Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey - Places to Go and Things to Do

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, and encouraging exploration of South Jersey.

Friday, January 25, 2013


This is my postscript to the Hopewell entry.  The connection for me between Hopewell Furnace in Pa. and Batsto and Atsion, is, aside from the fact that Hopewell is so well preserved and shows a complete picture of the iron process, that iron in the pines was eclipsed by Pennsylvania when coal took the place of wood and charcoal.  Also, iron ore was more readily mined in Pa. than the bogs could produce it.  However, ironically, Hopewell was put out of business at the time that coal became king for making fire and heat, because Hopewell was built to be close to woods for colliers making charcoal and it was not close enough to railroads and coal mines.  It was a precarious business running a furnace or a forge. 

Hope you can get a chance to visit us at Atsion when the season opens again, or at Batsto, or that you can get to visit both of these and Hopewell too!
Atsion, like many other hitoric sites is closed for the season.  Whitall House opens again April 3rd and Atsion, I believe, opens in May.  Check back again and I'll post the dates when I know them for certain.

Tomorrow, me and my new dog, Trixie, a silver chocolate Lab and an enthusiastic hiker, will be taking the cranberry trail from Pakim Pond to the Ranger Station and back with Barb Solem and her hiking buddy, Oscar.  It's about 6 miles doing the round trip, then we will hike around the pond, too, one of my favorite places in the pines.  I used to love it when I could rent a cabin in the winter - especially in the snow.  I don't think you can rent them in winter anymore.  Not sure...

Hope to see you on the trail!  Winer is my favorite time to hike the woods - no chiggers!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The sword in the Stone

Hopewell Furnace Trip
Having been an off and on again poet all my life, it seemed to me that the myth of the sword in the stone from the tales of the Knights of the Round Table was actually a metaphor for the closely guarded secret of extracting iron from rock.  Druids were both close with their secrets and often practised the art of blacksmithing.  When the quality of the metal in you sword was the difference between life and death, freedom and slavery, this was a very important secret.

Coming up to the 20th century, I've always had an interest in iron as my father was an Ironworker.  Both of my brothers followed him into that trade.  Of course, today, that means creating sky scrapers from steel and reinforced concrete and has nothing to do with smelting or forging or smithing, nonetheless, iron has always held an allure to me.

Despite the fact that I have read Martha Furnace Diary and other books, I have to confess that the process of smelting iron in the Colonial period remained hazy in my comprehension until I visited Hopewell Furnace recently.
I was visiting this National Historic Site with friends and fellow volunteers from Batsto Village and Atsion Mansion.  Barbara Solem, organiziner of the volunteers of Atsion Mansion, arranged this enriching field trip for us and she drove.  It was about an hour and a half drive to 2 Mark Bird Lane in Elverson, Pa.

We had a truly generous and fascinating tour guide who, because we were also volunteers, gave us some behind the scenes glipses as well as a fully informative and interesting .tour.  This site is miraculously intact, thanks both to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the the Pa. and Fed. governments which recognized its significance and saved it from decay and development into something else. 

The furnace and the waterwheel are amazingly intact and between the guide, the film in the fisitors' center, and the buildings, I finally realized the process
from forest and mine to stove and kettle.  This blog is too short a place to give you the full story, far too much for a conversation without boring the listener to death, so I'll simply say that we toured an area that dexribed how colliers transformed trees into charcoal, the charcoal storage barn, the bridge to the furnace where the lime, and iron are dumped into the stack in layers and then
the chardoal is set ablaze, the water wheel pumpling the air bellows to increase the heat.  Finally at the foot of the furnace was the are where the molten iron ran out into channels to form pig iron, or into huge containers for dipping the molten iron out for molding. 

Finally, I understood molding and the molders art thanks to the excellent film in the visotr's center, and voila' we get a stove or a fireplace back (after many steps in between, of course!)

Friends have arrived for a walk and I must stop for now.  More later!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Behnd the Scenes - Volunteer Work

I work as a volunteer for a half dozen historic places and the volunteer work can take many varied forms.  This past Wednesday, January 9th, for example, I met with six volunteers and the Bayshore Discovery Museum Director, Rachel, for a special winter project.  Items that have been donated to the Museum but which are not currently on display are housed in the old Haleyville School, on shelves in the downstairs.  The upstairs floor is used as crew quarters for those who work on the A. J. Meerwald Schooner. 

Our job was to work in teams of two, and identify, number, describe and measure, items on the shelves to eventually go onto a computer database.
This was a fascinating job.  Each team took a different set of shelves to work on. 

Perhaps I mentioned that to my surprise, some months ago, I discovered that a new volunteer at Bivalve, Paul Hettinger, whose family were engine manufacturers in the Port Norris area, was also, by coincidence, an old schoolmate of mine.  I discovered this when I received an e-mail from my high school reunion committee looking for 'lost' classmates - those for whom no one had any address, phone number or recent contact.  Paul's name was on the list, so at our next Bayshore Discovery Project Museum Club meeting I asked if he had graduated from Merchantiville High School in 1963, and he had! 

Paul and I worked as a team which was fortunate because my knowledge of boat parts is  limited, and Paul had spend his life on or near boats, so he was able to tell me "hinged round cast iron mast bracket with two eyes and shackles" and I could then write it on the paper form of the database and issue a sticker with a number to be attached to the item.

There were those less than exciting items, but there were also such intriguing things as a walrus skull, Native American stone point collections, and boat models! 

And it was a treat for me to be working in the old two story Haleyville School as I am a big fan of the little old school house and have enjoyed the Burlington County one-room school house tour on several occasions.  Needless to say, South Jersey has many and beautiful little old schoolhouses such as the stone school outside of Greenwich - but that is for another blog entry.

The next day, Thursday, January 10th, I went back to work at the Gloucester County Historical Society Library on my current project for them which is indexing the diary of Ruth Page Rogers.  This diary is compelling reading. 
Ruth was born in 1820 in Elk Township and the fact that she kept a diary at all is astonishing as it wasn't common for everyone to even be literate, let alone, decide to keep a diary!  It is a good thing that she did, however,  because her life was both adventurous and unusual. 

Ruth first left home to work in a Manayunk textile mill.  Imagine the trip she must have taken in 1840 to get there - stage coach, schooner and stage coach again, then no doubt a long walk.  She and her mother travelled and worked together.  During the year they spent there, the mother discovered herself to be pregnant and Ruth eventually had to support and care for her mother as well as herself.

Having returned home with the family patriarch who eventually went to Manayunk to retrieve his wife and eldest daughter, the family went to hear a couple of visiting Mormon missionaries speak.  They were so moved by Samuel Rogers, one of the missionaries, that they saved up, left home and journeyed first to the mid-west, and finally to Utah to join up with the Mormon community there.

In my next blog, I'll let you know what happened when they got there.  My job is to list the names and places and their page numbers in Ruth's diary for future researchers.

Finally, the most unusual job of all my volunteer duties this year was to dress as a late 1800's servant and walk up the stairs at Atsion Mansion for a podcast filming.  Also, I worked in the kitchen moving apples from one wooden bowl to another.  My parts are to be made to look ghostly, using the tools of the filmmaker.  When the podcast is finished and posted, I'll be certain to let you know.

The Atsion Mansion volunteers in company with some Batsto volunteers will be going to Hopewell Furnace at the end of the week.  I'll tell you  all about it in my next blog.