The Encyclopedia of New Jersey puts Montana on Scott's Mountain in Harmony Township, Warren County, describing it as a Revolutionary-era refuge for Tories and a nesting place for bootleggers during Prohibition. Nothing in the encyclopedia entry provides insights on local people, institutions or commerce. I can usually count on the WPA Guide to 1930's New Jersey for interesting tidbits on remote places, but the writers apparently didn't venture far enough off of State Highway S24 to get the flavor of the place.
My best option, I figured, was to keep my eyes open as I drove between Morris Canal ports. Maybe I'd find a directional sign for Montana on S24's successor, Route 57.
Some distance outside downtown Washington Township (the Warren County one, naturally), I found it: a sign pointing left for Asbury and right for Montana. Away we go, up Scott's Mountain on Millbrook Road. My quarry: a town center of some sort... if not a community hall, library or post office, maybe a cluster of homes. I hoped that even if most of the buildings were unoccupied, there would be some sign of a past population cluster.
|Montana, New Jersey: wide open country.|
The one thing I did find was a very small church, complete with a small graveyard. Very tidy and well-kept, the Montana United Methodist Church reminded me of a similar structure I once saw in a remote Hawaiian town, just a little bigger. Next door, a building with a modified bell tower is apparently now a house, though I’d put my money on it having been a school at one time. Neither building had very much room in the way of parking, leading me to wonder exactly how many people worship there. I’d guess that whoever does is well accustomed to walking to church. It just seems like that kind of place.
|Yup, that's a two-way road.|
I soon saw what might have dissuaded the WPA Guide writers from exploring Scott’s Mountain. Not that it was scary or dangerous, but the road soon turned a bit roughshod and very narrow, a faint remnant of a yellow line hinting it was meant to be a two-way road. Rather than going by matter of fact inclines and level stretches like Millbrook Road, Halfway House tended toward hillocks, its descent marked by only brief level portions. It reminded me of a kiddie roller coaster, with some turns thrown in for good measure. Houses were few and far between, leaving woods where it was very easy to imagine moonshiners setting up stills back in the 20s, or even earlier. I was happy that the season's snow and ice had already melted from the road, as it must have been quite an adventure to traverse, even after the plows got to it.
|Wherever you go, there it is: the Morris Canal.|
You have to tip your hat to the Morris Canal enthusiasts for their perseverance and dedication to promoting its history. Sure, it makes a lot of sense to erect signage along a state or federal highway. But to be so driven as to post a marker where fewer than a hundred people a year might see it? That's passion.