Historical Saturdays…

Holiday weekends mean time to see family and friends, to catch up with loved ones and share meals, laughter, and joy. However, holiday weekends also can mean grocery stores, shopping malls, traffic, and a feeling of needing a vacation from the holidays. Saturday morning I decided I needed to go somewhere quiet, away from the throngs of people headed toward local malls to begin their Christmas shopping. So I jumped into DH and headed across the width of New Jersey to a historic village that remains one of the best kept secrets in the state.

Located in Wharton State Forest, Batsto Village is a museum operated by the New Jersey State Park Service, and is open year-round. Wharton State Forest is part of the Pine Barrens, a forest that stretches across seven New Jersey counties. Designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve, the unique ecology of this area has been largely undisturbed, as the soil is not suitable for growing crops (hence, the term “Barrens”). As a result, the Pine Barrens remain frozen in time, largely unchanged from when the first European settlers arrived in New Jersey. The Pine Barrens are also home to the legend of the Jersey Devil, a mythic creature said to be the thirteenth child born to Mother Leeds, a reputed witch, in 1735. The foundation of the Shroud House, where the Jersey Devil was reportedly born, is located deep in the Pine Barrens… perhaps another adventure for another day.

Founded 1766, Batsto was an industrial center that produced iron and glass beginning in the colonial period of this nation. The marshy soil in the area produces what is known as bog iron, a metal that is found in bogs and swamps. Ironworks produced here include iron railings which still are in use in buildings in Trenton and Camden, New Jersey, as well as cannon balls for the Continental Army. The manufacturing plant, as well as the adjacent village for workers, passed through a succession of owners until 1954, when the site was purchased by the State of New Jersey. It is completely free of charge to tour the museum and property, and there are numerous hiking trails into Wharton State Forest. Pack a lunch and spend the day!

Batsto Village, my destination for Saturday morning.
As I have said before, much of South Jersey is still very rural. A farm on my left, and a forest on my right… this was the view for most of my drive today.
After 50 miles, I arrived at Batsto Village.
The Mansion, originally the home of William Richards who purchased Batsto Iron Works in 1784.
The inside of the Woodhouse. Originally used to store wood for cooking, it now houses a display of agricultural tools from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The carriage house.
A carriage from the late 19th century. Looks cool, but I’d rather ride in DH.
Rear view of the Carriage House and the Horse Barn. The tower of the mansion is in the far distance.
The Range Barn, where cattle were kept.
To the right is the Mansion. The General Store and Post Office are on the left. The Post Office is still in service, and mail is hand cancelled with a unique stamp.
The door of the Blacksmith’s Shop. And the coolest part was a real blacksmith was working.
I had a nice time talking to Steve, the blacksmith on duty, who was fashioning clothes hangers from old railroad ties.
The hammer and the anvil, the prime tools of metalworking for many centuries.
Steve was gracious enough to let me photograph his work.
The oddly shaped building is the Corn Crib, used for storing corn. The small building in the foreground? An outhouse.
The gristmill, which turns grain into flour.
The grain flows into the hopper, the square shaped bin in the middle of the photo, and then is crushed into milled grain (flour) by the millstone beneath it. From this we get the idiom “grist for the mill,” meaning that you have gained useful knowledge.
A millstone, used for grinding the grain. Seeing this also illuminates the  expression “a millstone around his/her neck.”
Lake Batsto.
Built in 1882, the sawmill produced lumber for sale. It still functions, and is now equipped with modern conveniences such as electrical outlets and lighting.
Several village houses are still in existence, where the workers lived. Rent was $2 per month. Workers also had to abide by strict rules. My favorite one was “Laziness and slovenliness will not be tolerated.”
In 1957, an ore boat from the early 19th century was discovered and excavated from the bottom of Lake Batsto. Boats like this one would transport raw bog iron to the village furnace to be made into usable metal.
And of course, I grabbed a few shots of DH in front of the village before I departed.

On the way home, a sign caught my eye and I made a quick detour to the Peter Mott House, a museum that tells the story of the Underground Railroad. The museum is located in Lawnside, New Jersey, the only African-American incorporated municipality in the northern United States. The house was originally the home of Peter Mott, a minister and a member of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses that helped escaped slaves from the Southern States travel to free states, or even to Canada. The museum is only open for a narrow window of time (12:00 pm – 3:00 pm on Saturdays) but is well worth the visit, and at only $5 per person, is very affordable.

The Peter Mott House, built in 1845.

Thank you for coming along on this historical adventure today. If you are looking for a fun, cheap day trip in New Jersey, Batsto is definitely worth checking out. Many of the buildings are open for visitors, and despite the age of the buildings, the park has done a great job of making as much of the site as handicapped accessible as possible, as well as being very child-friendly. The Peter Mott House is a more solemn museum, but is also definitely worth the trip.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, and thanks again for coming along on another voyage of DH!

‘Til next time.

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