and the orange temporary fencing nearby) the fireplace hasn't been used for quite some time. There's nothing on the Morristown website specifically outlining the rules for building a fire there, nor is there anything posted prominently on site, but I'd venture a guess they'd be a bit wary of someone just stopping by to use it without prior notice.

Still, though: those Camp Fire Girl baked potatoes sound pretty good. Any chance we could get some cheese to go with the bacon?

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