Falling Down on the Delaware

I walked up the forest trail, leaving the Old Mine Road behind. It’s called a trail now on all the Park Service maps, but like so many of the trails in these parts it was once a road. The trail has a name, and the data buried in modern GPS devices gives it that name and calls it a road, but when it was really a road, in the days before Tocks Island, it had another name altogether. It begins not far from an old town with a biblical moniker that disappeared fifty years ago, and ends by the banks of the Delaware River, in as scenic a spot as I have been privileged to visit. Along the way it passes the remains of farmers, and their farms.

I kept an eye to the south as I walked, and soon spied what I was after: a break in the wall of brush lining the path, and an old, faded blue sign telling the occasional traveller that somewhere beyond was the burying ground of the Depue’s, one of the oldest families in New Jersey. According to a variety of sources they are the descendants of one Nicholas De Pui, a French Huguenot and minor noble in the court of Louis XIV. He fled France for Holland after Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and subsequently took ship for America aboard the “Pumerland Church,” settling in Esopus-on-Hudson, one of the string of fortified towns the Dutch built during their brief tenure as masters of the American Northeast.

The link with the Pahaquarry region north of the Delaware Water Gap comes in the form of the Old Mine Road itself, which was built by Dutchmen to connect their strongholds on the Hudson with the fertile Upper Delaware Valley. It has long been said that the road was built to reach the metal mines of the Kittattiny, though some modern historians feel this could not have been the case. In any event, the road was in use as early as 1650, and a number of communities were established by settlers on both sides of the river, from Port Jervis all the way to Easton. The Depues, or Depews, or Depuys of Pahaquarry were either descended from Nicholas Depuy, or Samuel Depuy, depending on which source you choose to believe. The records are vague, partly because these settlements were soon orphaned. When the English wrested control of America from Holland in 1664 (nearly bloodlessly), the villages on the Delaware were cut off. In the 1730’s, when the Governor of Pennsylvania heard rumours of them and sent surveyor Nicholas Scull, he spent some pleasant hours in the home of Samuel Depuy and reported back that the settlers were shocked to learn of the colonies to the south, and had known nothing of the river’s name or destination, or that the English were there at all.

They lie all about this shaded forest grove, some beneath plain stones so worn they can no longer be read, others with still-ornate monuments to memorialize them. And there are no doubt many more around this place for whom there is no longer any stone. There always are. The farms they built are still here as well, and like this once-hallowed ground under the trees they are crumbling away. Leaving the graveyard I continued up the forest road. Somewhere ahead the old topographical maps and aerial surveys said a substantial farm had once existed. Google Earth said parts of it might still be there. Soon I came to a wooden utility pole, standing alone by the side of the road. Coiled at its base were loops of long-dead phone cable leading up to the insulators on the crosstree, and thence back into the woods along the way I had come. The connection to civilization had been cut. Just a little farther and I spied a gabled roof poking up above the riotous undergrowth. Eyeless windows peered out across a seemingly unbroken mass of green. I turned and looked to my right and saw another, directly across what had been the road, front door standing open. Further on there were the remains of barns and silos, and some rusty old vehicles.

This is what it looks like when the people leave. I’m familiar with ruins, but this is something different: a ruin in the making. In fact it is a ruin now, for all practical purposes. None of these houses are inhabitable. Very few are even salvageable. And there is a great tragedy in that: a sad song of good intentions and lost legacies. It was the plan of the Federal Government to dam the Delaware at Tocks Island, and it was for that plan that the people of the river towns were separated from their homes. The dam was never built, but the people were never invited back, and now you can see, from the Water Gap to Wallpack, historic old structures falling slowly into rubble. The National Park Service is responsible for this land and these structures now, and I sympathize with their plight. There is never enough money to preserve all of history, and the decision has been made: this land is now a park, and is to be allowed to revert to its natural state. Still, when one views hand-hewn beams that are two centuries old and fastened with hammered wooden pegs, and sees structures built in that way left open to the weather and decay, it is hard not to feel a twinge of anger. Surely, if the Park Service does not care to preserve these structures, there is some better use for them than to slowly become mounds?

I continue to return to this region often with my camera, because the past here is decaying quickly. There are currently two galleries with images of the abandoned farms and houses in the Pahaquarry region of Warren and Sussex counties in New Jersey:

The Depue and Kinney Farms

Calno to Wallpack Center

If you manage to get to these places on your own, please leave them as you found them, and I urge you to be very careful about entering any abandoned structure in the park. Some are posted against trespassing, and I do not enter those. Of those that aren’t posted, the vast majority are unsafe to enter. Ignore this and you may get to see the basement of one sooner than expected.


It strikes me often that we don’t think in geographical terms anymore. I don’t mean that sort of abstract geographical knowledge that tells us the names of the seven hills of Rome, unless of course you’re a Roman. If you are a Roman, then the names of those hills are part of the lore of the land around you, that along with the rivers, valleys, meadows, and forests gave shape and nomenclature to everything that sprang up upon it. There was a time when we thought and spoke about the land and our relationship to it in the terms of these natural features. You lived on a certain ridge, or in a certain valley, and the road ran down along the valley to the ford, and from the ford on to the big meadow with the two oaks, and eventually intersected with a larger road that was named for the villages it connected.

If you wanted to travel you thought in terms of how many ridges you had to cross, whether there was water and a way to get across it, how steep the road was, or how muddy. And this of course was because you likely had to walk it, or sit atop some beast that was walking it. We were intimately connected to the land then, I think because we travelled slowly and personally. We felt the land, and absorbed its character at every plodding step. Today we are much more likely to think in terms of roads, and where they go. Intersections are the points of reference, and addresses the language of the machines that remember how to get somewhere when we don’t want to. On-ramps and off-ramps mark the little villages along the way between the centers of commerce. One of the most fascinating things for me is that you can look at Google Maps and zoom right in and see them there still: all the little trails that connected outposts of civilization, and took their names two centuries ago. Transpose an historical map and all the noise of our building disappears and the old roads are left there like the veins on a leaf.

We live up on Schooleys Mountain, which isn’t a mountain at all, but a great long hump of rock running eighty miles from southeastern New York to the Delaware Water Gap in western New Jersey. Near us Schooley’s Mountain Road runs down the north side to Hackettstown. Some of the old timers may remember this as the Washington Turnpike, and it was the first road west from Morristown to Easton, back in the 1730’s or so. Off to the east Drakestown Road used to connect Drakestown with Flanders, but Drakestown doesn’t exist anymore. Naughright road ran down the south side to Naughright, but there is no Naughright now. Bartley Road ran from Bartley to German Valley, and nope, there isn’t a Bartley anymore, either. But there is a German Valley, whose residents changed the name to Long Valley back in 1914, when it was considered more advantageous to be long, as opposed to German. If you keep going south you run up Fox Hill, which forms the south side of the long valley. The south branch of the Raritan flows down the valley and makes a great improbable arc to tidewater at Raritan Bay, carving out and outlining a great swath of some of the most beautiful and fertile rural land in America.

I admit it’s not easy to see it anymore. It goes by too quickly. I’m interested in it at a conscious level, and I still have to repeatedly stop and refer to maps and devices and remind myself how things are arranged. I routinely have minor epiphanies where, after traveling a road for four years, I suddenly realize that it runs more north than west! I think many of us may have lost something, in all our mobility, or at least I think I have; something that farmers likely remember. If we hiked more, or were able or required to walk the places we need to go, I suspect we’d get some of it back. It’s an intimate familiarity with the way the land is shaped, and where the roads go, and if oil prices keep on going the way they are, who knows? We may all become more tied to the land in the way that our ancestors were. If it is not as easy to just pick up and go somewhere else, then the quality of where you are now is that much more important.

I Need a New Home Page

For several years now I have kept the online version of the New York Times as my home page. I kept it through their adoption of interstitial ads. I kept it when they tried their “select” subscription service and blocked content seemingly at random. I kept it when they duplicated articles in different sections of the front page, and changed the headlines on front page posts to make them seem fresh. I kept it even though they use some funky javascript navigation that clears the history list when you load a page. Today, though, is the last straw. Today I need a new home page, because today the NYT started displaying an ad before they will even show you the front page for the first time. Even with an actual paper copy you can read the stories without getting an ad shoved in your face first. I have nothing against advertisements at all. I think they’re a perfectly good revenue model for content on the web. But there are right and wrong ways to do it, and the NYT staff has been working overtime to make their paper as unfriendly to readers as possible. So I need a new home page. Any suggestions?