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.

9 thoughts on “Falling Down on the Delaware

  1. I’m sorry to comment so randomly. I found your blog while searching for information about the Depue family farm. I spent many a summer day of my childhood/teenage years exploring the houses and making gravestone rubbings at the old cemetery. I watched them decay year after year, but have not been there in at least three years. The last time I was there a hunter informed me of a plan to demolish the houses and I wasn’t sure if they had ever gone through with it.

    I see you posted this in June ’08, was your trip there as recent? I would love to go back, but feared they had been torn down.

  2. Hi, Brandi. Yes, the trip was recent, and if you return to the area I think you will find most or all of the properties you remember to still be there, albeit in much worse shape. Little or nothing has been done to preserve the vast majority. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. I just came across your sebsite after doing a Google search for “old roads”. Very fascinating reading, especially liked the info on the Delaware Water Gap – Easton, PA area as this is where my ancestors are from.

    Do you know if anyone is doing a photo history of current roads so people 200+ years. or so, in the future will be able to see what our roads and homes/businesses looked like before they fall into ruins?

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Fred. I don’t know the titles of any specific photo histories off the top of my head, but there is a lot of material scattered around the web, and in the publications of local historical societies over the years.

  5. Thanks for the great read and the pics. We’d stumbled upon the Walpack area a little over a year ago on a Sunday drive with our kids, and since then I’ve been looking up all I can about the area and the dam project mess. Such a shame. Why not make what’s left of the homes available to those who want to restore them? Such a loss of beauty and history…

  6. Thank you for the pictures and the wonderful read. I ran across this while doing a search on “forest trails”, and found your descriptions to be fascinating. It’s a shame that so many gems in history are eventually lost, but by the same token, the decay in and of itself lends places like these a kind of “mystical” feel–impressing upon the mind the vastness of human experience.

    At the very least, I am thankful for your pictures and writing, as it helps to preserve these places, even if they will not be salvaged physically.

  7. Thank you very much for the kind words, Mia. I have also felt that same sense of the mystical, or at least the faint echoes of happier times in these abandoned places. Thanks for stopping by the site.

  8. yes you do have wonderful pictures and also beautiful words, I am the grandaughter of William Depue, and this was a family farm, and I do believe that the last one living there was my Aunt Laura, thank so much for your kind words

  9. Thank you for stopping by, Barbara, and for your kind words. It’s always nice to hear from descendants who find the articles or pictures, and recognize some bit of a former family homestead. You have a unique family history, of which you should be very proud.

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