Deserted.

In the early 18th century, an immigrant from England, Peter Willcox, established a saw mill in a clearing on a bluff in the wilderness of what is now central New Jersey. The mill failed, but not the idea, and almost one hundred years later, in 1825, an entrepreneur from Boston, David Felt, decided to expand his business by opening a new mill where Willcox’s had once stood. Felt built an entire town to support his stationary manufacturing, erecting houses for his workers, a general store, a church, and a school. His employees and their families, numbering almost 200, lived in the town for about fifteen years until the factory closed. The land passed through various hands, but by 1870, it was abandoned, earning it the title “The Deserted Village.” A brief experiment at the end of the 19th century attempted to turn the abandoned spaces into a summer resort, but that endeavor also failed, and for over one hundred years, the remains of Feltville are gradually returning to the forests from which they emerged (via Wikipedia).

The Deserted Village of Feltville, now preserved by the Union County parks department, is a noted, if little-known, fascinating slice of history. On a hot Sunday morning in July, my wife and I decided to wake up early and travel a half hour to visit this historical oddity. What follows, then, is our adventure through the woods of the Watchung Reservation and the Deserted Village, an update on both my wife and my vehicles, and an interview with a high-mileage Honda driver.

Let’s begin:

The Deserted Village

Map of New Jersey, with red pin in location of The Deserted Village.
Our destination for today: The Deserted Village, located in the Watchung Reservation. Located in Union County, the Watchung Reservation is a 1,900 acre nature preserve and park that is also home to several endangered species.
View of I-78 East from behind windshield of Jeep Grand Cherokee.
With temperatures expected to soar into the 90’s during the afternoon, my wife and I planned to spend the late morning hours exploring the village. Despite gradually emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown, traffic on New Jersey roads remains light, and we encountered no delays on our route.
White Jeep Grand Cherokee parked on a grassy field.
Grace, my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, was our vehicle of choice today, and upon arriving I was glad we brought it! The main (paved) lot was full, and so we had to park in the grassy and muddy overflow lot. The terrain was a piece of cake for Grace!
View of schoolhouse and general store building on park.
A paved road leads from the parking lot to the Deserted Village, and one of the first major buildings you encounter is the town’s church and general store. A devout Christian, David Felt was motivated by a desire to improve his workers and their families by making them stronger in their faith. For instance, church services were mandatory every week (the information in this and the following photos is from a pamphlet provided by the Union County parks department). My wife and I agreed that the porches of this building look like something you would find in the Adirondacks.
Exterior of worker's cottage.
This dilapidated building is one of the surviving worker’s cottages. These small homes typically housed 6-12 people! It was long thought that Felt lived in a far larger home, the records referring to it as a “mansion.” In 2004, an archeological project from Montclair State University discovered the remains of Felt’s home – a building no larger than this one! While Felt may have ruled the village strictly, he apparently did not see benefit in living any differently than his workers.
Dilapidated workers' cottage.
Down the hill behind this cottage is where the three-story mill once stood, water from a brook powering the printing presses and book binding machines for the business. A word about the look of some of these images: because of harsh lighting conditions (bright sun and dark shadows), I have used a process called High Dynamic Range – HDR, which allows you to see the details that would otherwise be lost. It does create a slightly artificial look with some of the photos, but I actually like how they came out. Consider this an addendum to my “Art of Photography” post.
Abandoned two-story house.
The slightly larger homes were for Felt’s managers, skilled artisans, and other valued workers.
Porch of house that is in process of collapsing.
The decay of over a hundred years of neglect is evident in this collapsing porch. While the park service has rehabilitated several buildings, much work still needs to be done to ensure the houses do not collapse.
Decaying porch, with debris on it.
The gradual and graceful decay of the village reminds me of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, another site that has been left exposed to the effects of nature.
Entrance to tennis courts, with the word T_NNIS on a wooden plank above the entrance.
One vestige of the village’s time as a summer resort: the entrance to the tennis court still stands, although the courts have long since grown over into a grassy field.
Entrance to hiking trail with sign by right side that says BATTLE OF THE SHORT HILLS HISTORIC TRAIL.
After passing through the village, we took a short hike through the Battle of the Short Hills Historic Trail. A Revolutionary War Battle in June of 1777, the fight itself was a loss for American forces who were outnumbered by the British Army. However, the battle alerted George Washington to the location of the sizable British force, allowing him to retreat and save his larger army from what would have been a punishing engagement (via Wikipedia).
Clearing in forest.
While beautiful, the woods also have a creepiness to them. Reading up on it after we got home, numerous stories exist of hikers and campers in this forest finding odd stone formations, strange drawings, and other evidence of rituals in these woods. Add to it other unexplained phenomena, and you have quite the spooky setting! You can read more about the supernatural stories of the Deserted Village and the Enchanted Forest in this article from Weird NJ.
Small graveyard on top of hill in woods.
Climbing a hill behind the town’s church and general store, we came across the Willcox family cemetery from the 18th century. Approximately 20 members of the Willcox family are buried in this plot, although John Willcox’s 1776 gravestone (center) is the only original marker remaining. The newer one to the right was provided by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, as John Willcox (spelled Willcocks on his tombstone) served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. One interesting fact we learned: the Department of Veterans Affairs will supply a gravestone for free for any US veteran’s grave, regardless of where in the world the soldier is buried.
Exterior of Masker's Barn.
Our final stop was the Masker’s Barn. Built in 1882 when Feltville briefly functioned as a summertime resort, the barn had space not only for carriages and horses, but also hosted dances for the resort’s guests. Our curiosity satisfied (and our legs very tired), we headed back to the car. We will definitely come back to Watchung Reservation, as there are several other cool sites to visit – stay tuned!

Automotive Updates

And you get repairs! And you get repairs! And you…

Exterior of Burns Honda, with a 1st generation orange Honda Civic parked in front of the building.
Before our recent trip to the Adirondacks, I took my Honda Accord for an oil change at Burns Honda in Marlton, NJ. Burns is where I purchased my vehicle, and they handle most of my car’s servicing. They earn some cred by parking a mint-condition 1970’s Honda Civic on the front lot.
Interior of waiting room for service center at Honda dealer.
Burns also gets top marks for their social distancing measures. There is customer seating outside, and the waiting room has been reconfigured to allow for 6 feet of distance between every chair. I’ve been coming to Burns for about fifteen years, and it’s always been kept clean, but this trip it was immaculate. All vehicles get disinfected during their servicing as well. It is reassuring that the dealer is taking COVID-19 precautions so seriously.

 

Diagram of all parts for oil pump and oil filter housing.
The oil change and tire rotation went fine… except the mechanic discovered a leak from my car’s oil pump. Part # 21, specifically, a donut-shaped gasket which keeps the engine’s lubricants inside the oil pump, had worn out and was no longer doing its job. Bear in mind when you look at the next photo, #21 is a $7.00 part…
List of parts for oil seal repair on customer service write-up.
…however, that seven buck part wreaked all kinds of havoc! The oil was leaking onto the engine’s timing belt, causing it to slowly deteriorate. A snapped timing belt will wreck an engine, so my service advisor recommended taking care of the leak and also changing the timing belt and related parts, and taking care of a few more seals that were also starting to show evidence of leaking. What began as a quick oil change turned into an all-day job. It was expensive, but as I want to keep my car for a long time, it was a necessary repair. One bonus – timing belt services are done every 7 years or 105,000 miles. I had last done the timing belt service in May of 2018 when my car had almost 106,000 miles. I would have been due for the service at 200,000 miles, but now it won’t need to be done until 250,000. And despite the expense, it’s still cheaper than new car payments (that’s my mantra, and I’m sticking to it)!
Car odometer reading 155229 TRIP A 116.1
The day after the repair, we jumped into my Accord and drove up to the Adirondacks – nothing like a 330-mile test drive to make sure everything is working correctly! The Accord was flawless, which was good, because our other vehicle was also in the shop…
Write-up of customer order for power steering rack repair.
My wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee went in for an oil change and tire rotation before we left for the Adirondacks, and the service advisor reported a fluid leak from the power steering rack. It’s a $2,000+ repair! Fortunately, when my wife purchased the vehicle, she had negotiated for the extended warranty at no cost to her, so this monster repair ended up costing us only $106 for the deductible. My wife gets major points for her negotiating skills!
Car odometer reading 53211 miles.
After coming back from the Adirondacks, we picked the Jeep up at the dealer and all seems well. Between the oil filter housing it required last fall and the power steering rack that wore out, I am glad my wife got the extended warranty, as those two repairs would have ended up costing us close to $3,000 out of pocket. I like this Jeep a lot, but its long term reliability bears watching. Ah well, it’s fixed now… time to enjoy it!

A High Mileage Honda Interview

In a previous post, I had featured an interview with Justin, a courier with a 2003 Honda Accord coupe with over 600,000 miles (now at almost 673,000 miles). Justin and I met through a Honda Accord owners’ forum, and through that forum I also came in contact with Josh, another high mileage maven who owns a 2015 Honda Accord LX sedan with almost 400,000 miles! I reached out to Josh and asked if he would be willing to share his story and fortunately, he agreed:

Gray 2015 Honda Accord sedan.
A rolling stone gathers no moss… Josh’s Accord sedan is a road trip monster. You can’t tell this is a 400,000 mile car!
Sign over Ohio highway that says OHIO COME BACK SOON
As a courier, Josh’s travels take him all over much of the eastern United States… ah, I’ll let him tell it:

When and where did you buy your car? I bought my 2015 Accord in September of 2018 from Bianci Honda in Erie, PA when it had only 78,000 miles on it.

What is your mileage at currently? She just rolled over to 386k miles on June 1st.

What do you do that puts so many miles on your vehicle? I work full-time as a courier driver. I put approximately 185k miles on it last year alone.

What’s the furthest you’ve had to drive for a delivery?

North: Frankenmuth, Michigan
South: Greer, South Carolina
West: Macedonia, Illinois
East: Davis, Massachusetts

What’s been the biggest repair to date? The biggest repair was replacing the engine back in January after 339,400 miles. I misshifted it twice, hitting 2nd gear instead of 4th gear last summer on the highway. The first instance had the RPMs around 7500RPMs, and the second time, a few months later, had the RPMs close to 8000RPMs. Over time, the bottom end of the engine gave out. I truly believe that I would still be on the original engine had that not happened. I also replaced the clutch and flywheel during the engine swap. The clutch disc still had 50% life left after all of those miles. Outside of that, outside of normal maintenance, I just replaced the right-front axle seal May 30. Also, had to perform some minor repairs to the left front fender lining due to a raccoon hit around the same time. Those were the only out of ordinary repairs to date that I can recall. The car has been wonderful to me so far.

Is this the first high mileage car you’ve owned? I have owned a few. My first car that I bought while in the military was a 1993 Honda Accord 10th Anniversary Edition. That car went through hell with me, with it being in 4 accidents over the 7 years of ownership. It was still running strong when I sold her in 2008 at 343k miles. I have gotten a 2007 Honda Accord LX coupe up to 408,700 miles before the clutch went out the second time, along with the shift fork getting jammed in reverse, and then the car burning coolant.

What is the strangest thing you’ve seen on the road? I really don’t have a “strangest” thing during my travels. I can tell you that I have nearly hit a drunk driver head on when they were driving the wrong way on the interstate (scary), another drunk driver last year in NYC that could barely drive, two exotic cars wrecked and engulfed in flames (street racing?) in NYC, countless near misses with deer. It comes with the territory, I guess.

What’s your biggest pet peeve with other drivers? Left-lane campers, those who have no clue how to merge, and those who don’t have their headlights on at night (due to bright daytime running lights).

With all the time you spend on the road, what do you listen to for entertainment? Any good recommendations of things you’ve listened to lately? I listen mostly to music, local sports podcasts (Savran on sports), Pittsburgh sports (Steelers and Penguins) via streaming apps, and call friends from the US and Australia. I really don’t listen to much newer music. I’m mostly a music fan of the 70’s-00’s. My music collection, on shuffle, is definitely unique. From the Bee Gees to Bruno Mars, from Metallica to the Mamas and the Papas, I think that I have a good mix. No one with an affinity for music has ever complained yet.

Car odometer reading 386416
Josh, thank you for taking the time to share your story here! Josh and I corresponded back in June, and in that time he’s gotten to the doorstep of 400,000 miles. I’ll definitely post an update when he rolls over that mark!

A Fun Video

Before closing, I wanted to post, as the late Steve Jobs would have said, “just one more thing.” I have written before of Tyson Hugie, whose blog Drive to Five chronicles his road trip adventures. In addition to his well-known 1994 Acura Legend LS coupe that has over 573,000 miles on it, he has amassed a collection of 1990s Acuras, and has even converted his garage to look like an Acura dealership. In one of the best COVID-19 stay-at-home projects I have seen, he recently created a commercial for his “dealership.” If you want a laugh, check it out:

Wrapping Up

Despite being a lifelong resident of New Jersey, I am amazed at how I keep discovering new sights that I never knew existed. The Deserted Village of Feltville is among the strangest, most unique, and coolest spots I have seen in my home state. If you are in the central New Jersey area, I would definitely recommend stopping by – it’s a fun, and free, way to spend a morning or an afternoon and learn more about Garden State history.

My wife and I have another road trip planned in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned! In the meantime, thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.

‘Til next time.

12 thoughts on “Deserted.

  1. I never knew about Feltville. I love hearing about these little gems. And as for your Honda, I’ve always felt they’d last forever if well maintained.

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    1. Finding (relatively) unknown places like Feltville is really cool – once of my favorite parts of doing road trips! And I agree, your car should last a lot longer if you take care of small problems before they become big/catastrophic problems!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is so entertaining! I enjoy all aspects of urban exploration, and it’s cool to see some of the Feltville structures still holding their own, despite the inevitable decay. Tons of history there – I wonder if there exist photos of what everything looked like when it was new. As for the Accord repairs – like you said, as long as keeping the coupe on the road requires less financial burden than a new car payment, just keep racking up those miles! Hope this gets you down the road for a long time yet. I really enjoyed the Q&A on the high mileage Accord, and I’ll be looking forward to an update when he hits 400,000 (and 500,000). Finally, thanks for posting the commercial video. I had some fun with that one 🙂

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! Feltville was awesome – definitely worth a return trip. And as for repairing the Accord – with new car payments around $350-400 a month, it’s easy to see value in keeping your current car on the road than buying something new. That said, if there ever comes a time when repairs are exceeding what I would be spending on a newer vehicle, I’d have to re-evaluate. For now, though? I plan to keep on driving the old beast. Josh told me that he’s probably going to roll 400k within the next week or so, so I’ll definitely include an update when he does! Thanks for reading.

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  3. Really nice piece of local history there. Glad they’re doing something to preserve it. I appreciate history so much more as an adult. Thanks for sharing it.

    I enjoyed reading your Q&A with Josh. I knew about him over-revving the engine, but this provided some more details.

    I’ve really enjoyed Tyson’s content too. I try to keep up as best I can. Sometimes it takes me a few days to read, watch, or comment. I appreciate you guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I’ve had a blast doing the Q&A with you and Josh – it was cool to see what it takes to get a vehicle to high mileage, along with the experience of making a career from living on the road.

      Thanks again for reading!!

      Liked by 1 person

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