The Hillside Farms of Pahaquarry

My feet wandered back into the area of old Millbrook this weekend, and I expect they will tread that way again soon, and hopefully for years to come. This region, like the Pine Barrens in the Southern part of the state, completely fascinates me, and for the same reason. For such a small state New Jersey must be unique in having two such areas of restored wilderness. I say restored because in both the Pine Barrens, which make up much of the Southeastern corner, and the Highlands, which take up the Northwestern, civilization once thrived. Agriculture, mining, lumbering, manufacturing, transportation; every major enterprise of eighteenth and nineteenth century America was engaged in on these Northern slopes, and those Southern plains. Today there are, for the most part, just the woods, the hills, the sandy trails and woodland tracks that were once arteries, and the little dots on old maps that mark the towns.

Continue reading

Looking for the Farms of Pahaquarry

I headed back into the hills of Pahaquarry this past weekend in search of an old road, and some old farms, and found quite a bit more of the former, and less of the latter, than I had hoped. The steep hillsides of Pahaquarry Township were once part of New Jersey’s rural agricultural heritage, and the remains of this past dot the forest floor, and line the old trails throughout the area. Accompanying this essay are pictures of an ancient lime kiln and not so ancient, but just as abandoned, power line, not to mention a dump full of broken bottles and the remains of a baby carriage.

My feet wandered back into the area of old Millbrook this weekend, and I expect they will tread that way again soon, and hopefully for years to come. This region, like the Pine Barrens in the Southern part of the state, completely fascinates me, and for the same reason. For such a small state New Jersey must be unique in having two such areas of restored wilderness. I say restored because in both the Pine Barrens, which make up much of the Southeastern corner, and the Highlands, which take up the Northwestern, civilization once thrived.

You can read the full article here, or view the gallery of images.

Iron Road to Chester

I recently took a Sunday afternoon off and followed the track of the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Chester Branch along its century-old route from Long Valley to Chester and the site of the old Taylor blast furnace on the Lamington River. Along the way I saw some surprising things, and some that were not surprising, but impressed me deeply nonetheless. The railroads of Northern New Jersey played a key role in the commercial development of early America. Today many of them are no more than faint lines on a green and reforested landscape, or marks on a 120 year-old topographical map.

I entered the woods near Chester, New Jersey by stepping over a thin cable slung between two wooden posts and heading up a narrow gravel-covered track that disappeared in leafy dimness. The better part of forty-five minutes later I was barely a mile in, but then I had the camera with me, and had seen many things worth a short delay: a spring from which orange, iron-laden water bubbled; remnants of a 19th century sewage system; ancient stone walls lining a suspiciously regular cut in the earth; century old black cinders born in the firebox of a steam engine. The path I followed was unmistakable as an abandoned railroad right of way: unlike any forest track a railroad cuts long smooth slices through the terrain: no tight curves; no steep grades.

You can read the full article here, or view the gallery of images.

Iron Road to Chester

I entered the woods near Chester, New Jersey by stepping over a thin cable slung between two wooden posts and heading up a narrow gravel-covered track that disappeared in leafy dimness. The better part of forty-five minutes later I was barely a mile in, but then I had the camera with me, and had seen many things worth a short delay: a spring from which orange, iron-laden water bubbled; remnants of a 19th century sewage system; ancient stone walls lining a suspiciously regular cut in the earth; century old black cinders born in the firebox of a steam engine. The path I followed was unmistakable as an abandoned railroad right of way: unlike any forest track a railroad cuts long smooth slices through the terrain: no tight curves; no steep grades. It’s why they make such nice walking trails once the trains no longer need them. The starkly artificial features of these constructions remain visible against the fractal chaos of nature long after the rails themselves have been pulled up and melted down.

Continue reading

Kittatinny’s Ancient Roads

Join me for a walk North from the vanished town of Millbrook in New Jersey’s skylands, along some ancient roads that lead us through two hundred years of history. This area played a vital role in the early colonial commerce of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and due to unique circumstances is home to some of the most fascinating intact structures and relics of that time. Heading north from the old village along a mountain track that hasn’t been regularly used in 150 years you can see stone walls stretching off through the forest, a reminder of the farmers and loggers who labored here for generations.

“Kittatinny Mountain begins at the place that is truly a water gap, thrusting its granite shoulder to the sky just East of the spot where the slim ribbon of interstate 80 skips across the Delaware River and enters the state of Pennsylvania. For many people this is perhaps all of the mountain that they see, as they speed across and over to the outlet stores of Stroudsburg, or the great expanse of the nation beyond. But the hill stretches more than forty miles Northeastward, well into southern New York’s Orange County, and is but one stony promontory of many in the long range that runs from New England deep into the south. Atop Kittatinny’s knife-edge summit runs the famed Appalachian trail, while at its feet the river lies like a sleepy snake, seeming in places to lap right up against the long ridge, marking New Jersey’s northwestern border in white-flecked silver.”

Read the full article here, or view the gallery of images.