Happy 10th Birthday to us! In celebration of 10 long years, we are doing a series of birthday posts. Look, here’s one right now!
Back in 2018, I gave a presentation at the Long-a-Coming Historical Society about hikes in South Jersey that you can take to walk through a little bit of history. It went over pretty well, so why not share an updated version with the world?
Here are some of my favorites. I’ll put 10 to 1 in front of them to make them more dramatic, but for most of these I couldn’t pick one over the other. DRAMA!
10) Oldman’s Creek Preserve – Auburn, NJ – about 1 mile of trails
Oldman’s Creek Preserve is owned by the South Jersey Land & Water Trust, and it’s a neat little patch of land to check out. But what I enjoy more than the flora and fauna most days is that the preserve is the site of an old Boy Scout Camp. Some remains, like a pair of cabins, are pretty easy to spot. Others, such as the remains of the water front or the old chapel area, take a bit of a keener eye.
9) Double Trouble State Park – Bayville, NJ – 8 miles of trails
Anyone who has followed this blog for a short length of time knows I have a bit of an obsession with the pine barrens. Double Trouble is one of those great places to explore here. Yes, it has typical pine barrens scenery, like a lovely lake and lots of pitch pines and some cedars. But it also has the remains of an old cranberry town such as workers home and a sawmill.
8) Spring Lake Trail – Roebling Park – Hamilton Township, NJ – 4 miles of trails
Part of the Abbott Marshlands, the Roebling Park section at first seems like a nice peaceful walk around a lake with good bird watching opportunities. But beneath the surface of this lovely patch of nature are the remains of the White City Amusement Park. The most notable remains are the grand staircase and the pretty lake, but there are other bits of history hidden along the trails for those who look, especially in the winter when the plant life is down.
A nice mile walk by the Delaware River is always a walk worth taking. But what if that walk also went through the site of a Revolutionary War fort? In early 1777, Fort Mercer was built on this site to protect the Delaware River from approaches by the British Navy. That wasn’t enough to save Philadelphia, which was seized by the British after the Battle of Brandywine in the Fall of 1777. Still, the British were in trouble, because they hadn’t opened up the Delaware River to shipping, which was blocked by a pair of forts and a long chain. On October 27, 1777, the Hessians under Colonel van Donop, after landing at Coopers Ferry (today Camden) and marching overland, gave battle here by attacking the rear of the fort with 1,200 soldiers. The Americans defended the fort with only 600, but well designed fortifications led to a slaughter of German troops.
Today, the site has several battle monuments and interpretive signs, the remains of some of the fortifications, and some artifacts of the Philadelphia campaign, as well as the 1748 Whitall House that saw the battle and housed the wounded in it’s aftermath. There is also a playground, picnic area, and a pleasant paved walkway down by the Delaware River.
6) A Walk Through Atsion – Shamong, NJ – 1 mile
I mean, I couldn’t really do one of these lists without putting Atsion or Batso on here, could I? So here is a little loop through Atsion (although you should really also do Batsto) that the Scouts take the Cubs on most years. It wanders past the old Richard’s Mansion and the general store, past an old graveyard and an old school house, crosses an old railroad bridge, and comes up on the remains of the the old cranberry packing house. Along the way, you can cover about 200 years of history from early iron making through 1900s agriculture.
5) A. Jerome Walnut Nature Trail and the Wreck of the Sea King – Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island, NJ – about 1 1/2 miles
A nice nature walk through a dune system is nice. But walk a bit further toward the ocean, then head north up the beach on this one to discover a shipwreck! There, the mast of the Sea King still rises above the dunes, waiting for landlubbers to come along and wonder if the rest is still under the sand here (is it?).
As stated above, I never say no to a nice hike through through the dunes. These trails offer world class birding. While birds and duning make me quite happy, they don’t make me as happy as the remains of a World War II bunker. And a lighthouse built just before the Civil War. The South Cape May Meadows Preserve (linked to Cape May Point State Park) is even the site of an old town which was part washed away to sea, part relocated to other spots on the penninsula.
3) Fort Mott State Park – Pennsville, NJ – 1.5 miles of trails
Most of the ones on here are nature that has overwhelmed history, leaving some remains to spot. This one is a massive amount of history with nature slowly trying to take a foothold. The fort here was first built in the lead up to the Spanish-American War and was named for a New Jersey Civil War veteran. What’s left is South Jersey’s version of Sandy Hook, a series of batteries and lookout towers built to blast warships heading for Philadelphia.
What’s better than 4.1 miles of nature trails including one over a floating bridge (wait, there are things that are better than that!?)? 4.1 miles of nature trails including one over a floating bridge in one of the USA’s early planned industrial communities that ended up making early bicycles and was run by a guy with a personal marching band and who owned a team of moose that would pull a carriage around and also the world’s first (only?) commuter bicycle railroad. Smithville started as a typical mill like many others in South Jersey, but Hezekiah Smith acquired it in 1865 and built it into a powerhouse of industry. He made most of his money creating woodworking equipment, but the factories here also made Star bicycles. Smith wasn’t just interested in being an industrialist, he also created the village of Smithville for his workers. There was even a bicycle railroad from nearby Mount Holly for some of his workers to commute on.
Today, Smithville has lots of trails, but also the Smith Mansion that you can tour, workers houses (which have museums in several of them), and photogenic ruins of old mills clumped at the edge of the old millpond.
Sure, nature and beautiful cedar swamps and pinelands and boardwalk trails are nice. But why settle when you can have all that AND the remains of a World War I munitions plant? Wandering the miles and miles of trails here is a nice walk through nature, but the real joy for me comes from stumbling on foundations, walls, post holes, and railroad remains of Belcoville , a massive factory built to put together shells for the Great War. It didn’t end up making many shells. With a few stops along the way, the location of the factory is now Estell Manor County Park, which lets you travel down 27 miles of trails in search of evidence of a factory that’s been closed for over a century. The park even helps you out with lots of interpretive signs with information, photographs, and diagrams.
Estell Manor has more than just ruins from the 1910s though, you can also find the remains of an 1800s glassworks, a pair of old family cemeteries (as well as the newer Atlantic County Veterans Cemetery), and the Atlantic County Veterans Museum, plus bike rentals, a nature center, a group campground, a pretty river, and lots more.
Thank you everyone for 10 great years!