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!
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.
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.