Saturday, April 13, 2013

Digging up mystery on Province Line Road

My downtown New Egypt exploring done, I had a lead to track down. A few weeks ago, reader Rick Donnelly contacted me about another Province Line Road, this one separating Mercer and Burlington counties from Monmouth a few miles out of Plumsted Township. Not only was it a seeming continuation from the Mercer County Province Line Road outside of Hopewell that I'd written about last year, it runs through the state's most prolific archaeological site, along Crosswicks Creek in Ellisdale.

Crosswicks Creek, near Ellisdale.
Where dinosaurs roamed.
Ivan's the paleontology guy of this partnership, so I didn't plan to go too far into the site without him along. I don't know enough to differentiate a fossil from a weird rock, but it still would be fun to notice something unusual. I did enough research before I left Hidden New Jersey HQ to learn that the Ellisdale site is managed by the New Jersey State Museum, and collecting specimens is prohibited. No way would I pick something up to take away to show Ivan later.

Aside from the fossils, that area of New Jersey is interesting from a county border perspective. Depending on which road you take, you could be in Mercer, Burlington, Monmouth or Ocean County. Or, if you're on Province Line, you're straddling two of 'em. As I tooled around, the pentagonal blue county road markers were switching counties with alarming frequency.

Rick had written that the fossil site is near the one-lane truss bridge where Province Line passes over Crosswicks Creek. Typical for a county road, there was no shoulder to park on, but I was fortunate to find enough of a clearing among the trees and brush to pull my car off the road near the bridge. Monmouth County Parks rules were posted on a nearby sign.

The odd thing was, after I crossed the road, I saw the Monmouth signs on that side, too. Wouldn't it be Mercer -- or Burlington -- there? Maybe my map was a little off? From the road I'd noticed a tall yellow stake in the ground, several yards into the woods. It wasn't until I got closer that I noticed the aggregate concrete block next to it. Looking down, I saw an oxidized metal nub on the top, reminiscent of the tops of the meridian markers we'd first found in Flemington last year. Must be a surveyor's marker, right? I was even more certain when I noticed an M on one side and a B on the other.

Today's Hidden New Jersey story
is brought to you by the letter M.
For Monmouth, or maybe Mercer.
One had to be Burlington, that was easy enough. But does the M stand for Mercer, or Monmouth?

Times like this remind me I need to improve my exploring kit. It would have been really helpful to have a compass with me. Monmouth is northeast of Burlington; Mercer is directly north. My gut says the M is for Mercer, but I think there's a good argument for Monmouth, given the county park signs.

This raises an interesting point about county history. When the United States gained independence, New Jersey had only 13 counties. Over time, the additional eight were carved from the existing ones, until 1855, when the last one, Union, was created from the southern end of Essex. Monmouth was one of the original four counties created in 1683, while Mercer was crafted from portions of Hunterdon and Burlington in 1838. Thus, to be denoting Monmouth for sure, the marker would have to have been planted before 1838. My gut, once again, tells me it's newer than that, but I've been known to be wrong before.

I'd say this mystery was solved pretty quickly, but we still have the matter of the fossils to contend with. We'll definitely be returning with a compass and GPS. And maybe we'll even find out if there's another county marker in the area. That might be a hard one to locate though: a few yards further, the trail is interrupted by a deep wash with no bridge.


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