Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Finding the monoliths of Changewater

The opening day of fishing season in New Jersey was a great day to take a good wander around the countryside, and I found myself once again traipsing through Warren County, partially on Route 46, some on Route 31 and finally on Route 57. This time I was off to find a concrete house built by an employee of Edison's Portland cement company, and I actually found it, though not without a bit of discovery along the way.

I mention fishing season because it seemed I couldn't go very far without seeing anglers casting their luck for the first time in 2015. Both the Pequest and the Musconetcong Rivers were popular, with clutches of waders-wearing fishermen standing midstream or on the banks.

After taking a turn off Route 57 south of Port Colden, I found myself on Changewater Road, driving along fields, past a few McMansion enclaves and finally to the small community of Changewater. The road bends and quickly descends to the level of the Musconetcong River, which splits into upper and lower branches there, giving the hamlet its name.

An old one-lane bridge crosses the river at that point, and when I arrived, a few vehicles were parked in a small gravel-covered lot on the Warren County side. Yup -- more anglers capitalizing on a nice day for fishing. However, that's not why I stopped.

I stopped for the monoliths.

A couple of dark old cut-stone columns stood on either side of the river, and when I got out of the car to check them out, I noticed they lined up with stone structures farther up the hills on either side of the road. If you drew a straight line along the top of the several columns, you could imagine train tracks stretching across what's basically a ravine. It put me in the mind of the better known Paulinskill Viaduct, which, though made from cast concrete rather than quarried stone, is similar in that it just kind of jumps up on you when you least expect it, in a seemingly unspoiled environment.

The trestle, back in the day.
I'd found the remains of the Changewater Trestle, which predates the Paulinskill Viaduct by nearly 50 years. The Changewater was part of John Blair's Warren Railroad, which connected the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western's (DL&W) terminal point on the Delaware River with the Hampton station of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, primarily to get coal from Pennsylvania to the New York markets. (We briefly covered the technical challenges of building the Warren in an earlier Hidden New Jersey story on another discovery behind Shippen Manor.)

As it seems with so many other discoveries we make, the age of the trestle depends on who you ask. Even the twin markers on the Hunterdon County side disagree -- an older sign saying the railroad ran there in 1856 while the newer placard says 1862. Both agree, however, that the railroad, owned by the DL&W by that point, stopped running there by 1960. The rails were removed, presumably along with the track bed, at that point. I'd have to find an old railroad map to be sure, but I'd venture to guess that this stretch was connected with the length that once ran behind Shippen Manor, which was pretty much rendered secondary, and less profitable, when the Paulinskill Viaduct shortened the route to Scranton.

On its own, Changewater has a neat little story once you do a little digging. Originally home to a colonial-era iron furnace, it was apparently a productive hamlet during the 19th century. The Washington Township website notes that at various points, the village had hosted a snuff factory, a flour mill, distillery, tannery and a picture frame factory, as well as a railroad station. Locals could grab the train there until passenger service ended in 1926.

Nowadays, Changewater still has a post office, but the community is mostly residential in nature, offering the type of village living many think is impossible to find in New Jersey. Whether the fishing is any good on that stretch of the Musconetcong, I couldn't tell you, but I'd venture there are a lot worse places to be on a sunny spring morning.

And as for that concrete house I mentioned? That's a story for another day.


  1. Did you have any time to solve an old murder while you were there?

    1. Ah... the Castners. That's another story altogether!


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