Vernon Stories of Jacobus Van Brug

Previous Stories

Bad Day for Snakes   Overdue End of a Landmark

Train Wreck at DeKay's  History In A Lost and Found Box

Epitaphs I  Epitaphs II  Vernon Witch Project  Devil's Track

Coal ("Skimmerton")  Jasper Cropsey

Ross Winans, Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

The Black Creek Site

Remembering Edgar Stehli  David Alyea

Rocketry! The Story of Reaction Motors, Inc.


Vernon history enthusiasts got a treat several years ago when local farmer and music festival promoter Jamie Rickey pulled a gem out of his family's bag of ancestral goodies. The Rickey family has been tending their farm on Route 94 for something like 200 years, and in those centuries, they have served in many different capacities in local government. One of those Rickeys, William Rickey (Jamie's umpteenth-great-grandfather) served as Vernon Township Tax Collector in the early years of the 19th century. What old William Rickey stashed away, and what Jamie Rickey pulled out a few years ago, was a very rare and remarkable document: the Vernon Township Tax Assessment list for the year 1816--185 years ago.

One of the many interesting facets of this document are the names represented on it. There are one hundred and ninety surnames on it--those (mostly males) owning real or personal property. In the nearly two centuries that have passed, most or all of those families would presumably have passed from the scene in Vernon and the surrounding area. In the last half century, particularly, America has become a nation of transients (how many of YOU were born in Vernon? How many of you growing up here plan to STAY here?) I myself imagined that only a handful of those families still survived in the area. I wanted to know for sure, so I conducted an ad-hoc experiment.

I compared the names in the 1816 Tax Assessment to names in local phone directories today (ruling out common names like Smith, etc., about which you can't be sure) I admit that I am uncertain if all of these families are actual descendants of the 1816 families, but I am pretty sure that most are at the least distantly descended. Given that caution, the results are still pretty remarkable. Of the family names that existed in Vernon in 1816, slightly over fifteen percent still survive in Vernon or surrounding towns. That's pretty impressive, I think.

So what families are they? With the additional caution that I may have missed a few, the families that existed in Vernon in 1816 and still have descendants in the area today are: Babcock, Bross, Casterline, Chardevoyne, Conklin, Decker, Demarest, Dunn, Edsall, Farber, Garlinghouse, Giveans, Green, Hinchman, House, Lazier, Martin, Masker, Mott, Paddock, Rickey, Riggs, Rude, Ryerson, Sisco, Snook, Storms, and Utter.

There are interesting things to note here--including the number of prominent old Vernon families which DO NOT show up on the 1816 Assessment--including Denton, Predmore, Sammis, Belcher, Swayze, and many others--all families who either were not in Vernon in 1816, or did not come to Sussex County until later.

There are also names on the 1816 Assessment which, though not surviving today, remained common well into the twentieth century, including Bailey, Benjamin, Blanchard, Campbell, Crabtree, DeKay, Farber, Hunt, Longwell, Mann, Martin, McCambly, McWhorter, Moshure, Osborn, Owens, Price, Rutan, Shaw, Simonson, Simpson, Tompkins, Uptegrove, Van Degriff, Van Druff, Van Hounten, Van Nostrand, Webb, Welch, Williams, and Winans.

Beyond the names that are either still familiar, or were familiar into this century, there are the names that most of us local historians have never heard before. These are the "Who the Hell was he?" names. One expects to find unusual names here and there in such a list--single men, perhaps, who moved on soon after, and whose names are utterly strange. But these are truly odd sounding: John Blue. John Chaes. William Dairs. Joel June. Ogerly D. Stinford (sounds like a character from a W.C. Fields movie). Odd names from the 1816 Assessment that I have never seen elsewhere, and doubt I will.

Then there are the names that are equally unfamiliar, but which are represented by two, three, even four families in Vernon in 1816. These are the real puzzlers--pretty big families that either died out or moved away (or only had female offspring!) And they did so fast--within a few decades of 1816, most of these names became unfamiliar in Vernon. Absolom Bonter and Cornelius Bonter (I think one of them owned the farm where the Wawayanda Boat Launch area is now). The Cramptons--three Williams and a William Jr. The Dougherty family--Mary, and James. The Garrisons--Abner, John, and Isaac. The Hepburns--John, and John S. The Jacobus family--Garret and Simon (no relation to me). The Lucky family--Elijah and Vance. The Margesons--James and John. The McConels--Aaron, Calvin, and William. The McMullens--James and William. The Perrego family--Able, David, Isaac, Thomas, and Joseph. Roleson--Cornelius, Jeremiah, and Peter.

These are names which mostly draw a blank for local historians (well, at least for this local historian). And one more name, the subject (at long last) of our column: David Alyea.

David Alyea is one of those names you encounter here and there in early 19th century deeds and road surveys in the Lake Wawayanda area (prior to 1846 called Double Pond, for the two ponds, later raised to form a single lake). The first reference to David Alyea comes from a history of Wawayanda Furnace written by J.P. Crayon in 1889 and published in the Warwick Advertiser that year. Presumably Crayon got this information orally, because he does not get Alyea's name quite right: "David L. Yea [sic] became the owner of a large tract of land and located near the ponds, afterwards known as Double Pond, soon after the Revolution.

So presumably Alyea owned land near Double Pond by c.1785-90. Whether or not this land transaction was recorded in the Hall of Records, I have not yet ascertained. But some twenty years later, Alyea was still buying and selling land in the area. In January 1808, Joseph and Elizabeth Sharp sold Alyea a tract of fifty-five acres on the southeast side of the Double Pond. All of you looking at raw land prices these days will drool to hear that for fifty-five acres "in the Green Woods," as the deed describes the property, Alyea paid $138. Alyea wasn't interested in beauty, but timber: the deed notes the presence of Alyea's Sawmill nearby, which was powered by the brook flowing into the southern end of the Ponds.

In 1814, Alyea bought an adjacent 96 acre tract from the Sharps for $240. Whatever timber was on the property presumably fell to Alyea's sawmill very quickly, because less than a year later, he sold most of the tract to Cornelius Jones. Alyea also had a sawmill on the Doublekill, below the outlet of the ponds. I would guess that in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the woods around the Double Pond reverberated with the whack of Alyea axemen, and the swish of Alyea saws, slowly converting ancient forests into boards, timbers, shingles, rafters, and cordwood.

In 1816, David Alyea shows up on the Rickey tax assessment for that year. He still owned a lot of land, and the document shows that he was more than just a sawmill operator. He owned 150 acres of improved land (i.e. cleared for farming), assessed at 70 cents per acre, and 142 acres of unimproved land valued at twelve cents per acre (one might surmise that the low value was due to the fact Alyea had already denuded the land of timber). He also owned three horses, twenty cows, one stud horse, his sawmill, and also a gristmill.

For all that, plus his total of nearly three hundred acres of land, David Alyea in the year of Our Lord 1816 paid annual municipal taxes of $4.98. And I'll bet he thought that was high, just like we do today. Actually, that represents a tax rate of about 4.24% per hundred dollars--cheaper than today, but then again, in 1816, the town government did not fund or operate the school system--so it was really no bargain, it seems.

With all that acreage and property, David Alyea was one of the wealthiest men in town--certainly in the top ten percent, anyway. There is also an Isaac Alyea listed in the 1816 Assessment, owning two cows and a sawmill--presumably a relative. That he was relatively wealthy makes it all the more curious that the Alyea name just kind of falls off the map. By 1848, when one of the above tracts was re-sold, the sawmill referenced in the deed is gone, the Double Ponds were gone (raised to form Lake Wawayanda), and gone too, it seems, was David Alyea. If he bought land first, say, in 1785, then he was likely born, say, in 1760, and allotting him the Biblical threescore and ten lifespan, he would have died, say, in 1830. And by then, you don't seem to see the Alyea name in Vernon anymore.

One reason may be found in Sussex County marriage records. Between 1802 and 1825, there are marriages recorded for five Alyeas (a.k.a. Elya, Elye, or Elyed). All five are women. Did David Alyea, like Tevye the Milkman, have only daughters? Perhaps the Alyea bloodline didn't die out in Sussex County, only the Alyea name. Alvin R. Elya, a genealogist from New York State, notes that a branch of the Elya/Alyea family settled in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Did David Alyea move north in his retirement years, perhaps following children who had moved there? Or does he repose in an unmarked grave in one of our local cemeteries?

Once the seeming timber baron of the Double Ponds, a man to be reckoned with, perhaps, a man of property. Now, a name not even to be found on a weathered, forgotten tombstone. What happened to David Alyea? On such little morsels of mystery does the local historian chew and savor. Like I always say--it's like doing the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Only the answers are never published next week.

--Jacobus Van Brug


People driving along Route 515 between Vernon and Highland Lakes any Holiday season probably notice the Christmas tree farm about half way up Sisco Hill. The entrance is marked by a boulder with a large "S" painted on it. This is Stehli Christmas Trees, where about 250 people go every year to cut their holiday tree. It provides acres of green open space in an otherwise built-up part of Vernon Township. It also recalls memories of a most remarkable actor who made Vernon his vacation home for over forty years: Edgar Stehli.

Edgar WHO? That's the response you'll likely get if you mention the name Edgar Stehli today. Indeed, it was the response you might have gotten when he was alive, even though The New York Times called him "one of the oldest and most versatile actors of stage, screen, radio and television." From the 1920s through the early 1970s, Edgar Stehli was the actor whose face and/or voice you probably knew (even if you couldn't place his name) from a myriad of stage and radio productions, and from a wide variety of small but masterfully executed roles in film and television. He was one of the great character actors, and since 1928, he and his family have been part of Vernon's story.

He was born in 1884 in Lyons, France, of an English mother and a Swiss father. The Stehli family were in the silk business in Europe, and young Edgar also spent time in Switzerland as a child, and consequently was fluent in both French and German. The Stehli family came to America in 1888, living first in New York, and soon moving to rural Montclair. Attending Montclair schools, Stehli entered Cornell University, studied languages and architecture, and graduated in 1908 with a Master's Degree.

Young Edgar Stehli was an excellent student, and was offered a teaching position at Cornell. But somewhere along the way, recalls his daughter Nancy Stehli Knoerzer, he "fell in love with acting." The Autumn of 1908 found Edgar Stehli not apprenticed over a drafting table or in front of a class, but as a member of a Bayonne stock theater company. It was the humble beginning of a long and distinguished career on the stage.

There were times when the Cornell teaching position probably seemed like an opportunity squandered, because success did not come fast to Stehli. He spent eight long years in stock theater, playing small roles. But later critics remarked that these years in obscurity were not wasted, because it soon became clear that Stehli was a man who had learned his art. In 1916, he was offered a position in notable theater company of the day, Stuart Walker's Portmanteau Theater.

It is important to note here that Edgar Stehli was not, physically, what is generally termed "leading man material." He was a smallish, lithe man, good looking, with a particular talent for European dialects. The Montclair Times summed him up in 1933: "Not the handsome, languorous or virile matinee idol; a small, sensitive artist." Because of his size, as a comparatively young man he found a niche playing little old men--a genre which he grew into in later years. The qualities which made him such a natural for character parts likewise determined his career as one of mainly supporting, rather than leading, roles.

By 1920, Stehli was appearing steadily on Broadway, and he would continue to appear on stage steadily for the next forty years. In 1922 he appeared as "Osric" in John Barrymore's famed production of "Hamlet," one of the great Broadway productions of the 1920s. In 1924 he was with Eugene O'Neill's Provincetown Players, and performed in O'Neill's play "The Fountain." In 1922 he also starred in "He Who Gets Slapped," a strange melodrama that was later made into a movie with Lon Chaney.

On a personal level, Stehli's life was equally agreeable. In 1923 he married pianist and fellow Montclair resident Emilie C. Greenough, whose parents had come to Montclair to be part of the George Inness art colony there. The Stehlis lived in Upper Montclair, easy commuting distance from Broadway, and soon had a son and a daughter.

And by the late 1920s, the Stehli family did what lots of other middle-class families where doing at the time: they went looking for a summer place in the hills. Herewith enters Vernon into the Stehli story. As Stehli's daughter recalls it, her mother and father used a compass to draw a thirty-five mile radius around Upper Montclair, and proceeded, each weekend, to explore all the terrain therein. Coming upon the long hill leading down into the Vernon Valley, with its splendid northward view, they knew they had found the place. They bought fifty acres from farmer (and town clerk) Grant Sisco in 1928. Thirteen of those fifty acres are now Stehli Christmas Trees.

Stage acting was Edgar Stehli's first love, but it was not (at the time) the best paying work. By the early 1930s, with the Great Depression in full swing, the Stehli family was feeling the pinch. As fate would have it, Stehli's next-door neighbor in Upper Montclair was an advertising man with some connections in broadcasting. So it was that Stehli entered a new and entirely different field of acting: radio.

The year was 1933, and the radio program was "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," the futuristic fantasy that thrilled Depression-era audiences with its tales of spaceman Buck, his female assistant Wilma Deering, and their adventures defeating various criminals in outer space, including Killer Kane and Black Barney. Stehli was hired to play Dr. Huer, the inventive genius scientist who builds the fantastic gadgets and devices (like his "cybro-destructor ray gun" and "gravity-defying inertron") that help Buck save the day, and play such an important role in the series.

It wasn't Shakespeare, but it definitely helped pay the bills (to see a photo of Edgar Stehli and the cast of "Buck Rogers," go HERE). And it had an added benefit: since the fifteen-minute radio program was broadcast (live) at 5 P.M. each afternoon, Stehli could still act on stage in the evenings. The Stehli children came to see the broadcast whenever they could.

Through the 1930s and 40s, Stehli was in a wide variety of radio programs, including weekday morning soap operas on WABC, WJZ, WEAF, and WOR. The names of some of the shows are still famous, while others have faded into obscurity. Stehli played District Attorney Miller on the program "Crime Doctor," and had frequently recurring roles on "Easy Aces." Other radio programs he acted in include "The Goldbergs," "Columbia Workshop," "Crime Clues," "The O'Neils," "Personal Column," "Floyd Gibbons," "Big Sister," "Mr. Kean," "Mr. and Mrs. North," "Gang Busters," "Inner Sanctum," "Arthur Hopkins Presents," and the ever popular "Dick Tracy." He frequently played on religious programs, "sometimes" (recalls his daughter) "playing a priest, a preacher, and a rabbi all in the same day." He did many "Eternal Light" programs for the Jewish Theological Seminary, some written by Morton Wishengrad. In the evenings, he acted on stage.

Acting both on the radio and on stage was a dramatic contrast, which Stehli discussed in a New York Times interview in 1941. "Pull up a chair alongside Edgar Stehli and in a very few minutes you can learn a lot about acting on the radio," the piece begins, "Or, more particularly, about acting on the radio as compared to acting on the stage. For Mr. Stehli has spent the last fifteen years or so skipping nimbly from footlights to microphone and back again, absorbing a tidy knowledge of each along the way."

Preparing for a role was, Stehli felt, the most radical difference for an actor. In a stage play, you had three or four weeks to prepare a role and get it right. In radio, you had--maybe--an hour and a half before broadcast to review your lines. On stage, an actor had the benefit of costumes, lighting, and make-up to assist him, not to mention--most importantly--the response of a live audience to guide his performance. In radio, you had none of these benefits . And on radio, if you muffed a line or had a coughing fit, hundreds of thousands--maybe millions--knew it, and not just that night's audience. Of course, sensitive radio microphones also allowed an actor to use his voice naturally and intimately, while on stage he had to make sure that even the last row could hear him.

Stehli resisted being a regular part of any radio show cast ("Buck Rogers" was a notable exception). In the 1941 interview, he noted "I honestly prefer not to be on any set program. Change keeps me from getting stale. Besides, I'm supposed to have a distinctive voice and they tell me the public would recognize me instantly if I appeared too often in different roles on the same program." The interview also notes "As a matter of fact, anonymity is the lot of most radio actors, Mr. Stehli pointed out a bit ruefully." Both factors contributed to Stehli's being the actor whose voice (and later, face) you knew, but whose name was elusive.

All the while, Stehli remained active on Broadway. He played "Slimy the Snake" in a 1938 play called "The Greatest Show on Earth" (no relation the circus epic filmed some years later), in which one critic referred to him as "one of the four greatest actors alive." He also starred with Henry Fonda in the 1937 play "Blow Ye Winds," in which he got better reviews than Fonda. When this fact was pointed out to him by an interviewer in later years, Stehli replied with typical modesty, saying Fonda was a great actor who had simply been miscast in the play.

Stehli would get one of his most famous roles in January, 1941. Playwright Joseph Kesselring had come up with a hilarious black comedy about an old house in Brooklyn inhabited by two deceptively sweet old ladies and their brother. The old ladies, Aunt Abby Brewster and Aunt Martha Brewster, have an odd sense of charity: they find sad, lonely old men they feel sorry for, invite them over for a spot of wine and food, and proceed to poison them and bury them in the cellar. Their brother thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt.

The play, of course, was "Arsenic and Old Lace," a popular stage production to this day, and later made into a motion picture. Readers familiar with the play will recall that the story involves the return of the Brewster's sinister nephew, Jonathan, and his plastic surgeon and sidekick, a creepy man called "Doctor" Herman Einstein. Dr. Einstein is an eccentric little man with a German accent and a taste for drink, a true character role. The producers cast Edgar Stehli to originate the role.

One of the great jokes in the original production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" was a gag where various people would note that evil Jonathan reminded them of Boris Karloff--something to which Jonathan took great offense. The role of Jonathan was played, of course--by Boris Karloff. In playing his weird accomplice, Edgar Stehli developed a good working friendship with Karloff, which continued for years to come.

Nancy Knoerzer recalls that, on stage, her father had a distinct advantage over Karloff. Primarily a motion picture actor, Karloff was accustomed to having several "takes" to get a scene right, a luxury not possible on stage. As such, he was rarely completely comfortable on stage. Knoerzer also recalls that her father and Karloff had an ongoing rivalry to make the other one "break up" (laugh) on stage, via various tricks. One night, when Stehli as Dr. Einstein opened his medical bag, a hundred pennies came spilling out on the stage, surreptitiously planted by Karloff.

Karloff and Stehli continued to play Jonathan Brewster and Dr. Einstein in the hit play for three years, both on Broadway and on tour. Hollywood took notice, and a movie version of "Arsenic and Old Lace" was soon in the works. The producers wanted most of the original Broadway cast for the movie, but Karloff was under contract to another studio, and could not get a release. As such, the team of Karloff and Stehli were replaced in the movie. Raymond Massey took the role of Jonathan, while the role of Dr. Einstein was given to the great Peter Lorre, who gave the role his own unique twist.

Three other members of the original cast--Jean Adair, Josephine Hull, and John Alexander--went to Hollywood to film the movie while the Broadway play continued with replacements. Nancy Knoerzer recalls that her father and the rest of the cast were highly irritated about the situation. As it was, the movie of "Arsenic and Old Lace" sat on the studio shelf for almost four years. Some sources say it wasn't released because the play was still running on Broadway, while other sources say that when the nation entered the war, the subject matter, though comic, was deemed a tad too macabre for wartime audiences.

Edgar Stehli did, however, have a career in motion pictures, but it did not start until he was in his early 60s, often playing older, sometimes world-weary men. His first (small) film role was in the respected 1947 Elia Kazan movie "Boomerang." Most of his film roles were small, and he seems not to have minded too much. His daughter Nancy Knoerzer recalls that he disliked filming movies because they are usually filmed out-of-sequence, making it difficult for an actor to get into character.

In was in 1941, the same year that "Arsenic and Old Lace" premiered, that Eugene Burr, drama critic of "Billboard" magazine, paid Stehli one of the greatest compliments of his career. Noting his ability to insert himself into variety of highly different roles with equal ease, Burr called Stehli "probably the greatest actor in our generation." It was something many critics said of Stehli over the years: he had a complete ability to be absorbed into his roles. Other critics who gave Stehli good reviews included Ed Sullivan, Brooks Atkinson, and Walter Kerr.

In addition to the critical kudos his acting garnered, there seems to have been one other outstanding virtue which people recognized in Edgar Stehli throughout his life: he was a genuinely nice man. Without a hint of pretension or ego (rather unusual in show business), he was a good family man, a well-liked member of his community, and a modest person, whose typically quiet demeanor belied his ability to transfix an audience. In spite of the long and grueling hours his profession demanded, he seems to have been uniformly courteous and open with fans, reporters, and neighbors.

Just as radio had turned into a valuable source of employment for Stehli in the 1930s, so too did the new medium of the late 1940s and the 1950s: television. Stage and live-radio actors like Stehli, accustomed to live audiences and no-retakes, were at ease in the brave new world of live broadcasting. In the late 1940s he was in five episodes of "The Philco Television Playhouse," including playing the title role in "The Emperor Norton," as well as the "Hallmark Hall of Fame," and "Studio One." In the 1950s, he was seen in some of the most popular shows of the decade, including a 1955 episode of "Gunsmoke" entitled "Pucket's New Year" (he played Ira Pucket).

Nancy Knoerzer recalls that her father's experience on "Gunsmoke" epitomized his misgivings about film and television. The producers of the show flew him out to the West Coast to film the episode, after which he returned to New York. During editing, the producers realized they needed Stehli to dub a groan in one scene. They flew him back to the West Coast to dub that one groan. Just one.

Still, his career in television was much like his career in radio: frequent appearances on popular shows, but avoiding recurring roles in favor of stage work. He in fact created a number of roles both on radio and television, only to decline appearing in later seasons. He didn't want to get "stale" in a role, he said. He also correctly pointed out that few series get better as they get older. He appeared on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "Perry Mason," "Buckskin," "Cheyenne," "X-Minus One," "The Untouchables," "The Kate Smith Hour," "The Rogues," "I Spy," "Tales of Tomorrow," "Suspense," "Hazel," "Dennis the Menace," and "The Twilight Zone."

Stehli's appearance in "The Twilight Zone" was in an episode entitled "Long Live Walter Johnson" (an episode shown on the Sci-Fi Channel just a couple of weeks ago). It deals with a college professor (Walter Johnson, played by Kevin McCarthy) who seems to know more about history than he has a right to know. An older colleague, Professor Samuel Kittridge (played by Stehli) is suspicious of Johnson, and confronts him--with the usual shocking "Twilight Zone" results (to see a photograph of Edgar Stehli and Kevin McCarthy in the Twilight Zone episode "Long Live Walter Johnson," go HERE.).

He did have one recurring role in early TV, playing the travelling salesman Mr. Abercrombie in "The Egg and I," which was the first TV soap opera. His daughter recalls that at the time, it was difficult for Stehli to go out without being greeting with cries of "Hey, Mr. Abercrombie!" Still, he was generally recognized by face, not by name. Once, taking the train from Montclair to New York, Stehli was recognized by a fan who was most enthusiastic, even though she couldn't come up with his name. "Are you . . are you . . .?!" she sputtered. "Yes, I am!" replied Stehli. It was par for the course.

Stehli's film career was similarly healthy, and included roles in such respected movies as "Executive Suite" (1954), "The Brothers Karamazov" (1958), "4D Man" (1959), "No Name on the Bullet" (1959), which starred Audie Murphy, and Frank Capra's last movie, "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961). His film work also included some decidedly schlocky stuff, including the forgettable "Atlantis, the Lost Continent" (1961), in which he plays King Kronos (his voice was ultimately re-dubbed). Nancy Knoerzer notes that her father took some roles for purely financial reason, all the while regarding the stage as his true home. Stehli's agent advised him that if he were to move to California, he could have far more work in film. But Stehli did not care for film work (it was "craft, not art," he said), and the family was loath to leave the New York area.

And through all his television and film work, the stage was indeed his home. In addition to "Arsenic and Old Lace," his stage credits included the Rogers & Hammerstein production "The Happy Time." Set in Canada, the comedy play is a coming-of-age story of a young French Canadian boy, his father, uncles, and his "Grandpere" (grandfather). "Grandpere," an uninhibited old gent who is alternately philosophical and rakish, was played by Stehli, and the role garnered him some of the best reviews of his career. Playing on Broadway for three years, from 1950 to 1953, it was also Stehli's longest run. One of his last big Broadway plays came in 1965 with "The Devils," in which he starred with Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall. Based on the Aldous Huxley story "The Devils of Loudun," it was a story of witchcraft and political intrigue set in Renaissance France.

Stehli also wrote and performed monologues, something he started in the 1930s, and resumed later in life. These one-man pieces were on a variety of subjects. "7:30 A.M." dealt with a father who must get his children off to school one morning when his wife is sick. Based largely on the Stehli's home life, it was comic tour de force. Other of his monologues include "The Alien," the tragic story of a violinist who has fled Nazi Germany, and is forced to support his sick grandson by playing on the street. His daughter recalls these pieces with awe: "He would have you falling off your chair laughing one minute, and crying the next. He could have the audience in the palm of his hand."

He was still acting at the age of 81. In 1965, he was hailed by Actors Equity Association (the actors' union) as the oldest living member of the union, and still busy on stage. In 1970, he starred in a PBS Channel 13 broadcast of three short plays by William Saroyan. It was his sixty-second year as a professional actor.

As if his acting did not keep him busy enough through all these years, Stehli and his family eagerly tended to their Vernon property, squeezing in time there whenever they could. The Stehlis were (and are) enthusiastic walkers and hikers, and ardent conservationists. Stehli himself was extremely enthusiastic about plants, and with his wife had an outstanding wildflower garden at their Upper Montclair home. Stehli and his family rescued numerous specimens of rare plants and flowers from the bulldozer and transplanted them on their Vernon property. At one time, there were forty-eight species of native New Jersey ferns kept on their land.

Keeping their Vernon land open and green became a major concern in 1973. It was on July 25, 1973 that 89-year-old Edgar Stehli died at his Upper Montclair home. In its obituary headline, The New York Times remembered him for his most famous role on the airwaves: "Radio's Dr. Huer is Dead," and noted that in his career he had played over 200 roles on the stage.

Shortly after his death, the town re-appraised the Stehli property, causing a radical increase in property taxes. To keep the land, the Stehli family started growing Christmas trees, giving the property farm tax assessment. It is the family's hope that the property can be maintained as open space in perpetuity. In this way, all who pass through that wooded, green stretch of Route 515 can see the legacy of Edgar Stehli the conservationist. The legacy of Edgar Stehli the actor is already preserved--on film, on videotape, in the Museum of Television and Radio, and in the memories of those lucky enough to have seen this durable and versatile character actor on his first love: the stage.


REFERENCES: "Edgar Stehli" vertical file, Montclair Public Library. "Edgar Stehli, 89, Versatile Actor." New York Times, 27 July 1973. Knoerzer, Nancy. e-mail to author, 11 Jan 2001. Knoerzer, Nancy. Interview with Ronald J. Dupont, Jr., 31 August 1999. Parke, Richard H. "Contrast in Acting." New York Times, 9 February 1941. The New York Times Directory of the Theater, Personal Name Index. What A Character.Com, "Edgar Stehli."


Having been a Vernon farmer, a pioneering railroad inventor, engineer, and manufacturer, a legal gadfly to corporate railroads, a Civil War political prisoner, and an experimenter in iron steamships, one would think that Ross Winans had packed enough activity into his busy life.

Not hardly.

In addition to all these things, Ross wore a variety of hats over his long lifetime, due in no small part to his restless spirit and omnivorous intellect. One of the projects that filled his later years was rather remarkable for the time: safe, clean, affordable housing for the working class--particularly railroad workers.

In his decades in industrial manufacturing, Ross undoubtedly saw that the average laborer lived in conditions that were passable at best, terrible at worst, and in his retirement he pursued a philanthropic remedy to this situation. Investing his own money to the tune of over $400,000, he built in 1873 "The Winans Sanitary Housing," sometimes also called "Winans Row." It was two solid blocks of apartments in Baltimore, a hundred dwellings in all, located near the Mt. Clare Shops of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

For reasons unclear, the working class Ross so eagerly wanted to assist did not much care to live in his model apartment buildings. One of Ross's obituaries noted "Although the houses were well finished and comfortable in every respect, the people for whom they were intended refused to live in them, and they have for the most part been tenantless." As such, Ross's investment in affordable public housing proved, it seems, both a financial and social failure.

Though he made his name in engineering, Ross apparently did not forget his roots as a farmer, and in the 1860s he owned a large tract of land a short distance from Baltimore on which he conducted experiments in scientific agriculture. In this respect, he was not much different from other men of wealth and leisure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who operated farms as a genteel "hobby."

Ross's ever-inventive mind also turned itself to unique household contrivances. One old newspaper account of Ross notes the following: "His home in Baltimore, and the houses of his children, had in them many mechanical appliances. An old Roman Emperor was said to have had a dining room where the table was made to rise from the floor or disappear at pleasure. Such an arrangement was planned for Louis XIV in his palace at Versaille."

In his travels, Ross did much reading in ancient history and philosophy; in all likelihood, he read about this unique dining room table and decided he must build one for himself. And so he did: "Winans would invite the guests who visited him into this lunch room, and when they were seated upon the sofas, he moved a lever and the floor opened and a table rose, covered with wines and eatables. This was also made to disappear in the same way."

Most of Ross's life was dedicated to advancing the practical arts--engineering, agriculture, housing, naval design--and yet he also made a mark in a very different field of endeavor: theology.

As noted above, in his travels Ross did a lot of reading, and theology and philosophy were among his special interests. Over the years, he read dozens of books on the religions of the world, history, and schools of philosophic thought. All the while, he copied down passages that impressed him, and made notes of his own. In later life, as a man of fame and importance, he seems to have given lectures on these subjects. (Whether he was asked to give these lectures or simply gave them is another question.)

Ross's religious beliefs seem to have been a mixture of Deism (which holds that organized religion is superfluous and that the nature of God is evident to man's reason) and Unitarianism. Deism is sometimes termed natural religion--the belief that there is one God, and that God is at work in the hearts of all men everywhere. It also generally holds that God is equally reflected in every religious system and spiritual belief throughout the world, and everything that does not reflect this natural religion is of no value. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were Deists.

By 1870 he had collected his varied (and quite unorthodox) religious views into a manuscript, entitled ONE RELIGION, MANY CREEDS. The title encapsulated his basic beliefs about the religions and spirituality of mankind: that they were all equally valid manifestations of one true God, and that Christianity was neither more valid or more logical than any other. Or as Ross himself puts it (in the "Introductory" chapter): "Our stand-point is the omnipotence and perfection of the One God, a sense of whose existence is an instinct common to our race, and who governs man solely by the properties originally implanted in him."

He continues: "The history of the human race shows that various and widely varying forms of worship, creeds, doctrines, dogmas, and theologies have been propounded, preached, and pressed upon the attention of man, at different times and in different countries. We believe, however, that there is but one religion existing in any country, or in any age, that is acceptable to God; that whatever else takes upon it the name, form, or guise of religion is of no practical value."

Ross's beliefs had radical implications, and he wasn't shy about stating them: that the Bible was an unreliable, fallible document; that Jesus as depicted in the Bible was "an impossible compound of God and man"; miracles, angels, and the like were highly suspect; and that "Christianity, as taught among us, is no better than other systems taught in other than Christian countries, and in some respects not so good."

Among those "other than Christian" systems Ross thought valid were Zoroastrianism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Judaism. He also accorded high respect to the ancient religions of North, Central, and South America, Egypt, Greece, and Iceland--pretty much all the "isms" he could lay his hands on. And he took a flamethrower to most organized churches as we know them, attacking "Priestcraft," threats of Hell-fire and Eternal Damnation, the "crimes of the church" (including the Crusades and persecution of the Jews), and the massacre of the Aztecs and the Incas by the Conquistadores (church-sanctioned, he argues).

It seems doubtful that Ross got invited to any church socials after the publication of ONE RELIGION, MANY CREEDS. But his beliefs found an audience, because the book went through at least three printings in the 1870s. It was just one of several books and numerous pamphlets that Ross wrote on the subject of religion. He wrote and published many more pamphlets on other subjects that interested him.

Perhaps Ross focused on issues of faith and religion late in life because he could see his own mortality more clearly (he was seventy-three when he published ONE RELIGION, MANY CREEDS). He was just half a year shy of his eighty-first birthday when Ross Winans, the son of a Vernon innkeeper, died at his home in Baltimore on April 11, 1877.

Our own New Jersey Herald, in an obituary published soon after his death, remembered Ross as "the inventor of many of the most useful attachments and appliances that now enter into the construction of railroad cars and engines," noting further that "He was very far from being orthodox in his religious belief, but he was nevertheless an honorable, upright, and conscientious man." A later account noted of Ross that "although possessed of abundant means in advanced years, he never cared for luxuries himself, and plain clothes and plain food suited him best. When quite old he would go to the forge and work at the anvil with his men."

But these quotes are ancient history. What about today? Has Ross become a minor, dusty footnote, or does his name still have the power to awe? For this question, I asked Courtney B. Wilson, Executive Director of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore. How would he place Ross in the broader context of American railroad history? His response was as follows:

Ross Winans was nothing short of an American original. Armed with advanced mechanical skills and a penchant for invention, Winans was a shrewd businessman who was largely responsible for re-inventing English railroad technology and adapting it for the unique American terrain. Headstrong, cantankerous, opinionated but charitable, his skill and invention dominated American railroad technology through the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from its inception through the Civil War.

"Nothing short of an American original." Not bad for a farm boy born in the hills of Vernon, New Jersey.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for a Prosperous 2001!

--Ronald J. Dupont, Jr.

"Jacobus Van Brug"


With the war in America, the Winans decided to move their cigar ship experiments to Europe. In particular, they went to the country that had been the source of so much of their work and wealth: to Russia.

In 1861, Ross's other son, William, built a prototype of a cigar ship at St. Petersburg, Russia, hoping to gain the interest of the Tsar. The Russian navy had been uninterested in the concept until William had convinced Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich, general-admiral of the navy, that the cigar ship had military potential. This was, after all, a time when England and U.S. were seeing the development of various types of ironclad warships.

The prototype ship was demonstrated at Kronstadt (in the harbor near St. Petersburg) in the fall of 1861, but with unimpressive results. The ship did, however, manage to impressively deflect an artillery shell, and the concept of using the vessel as a floating cannon platform was pursued. William Winans continued to experiment with his cigar steamer, and after various delays another, larger version was demonstrated in 1865, but the results were still not impressive to the Russian navy, which soon lost interest. So ended the history of the Winans Cigar Steamer in Russia.

Down in Paris and London, the other members of the Winans clan were still building cigar boats. In 1865, they built the "Walter S. Winans" at Le Havre, France. This was another relatively small boat, 72 feet long and nine in diameter, but it made a number of trial runs across the English channel, evidently with success. It ended up moored in England, at Southampton.

In 1866, the Winans built their last, and biggest, cigar ship. It was called, appropriately enough, the "Ross Winans," and it was huge--256 feet long and sixteen feet in diameter, displacing 400 tons. Unlike previous ships, this one had a nearly conventional superstructure atop the cigar hull, 130 feet long and ten feet wide, which contained finely appointed cabins and compartments, including a wood panelled salon with crystal chandeliers. It was referred to as a "yacht,' and indeed it was--one of the strangest vessels then afloat, yet quite luxuriously appointed.

The "Ross Winans" was the last ship the family built. Ross himself was getting on in years, and with the end of the Civil War, the family was spending time back in America. They seem to have given up their cigar ship experiments, and the cigar ships themselves remained dockside curiosities for years. The European ships, the "Walter S. Winans" and the "Ross Winans" remained moored near Southampton, England, for decades, and were finally sold for scrap around the end of the 19th century. The ship they built in Baltimore met a similar fate.

It is difficult to say what, if any, impact these fantastical experimental steamships had on the future of maritime engineering. The general consensus seems to be, however, that the Winans Cigar Steamships were viewed more as remarkable curiosities than as vessels which advanced the theory of Naval design.

But--while it seems the Winans Cigar Steamers had limited influence on the future of maritime engineering, these most curious ships apparently did have an influence in someplace wholly unexpected: literature.

The wide press coverage received in London by the "Ross Winans" cigar steamer, a vessel that looked almost like a sea creature yet sported within a parlor with panelling and crystal chandeliers, seemingly caught the eye of one French author. Note the following paragraph from a work of popular fiction set in the year 1866:

"Here, Monsieur Aronnax, you have the various dimensions of the boat you are in. Its shape is that of an elongated cylinder with conical ends. It looks very much like a cigar, a design already adopted in London for constructions of the same nature. The length of the cylinder, from end to end, is exactly seventy meters, or 228.9 feet."

Trivia time here: what's the book? What's the author? The reference to cylindrical, cigar-shaped ships in London make it clear the author knew of the Winans Cigar Ships, and seems to have used them as the inspiration for the fictional boat described above. Well, at least he was partly inspired by the Winans Cigar Steamers--because the fictional ship being described (in Chapter 13, "A Few Figures") is the "Nautilus," from Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," and the Nautilus, of course, was a submarine, something the Winans boats never were.

Still, a number of scholars of both science fiction and maritime engineering have concluded that the outward description provided by Verne of the "Nautilus" was pretty much derived from the Winans Cigar Steamers. Verne, being the technophile he was, undoubtedly read all he could find about them, and probably saw the real ones, too. So while they may never have inspired an actual submarine, the Winans Cigar Steamships inspired the world's most famous fictional submarine.

For more information on the Winans Cigar Steamships, as well as pictures, check out the great website listed below, from which much of my information was derived.


"The Winans Cigar Ships"
Verne, Jules "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."


Before and during the Civil War, Ross Winans was sympathetic to the Southern cause. This is not surprising, since the majority of the people in his hometown of Vernon were likewise sympathetic to the Southern cause (Vernonites never once gave an election to Lincoln). Being a Confederate sympathizer in Baltimore, Maryland (a major Army post) during the Civil War could be tricky business. Maryland was a "border" state between the North and South--it was by no means clear whether it would join the Union or the Confederacy, and Baltimore was the scene of major anti-Union rioting.

When war is declared, it's the rare industrialist or inventor who doesn't try and think of a way to build some new, improved weapon of war. Ross was no exception. By 1861, Ross had been commissioned by the State of Maryland to work on a design by Charles S. Dickinson for a cannon that would not require gunpowder, but would used compressed steam as a propellant. Gunpowder, after all, has many disadvantages: it's (obviously) highly explosive, and one good enemy shot into the powder magazine of a ship or fort meant disaster. It is also bulky, and requires careful storage.

And for the Confederacy, gunpowder had one added disadvantage: with limited abilities to produce the explosive, the South was in danger of running out of it. So a cannon that used steam as a propellant had very clear appeal.

Descriptions of the prototype "Winans Steam Gun" that Ross produced aren't very detailed, but this much seems clear: it was a large, ungainly-looking apparatus, with a single massive cannon mounted on a railroad car (a Winans car, of course). It was heavily armored, and powered by a conventional steam boiler. Like a giant, deadly paintball gun, the cannon was fed cannonballs from a hopper, and based on design specifications, the steam cannon was to fire 200 balls per minute a distance of two miles.

That is a formidable weapon indeed, but it is unclear if it ever worked, or would have worked, according to plan. Because before it ever got seriously tested, Ross got arrested. The steam cannon was in process of being shipped south on the B & O Railroad to Harper's Ferry. It's not clear if Ross wanted authorities at the Federal Arsenal there to examine it, or--more likely-- if he intended to smuggle it further south. Either way, Federal authorities didn't like a prominent Confederate sympathizer and industrialist playing with cannons. So in early May 1861, Ross was arrested and thrown in prison at Fort McHenry, Baltimore. The charge: selling arms to the Secessionists.

Ross wasn't alone by any means: in an attempt to squash pro-Confederate sentiment in Maryland, dangerously close to Washington, D.C., President Lincoln had effectively suspended the Constitution and arrested scores of people who were either Confederate sympathizers or outright secessionists. Whether or not it was legal, lawful, or moral, it worked: in a few months, Maryland was squarely on the Union side.

Army officials tested the steam gun, and reported the concept was unworkable. Whether this was true, or whether they simply did not understand the operative principles, is unclear. In either case, the fact that the prototype was not combat-ready, combined with a promise not to play with any more cannons (as well as, so it is rumored, a large bribe) got Ross out of prison. The concept of a rail-mounted supercannon certainly went on to future use in World Wars I and II (remember "Big Bertha"?). The concept of a cannon using compressed air or other propellants is likewise a theory that has seen experimentation up to the present day.

Out of prison, Ross was evidently combative as ever. Though he gave up on his Steam Cannon, he let nearby Union troops know his sentiments in a curious way. On his son's hilltop Baltimore estate, Ross built a small stone fort with six fake cannon projecting out of it, trained down on the nearby road--to "protect" the estate from the depredations of Union troops. It was the kind of wackily antagonistic gesture worthy of somebody who spent twenty years suing people for patent infringement. The ruins of the "fort" survive on the estate today.

With their Civil War problems in America, the Winans family made one decision: the U.S. was no place to be building and experimenting with iron steamships, at least for now. So they went to Europe.



[We again interrupt our history of Ross Winans and his family for something that is more in the "Spirit" of the season. Tee, hee!]


New Jersey lost a true historical resource this year with the death of John Bruce Dodd, architect, at age 81. John was one of the first men in the state to specialize in historic preservation architecture--the study and analysis of old buildings, and their restoration and preservation. He began in the field in the 1950s, making it his main business, and by the time of his death he was a legend, and had designed restorations at many places, including Valley Forge and Waterloo Village.

Being an architect, John was essentially a scientific man. He was rational, objective, dispassionate. Though a man of great good nature, wry humor, and much warmth, he was not a casual kidder, a jokester, a leg-puller. He spoke softly, deliberately, and with great care. So it was stunning when he told the story of his father and the Ouija board.

His father and the Ouija board. I know the story because John was a good friend, and one who taught me much. Some might tell such a story around a campfire, in a bar, or on a long drive, and you could dismiss it as the kind of dime-store Twilight Zone story that everybody has a few of. Not this story, and not coming from John. John didn't tell stories to impress or to scare. That was not his nature. John told this story because it was--well, a number of things. Astonishing. Riveting. Eerie. Inexplicable. And absolutely true.

I'm not sure when I first heard it from John. A decade ago, anyway--probably in October, when thoughts turn to strange shadows, supernatural tales, and things not to be understood. I would visit John and his wife Cherry at their beautiful old stone farmhouse, sequestered on an isolated stretch of the Old Mine Road in Layton, beyond Peter's Valley. Even in those years, I only got the abbreviated version of the tale. It required a little effort to extract details. And I only got the full story after John's death, from his widow. Such a strange tale. And it happened so long ago . . .

"Did I ever tell you about my father and the Court Jester?" John would ask dryly, not expecting you to believe, or quite believing it himself. "Well, my father and his friends got to fooling around with this Ouija board, see, and it was the darndest thing . . ."

"Mystifying Oracle" is what it says on most Ouija (pronounced "wee-ja" or more commonly "wee-gee") boards, and many people believe them to be just that. In the mid-1800s, when Spiritualism, seances, the afterlife, etc., first became a public fascination in America, communication with the dead was sometimes attempted via a planchette--a tiny device resembling a palm-sized table, that held a pen or pencil. When (presumably) directed by the spirit being reached (via the hands of its living operator) the planchette wrote messages on paper.

But this was often cumbersome, and entrepreneurs soon produced a board for a pointed, lens-holding planchette to operate on. Sometimes called a Spirit Board, the board had the alphabet printed on it, and the numbers one through ten, along with a few select words--"Yes" (in French and German, respectively, "Oui" and "Ja," supposedly the origin of the name), "No" , and "Good Bye." From the beginning such boards were produced by toy and novelty companies. Parker Brothers still makes them.

But--ARE they a toy?

Some would say: decidedly NOT.

And in evidence we present the case of Mark Dixon Dodd.

The year was 1916, and in Europe the First World War was destroying a generation of young men. In America, Mark Dodd, a Jersey-born artist, was in Maine for the summer. It was at Ogunquit where Mark and a group of friends first decided to amuse themselves by trying out a Ouija board. The fascination with Spiritualism (which a later generation would re-dub "Parapsychology") was still running high.

A Ouija board is operated by two people, sitting on opposite sides of the board, laying their fingers lightly on the planchette, and asking a question, or simply waiting for the planchette to move. Another person writes down the letters and numbers that the planchette travels to (if it travels to any). The first attempt by Mark Dodd and friends produced a meaningless, run-on jumble of letters. Proof it was all nonsense, they decided.

Or was it? One of the group reexamined the long sequence of letters and realized that if broken down into words, it wasn't gibberish.

It was French.

Specifically, it was a message from a French-Canadian soldier killed in action in the war in Europe, asking that his mother be informed of his death, and giving her Canadian address.

The group complied with the request that "came over" on the board. Some time later, they received a reply from the dead soldier's mother. She confirmed that she had received official notice of her son's death. He had died just about the time the message had come over on the board.

"Mystifying Oracle. . . . . . "

Stunned, the group now took a serious attitude towards their meetings with the Ouija board. It soon transpired that whenever Mark Dodd was operating the planchette, something equally or more remarkable happened: the only thing that came over the board was poetry.

Old English poetry.

Stanza and stanzas of poetry--funny, stirring, eloquent, sad, sarcastic--describing life in and around a court and village of the Sixteenth Century. One, for example, extolled the singing abilities of the village blacksmith, named Waldron:

Ho! Waldron the Smith of Dalgon Down
hath all the full measure of vast renown.
Hileera! His song of the whipple hedge
Timing the measure with anvil and sledge.
He chants of the damsels he's wanting to woo,
Of knights to do battle for aught else to do.
Full fold of the lyric ye'll hark in the myth
Would ye list to the music of Waldron the Smith.

Finally, a member of the group asked a question of the board: "WHO IS SENDING THESE MESSAGES?" And promptly came the reply over the board: "LOMBO--A POET, A JESTER OF DAYS LONG PAST."

Lombo, the Jester. During one session, an architect named Titcomb was present. A skeptic, he returned the next day to read a wry poem he had written expressing his doubts about Lombo. At once, over the board came Lombo's pungent reply:
Whence doth thy wit come, Titcomb?
From under thy saucy hat?
And such a weeny wit is it
Twould fit a swineherd's vat!"

What must it be like to have a Court Jester dead 400 years tell you your poetry is fit for swineherds?

Now, it would be easy enough to dismiss these episodes as a clever practical joke played by Mark Dodd. Some people can carry on a practical joke for a long time indeed--a few days, a few weeks. A few months maybe.

Lombo the Jester kept coming over the board for the next thirty years.

Pages and pages of poetry and plays--over four hundred pages in all, which came over the Ouija board via Mark Dodd from 1916 until at least 1945. No one I ever knew could keep a practical joke going for three decades. Whatever the phenomenon of Lombo was, it was no joke. Over the decades, Mark Dodd married, had children, and moved a dozen or more times--from the north to Florida. Always, every time, when the board was brought out, it was found that Lombo had followed.

Fortunately, Mark Dodd's wife Vivien Moran Dodd took the time to write down the details of the Lombo story in September 1968. She was, of course, a witness to the events, and it is from her history that we will quote:
"Mark had been given a large dog, an Airedale, which had not been given a name, until the group found that whenever Lombo started coming on, the dog would growl and retreat into a corner with his hair bristling. Mark named him Lombo."

In describing Lombo's poems, Vivien Dodd notes: "In one Lombo gave a vivid picture of the king and his courtiers drowsing off after gorging on a big meal, in the banquet hall with a roaring fire in the huge fireplace. He said 'e'en the hounds lie sleeping by the fire.' Lombo airs his real opinions of the king and the court in very uncomplimentary terms, all in vigorous 16th century language. But when, after a while, the king starts to stretch and shows signs of waking up, Lombo changes his tune and starts flattering his royal highness and the courtiers."

"In another poem a tournament is about to begin. Lombo gives an authentic description of the forms observed in tournaments of that time, all, of course, in his rich Old English verse. A handsome knight on a beautiful snow-while stallion is about to do battle with a wizened, pathetic knight on a scrawny old nag. Just as 'the king hath dropt the royal flower' (this procedure was authenticated by us) and the two knights ride towards each other, Lombo, who has only been dreaming under a tree, is awakened by a sudden rainfall and the rain drops coming down on his head. This left us in suspense, naturally."

"Lombo had a wonderful sense of humor. Once, when [our friend] George Herrick and Mark were working the board, George took his hands off the board and, while lighting a cigarette, said flippantly,"I don't think Lombo will mind if I take time off for a puff and a spit." Lombo's response was:

"A puff, a spit"--what rot to wreath in rhyme--
Egad! I'd loathe to live in such a lowly time.

"Mark seldom asked Lombo a specific question, letting Lombo choose the subject. At times, Lombo would produce lengthy poems, at other times be in a whimsical mood, and come across with little gems such as:

High in the Yew tree Lombo lies,
Tossed betwixt the sea and skies,
In faith a merry place to sit
To whet the edge of Lombo's wit.

"Mark stated that he could "feel" the words coming through his mind a phrase at a time, and almost felt as though he was consciously "pushing" the pointer to the letters. But when a poem was completed, and some were very lengthy, he had absolutely no remembrance of what had been taken down. He had never made a study of 16th century English, and when he wrote any poetry on his own, it was in modern English, completely foreign to Lombo's style and vocabulary. He attempted "automatic writing" without any results whatsoever.

"After a lengthy evening of working the Ouija board he would feel quite exhausted and 'drained.' He never attempted to analyze the contact he had with Lombo, and rather scoffed at the idea of its having psychic origins. However, Mark was of pure English ancestry, and there was much in his makeup which I feel cannot rule out the theory that Lombo was an ancestor of his, or that he himself was a court jester in the past.

"He was a completely creative person. In the few times when we went almost playfully to seances or to fortune tellers, I would draw a complete blank, but invariably Mark would be told quite astonishing things about his past and future. And many of them later came to pass."

One of Lombo's poems, which came over the board in December 1945, was an evocative piece describing a country inn at Christmastime, with the King's procession passing by on its way out of the castle gates:

The North Wind bloweth strong and well
To drive the snowflakes down the dell.
The Yuletide spirit cometh then
With songs of merry gentlemen;
With buxom milkmaids naught amiss
Betimes to take some erstwhile kiss;
With brandy flowing nigh yon inn,
And gangling yokels jest and grin.

Around yon bend a trumpet blares,
The rabble tongue hath ceased to prate,
Whilst horsemen round the bend in pairs
To thunder by toward castle gate.
In faith a merry time twill be
Ere long to see his Majesty.

Enow the crowd hath joined in song,
A Yuletide ballad goodly sung
At Christmas time naught cometh wrong
With merry bells the Friar hath rung.

In faith the castle gates swing wide,
His Royalty in crimson cloak
Rides forth with guardsmen close beside,
The dust flies high like clouds of smoke.
All caps are doffed, all heads bow low,
The flag aloft doth proudly blow;
the noisome crowd no more they sing,
But murmur low--"Long live the King."

Enow the King hath passed from sight,
So sing, folk, sing ye, through the night!
Be merry then to laugh and sing
At Christmastide. Long live the King!

Vivien Dodd notes in her history that a friend of the family, George Herrick, was so intrigued by Lombo's poetry that "he took it to Professor Abbott, then head of the English Department of Columbia University, who placed the language definitely in the 16th century, and strongly advised publication."

So was Lombo's poetry published? Were his hundreds of pages of plays and poetry preserved from beyond the grave?

Alas, no. Vivien Dodd continues: "We did not follow Dr. Abbott's advice, and unfortunately the bulk of the poems received were lost through carelessness during the many moves we made after leaving the north and coming to Florida.

In later years, John Dodd remembered how during one of the family's many moves, the boxes of Lombo's poetry "just disappeared." Unlike his mother, John seemed to think it was no accident. He thought that Lombo, annoyed that his poetry was not receiving a more appreciative audience, simply decided to "take it all back" to beyond the grave.

A handful of poems (including those above) did survive, however, recorded by Vivien Dodd in her history, which was later typed and printed by John Dodd's second wife, Roberta Scheflen of Bloomsbury. Vivien Dodd noted sadly: "I very much regret the loss of the bulk of Lombo's delightful, sometimes humorous, often very serious and philosophical poems. We were in great error in not carefully preserving his writings." Lombo would no doubt agree, in very wry and acerbic fashion.

There remains one critical question: when and why did Lombo, the prolific poet, stop "coming over" the board? Unfortunately I can't answer that question, as Vivien Dodd's history does not address it. I do vaguely recall John Dodd saying that one day, his father found that Lombo just stopped coming over, as quickly as he had started. That was it. Maybe the "door" had shut, or maybe Lombo had recited all he had. Who can say?

So--there you have it. A man with a Ouija board produces hundreds of poems and plays in Sixteenth Century English over a period of some thirty years. Call it what you will. It is astonishing no matter how you classify it.

One more thing--which I did not learn until after John died this year. Mark Dodd had been in a coma for a time prior to his first "contact" with Lombo, and some suggest that a prolonged existence in that otherwordly metal state may, if you will, open up certain doors or channels.

In talking with folks about Ouija boards, I have found they can generally be divided into two types:

a) those who own a Ouija board and keep it with the Monopoly, Scrabble, Yahtzee, etc.
b) those who will not permit a Ouija board in their house.

So--which type are you?

Jacobus Van Brug

LOMBO, A JESTER AND POET O' DAYS LONG PAST. By Vivien Moran Dodd (Mrs. Mark Dixon Dodd) September 28, 1968. Privately printed script.


"DILETTANTE"--the word derives from the Latin "delectare," meaning "to take pleasure in." In English, it means a person who is seriously interested in something purely for the pleasure of it, an amateur. Ross Winans and his son Thomas DeKay Winans dedicated their lives to the very professional, practical, money-making work of developing railroad technology, both in America and Europe. By the late 1850s, they had the money and the time to starting pursuing projects purely because they were interesting--and boy, did they ever.

Like the old saying, the difference between the men and the boys is the size of their toys. Like big kids who were bored playing with train sets, Winans Sr. and Jr. did a 180-degree turn, and starting experimenting with another mode of transportation entirely: steamships.


We can only guess just what led Ross and son Thomas DeKay Winans to maritime engineering. It was a time when both of their careers were in transition: by the late 1850s, Ross was getting out of railroads, and Thomas was finished with his Russian contracts. No doubt at some level they hoped that their naval experiments would ultimately prove as practical and profitable as their railroad engineering.

That would not prove so, despite immense sums they spent on their steamship experiments. But the Winans ships did become legendary as some of the most remarkable seagoing vessels ever built anywhere.

Because what they conceived of was no ordinary ship. Obviously, it would be steam-powered. By the 1850s, sailing ships were becoming a thing of the past. It would, somewhat more radically, be built entirely of iron.

But what was really radical was the hull--tossing two thousand years of shipbuilding blithely out the window, the Winans iron steamship would be long and round, like a cigar. It would have no keel, and would taper symmetrically from end to end. Nor would it have a deck per se. With powerful steam engines, the giant iron cigar-shaped steamship would--they hoped--slice through ocean waves like a knife through butter.

The Winans built their first cigar ship in Baltimore harbor in 1858. It was 180 feet long and was--literally--shaped like a giant cigar: a long cylinder, sixteen feet in diameter, gradually tapering to a point at both ends. It displaced 350 tons. It had, in place of a conventional flat-topped deck, a raised catwalk above the round hull, with railings, a lookout tower, and four smokestacks for its two engines. To modern eyes, the vessel looks for all the world like a bizarre, steam-powered submarine.

Most odd was its propulsion. It did not use a conventional screw propeller, but rather a huge radial propeller that rotated around the entire body of the vessel, like a giant fan blade or turbine. This feature in particular proved unsuccessful, throwing up a huge spray of water so that no one on the catwalk could hope to stay dry.

Over the course of several years, the Winans fiddled with the cigar steamship, testing it, taking it apart, rebuilding it (it ended up being 235 long). Several years before the famous ironclads "Monitor" and the "Merrimac," the Winans family had built an all-iron, low-in-the-water steamship.

The Winans Cigar Steamer, as it was usually called, attracted lots of attention--as might be expected. Newspapers and magazines, including Harper's Weekly, ran stories and illustrations about the bizarre-looking ships. Technical journals likewise provided coverage and commentary on the Winans experiments with naval engineering, much of it skeptical, some of it downright negative.

Scientific American, in particular, took the Winans efforts to task, saying that the successful aspects of the ship were nothing new, and the truly innovative aspects of the ship were not successful. The Winans, for their part, defended their ship as making important contributions to maritime engineering.

Whether or not they were right soon became moot, because the whole Cigar Steamer endeavor was sidelined by that major road bump in the history of 19th century America: the Civil War. Pretty soon, the Winans Cigar Steamship was impounded and under guard by Union troops, and Ross--well, Ross found himself on the losing side of a National argument.

NEXT TIME: Ross Winans, Political Prisoner



IRONIES OF HISTORY, VOL.1: When Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, et al, travelled by railroad from Moscow to Leningrad, these Communist foes of America were riding on a railroad designed and built under the supervision of an American capitalist--and one born right here in Vernon, New Jersey.

For explanation, read on.

As we noted at the end of our last story, the Empire of Russia (having performed badly in the Crimean War) embarked upon a massive modernization campaign. This included the construction of railroads, and in that regard they hired the Winans family of B & O Railroad fame to assist them. Your humble scribe admits that, in retrospect, this is not quite correct. Because in fact, the Winans connection with Russia had its roots long before the Crimean War of the early 1850s.

As we have already noted, around 1830 Ross Winans went to England to inspect and learn from their railway system. He went in the company of a number of other engineers, among the George W. Whistler. Whistler was a hustler in his own right: by the late 1830s, while Ross was prospering in Baltimore, Whistler was working as a consulting engineer on what was to be the first railroad in all of Russia. It would travel from the ancient capital of Moscow, northwest 600 miles to St. Petersburg (later called Leningrad), on the Baltic Sea. This was being constructed under the aegis of Tsar Nicholas I, and was hence called the Nicholas Railroad. Like Tsars before and after him (not to mention Soviet Premiers), Nicholas I was a ruthless dictator reigning over an inadequate, often inept government. In 1842, the Tsar made a foreigner Superintendent of Railroad Construction: George W. Whistler.

Meanwhile, back in Baltimore, a new generation of Winans was being raised. Just as Ross had probably scampered about his father's tavern, Ross's sons Thomas (Thomas DeKay Winans in full) and William P. were apprenticed in their father's machine shops. Thomas rapidly showed his skill in engineering. Born in Vernon in 1820, Thomas Winans was a mere lad when his father packed the family off to Baltimore. By 1838, Ross had put his eighteen-year-old son in charge of a contract for delivery of locomotives to the Boston & Albany Railroad. That was how much faith he had in his son's abilities.

It was a faith to be put to the test. In 1842, Ross's old friend and engineer George W. Whistler came to Ross with a proposal: come to Russia and take charge of the mechanical and machine shops on the Nicholas Railroad. Ross Winans was the perfect candidate for the job--but he declined. He was already enmeshed in his legal battles, and at the age of 47, probably feeling a bit middle-aged for such an ambitious job. He had a counter proposal: send his sons Thomas and William instead.

This was no cinch: the Russian government was offering a contract to both finish the Nicholas Railroad, and equip it with locomotives, rolling stock, and all other equipment. The job was to be completed in five years (Russians seem to like five-year-plans). The payment: five million dollars. M as in million. Five Million Dollars. $5,000,000. Just for comparison, in 1842, $5,000 (five thousand dollars) would have bought you about the biggest and nicest farm in Sussex County. It was an enormous sum for an enormous job. And locomotive builders throughout Europe would be bidding on it.

To better compete for the bid, Thomas Winans formed a partnership with the Philadelphia firm of Eastwick & Harrison, locomotive builders. The new company, Harrison, Winans, & Eastwick, got the contract.

In Russia, Harrison, Winans & Eastwick set up shops at Alexandrovsky, near St. Petersburg, and began the enormous task of finishing and equipping the Nicholas Railroad. In this day and age, we always hear about massive construction projects running long over their construction deadlines. Harrison, Winans & Eastwick finished the Nicholas Railroad more than a year ahead of schedule.

The railroad was not the only project the Winans brothers built in Russia. They received a $2,000,000 contract to build and erect the first iron bridge over the Neva River at St. Petersburg. But it was not, apparently, all business for Thomas Winans. What was first intended to be a temporary stay in Russia turned into five years and more. During that time, Thomas met a Russian lady of French and Italian descent, named Celeste Revillon. On August 23, 1847, Celeste Revillon became Mrs. Thomas DeKay Winans.

[Thomas also had a sister, Julia Winans, who married the son of the engineer George W. Whistler, George W. Whistler, Jr. The son of Whistler Sr. and half-brother of Whistler Jr. was James McNeill Whistler, the famous artist best known for "Whistler's Mother."]

In 1851, Thomas Winans and his Russian bride returned to America. Eight years of filling railroad contracts for the Russian Empire had made him, to put it plainly, filthy rich, and he was able to live out his remaining years as a dilettante, which he pretty much did. His return was too late for one thing: a last meeting his grandfather, the venerable tavern keeper William Winans of Vernon, who had died in 1850. His brother, William P., stayed behind in Russia to keep their railroad enterprise going.

As we mentioned previously, Tsar Nicholas I died in 1855, near the end of the Crimean War, and his son, Alexander II, rapidly embarked on a program of modernization and reform (it was he who freed the serfs in 1861). For all the work that had been done by the Winans family and their partners, the fact remained that in 1855, there were still only 600 miles of railroad in all of Russia. America had over 10,000 miles of railroads. The Tsar was true to his word, and by the time of his death in 1881, that 600 miles had been increased to over 14,000 miles of railroad lines. The Winans firm kept busy in Russia until 1862, when all their contracts were completed.

In 1866, they were recalled to Russia for a new eight-year contract to manage the Nicholas Railroad, but in 1868 the Russian government bought out their contract with a large bonus, and this effectively ended Winans involvement in Russian railroad affairs. The Winans family had helped build the Russian rail system for twenty-five years. The years after the Civil War saw the Winans family at its zenith. Financially, the family was worth millions. Socially, they were among the elite of both Europe and America.

All the result of a funny kid building a model railway in the attic of The Sea Captain's House back in the late 1820s.

Dictionary of American Biography, Volume X. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1936.
New Jersey Herald, 18 July 1888
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1989 ed.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press, New York, 2000.


- Jacobus


By 1830, Ross Winans had left Vernon for Baltimore, and was established as the chief mechanic/engineer for the new Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. He was put in charge of the B & O's Mount Clare machine shops, which were famed in the 19th century for their technological innovation. His scale-model designs and his famous frictionless wheel bearing had made him fairly famous. Having come from Vernon to Baltimore, he was already near the epicenter of cutting-edge American railroad thinking. But he knew there was someplace where the railroad had been developed longer, and he knew he should pay it a visit: England.

A story is told of Ross's visit to England. As an American (and one born in the hinterland at that) Ross was apparently the butt of a few practical jokes in England. Dining at an elegant house, his guests thought they would have some fun with their rustic guest from the "frontier" of America, and asked him to carve the bird served for dinner. Ross replied seriously that he'd carve it in true American fashion--there being (guffaw) no knives and forks in the frontier--and proceeded to rip the bird limb from limb with his bare hands, and distribute it to those seated. It was probably the last time they razzed Ross Winans.

England had been fiddling with steam engines and railroads for a few years longer than America, and upon visiting and inspecting the English railways, Ross noted something important. English railroad cars had four wheels, and they were fixed to their carriage just like those of a regular wagon--they could not pivot or swivel--a system called "rigid frame." This necessitated railroad lines that did not curve beyond a certain degree, lest the cars derail. It also meant that railway cars could not be very long.

Ross saw the answer to this: instead of fixing four wheels directly to the railway carriage, insert four wheels into a frame or "truck," with a swivel on top--rather like a lazy susan--two of which four-wheel trucks were then fastened to either end of the bottom of the railway car. Springs provided cushioning for the carriage, which,, thus equipped, could navigate far tighter curves than any English railway car.

What this meant, in practical terms, is that instead of blasting through a mountain to provide a sufficiently straight course, a railroad could take a more circuitous route and wind its way around the mountain--providing mind-boggling savings in construction. It also meant railroads could carry long pieces of stone and timber.

Ross designed and built a railway car with just such a eight-wheeled system. It was the first such car ever designed for passengers, and Ross--never too humble to begin with--gave his creation an appropriate name: the "Columbus." This design of car was in use on the B & O by 1833, and Ross applied for and received a patent for his eight-wheeled double bogie carriage in 1834.

We noted above that Ross's was the first such eight-wheeled railway car to be used for passenger service. To that, Ross's ghost would no doubt harrumph: "Not just for passenger service--for ANY service!" But alas, to that there is some doubt. Because even though Ross is almost universally credited with being the inventor of the eight-wheeled double bogie railway carriage (it is one of his major claims to fame), the facts are more complex.

Think of it in these terms: who invented the computer? Who invented television? Who invented the rocket? No one person--teams of people, sometimes working together, sometimes with no knowledge of each other. It was much the same in early railroading days. Eight-wheeled railroad carriages had been around for a few years before Ross patented his. Gridley Bryant in Massachusetts and Horatio Allen in South Carolina had both developed versions, and other inventors had filed patents.

Nevertheless, Ross either wasn't aware of some of these other designs, or--more likely--felt that his design was sufficiently different and superior from the others that it was distinctly his creation. He also, no doubt, saw the rapidity with which the eight-wheeled car was being adopted by American railways. A few years slipped by--perhaps Ross was uncertain about the relative role his design played, maybe he resented not being recognized as its inventor, or maybe he just saw money slipping away in all the patent royalties due him from railroads using his design. Whatever the case, in 1838, he did what any red-blooded American would do: he sued.

In particular, he sued the Newcastle and Frenchtown Railroad, which had been using eight-wheeled cars. The suit was only for $500, and the railroad settled. A series of additional suits against other railroads brought similar results--no huge sums of money, but a verdict in Ross's favor. Some argued that Ross had a deeper motive--get railroads to settle for small amounts, primarily to establish the validity of his claim. Then, later, sue big time. Whatever his motives, Ross soon became a veritable lawsuit machine, suing left and right (a true Vernon man, indeed).

In 1845, he sued the Troy and Schenectady Railroad. This time, it was for no paltry $500. It was for $100 a year for every eight-wheeled car on the line, plus the same amount retroactive for every such car they had ever operated. Whew. Serious money. Ross won, but settlement was delayed by appeals, and Ross only ever saw $100. Ross didn't know it, nor did his opponents, but it was the middle of what came to be known as The Twenty Years War against the Railroads--waged by inventor Ross Winans. It was not the end of legal battles--it was the beginning.

Between 1852 and 1853, Ross and his attorneys sued three New York railroads, as well as three railroad car builders, for the same terms: payment for each and every such eight wheeled car that ever was, or would be, used on their lines. A victory for Ross would have meant an annual fortune for life. A loss for the railroads would have meant something akin to financial ruin. And so the railroads did the only thing they could: they fought back--tough.

The fight was led by the New York Central Railroad, who hired a 19th century "dream team" to discredit Ross's case. The lawyers interviewed old-time machine shop engineers, and assistants, examined old plans, conducted research--in short, conducted a thorough investigation into the development of railroad technology in early America in all its aspects. Thorough, indeed--their report was 1,300 pages long. All of it focused on one major question: was the eight-wheeled car the creation of Ross Winans, and of Ross Winans ONLY?

Well, the answer--as we already know--was: not quite, not really. Ross's version was probably the best and the most widely used, but the general concept predated him, and was too widely developed for him to lay sole claim to it. Ross's long legal travails ended in 1859. He lost suit after suit, and finally gave up. He made no windfall from his lawsuits in defense of his eight-wheeled carriage, but to this day, his name remains most significantly associated with its development.

In any event, the 1840s and early 1850s had been good ones for Ross Winans production shops, turning out cars and engines for many railroads (at least the ones he wasn't suing).

Ross's other significant invention of the era was a locomotive design he called the "Camel." Not to be confused with the "camelback," a later design, Ross's "Camel" locomotive was the first designed to use mineral coal, as would all future locomotive engines. It was called the "Camel" because the engineer's cab sat right atop the main boiler, looking something like a camel's hump. It was a popular design early on, on the B & O and other lines, but gradually began to lose favor to other designs--in particular, engines where the cab sat behind the boiler. When at last Ross's own beloved B & O decided to drop the "Camel" engine, Ross engaged in a long and acrimonious public debate with B & O officials over the merits of his design. Once again, Ross lost. The "Camel" became the Betamax of early locomotives.

Indeed, by the mid-1850s, there were increasingly few railroads who wanted to buy anything from Ross Winans, The Original Mr. Sue-the-Railroads. By then, it mattered increasingly less to Ross, who was already a rich man. He retired from locomotive building in 1860. He had lots of other projects to keep him active and interested, and two young sons entering the business. And there was to be one big project that would keep the whole family busy. They could hardly have seen it coming . . .

Far away, in Europe, on the Crimean Peninsula, the British, the Turks, and the French were stubbornly, methodically beating the stuffing out of the Russian Army. How could the Russian Army, which defeated no less than Napoleon, perform so badly in a war practically in their own back yard? The young new Tsar, Alexander II, wanted to know this. One answer among many was: the British and the French had railroads at their disposal, fast, efficient transportation, while the Russian Army was forced to schlep across the Steppes.

The Tsar knew Russian needed to catch up with the west, particularly in transportation. There was no home-grown industrial know-how, and so the answer would be to import the talent. No European nation was eager to assist the Russian bear. But maybe in America. . .

Perhaps Tsar Alexander thought to himself: What was the name of the railroading genius in America whose name was always in the paper over lawsuits? The Tsar had a job for him.

As it happened, it was not Ross who went to do business with the Tsar of Russia--it was his sons, William L. and Thomas D. (for DeKay) Winans. Pop was in retirement from the railroad biz, and busy with projects of his own--one of which got him arrested.


Brown, William H. THE HISTORY OF THE FIRST LOCOMOTIVES IN AMERICA. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871.
New Jersey Herald, 25 July 1888.
White, John H., Jr. THE AMERICAN PASSENGER RAILROAD CAR. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

-- Jacobus


Spring is here, lilacs are in bloom, the peepers are peeping, all's well with the reborn world. But what's this? Shattering the ever-peaceful, ever-harmonious, ever-tranquil political scene in Vernon Township [NOTE: THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE INTENDED FOR IRONIC PURPOSES ONLY; NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ANY ACTUAL VERNONS, LIVING OR DECEASED; FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY; DO NOT TAKE INTERNALLY] comes the news that a piece of the Maple Grange Road tract slated for recreational development, the former Fagan property, contains a prehistoric Indian site. And the Historical Commission wishes to designate the site formally.

When the town council heard this one, you could have knocked them over with a feather. The other problems with the property--the steep slopes, the ledge rock, the unusable wetlands and swamp, the also unusable worked-out soil mines--these things they evidently knew about. But Indian artifacts? FUGGEDABOUDIT! In the days of Henry the Eighth, the answer would have been to send in a couple of swordsmen to knock off the entire Historical Commission while they were in session. That no longer being possible, the Commission's charter is getting re-written to make their "power," limited though it may be now, even more moot. Historical designation will be subject to the owner's willingness.

Actually, even some casual inquiries by almost anybody associated with the purchase of the Fagan property would have clued them in--local arrowhead collectors have known about the site since, oh, about when Ulysses S. Grant was elected president. An Environmental Impact Study, which the township should presumably have to undertake anyway, would have likewise revealed the fact.

As it was, the news came from Historical Commission Secretary Rick Patterson, who among other things is employed as a field archaeologist by a Butler cultural resource consulting firm, Sheffield Archaeological Consultants. Patterson's interest in the Indians that lived in northern New Jersey, the Lenape, and in Vernon archaeology goes back about fifteen years. His knowledge of local archaeology, though mostly avocational, is comprehensive. A Vietnam veteran, he seems willing to endure brickbats in defense of what he believes is important.

Over the years, thousands of Vernon schoolchildren have seen and enjoyed his hands-on presentation on the Lenape Indians, and many have attended his hikes to archaeological points of interest. Some would call Rick Patterson a Vernon treasure. Others would call him an eccentric gadfly provocateur pain-in-the-you-know-what.

Having become a bone of contention, it is only a matter of time before the two sides address the Black Creek Site issue in the usual cool, rational, respectful Vernon tradition of rolling out their howitzers and blasting each other to smithereens, providing great front-page material and reinforcing Vernon's image as Ground Zero of municipal disunity. So while we can--let's look at the issue. What do we know about this Indian site, and what are the potential ramifications?

It's worth mentioning that an archaeologist who had never laid eyes on the site itself, looking only at a topographical map, could have identified the property as a place likely to yield signs of prehistoric habitation. Over a century of research has generated a model of the kind of sites Native Americans favored for their villages and fishing and hunting camps. In an age when creeks, streams and rivers were important for transportation, sites near the junction of streams were particularly attractive. High bluffs, immune to floods, overlooking expansive wetlands, source of all manner of fish and fowl, were likewise favored. And sites close to sources of flint and chert, the raw materials for their arrowheads and other tools, where also favored.

As it happens, the Black Creek Site is all three of the above. A thirty-foot bluff overlooking the spreading marshlands around the junction of Black Creek and Old Wawayanda Creek, with flint present in the local bedrock, it was ideal for Indian habitation--the prehistoric equivalent of Boardwalk and Park Place.

As noted, the site has been known to Indian artifact collectors for generations. More conscientious than virtually all other such collectors, Patterson has field mapped and then catalogued and numbered the artifacts recovered from the area, providing a permanent record. As such, each artifact or arrowhead is thoroughly documented as to where and when it was found on the site. Patterson's study of the site over the last decade has yielded only a small fraction of the artifacts the site has provided over the decades.

Even so, it is a remarkable assemblage--hundreds of prehistoric stone tools, including hammerstones, anvils, drills, pestles, grindstones, bi-faces, axe/celts, cutting tools, chopping tools, and abrading tools. The variety of tools suggest that the Native Americans weren't just camping overnight here, or stopping by for a smoke. They were processing materials--processing stone for tools, processing animals for food, clothing, and materials, and processing plant and vegetable matter for cooking. For thousands of years the site was used for hunting/fishing camps, and a village site, and workshops.

Such tools, however telling, do not provide clear clues as to the age of the site--how long ago the Indians used it. For that, we can look to the points found on the property. Typically they're called arrowheads--a term eschewed by archaeologists because many such points were in fact not used on arrows, but on spears, atlatls (a kind of mini-spear thrown with another stick) or knives.

Patterson has archived in excess of six hundred points from the Black Creek Site, and the variety of ages and cultures they exhibit is shocking. Point typologies developed by archaeologists over the last decades give fairly precise ages to different point styles. The ones from the Black Creek Site span the period from 8,000 B.C. until the Late Contact Period--when the first European settlers came to our valley.

Points found at the Black Creek Site begin with large specimens, probably spear points, from the Early Holocene (8,000-6,000 B.C)--the kind you could use to take down a mastodon. The Middle Archaic Period (4,000-3,000 B.C.) at Black Creek Site is represented by such point styles as Kittatinny, Brewerton, and Vosburg. The Late Archaic Period (3,000-2,000 B.C.) is well represented by a variety of point styles, including Lackawaxen, Lamoka, Bare Island, Poplar Island, Susquehanna Broadspear, Normanskill--the list can go on.

Already having used the site for some six thousand years or more, the Native Americans of the Transitional Archaic (1,500 B.C.) continued to use the Black Creek Site, as demonstrated by such point styles as Orient Fishtail, Dry Brook Variant, and Perkiomen Broadspear. The Early Woodland Period (c.500 B.C.) shows up with Meadowood points, the Middle Woodland (A.D. 500) with Fox Creek and Jacks Reef points, and the Late Woodland (A.D. 900-1600) with Levanna and Madison points. These small, triangular arrowheads where the ones that the Indians were still manufacturing (of Vernon flint) when the first settlers arrived.

The evidence thus suggests that the Black Creek Site was used by Native Americans over a span of something like nine to ten thousand years--or some five hundred human generations. The specific varieties of flint used to make points found there come from as far away as New England and the Midwest--a hint at the large and sophisticated trade networks the ancient Native Americans had developed. A remarkable human record indeed.

It has recently been suggested that the Historical Commission's interest in the Black Creek Site is politically motivated. Whatever the case may be with regard to that, the fact remains that Patterson registered the Black Creek Site with the New Jersey State Museum some ten years ago, long before the Township of Vernon ever considered acquiring it. The State Museum Bureau of Archaeology/Ethnology entered the site into its Smithsonian Site registration program, giving it the I.D. number 28-Sx-297.

In addition, when the D.O.T. was planning the new Maple Grange Road bridge, they hired Louis Berger & Associates, a worldwide-known firm, to perform archaeology in the bridge area. Berger's Phase III archaeological project added trade beads and Indian pottery from the 1600s to artifacts found on the site, concluding that the bridge site was in fact probably a part of the Black Creek Site, a few hundred yards away.

What are the ramifications of an archaeological site on land slated to become playing fields? The town will presumably have to follow the same rules it lays down for private developers (such as Intrawest) and perform an archaeological study to determine the significance of the site and how negative effects on it can be mitigated.

This means the unfortunate delay of some of the new playing fields for the town's ever-popular youth sports programs. While this loss will be temporary, what will be gained is a permanently enhanced understanding of the ancient cultures that inhabited this valley of ours before the days of the Pyramids, and the Ancient Greeks, and the Biblical Patriarchs--our own North American ancient history.

Ross Winans Goes to Baltimore

When we last left our young protagonist, Ross Winans, he was already making a name for himself in railroading circles while still living in the remote farming village of Vernon. How ironic--in 1830, a young mind, teeming with ideas on how to build and improve railroad cars and engines, stuck in Vernon, which would not see a railroad touch its borders until forty years in the future. A railroad wouldn't actually pass all the way through Vernon until some five years after Ross's death in 1877.

From the standpoint of railroad development, Vernon in 1830 was--well, nowhere. And accordingly, this bright young mind, Ross Winans, took his leave of the town of his birth, never to live here again. Ross headed for what was then the Silicon Valley of the new field of railroading--the hotbed of engineering and development. Baltimore, Maryland.

Why Baltimore? What made the Maryland capital the place for an aspiring railroad engineer to go? It's like this: all cities are built on commerce, on trade, and by the early 1820s, the vast resources of the rich American heartland were beckoning to its coastal cities--timber, minerals, agricultural commodities, a gold mine of resources waiting to be tapped, if a means of transporting them could be developed. The standard means of overland transport, the team-drawn freight wagon, could carry a ton or two at best, and slowly.

New York State Governor DeWitt Clinton had a better idea--in fact, a real slam-dunk of an idea. Build a canal from the head of tidewater on the Hudson, at Albany, over 350 miles west via the Mohawk Valley to Buffalo on Lake Erie, thereby gaining waterway access from New York City all the way west to Michigan--the virtual interior of the American continent. Authorized in 1817, the project cost a staggering $7 million at the time. Completed in 1825, it paid for itself in a decade: the Erie Canal.

The explosive growth engendered by the Erie Canal, both in New York City and the New York State interior, did not go unnoticed by other East Coast cities, who jealously eyed the economic benefits, and tried to hatch comparable plans of their own. In Baltimore, prominent merchants and businessmen got together, eyeing the fertile Ohio River valley as their destination. One group planned and eventually built a canal, the Chesapeake & Ohio, but another group bet on the new notion of having a steam-drawn engine pull cars along a road made of iron rails. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the first in the United States, was chartered in 1827. Their first task: O.K., how exactly to built this railroad thing?

And so: Ross went to Baltimore. Where else?

Ground was broken for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on July 4, 1828. It was, most likely, the news of this event that reached Ross in the hills of Vernon, and led him to head to Baltimore some eighteen months later. Ross collected his scale-model working engines and cars and tracks, which once did their maneuvers in the attic of his father's house in Vernon, and took them to Baltimore, where he succeeded in getting an audience with an elderly businessman who was spearheading the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad effort, a man named Charles Carroll.

Who was this Charles Carroll? Born in 1737, the ninety-plus year old man stood at the apex of Baltimore commercial, financial, and social life. Wealthy and influential, with an estate he called Carrollton, he had been an important leader in the Revolutionary War more than fifty years earlier, for which he was greatly revered. In addition to all these things, Charles Carroll was one more--the last surviving signer of The Declaration of Independence. That was Charles Carroll.

So when Ross Winans got Charles Carroll to agree to check out his scale model train, it was definitely a way of getting a foot in the door. It worked, too: the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's first designer/engineer was Ross Winans.

The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad entered the history books for two more firsts: the first fully functional steam-powered locomotive engine, the "Tom Thumb," designed by Peter Cooper (another local boy, who would spend his retirement at the summer home he shared with his daughter and son-in-law in the Jersey Mountains, Ringwood Manor). It also featured the first railroad passenger car, designed by Ross Winans. Ross's mind, however, was attuned to all phases of railroad development, and in years to come he would develop his own locomotive engine, which resembled, of all things, a camel.

NEXT TIME: The Great Double-Bogie Carriage Controversy, and the Camel Locomotive; Railroad Engineers to the Tzars; Ross's Later Years; The Winans Sons.


[Readers will forgive me if I take a brief break from sketching the career of Ross Winans to comment on something rather timely. Next time, back to Ross.]


The narrator of the novel, a young Princeton graduate, relates a story about his girlfriend, a rather mysterious professional golfer:

"When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it--and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded me that night at Daisy's."

That's Warwick, as in our Warwick, N.Y. The narrator is the character Nick Carraway, talking about his romantic interest Jordan Baker, and his cousin, Daisy Buchanan. The book is The Great Gatsby (Chapter III) by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Like his fictional narrator, Fitzgerald did in fact spend some time in Warwick. We are brought to this topic by way of the recent publicity about Intrawest's plans for their "village" on Route 94. Intrawest likes to give their resorts a distinctly regional flavor, and their procedure when developing a commercial/ retail/ recreational/residential complex such as what they're proposing in Vernon is to give it a "story"--not a story used to market the thing, but a story to give it a kind of internal logic, if you will, a sense that it grew as a real place.

And so Intrawest planners ask the question: what famous writers, painters, personalities, etc., were associated with an area. And as F.Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda spent some time as summer vacationers in Warwick, the Intrawest folks got to thinking: suppose he came south to Vernon . . .

I support this concept of trying to integrate local history and folklore into a new development, and I hope I'm not being cynical when I wonder out loud: was Fitzgerald ever sober enough to get as far south as Vernon? Maybe--the alcoholism that wracked this greatest writer of the Jazz Age (a term he himself coined) didn't really start until the thirties, and Gatsby was written in 1922.

I don't know if anyone ever collected the stories, but in days agone it was not difficult to find Warwick old-timers who had Scott-and-Zelda-having-a-fight-on-Main-Street story. They were famously dysfunctional, both individually and as a couple. Had Fitzgerald ever gotten as far south as Vernon, and imagined a 1920s hotel arising, it would likely have been the result not so much of inspiration as of a bad hangover.

Nevertheless, it is true that in the old days Warwick did indeed attract some of the New York elite. In the 1830s, the English writer Henry William Herbert (pen name: Frank Forester) fell in love with Warwick, whose woods, fields, and streams offered good hunting and fishing, and whose village offered the civilized amenities of life. He wrote a best-selling book on his Warwick jaunts, entitled Warwick Woodlands, and it rather put Warwick on the map as a place to spend your summers. Folks who appreciated the complementary virtues in Warwick kept on coming for more than a century, including many artists and actors from New York.

I should note here an important, but little-known fact: the correct pronunciation of "Warwick." Most people today pronounce the name just as it is spelled, War-wick. This was never the pronunciation a century ago, which was in the true English manner (Warwick being an English name). The second "W" was dropped, resulting in "War-rick," or if said a bit rapidly, just plain "Wark." Ask somebody today where "Warrick" is and they'll look at you like you just landed from the planet Nebulon. But if you hear an old-timer up there say it, you know you've got some genuine, old-time Warwick gentry.

I recall once, walking along a road near the Warwick border, meeting an older fellow walking his dog. We got to chatting about local history, and he wanted to know if I had any Fitzgerald stories about Warwick; I did not. He alluded to the fact that he had a few good ones, but his dog was eager to keep walking, so I didn't get to hear them. After he was gone, I had to wonder: where do I know his voice from? It was especially rich and distinctive. It sounded to me like Alexander Scourby (the old-time actor who used to narrate National Geographic specials), but he had died in 1985.

And it finally hit me--I, who had listened to Man of La Mancha a hundred times, had been having a nice chat with Richard Kiley, Broadway's original Don Quixote. He was another famous Warwick resident, whom we lost recently (I guess I missed out on those stories). I know why Intrawest wouldn't be interested in integrating the legendary singer-actor Kiley into the story line of their proposed mega-resort-village. After all, his biggest hit would hardly be their choice for a Mountain Creek Village theme song: The Impossible Dream.

Intrawest is betting--astutely--that the feel and flavor of an historic "village" will attract people, will trigger a nostalgia for an earlier, quainter, simpler time. This is hardly new: over forty years ago, a Californian recreated a midwestern main street of his youth--and ever since, people have kept on coming to see Walt Disney's Main Street U.S.A. Is it good to be so infatuated with the past? Is it a harmless exercise in reliving the "good old days," or does it reflect a disturbing disenchantment with our own life and times? Probably both. I, a local historian who spends much time living, at least intellectually, in times gone by, can say only one thing: the past was neither necessarily better or worse than the present. We can only say it was different.

Yet the pull of the past is strong: Fitzgerald understood it, and might smile an ironic smile that his name is being invoked to conjure an old-fashioned looking "village" here on the verge of the 21st century. We always look forward, but can't forget where we've been--like Gatsby, unable to fully escape our past. Fitzgerald ends Gatsby with a somber meditation on this very theme: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."



We ended last time by asking the question: did either William Winans or any of his tavern clientele ever suppose that the young lad Ross would one day end up one of the wealthiest industrialists of his day, and a seminal figure in the development of early railroad technology?
Short answer: nah.

By all accounts, young Ross was an unpromising figure. We should mention, first of all, his place of birth. Back when the Burger King/Winans Tavern controversy was astir, it was sometimes said in the newspapers that the Tavern was Ross Winans's birth place. This is not true. He was born, in 1796, on a farm his father owned on Hamburg Mountain, in the vicinity then known as Williamsville, and now part of the Pequannock Watershed, on Route 515. The house of his birth and most other traces of the farm have for a century or so been gone--swallowed up in forest.

His father was William Winans, who married his cousin, Mary Winans. Mary Winans father was--Ross Winans. Confusing? Suffice to say that Ross Winans was named after his maternal grandfather. In 1803, William Winans bought the building which for some years he had, evidently, leased as a tavern, and moved his family there. So at the age of seven, little Ross Winans moved from the mountain down to the valley.

We quote from an 1888 New Jersey Herald history column which discusses young Ross: he was "an unprepossessing youth, with round shoulders and not popular in the neighborhood. He was thought to shirk hard work, and with no inclination for farming pursuits, he spent much of his earlier days in whittling, making toys and curiosities, and miniature machinery. He invented a tread wheel power for churning, which he called a "Cats Stairs," and had a favorite cat to work his model. One of his earliest useful inventions was an improved plow which became popular with the farmers and commanded quite an extensive local sale. "

In 1820, Ross got married to Julia DeKay, and he and his bride went to live on one of the DeKay farms in the northern part of Vernon. It was here that he perfected his patented plough; he was also partners with David Hynard in a fulling mill. David Hynard was also Ross's brother-in-law; the Hynard farm is now the Theobald/Heaven Hill Farm.

However, in the early 1820s, the hot, up-and-coming technology was one thing only: railroading. We quote again from the Herald of 1888:

"In a retired hamlet, far from the large town, was living the uneducated youth whose active brain began to conjure of some of the most useful and essential parts of railway carriages and engines. Some of these early inventions were essential to the successful running of trains and are in common use to the present time. Much of this was done long before he had ever seen a railroad, when he had no assistance from books, and weekly newspapers contained only the most meagre accounts of what was transpiring in the great world. But enough came to Ross to set his brain to working. He learned, some how, of the difficultly of building large burden cars and moving them around the curves of crooked tracks.

"The size of the garret, in the house where his father lived, suggested to him the laying down of a model track, with switches, turnouts, and curves, and placing miniature cars upon the. Here he conceived the idea of placing trucks under each end of a long car, which he found could easily be drawn over his turnouts and curves. Perhaps the difficulty of moving cars around short curves, and the desirableness of having the cars of sufficient size, to transport a large quantity of goods at one time, presented themselves to him in the course of his experiments, without any suggestion having reached him from others. He was an independent thinker, and carried out his conceptions to a practical purpose. He had very few to encourage him, and those whom he admitted to the garret showed little sympathy in his pursuits. No one then anticipated his future career. He invited two or three to visit Vernon and see his railroad. This was about 1828."

Ross's development of a scale-model railroad in his father's attic is perhaps the great "Ross Winans in Vernon" story. His father William had sold the tavern property in 1827 to the Denton family, and moved just up the street to the house formerly owned by the late Sea Captain William Vibbert, who had been dead for eight years. So the question arises: in which attic did Ross build his miniature railroad?

Answer: quite possibly in both. In the late 19th century, when Ross became famous, and the local papers started to write stories about him, there seems to have been some disagreement between old-timers in town about which house Ross had conducted his famous experiments in--his father's tavern (later called the Denton Homestead) or the Vibbert House (later called the McCamly house). The confusion certainly arose from the fact that the Winans family had moved from one house to the other in 1827, just about the time Ross was getting interested in railroads. But the bulk of 19th century accounts credit the work as taking place in the "gambrel-roofed" house that had been built by William Vibbert--The Sea Captain's House.

That Ross Winans conducted significant railroad experiments in the attic of the Sea Captain's House is likewise suggested by the date of his first patent. Ross developed a friction wheel bearing for railroad cars which made him an instant celebrity in railroad circles, both in the U.S. and Britain. It essentially "put him on the map" as a player in the important new field of railroads. The patent papers on file list him as Ross Winans "of Vernon." The patent is dated October 11, 1828--by which time his father was well settled in to the Sea Captain's House.

So next time you pass the Coldwell Banker-Schlott Real Estate office on Route 515, in the village of Vernon, look up at the big, gambrel-roofed third floor. It was there, 172 years ago, that a round-shouldered, unpopular lad who was always fiddling with gadgets and things did work that helped establish the future of American (and European) Railroading.

NEXT TIME: Ross Goes to Baltimore.

White, John H., Jr. The American Railroad Passenger Car. Baltimore:Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.
"THE WINANS FAMILY--A Sketch of One of the Most Celebrated Families of his Section--Ross Winans the Notable Inventor and Millionaire Contractor." The Warwick Advertiser, 26 July 1888.
"SOME FURTHER ACCOUNT OF ROSS WINANS." The New Jersey Herald, 25 July 1888.


Last time we began a discussion of the life and career of Ross Winans, native son of Vernon who went on to fame and fortune in the railroad business. Not content to accept the opinions of "local historians" (we know how eccentric they can be), we've been looking at appraisals of Ross's life from outside sources--like "Who's Who." This time, we will review a more local, but no less reliable, source of information: the venerable New Jersey Herald, which printed the following obituary of Ross on April 18, 1877:

"Ross Winans, the distinguished machinist and inventor, died at his residence in Baltimore on Thursday, at the advanced age of eight-one years. He was for thirty years the proprietor of the Mount Claire shop, at which the locomotives used by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company were built, and was the inventor of many of the most useful attachments and appliances that now enter into the construction of railroad cars and engines.

He never served an apprenticeship to the business in which he acquired so much distinction, and prior to his removal to Baltimore, was a farmer, in Vernon Township, in this county, and was a brother to the late Judge Winans.

He left Vernon in 1830 and removed to Baltimore, where he bought an interest in the shop at which the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company was having a couple of engines built up as an experiment. The cars which ran over the eight or ten miles of its track which was in operation at that time were drawn by horses.

Mr. Winans, though not a practical mechanic, was an expert draughtsman, and for the next thirty years of his life devoted himself to the designing of railroad cars and locomotives. The heavy freight engine known as the camel back is his invention, and he also claimed to be the original inventor of the passenger railroad coach as now constructed.

His shop became famous throughout the country, and he built locomotives for many of the Northern railroads, particularly those engaged in the transportation of coal. Unlike most inventors, he was a shrewd business man, and amassed a large fortune. His business was increased by fortunate investments in real estate. In 1840 the Czar of Russia tendered him the railway control in that Empire, and a large fortune was made out of the enterprise.

In 1859 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company decided to discontinue the use of the camel back locomotive, and this led to a bitter controversy with Mr. Winans, who wrote many pamphlets in defence of the engine on which he had expended so many years of patient thought and labor. Having already amassed a large fortune, he cared nothing for the profit of building them, but, to use his own words, he was fighting for the cause of truth and science.

Mr. Winans' pamphlets could not prevail against the hard facts of experience, and his pet locomotive has disappeared from the Baltimore and Ohio and all other railroads. Mr. Winans retired from business not long after the camel back fell into disfavor.

At the outbreak of the war, he was imprisoned in Forts McHenry and Monroe, and finally paroled. He invented a steam gun, which he attempted to send to Harper's Ferry on the first days of the war, but it was captured at the Relay House by the Union troops and brought back to Baltimore. It was not supposed to be a formidable weapon by experts in military science.

After his arrest and imprisonment by the Federal authorities, Mr.Winans took but little part in public affairs. He owned a large tract of land a short distance from the city, and upon this he made many experiments in scientific agriculture. He also spent much time in devising plans for the improvement of the condition of the poor, and some years ago he built two blocks of tenement houses after an original design, which he intended to lease to mechanics and laboring men at low rents.

Although the houses were well finished and comfortable in every respect, the people for whom they were intended refused to live in them, and they have for the most part been tenantless. Mrs. Winans was a sort of amateur theologian, and wrote several books and many pamphlets upon religious subjects. He was very far from being orthodox in his religious belief, but he was nevertheless an honorable, upright, and conscientious man.

He has two sons who inherited his inventive genius, and both of them have acquired much notoriety in connection with the "Winans cigar steamer." One of them has been in England for the last eight or ten years experimenting with a vessel constructed on this plan and trying to make it a practical success. His other son, Thomas Winans, made a great fortune in the construction of railroads in Russia, which he got control of after his father retired, and married a lady of rank in that country. He is now one of the Baltimore millionaires, and is estimated to be worth from twenty to forty millions."

SO--there we have the New Jersey Herald's assessment of the life of Ross Winans. Next time we will delve a little further into the career of this interesting gentleman--his camelback locomotive, his contributions to railroad technology, his deal with the Czar of Russia, his curious steam cannon, which got him thrown in jail during the Civil War, and the peculiar endeavors--inventive, theological, agricultural, sociological--with which he filled his later years.

When William Winans was tending to the needs of his patrons--an ale here, a bowl of stew there, a cup of hot wine--did his son, a little toddler, then a sprouting boy, attract the attention of the tavern-goers? Did any among them (or even William Winans himself) ever for a minute imagine that the odd son of the tavern keeper, who was always fiddling with something mechanical, would go on to build railroads for Czars, and make millions?

- Jacobus March 2000

Fernando de Rojas (c.1465-1541), La Celestina, Act XV.

"O.K., Jacobus, we've figured out by now that you're a bit peculiar, but--" Yes, I know, let me finish that sentence for you, kind reader: but what does a quote from a relatively obscure playwright of the Spanish Renaissance have to do with Vernon? Nothing, really--just that in these gray days where Spring can seem farther away than ever, that little saying, which has been repeated variously down the centuries, seems to me one of the truest ever put on paper, or passed from mouth to ear.

* * *

SO here it is: February 2000.
Where once William Winans drew draughts of ale for Washington's officers, Burger King merrily churns out its viands; the Sea Captain's House, safe from the clutches of the nefarious Historical Commission, awaits whatever fell fate the powers of commerce have in store for it, and the Historical Commission itself, having been converted by the Town Council from a rooster to a capon, looks forward to its future as the first duly debated, legislated, enacted, and seated official Vernon Township Commission to have less actual authority than a dog catcher.

Forgive me--the first paragraph, and I'm already raising hackles. Let me offer an apology. It isn't dog catcher -- it's animal warden. Less actual authority than an animal warden.

Which brings us to the obvious question: "so just who the heck was this Ross Winans guy, anyway?"

That is a fabricated quote, but one that more than a few people have asked over the last few years, since the name of Ross Winans keeps on coming up again and again--regarding both Burger King and the Sea Captain's House. The significance (or non-significance) of Ross is something that needs to be settled, so we will spend a little time on the subject. WHO WAS ROSS WINANS AND WHAT SUPPOSEDLY MADE HIM SO SPECIAL?

For a preliminary answer to that question, we here reprint a portion of Dupont's history, Vernon 200:

"ROSS WINANS, Vernon-born railroad inventor;(1793-1877)
Ross Winans was probably the most important person that Vernon Township ever produced. He was born here in 1793--just a year after our town was created. He married into the DeKay family, and was involved in farming and milling, but often neglected these duties to tinker with machinery, to his family's early dismay and later delight. He is said to have constructed an actual, scale model steam-powered locomotive on the third floor of his father's second house (the one now called the "Sea Captain's House") in Vernon Village--this in the days when locomotives were really high-tech.

"Two years before the construction of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Winans exhibited this working model of his "rail wagon," which weighed 125 pounds. It turned out to be the progenitor of his camel-back locomotive, and it was viewed by the aged Charles Carroll, one of the last surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence. Winans moved to Baltimore in 1830 to pursue his engineering career, and he prospered mightily. His early employer, the B & O Railroad, sent him to England to investigate the British rail system. He built full-scale versions of his camel-back locomotive, an early railroad engine design which was influential in the design of later locomotives.

"More importantly, Ross Winans invented the railroad car "truck"--the pivoting carriage containing four wheels, one at each end of the car. Up to that time, railroad car wheels were fastened to the car itself. These fixed wheels made it difficult for a train to manoeuvre significant curves--a fault Winans first noticed in England. The pivoting truck allowed long cars to maneuver curves without difficultly. Anyone who has owned a model train set knows the value of this simple device, and it changed the history of railroading in America and the rest of the world. Ross Winans of Vernon invented it, and patented his "eight-wheeled double bogie carriage" in 1834. He also built the first coal-fired railroad engine.

"His sons were Thomas DeKay Winans and William L. Winans. They followed in their father's footsteps, and learned the trade in the Winans machine shops in Baltimore. In 1837, the family hit the jackpot: they were hired by Czar Alexander II of Russia to design and build Russia's first major railroad, between the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg (until recently called Leningrad). This massive project lasted until 1851, and earned the Winans family vast wealth. By the 1870's, most of the Winans family were living not in old Vernon, but on estates in Europe; only Ross and his son Thomas remained in America, where they built huge mansions in Baltimore.

"Ross Winans got into trouble briefly at the onset of the Civil War. He had been commissioned by Maryland to design and build an experimental cannon, which was being shipped south in 1861, when Fort Sumpter was fired upon. Maryland had a strong pro-Confederate element, and Winans now found himself having shipped armaments to possible "secessionists," but the issue was resolved without injury to the Winans reputation.

"William Winans kept a tavern in a humble home in the Vernon countryside; his son Ross Winans died in Baltimore on April 11, 1877, with a fortune estimated between $20 and $40 million. He was one of America's first multi-millionaires, and a pioneer of railroading technology and development.

Dupont's account, written eight years ago, is pretty accurate, but omits some interesting details--including mention of Ross's sons, who were as well-known as he, and became even more wealthy. For a more concise, and more detailed biography of the family, let us turn to the good folks at the A.N. Marquis Company.

For those of you to whom the name means nothing (which is most all of you), a word of explanation. Around a century ago, A.N. Marquis decided it was time to publish a biographical register of important people--more importantly, a register that you couldn't buy your way into. Persons were listed based solely on their record, not their checkbook. Similarly, your biography got printed even if you DIDN'T buy a copy of the book. Marquis' book soon became, and still remains, the standard measure of importance in public life: WHO'S WHO IN AMERICA.

And so, from their historical volume, WHO WAS WHO IN AMERICA, published in 1963, biographies of Ross Winans and his son, Thomas DeKay Winans (abbreviations have been spelled out for easier reading):

WINANS, ROSS, railroad engineer, inventor. Born Sussex County, N.J., October 17, 1796, son of William and Mary Winans; married Julia DeKay, January 22, 1820; married 2nd time Elizabeth K. West, 1854; five children, including Julia, Thomas DeKay, William L. Sold horses to Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Baltimore, 1828; invented model "rail wagon" with friction wheel; engineer, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad; assisted Peter Cooper with Tom Thumb engine, 1829-30; member of firm Gillingham & Winans, 1834-59; took charge of improving railroad machinery, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad shops, Mt. Clare, Maryland; planned first eight-wheeled passenger car; credited with mounting car on two four-wheeled trucks; constructed locomotive Mud-Digger (used until 1844) in 1842; retired from locomotive building, 1860; member Maryland Legislature, 1861; Southern sympathizer in Civil War, twice arrested and paroled, 1861. Died Baltimore, April 11, 1877.

WINANS, THOMAS DE KAY, engineer, inventor; born Vernon, N.J., December 6, 1820; son of Ross and Julia (DeKay) Winans; married Celeste Revillon, August 23, 1847, four children. Engineer with Harrison, Winans & Eastwick (firm organized to handle Russian railroad construction venture), went to Russia to take charge of mechanical department of railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow, 1843, contracted to equip railroad with locomotives and other rolling stock in five years, established shops at Alexandrovsky; returned to U.S. (left brother in charge of Russia), 1851; recalled to Russia for new construction contract, 1866; business interests taken over by Russian Government with payment of large bonus, 1868; director, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad; established soup station opposite his home during Civil War; devised (with his father) cigar-shaped hull for trans-Atlantic steamers, 1859; invented device which made organ as easy of touch as piano, invented glass feeding vessels for fish (adopted by Maryland Fish Commission); used undulation of waves to pump water of a spring to reservoir at top of his villa, Newport, Rhode Island. Died June 10, 1878.

That, in brief, is some Winans history. Next time, more detail, and explanation of some of the interesting points mentioned above.

WHO WAS WHO IN AMERICA: HISTORICAL VOLUME, 1607-1896. Chicago: A.N. Marquis Co., 1963.


Faithful readers will please pardon my long silence, for which I offer heartfelt apologies. I was the victim of a Y2K glitch. It's unbelievable, I know--I, a VWeb correspondent--VWeb, which for as long as anyone can remember has been practically the nerve center for Y2K disaster preparedness! But it happened. It wasn't my computer that went belly up--IT WAS MY BRAIN!

Mrs. J. and I had a quiet New Year's Eve at home, watched the festivities on TV, and turned in just after Midnight. She recalls that just before I fell asleep I mumbled something about "checking the coal bin in the morning." First signs of trouble. She awoke in the A.M. and found me in the cellar, staring dumbfounded at the hot-air, oil-burning furnace.

Evidently I was trying to figure out where to feed the coal in--except that I couldn't find the coal bin, which naturally didn't exist. Later episodes in the day included me ransacking the closet looking for my bowler hat and suspenders, and searching the newspapers in vain for news of President McKinley or those dastardly Spaniards in Cuba.

I spent few more hours trying to figure out how my (non-existent) carriage horse escaped, and how I was going to hitch him to my Subaru when I got him back. Very embarrassing.

Well, the doctors finally got things straightened out. Needless to say, my brain--being an antiquated model and not Y2K compliant--thought it was now 1900.

It took them a while to figure out whether I was Windows or Macintosh (neither--as it turns out, it was an old Zenith tube system up there, full of dust and dead flies).

But they got it taken care of, and except for the odd glitch (yesterday I bought a buggy whip) I am fine.

Never let it be said that VernonWeb didn't warn us. That being water under the bridge, we come to a genuine 1900 question:


Here's the scene: it is a Spring day, one hundred and twenty years ago. A bride and groom have just been wed in a lovely ceremony in a village church.

The reception following at the bride's house features lots of good food, dancing, and lovely decorations--the whole neighborhood attends.

Later that evening, the bride and groom go to the groom's parents house, to spend their Wedding Night. A chamber has been prepared, and as night falls the young couple, hearts a-flutter, eagerly anticipate--er, how shall we say it delicately in a family forum? Well, you know. They anticipate.

And so the light goes out in the bridal bedroom.

And all Hell breaks loose.

KA-BOOM! BLAM! BAM! KER-RACK! . . . It sounds like the entire Seventh Cavalry has opened fire right in front of the house, the gunfire is so thick and furious. The sheer shock has sent everyone in the house hurtling out of bed like a Polaris missile.

Except for the groom. He heard talk that this was maybe gonna happen . . .

He opens the window and looks out. Sure 'nuff. It's the boys. They howl with laughter, falling around on the ground, the dozen or so of them. They've gathered up every shotgun, rifle and pistol they can lay their hands on, new or ancient, to execute the wedding night fusillade.

Seeing the groom stick his head out the window, they have achieved success! One yells "Come on down, Bill, and pour us a round, or maybe it'll happen all over again!"

And so the abashed groom comes downstairs, rustles up a jug and some glasses, and pours his buddies a round of drinks. Much gratified, they leave him in peace with wishes for a happy--wink, wink, grin, grin--wedding night.

You have just witnessed a skimmerton.

A what?

SKIMMERTON. Ask any of the oldest generation of longtime local residents and you might hear tell of the custom, which apparently goes back centuries. It appears to have been a fairly widespread custom in northern New Jersey, popular no doubt because it combined the pleasures of shooting off guns, scaring the hell out of other people, and drinking--a winning trio, to be sure.

Herewith I present an historical account of a skimmerton--one that did not go quite as planned.

The source is the Sussex Independent of August 30, 1889:

"A daughter of John Utter, of Vernon, was married one day last week, and the boys around the village thought it would not do to let the event pass without giving the bride and groom an old-fashioned skimmerton. After gathering up all the old guns, army muskets, and revolvers to be gathered around the village, they marched over to John's at night and commenced a grand fusillade in front of the door. The boys kept the racket up for some time, expecting every minute to see the groom come out and "set 'em up." After awhile they commenced to get tired, and were on the point of leaving when they were made happy by seeing some one moving inside whom they supposed to be the groom getting ready to come out and do "the right thing." But the boys were disappointed. Instead of the groom, it was Mr. Utter himself who came to the door and quietly informed them that the newly married couple were over in Pochuck to spend the night. A consultation was held, the subject being: "How can we keep others from knowing that we got left?" A plan was agreed upon, but it failed to work, as the whole village was talking the next day about how the boys "got left."

Lucky for the boys that Mr. Utter was good-natured about the whole thing; a Civil War veteran, he might have chosen to operate a firearm himself that night.

Old-timers in Glenwood likewise recall the time, in the 1920s, when a group of camp counselors from Camp Sussex decided to take a walk down into Glenwood one night, early in the summer. The counselors were all from the city, and had the fortune, or misfortune, to approach a house were a skimmerton was shortly to begin. When the gunfire started, the horrified camp counselors ran for their lives, certain that they had stumbled into the midst of some bloody "Hatfields and McCoys" style hillbilly feud. It is reported that the camp counselors took no more walks down to Glenwood that season.

This leaves one minor question:

why the heck is it called a skimmerton?

That is no simple question, it turns out. The Oxford English Dictionary reports, in fact, that the "regular" spelling of the word is "Skimmington," with "skimmerton" and "Skimmiting" other variants.

The word dates back to the early 1600s at least, and in English usage had a rather different meaning. "Skimmington" was the name you called either an ill-used, henpecked husband, or a shrewish, unfaithful wife ("What a skimmington that poor guy is!").

Additionally, a "skimmington" was "a ludicrous procession, formerly common in villages and country districts, usually intended to bring ridicule or odium upon a woman or her husband in cases where one was unfaithful to, or ill-treated, the other." [Oxford English Dictionary].

By extension the word also meant a noisy racket--to "ride the skimmerton" was to engage in loud, riotous behavior.

The way in which "skimmertons" were usually held hereabouts seem to imply few of the negative connotations above--it seems to have been more or less good-natured, noisy fun.

And the "skimmerton" of Old English terminology mentions no associations with newlyweds, nor with gunfire.

This raises an interesting question: did the world "skimmerton" at some point in local usage become either merged or confused with the term SHIVAREE?

A "Shivaree" (or "Charivari," as the original term is spelled) is basically a noisy, obnoxious serenade for newlyweds. Or as the OED defines it, a "serenade of rough music made with pots and pans, etc., in mockery and derision of unpopular and incongruous marriages, and of unpopular people generally."

Again, while it is clear from historical accounts that skimmertons/shivarees were intended to be raucous, rowdy, and probably even annoying, it isn't clear that they were intended to be mocking or derisive of the newlywed couple.

It may be that by the time the word(s) and the custom had migrated to North America in the late 19th century--hundreds of years and thousands of miles from their origin--they had changed and mellowed into something uniquely American, perhaps even uniquely regional.

And--if next week I read in the papers that a bride and grooms' wedding night was spoiled by raucous gunfire outside their house: you never saw this column, and I don't know any of you.


Jasper, "our" Famous Painter

A friend recently inquired if there were ever any famous painters associated with the Vernon area. Excluding artists of the last half-century (of which Vernon has had several excellent ones), one outstanding name comes immediately to mind: Jasper Francis Cropsey. Know the name?

Come on, all you Art Majors out there--and all you who ever took a class in American Art--think! The Hudson River School. Mid-1800s. Glowing, romantic landscapes of pastoral beauty and natural wonder. Asher B. Durand. Thomas Cole. Frederic Church. George Inness. John F. Kensett. Worthington Whittredge. Albert Bierstadt.

And Jasper Francis Cropsey, born 1823, died 1900. "Our" Jasper wasn't born here, and didn't die here--never even lived in Vernon. But he lived just over the border in Warwick, New York, and immortalized some of our local scenery in a number of magnificent oil and watercolor paintings. The Hudson River school was one of the most significant artistic movements in American history, and Jasper Cropsey was one of its most famous painters.

Some background first. He was born on Staten Island to a lower-middle class family in 1823, and by around 1840 had been apprenticed to an architect in New York City. As part of his training in architecture, young Jasper was given some instruction in landscape painting. Clients responded better to architectural renderings of their proposed homes and businesses if the background had some nice scenery--trees, flowers, hills, etc.

Little could anyone have guessed that those painted trees and hills, and not the architecture, would end up making Jasper his name and fortune. He proved a fluent and talented landscape artist, but became an architect nonetheless. By the early 1840s he was designing homes and churches in the Five Boroughs. In later years he even designed an elevated railroad station.

But he kept up his landscape painting, which emulated the style of Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. Following the successful exhibition of one of his works at a New York gallery in the mid-1840s, Jasper decided to focus on art, and forego architecture. Soon, his paintings were being exhibited next to ones by the Big Boys--Cole, Church, Asher Durand--and Jasper knew he was on his way.

In 1843, he was brought by a friend to the resort area of Greenwood Lake, rich with the kind of scenery the young artist craved, and Jasper was taken with the area. He was also taken with the daughter of a local resident, Maria Cooley, and the two married in 1847. For the next forty or so years, northern New Jersey and southern New York figured largely in Jasper's artwork and life.

His paintings started to sell, providing Jasper with income. And like all prosperous landscape artists of the time, Cropsey travelled--mainly in Europe. Jasper and Maria spent 1847-49 in Italy, and lived in London and the Isle of Wight from 1856 to 1863.

It was at an 1860 London exhibition that Cropsey unveiled what became his magnum opus, his tour de force--the painting which pretty much came to define his career. It was "AUTUMN--ON THE HUDSON RIVER," and it showed a dreamy, red-and-gold hued vista of the Hudson with West Point in the distance. It was huge--five feet by nine feet--and the brilliant Autumnal foliage leapt off the canvas like stained glass.

Somber English critics--unfamiliar in those days with the near-pyrotechnical glories that autumn in the Northeastern U.S. can produce--questioned if perhaps Mr. Cropsey wasn't exaggerating his colors a bit. Cropsey sent to America for genuine autumn foliage, which he pasted up and hung, in its true technicolor glory, next to his painted fall landscape.

The critics were silenced. Queen Victoria viewed the painting, with praise. Cropsey was victorious, and from then on he became the de facto master of autumn landscape painting.

And he sold "Autumn-On the Hudson River" for $2,000--which was more money than most people made in a year. In fact, more than most people made in a few years. By 1865, he was earning as much as $3,500 a painting, and $9,000 a year.

The Hudson was always Cropsey's favorite subject, but hardly his only one. He painted the Palisades, the Jersey Shore, the Hackensack Meadows, the Catskills, winter scenes, and more. But Greenwood Lake was and remained one of Cropsey's cherished subjects, and he painted it numerous times, and from numerous vantage points, over the years. Sometimes featured in his paintings is the Cooley Homestead, his wife's family home, on the shore of the lake. The Warwick Valley as seen from the summit of Bellvale Mountain was another view he painted, as well as Mounts Adam and Eve (the large domes that rise up out of the black dirt lands of Pine Island).

Jasper also found his way south into New Jersey, and painted at least one view of the Kittatinnies: High Point with Mashipacong Pond in the foreground.

Of greater interest to Vernon residents are his paintings of Lake Wawayanda, which even then was a popular spot with picnickers and fishermen. He painted Lake Wawayanda at least five times (probably more) as early as 1852 and as late as 1883.

Jasper Cropsey,Wawayanda Lake, 1881, watercolor on paper

His views all seem to have been painted from the vicinity of the present-day beach and boat launching areas. One view shows cows grazing contentedly in what is now a parking lot.

In the midst of his glory, Jasper decided to build his dream house, which he designed himself. He bought property up on Warwick Turnpike, with a magnificent view of the Warwick Valley, and in 1870 finished building "Aladdin," a twenty-nine room Second Empire/Gothic style mansion with an attached studio for his work. There were extensive gardens and grounds, and the Cropseys loved to entertain at their showplace every time Jasper finished another painting.


Jasper Cropsey's paintings often featured the glorious twilight at its zenith, after which comes the fading darkness. It might have been a metaphor for his career. Nothing lasts forever, and by the mid-1870s the Hudson River school was regarded as old-fashioned. New trends in the art world, both in America and abroad, were stirring, and the romantic realism of the Hudson River school was being abandoned by the critics, the galleries, and the buying public.

Japser maintained a loyal core of patrons, mostly midwesterners, who continued to buy his paintings, but his days of earning a thousand or more a canvas were gone.

With his income in decline, "Aladdin" became an increasingly expensive luxury for Jasper and Maria, and finally, the Warwick estate had to be sold. Jasper's dream house was auctioned off in 1884, and the Cropseys moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, where they bought a new house they called "Ever Rest." Cropsey built a copy of the studio he had at "Aladdin," and returned to painting the Hudson River he loved.

With his painting career in decline, Cropsey returned to architecture, and designed a number of buildings in his later years, the last in 1887. And through the 1890s he continued to produce oils and watercolors, some for as little as $40, for his small but loyal group of old admirers.

Jasper Francis Cropsey died in 1900, a time when the art world was ablaze with change--Cezanne, Gaugin, Seurat, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse--Impressionism, Cubism, Pointillism, Expressionism. But Jasper--he was still painting pretty much as he had nearly sixty years before.

Though the Hudson River School fell into artistic disfavor, it was never abandoned, and indeed, even through the early decades of the 20th century, even a minor Cropsey oil painting could fetch one or two thousand dollars. Today, a small Cropsey watercolor is worth twenty thousand dollars or more; his oil paintings, particularly the more famous ones, reach more astronomical figures.

And what about "Aladdin," his splendid home and estate? Later owners dubbed it "Barcastle," and continued its career as one of the showcase homes of the Highlands.

No doubt many loyal readers out there would be interested in visiting Jasper's splendid mansion, seeing its ornate interiors, its studio, its gardens and grounds, and the views for which the artist chose the location. Truly, "Aladdin" was built to be one of the great estates of the Warwick Valley, and a treat to visit.

But you can't. For you see, after passing through a few owners, "Aladdin" burned to the ground around 1910. And the only thing to mark the spot is a fairly new historical marker placed by the Warwick Historical Society on Warwick Turnpike.

Cropsey's home at Hastings-on-Hudson does survive, however, and his papers and much of his artwork there are preserved at the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, which operates an exhibit gallery. Cropsey's paintings are also in the collections of most of the major museums on the East Coast, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (which owns his famous "Autumn-On the Hudson River." )

"Aladdin" is gone, but doesn't matter. If you want to see Jasper's real gift to posterity, get to a museum and see one of his magnificent landscapes, with their glowing colors, rural splendor, and dreamy romanticism. That was Jasper's true gift to us. It will be with us forever.

- Jacobus

American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School. New York, N.Y.: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.
Howat, John K. The Hudson River School and Its Painters. New York, N.Y.: The Viking Press, 1972.
Rebora, Carrie, ed.. Jasper Cropsey Watercolors. New York, N.Y.: National Academy of Design, n.d. [1985, exhibition catalogue].
Reynolda House, Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Home Page 1999.
Sussex Independent, 4 August 1911.
Warwick Advertiser, 15 September 1898.
Warwick Roots, Warwick Historical Society Newsletter, Warwick, N.Y.


A few grubby, Gen-X video wonks and neophyte actors throw together a story of a film crew lost in the Maryland woods. Face it--some of us drive cars that cost more to buy than this movie cost to produce, yet "The Blair Witch Project" pulled down--what, $100 million? I, Jacobus Van B., can tell you first hand that delving into local history and folklore is not, generally speaking, so remunerative. On an income scale, "local historian" ranks somewhere between "full-time poet" and "homeless person."

Such gripes aside, the spectacular success of this unlikely movie--no stars, no special effects, no car chases, no sex, no fancy sets, and scant gore--is perhaps proof of the power of suggestion, and of the power of folklore, to stir imagination--and fear.

Which brings us to the question of the week: were there ever any witch legends in these parts?

Short answer: yes--of a homespun variety.

That some suspicious few of our fellow residents might be able to command certain dark, supernatural forces, and would use them with ill will against us, is certainly part of a broader spectrum of folk beliefs in the mystical and otherworldy. These folk beliefs date back millennia, and tried to offer explanations for the otherwise inexplicable. They began to fade away in the late 1700s and in the 1800s, when science, medicine, technology, reason, and knowledge began to offer more rational, objective explanations.

Such was the state of affairs by the late 1800s, when most people--at least publicly--would have pooh-poohed talk of witches.

In 1892, one George Markert of Callicoon, on the Upper Delaware, was murdered. Upon investigation, it was revealed--to the incredulity of most all--that he was murdered because his neighbors believed him to be a wizard, who used his evil powers maliciously against them.

A reporter writing at the time elaborated on the subject of local beliefs in witches and witchcraft: "within the memory of many of the present citizens of the town of Deerpark, witches and witchery were believed in and feared by most of the inhabitants . . . many a poor old woman of those days dragged out an unhappy life, hated and feared, but never refused a favor, because of her supposed relations with his Satanic Majesty. "

The writer continues of the old-time beliefs: "As a rule, the witches were women of the lower class of people, who eked out a miserable existence by doing odd jobs and by begging from their more fortunate neighbors . . . [people at that time] thought that when the butter did not come, a witch was in the churn, and a good whipping of the churn, or putting in it a piece of heated silver, or placing a fine tooth comb under it would break the spell; that a black cat was usually a witch; that a witch would not step over a broom stick lying in front of the door but would always pick it up; that a horseshoe over the door, that had been found under certain conditions, would keep out witches; and many other singular delusions that we could mention. It was an unfortunate inheritance from the Motherland from which they were not as yet freed. "

Thus we can see that even a century ago, folk belief in witches, while still in existence, was regarded as an oddity. Two decades later, that opinion had solidified.

In 1911, an editor of the Sussex Register responded to a question from a subscriber in Lincoln, Nebraska, about old-time local beliefs in witches . His pungent and thoroughly skeptical reply was as follows:
"Another query is in regard to witches. This is a subject that never engrossed our attention. All we know is that "life is just one thing after another" and if there is any witch-work about it the aforesaid witches have failed to give us their name and address.

"In times agone certain persons either claimed or were believed to have the power to cast a "spell" on certain persons or things. If these "witches" became angry at any person their power for evil was almost unlimited. Whether the Scriptures are responsible for this belief in "unclean spirits" or "devils" we are not cognizant, but in days when intelligence as to the whys and wherefores was not as general as it is to-day, all ill luck was believed to have had its origin in the heart or work of some person possessed of evil power.

"Many persons believed to have the evil genius of a "witch" has suffered mentally and physically from the suspicions of her neighbors. You will note that the "witch" was always of the feminine stripe. If the milk soured or the butter failed to come in the allotted time for churning, or the salt pork spoiled, the pickles became mouldy, or the children became ill, it was the work of witches.

"The only remedy known was to consult a "witch doctor," and if he could not exorcise the uncanny being, the witch must be whipped, ducked, or even killed.

A horseshoe was believed to be possessed of miraculous powers against the evil work of witches, and that probably accounts for a prevailing custom of placing a horseshoe over the entrance to one's home. It must have been nailed on the foot of a horse, and picked up from the roadway to assure good luck or protection from witches' work.

Sometimes the horseshoe was heated and placed in the churn to overcome the witch's spell. It usually was effective, and all because of a scientific truth, well-known to-day, that cream must be of a certain temperature to churn well. The heated shoe brought the contents of the churn to the proper degree, when it had probably been started at too low a temperature or chilled by cold water at the wrong time. "

So on a public level, the ancient European belief in witches and witchcraft had mostly vanished by a century ago. But on a personal level--what people believe in the privacy of their hearts--it may be that very little had changed.

Some people, it seems, had never quite abandoned the notion--half-fanciful, quasi-joking, or grimly serious--that witches trod the earth among them. In which regard I submit the story, from the dark dells of Pochuck Mountain, of Auntie Tappens.

Auntie Tappens was, it seems, a witch of fairly ordinary skills and none-too-sinister mien, who inhabited the Pochuck Mountain area at some time during the last century.

Far from being malicious, some of the stories paint her as being a right neighborly sort of witch. Like the time one of her relatives was trying, to no avail, to get her butter to churn. As you can tell, spoiling butter seems to have been a particular talent of most witches, but Auntie Tappens put her skills to positive use. Giving up hope, the lady churner turned to Auntie Tappens, who responded "Now look at your butter," and in the churn was miraculously the most beautiful, golden butter.

In a similar vein, a local woman was experiencing a very difficult childbirth, aggravated by the fact that the sheets and blankets kept sliding off the birth-bed. Auntie Tappens put her magic to work, put a hex on the bedding and kept it from sliding off, people said. Such helpful witchery is hardly what one expects to find.

But Auntie Tappens had a dark side, too, like the time a local family just couldn't get their horse out of the barn--wouldn't budge. In time, they came to the conclusion that Auntie Tappens had been nosing around.

Upon investigating, they found her apron in the barn. They took the apron out and burned it--and the horse came right out after that.

You and I might say the horse was just spooked by the fire, but back then it was attributed to the destruction of Auntie Tappens' evil influence.

Proof positive of Auntie Tappen's identity as a witch came when she died--because no grass would grow on her grave. Ever. And that proved she was a witch.

Alas, if Auntie Tappens was buried in Vernon, it was without any gravestone that survives, so the existence or non-existence of grasses, herbs, or other miscellaneous vegetation on her gravesite cannot be independently verified at this time.

The stories of Auntie Tappens were passed on by genealogist Edwin Roth to Glenwood resident Ethel Van Duzer, and subsequently to Carole E. Cantaldi of Glenwood.

As a lover of folklore, I wish I could say that witch legends like Auntie Tappens are sinister and inexplicable. But they're not very sinister, and probably fully explicable.

"Witches" weren't malicious agents of his "Satanic Majesty"--they were more likely sad, lonely old people, a bit peculiar in their ways, solitary in their habits, and poor to boot.

Getting involved in some minor dispute with their neighbors, they were thenceforth blackballed as "evil," and all the bad that occurred in the area was thereafter attributed to them.

Scholarly studies have demonstrated that the Salem witch trials of the 1600s were fueled not by supernatural activities, but by the petty feuds, squabbles, and grudges that had long simmered between the accusers and the accused--between those who pointed the finger and those who were hung from the noose.

How much society has changed in three centuries--and how little.


"Witches and Witchery." Sussex Independent, 12 Feb. 1892.
"Witches, Moon Plantings, Etc." Sussex Register, 25 May 1911.
Cantaldi, Carole E., Glenwood, N.J. Manuscript research on Glenwood folklore and history, c.1989.

(from the New Jersey Herald, 12 December 1872)

"About forty years ago, I was at a time wandering through the highlands of Jersey, in the region of New Foundland and Snufftown [Stockholm], for the purpose of noticing the geological features of the hills and rocks of which I passed. I called one morning for breakfast at the Snufftown Tavern, which was then kept by Mr. Lewis, a Welshman, if I recollect right.

While at table with several other men I inquired if there was in that neighborhood anything interesting in the way of minerals and fossils. I was immediately replied to, by the question whether I had ever seen or heard of the Devil's Track, which was in that vicinity on a flat rock.

I expressed an anxiety to be shown the specimen. Very quickly we were on the tramp to visit the above named Track. We passed northward along the turnpike about a quarter of a mile, then turning to the right through a pair of bars, we entered enclosed but uncleared ground; thence we proceeded through trees and bushes ten or twelve rods, when one of the party passing, pointed his finger to the ground and observed, "there it is."

And there it was sure enough, on a rock in situ. The rock was cropped out three or four inches above the ground, the track appeared identical with that made by a large human foot; the impression of each of the five toes, the uprising to fit the hollow of the foot and the spoonlike indentation of the heel--all were as perfect as a person could make with his foot in soft clay; the whole impression was an average depth of three quarters of an inch, and smooth and without flaw as if cast in a mould.

To be certain that what I believed was a reality, I bared my right foot and placing it in the track, stood with my weight upon it. It was a complete fit in length, breadth, and in every minutiae. While I stood here my companion laughingly said "Your other foot will not be fitted so well by the other track."

"What other track?" said I, "The one the old gentleman made with his cloven hoof," was the reply.

And observing, about a foot forward of the track of which I stood, I saw the other resembling that of a cow; the latter resemblance was not near so good as the former, yet it bore a considerable likeness to the track of a cleft-footed animal.

These tracks were indented in a solid gneiss rock or grey stone, as commonly called. These mysterious, even beautiful, tracks interested me so much that I determined to employ a stone-cutter and have the impressions chiseled out in a block to ornament my cabinet.

Long years passed away and I found no opportunity to carry my determination into effect. At length about five or six years ago I wrote to a young gentleman living near Snufftown by the name of Lyon and requested him to inform me if the Devil's Track was still preserved in his neighborhood.

Mr. Lyon upon receiving my letter immediately proceeded to the locality and found the specimen. But to my great disappointment he forwarded me the unwelcome intelligence that the track was so mutilated and broken up that it no longer merited my care or attention."


The foregoing story about the Devil's Track requires a few comments, lest it be dismissed as a bit of macabre folderol concocted by a bored Herald editor 127 winters ago.

Stories such as this one--about the track or footprints of otherworldly beings planted here on terra firma--are by no means rare. A survey of the legends and folklore of Europe and North America reveals a wide variety of geological or fossil oddities that have been held to be the footprint of saints, giants, devils, ancient dieties, etc. So our local Devil's Track fits into a much broader genre of folklore. On a local level, a variety of New Jersey locales, including Bloomingdale, have or had reputed "footprints" left by the Devil or other unsavory supernatural persona non grata.

Of course, in some cases, these oddities were the real thing--dinosaur tracks. Turkey Mountain in Boonton boasted fossilized dinosaur tracks. Whether or not the Devil's Track in Stockholm was likewise a fossilized dinosaur track seems unlikely--the rock in that vicinity is either igneous or metamorphic, while such fossil tracks are typically found in sedimentary rocks.

That the story as presented by "W.R." is factual is almost certain. A whole host of details--the name and location of the hotel, the owner, the description of the route to the Track--all dovetail precisely with known historical data of the area. We don't know who "W.R." was--evidently a geologist of statewide experience who was exploring in the early 1830s, when the mineral resources of the Highlands were very much a hot prospect. In addition, there are references in other 19th century sources to the "Devil's Print" at Stockholm--so we know that it was a relatively well-known local curiosity.

About seven years ago, two local historians went looking for the Devil's Track, to see if indeed it was gone. Armed with the description provided in the story, and their knowledge of the landmarks described therein, it was possible to trace the steps of the 1830s geologist almost precisely. And sure enough--no Devil's Track, or at least nothing that looked like the description.

Which brings us to one last point. "W.R." was a geologist and apparently an educated man. His use of language is concise and careful. In describing the condition of the Devil's Track in 1872, forty years after he saw it, he does not say it was worn, weathered, eroded, cracked, or effaced. He says it was "MUTILATED AND BROKEN UP," which suggests not the natural actions of wind and weather, but the unnatural actions of man.

Did the good, Godfearing folk of Stockholm finally take sledgehammers and chisels to their devilish landmark, removing its satanic imprint from the locale forever? Were they sick and tired of the macabre legend, and the curiosity seekers coming to see it?

Or, just maybe, were they scared of it?

(Courtesy Vernon Township Historical Society)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Susan Martin, 66 (1872)
Glenwood Cemetery

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.
Psalms 17-15.
Rhoda Van Winkle, 75 (1872)
Glenwood Cemetery

While in this tomb our father lies,
His spirit rests above;
In realms of bliss it never dies,
But knows a Saviour's love.
Thomas A. Mann, 62 (1873)
Cherry Ridge Cemetery

Daniel Bailey, 47 (1839), and Jane Bailey, 85 (1874)
Glenwood Cemetery

The angels called him home.
George E. Strait, 7 (1876)
Canistear Cemetery

"How sadly we miss thee."
John Van Winkle, 26 (1877)
Glenwood Cemetery.

Dear is the memory of the departed.
Mary Quick Baxter, 55 (1878)
Glenwood Cemetery

I take these little lambs' souls
And lay them in my breast.
Protection they shall find in me
And be forever blest.
Maggie May Crane, 4 (1878)
Canistear Cemetery

For I am now ready to be altered
And the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have marked
My course, I have kept the faith.
Hereforth there is laid up for me,
A crown of righteousness, which the Lord
The righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.
Robert M. Maybee, 49 (1879)
Canistear Cemetery

For the living know that they shall die. -- Eccl. 9:4-5.
John Mabee, 62 (1880)
Moshure Cemetery

We miss thee at the fireside and at the hour of prayer
For God hath said, well done, come and my glory share.
We are parted but a little while, thou art but gone before
Thou are waiting for thy loved ones on ed'ns gold paved shore.
Sharp Baxter, 65 (1881)
Glenwood Cemetery

I know that my Redeemer liveth.
Ramah Martin, 19 (1883)
Glenwood Cemetery

A light from our Home is gone,
A voice we loved is stilled,
A place is vacant in our Home,
That never can be filled.
Catharine Card, 78 (1890)
Cherry Ridge Cemetery

For me to live is Christ,
To die is gain.
Susan Edsall, 65 (1894)
Vernon Churchyard

I know that my Redeemer Liveth
Elias Crane, 45 (1895)
Canistear Cemetery

Brother, thou art gone to rest.
John R. Simpson, 58 (1895)
Vernon Churchyard

The Lord loveth, so he taketh.
Josephine Crabtree, 52 (1898)
Vernon Churchyard

Dear is the spot where our loved one sleeps,
And sweet the strains her spirit pours.
Oh, why should we in anguish weep?
She is not lost, but gone before.
Carrie A. Crane, 20 (1900)
Canistear Cemetery

For as in Adam all die, even so in
Christ shall all be made alive.
Carlos Allen, 88 (1903)
Vernon Churchyard

"Asleep in Jesus, blessed sleep."
Rebecca Toland, 78 (1905)
Glenwood Cemetery

Oh who but must wish in this dark vale of tears
>From it's clouds and it's shadows to go
To walk in the light of the glory above
And to share in the peace and the joy andthe love
Of the land that no mortal may know.
Anne Elizabeth Bailey, 77 (1918)
Glenwood Cemetery

(from the Wantage Recorder, 27 February 1903)

By the Late Carlos Allen, M.D., Whose Obituary Appears in Another Place
-- Lines Written Just Before The Writer of Them Was Last Week Called Away From His Home in Vernon by Death.

PHILIPPIANS 1-23 ["I am caught in this dilemma: I want to be gone and be with Christ, which would be very much the better."]

I desire to depart, altho' life still is sweet,
And blessings attend on the steps of my feet,
And all the more precious the longer possessed,
Yet I would not live always, O no, I would rest.

My early companions have gone on before;
Though some are still left me, o'er yonder are more.
They're constantly passing, but few yet remain.
I fain would depart and be with them again.

My vision is clouded, but one thing is clear,
I'm a stranger and pilgrim, my home is not here.
I grope among mysteries, but not in despair,
I desire to depart, there is light for me there.

O God, in thy works thou hast hidden thy face,
But in Jesus we learn of they mercy and grace,
And O blessed Jesus, my Saviour and guide,
I desire to depart and with thee abide.

The years have rolled onward, their footprints we trace,
I accept without fear the great doom of my race;
The earth's fond attractions grow less to my heart,
I am waiting my summons O Lord,to depart.


The recent horrendous passenger train accident in India brings to mind train accidents that have occurred here in Vernon. Fortunately, it has been many a year since a bad one happened--but one has to wonder, with all those big freight trains running along the old Lehigh & Hudson River Railroad tracks, how long it will be before another really bad one happens? And what will get spilled?

No comprehensive inventory of Vernon train wrecks has ever been compiled, but once or more in every generation a "bad one" happened. Old-timers in the Sand Hill area could recall the time, back in the 1930's, when a coal train derailed and spilled. Black Creek, right alongside the tracks, was indeed black that day--with coal, spilled so deep that you could literally walk across the creek on a bed of anthracite.

Another bad one happened in 1909.

It was a Saturday afternoon in late October, and one big freight train, the No. 60, was heading north to Maybrook, N.Y., with orders to stop at Warwick. Another train, the No. 33, was heading south to Belvidere, N.J., and had been split into two shorter trains--probably to make it short enough to switch over to rail sidings, so Train No. 60 could pass it going the opposite direction.

Northbound No. 60 passed the first section of southbound No. 33 at McAfee, where the latter train had switched over to the siding. No problems there. But the second section of southbound No. 33--under the command of engineer Warren Clark--didn't get its orders straight. The engineer had been instructed to take the switch between DeKay Road and Price's Switch Road, and allow No. 60 to pass. That wasn't what happened.

Northbound No. 60 was going slow, up the long, low grade between Vernon and Warwick, which is actually one of the steeper inclines on that rail line. Southbound No. 33, going down the grade, was cruising along at forty miles an hour. Both trains were carrying half a dozen boxcars of freight. Engineer Clark never took the siding, and not far from the DeKay Road crossing, the two locomotives collided head-on.

The engineers had seen it coming long enough in advance to lean on the steam whistles, giving the crew plenty of time to jump to safety--most of them were either uninjured, or suffered cuts and bruises. Fireman John Dowd, of southbound No. 33, wasn't so lucky--he was trapped in the pilot house of the engine and crushed to death (the fireman is the guy who stokes the engine fire).

The engines themselves were both upended and smashed, the tracks torn up, and, as the New Jersey Herald of November 4, 1909, put it, "a dozen cars were converted into kindling wood." Much of the freight they carried was likewise destroyed.

Soon thereafter began the "he-said-she-said" between the two locomotive engineers. Engineer Clark of No. 33 charged the engineer of No. 60 with being at fault. That engineer promptly produced his orders, which were: to run through to Warwick. The Herald reported: "when engineer Clark consulted his order, he found he had failed to carry out his orders to take the switch, and for the first time fully realized that his carelessness had cost the life of his fireman, injuries to four men, and one of the worst wrecks on the road in a long time. "

Not surprisingly, Engineer Clark "left the scene, and at last accounts had not been heard from."

The County Prosecutor, Coroner, and Sheriff investigated the accident. The Sheriff then appointed a jury of six men to hold an inquest into the accident. Three of the men appointed to the jury--Grant Price, James Rickey, and Albert Furman--lived no more than a half-mile from the accident scene. Rickey and Furman descendants still live nearby today.

How did it turn out? Was punishment meted out? Was justice done? Or was it hushed up and swept under the rug? If I find out, I'll let you know.


The New Jersey Herald, 4 Nov. 1909, "Head-On Collision on the L & H R Railroad."


A local Vernon merchant was kind enough to pass along a copy of a letter that had been sitting for some time among their lost-and-found items. Seems a woman had come in to have this letter photocopied, but had afterwards dropped it on the floor, and never returned looking for it.

It's a shame, as the person obviously valued the letter enough to copy it, so if any readers out there recognize the letter, and know its owner, please e-mail us and we will be sure it gets returned. It's quite a little glimpse into World War II history--a tiny, true-life slice from the era of "Saving Private Ryan."

It's written on Navy stationery, and although undated, it's clearly of World War II vintage. "U.S. NAVAL AMPHIBIOUS TRAINING BASE, SOLOMONS BRANCH, WASHINGTON, D.C." proclaims the letterhead in Gothic script. The logo above is of an alligator coming ashore, fiery smoke pouring from the nostrils above his wide-open mouth, out of which pours a column of armored tanks heading up the beach.

My first guess reading this was that this branch of the Navy was training to invade the Solomon Islands in the Southwestern Pacific, then controlled by the Japanese. The capital of the Solomons, Honiera, is on an island whose name is venerated in the annals of U.S. Military history: Guadalcanal. So the "Solomons Branch" must have been training to invade there, right?

Wrong. Goes to show even sure-fire assumptions aren't sure-fire. Turns out that in the early days of World War II, the Navy was looking for a place to conduct amphibious training exercises. The endless open beaches of the eastern seaboard were a little too exposed to the predations of roving Nazi submarines, so the Navy found a nice, snug spot in the safe confines of the Chesapeake Bay. A little old seaside town in Maryland, called Solomons.

It was here that the Navy practiced landing men and tanks on the beach before they sent them off to do the real thing under real fire. And practice they did: between July 1942 and February 1945, some 70,000 troops practiced amphibious invasion here on the Maryland shore.

The men who trained at Solomons went on to the real, and bloody, thing at places like Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Morocco, Algeria, Okinawa, and of course the largest and most famous amphibious landing in history--D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France.

So in order to practice amphibious landing, the Navy had to construct an imitation-fortified coastline to invade, and of course, the ancillary Naval station to house and feed and train the sailors doing the practice invading. The pressure to get the facility operating was great, and the massive construction rendered Solomons, by most accounts, a giant mudhole.

And herewith enters our (at present) unknown correspondent, a young man recently inducted into the Navy, writing home to his parents. Al (that's his name) was one of the hundreds of thousands of his generation who helped in this great fight to, basically, save the world.

Which they did. Al's feeling the pressure, but keeping his sense of humor and spunk. Here's his letter. Spelling and punctuation left intact; military time translated for us civilians:

"Dear folks;
I have moved twice since the last time I have written you. I've left Norfolk as you can see by the address on the top of the paper. I am now having a tough time, and I ain't just a kiddin'. This is really the cats whiskers. I received one letter from you, although you have probably written more (I hope).

Saturday morning, I was a butcher for three hours. In the afternoon, I dug ditches for five hours. Sunday I dug twelve hours worth of ditches. We don't get double time for Sundays, either. No doubt you wouldn't like to know how my schedule runs, so I'll tell you anyhow. We start a new one tomorrow. Reveille at 0600 [6 A.M.], chow at 0620, muster at 0700. Thats in undress blues. Change into dungarees, and go on working detail (digging ditches). Incidently, you women worry about dishpan hands. You should see my hands. I'll never be the same. 1100 wash up for chow, which is at 1130. Muster at 1230. Muster and eat in undress blues. Change to dungarees and go to school at 1300 [1 P.M.] and remain there until 1630 [4:30 P.M.]. Come back, clean up, change to undress blues, eat chow at 1720 [5:20 P.M.], and muster at 1800 [6 P.M.]. After that, you either work or go to school, until approx. 2000 [8 P.M.]. Come back, clean up, and from then until 2130 [9:30 P.M.] you are a free man. You can wash your dirty clothes, the post office is closed by then so you can't get your mail, you can write letters if you can find a place to write, if you're not too tired, if you can find some thing to write on.

Sleep!! There is absolutely no liberty, unless either you or you kick the bucket, and then you couldn't very well see me. However, the chow is good, lots of it, but I could use more. I still haven't been paid. Every time pay day comes, they move me out. I guess I never will get paid. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Tell Johnny the mud down in this hole is worse than [Fort] Dix, so help me it is. We have to dig in it, too. Give my regards and my address to everyone.
your loving Brat,

Well, I hope Al finally got paid, survived the real amphibious invasions (if he got shipped out), got some hand cream, and came back to Mom, Dad, and Johnny, and never had to dig another ditch in his life. If any reader out there knows who Al is, or was, or who the owner of the letter is, please e-mail Vernonweb and we will be sure the letter gets returned. It would also be nice to have a follow-up on how Al made out during the war. And to know if Al was a Vernon boy! And here's a real kicker: the wartime role Solomons played is now being revived. The Revolutionary War and Civil War have long been favorites of military re-enactors, and now WWII is getting some attention. Amphibious invasions are being re-enacted at Solomons by military buffs. Men are once again wading ashore in full gear, dodging barbed wire and the crackle of blank ammo rounds. Unlike their counterparts of fifty-five years ago, these volunteer military history enthusiasts don't have to dread doing the real thing in a month or two; they're doing it for fun. For more info, check out "War Returns to Solomons," New Bay Times,, Volume VI, Number 31, Aug. 6-12 1998

- Jacobus Van Brug

Epitaph Sampler

What soever thy hand findeth
to do, do it with thy might, for
there is no work nor device nor
knowledge nor wisdom in the
grave, whither thou goes.
Isaac Tompkins, 66 (1857)
Vernon Churchyard

Weep not for me, my husband dear.
I am not dead, but sleeping here.
May you and our dear children there
Be prepared to follow me.
Hila C. Parker, 31 (1861)
Moshure Cemetery

Dearest Mother thou has left us
And thy loss we deeply feel,
But 'tis God that hath bereft us, He can all our sorrows heal.
Deborah Green, 62 (1862)
Moshure Cemetery

I have fought a good fight, I have fin-
ished my counsel, I have kept the faith.
Henceforth, there is laid up for me a
crown of righteousness, which the Lord
the righteous judge, shall give me at that
day, and not to me only but to all them
also that love his appearing.
2 Tim IV 7-8
Abigail Giveans, 59 (1863)
Vernon Churchyard

Behold & see as you pass by--
As you or yours, so once was I
As I am now, so you must be
Prepare for death and follow me.
Abraham Rutan, 75 (1864)
Vernon Churchyard

Dearest Wife thou hast left us
And the loss we deeply feel,
But 'tis God that hath bereft us,
He can all our sorrows heal.
Margaret Mann, 51 (1864)
Cherry Ridge Cemetery

He is not dead, the child of our
But gone unto that school
Where he no longer needs our poor
And Christ himself doth rule.
Edward B. Allen, 19 (1865)
Vernon Churchyard

Jesus, the vision of thy fate
Hath overpowering charms.
Scarce shall I feel death's cold embrace
If Christ be in my arms.

The remnant [....................]
Is the people of God [.........]
(Break in tombstone here)
[..................] beyond the sky
Is everlasting day.
Through flood and flame the passage be
But Jesus guards the way

The swelling flood and raging flame
Hear and obey his word.
Then let us triumph in His name,
The saviour is the Lord.
Daniel Green Jr, 16 (1865)
Moshure Cemetery

I know that my Redeemer Liveth and
That He shall stand at the latter
Day upon the earth.
And though after death worms destroy this
Body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
Ezekiel Webb, 54 (1865)
Moshure Cemetery

"I heard a low whisper and a sweet
voice saying, how sweetly we sleep here below."
Abagail A. Perry, 55 (1866)
Vernon Churchyard

Herbert Drew, 3 months (1870)
Glenwood Cemetery


NEWS OF 107 YEARS AGO--from the New Jersey Herald of August 25, 1892:

"GLENWOOD--Recently, as Daniel Bailey's daughters were crossing the Carpenter farm, on which John F. Drew resides, they discovered a large rattlesnake coiled up under the fence They did not disturb his snakeship, but went quietly on, and informed Mr. Estile, who came and shot the snake, which had nine rattles. They tied a string to the snake and drug [sic] it homeward, stopping at Mr. Drew's residence, leaving the snake in front of the house. On Tuesdays last a mate to this snake came in Mr. Drew's sitting room and took up its abode. Mr. Drew's little five-year old daughter discovered the snake coiled up under a chair and informed her mother, who took a .32 calibre revolver from the mantle and shot the rattler's head off the first shot. The snake measured 3 1/2 feet and had 9 rattles. It is supposed that it followed the trail of its mate to the house, and had been harboring around the building ever since its mate was killed."

It seems to me that old-time farm life, with its circumscribed opportunities and hard work, often gets a bad rap these days. At the click of a keyboard we can access data and images from across the world; we are swamped with media--print, audio, and video.

Poor Mr. and Mrs. Drew probably got the paper twice a week, and that was it. No phone. No radio. No Victrola either, most likely. Not even an electric light bulb. A tough, bo-ring life, we would say.

But it seems to me that the relative isolation, hard work, and focus required by those days produced people of real internal resources, and as proof, I offer you Mrs. Drew. Seriously, presented with the prospect of a three-and-half foot rattlesnake coiled under our living room chair, there's many a one of us out there today who would a) have five strokes, b) call the Police, Animal Control, Fire Department, Ambulance, State Police, National Guard, and F.B.I., and c) go hide in Pennsylvania, in that order.

Not Mrs. Drew--one shot, goodbye rattler. I've known old farm wives who spent World War II sewing bandages for the Red Cross, and knowing their steely determination, their brains, and the resourcefulness, I've thought to myself: heck, you shoulda been commanding a destroyer, or a tank corps.

I'm no herpetologist, but that bit about the one snake following the other the the Drew's house seemed a bit-far fetched to me. But according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, rattlesnakes do indeed have a high sensitivity to olfactory stimuli, so perhaps the second snake was tracking down the first.

Given the fate of Mr. and Mrs. snake, which was typical of the time, it's no wonder that rattlesnakes are relatively scarce today. If you see one nowadays, you are--if the term is applicable--lucky.

By the way, I presume the Daniel Bailey whose daughters found the first snake was our Captain Daniel Bailey of Glenwood, Civil War veteran, builder of Glenwood's mill, store, telegraph, railroad, creamery, etc. His daughters were Anne Delia, Sarah May, and Bessie Munson Bailey. But there were a number of Bailey families in Glenwood, and more than one Daniel Bailey, so the careful historian cannot say for sure.


When an old building is demolished, some historians gnash their teeth in angst, and even otherwise unsentimental observers may feel of twinge of sadness.

But on Price's Switch Road, a long-derelict landmark has undergone the preliminary stages of demolition, and it seems safe to say no one will be sad to see it go.

The 105-year-old Price's Switch Creamery, adjacent to the railroad tracks, was once a showplace, but it ended up one of Sussex County's most notorious and long-standing toxic waste sites.

In the years after the railroad was constructed through Vernon in the early 1880s, area farmers increasingly focused their production on one commodity only: dairy. With railroads a fast and economical means of transporting milk and dairy products to urban markets, creameries sprang up along Sussex County rail lines. The Price's Crossing (i.e., Price's Switch, so named for the railroad siding switch there) condensary was under construction by December 1893, and planned to be ready for April 1894.

In the days before the railroad, many area farmers used their cows' milk to manufacture butter and cheese at home, keeping the products cool in their cellars and springhouses.

With the advent of creameries in Sussex County, commercial production of butter and cheese became centralized in these large, modern plants, which also produced heavy cream, or in the case of Price's, condensed milk.

The high-butterfat portion of the fluid milk was separated from the rest, the remaining portion being what we would today call skim milk. Though today valued as a fat-free, high-calcium food, in the 1800s the creameries returned the skim milk to the farmers, who generally fed it to their pigs.

At first, farmers found it profitable to ship plain milk, but as western regions were settled and the supply of milk subsequently increased, the price paid farmers decreased.

Milk brokers and exchanges were notoriously ruthless in cutting the price they paid farmers for milk. Diverting some of the supply of local milk to the manufacture of cheese and butter gave farmers a commodity that was not quite as price-sensitive, and also reduced the supply of fluid milk, thereby supporting its price.

Thus it is no surprise that creameries, which gave dairymen more options in marketing their product and more economic stability, were often built by a large number of farmers who pooled their money. Aside from Price's, there were creameries in Glenwood, McAfee, and Vernon.

This "golden age" of creameries did not last long.

By 1900, production of cheese, butter, and condensed milk was waning on the local level, in favor of more modern, centralized factories. Creameries increasingly became mere collection points for fluid milk.

Attempts to support the price paid for milk were made--by organizing dairy farmers, union-style, and demanding rate changes from the railroads. None of these ever proved wholly effective, and as time passed, many farmers realized that survival meant producing milk cheaper and cleaner, period.

Many creameries had closed by 1915.

By the 1930s, milk tanker trucks were already beginning to take business away from traditional railroad creameries, part of our nation's overall shift away from rail transportation toward motor vehicles. Though many Sussex County creameries closed in this period, Price's survived.

It continued in operation steadily through the 1930s. By 1942, it was owned by Borden's. By the mid-1940's, however, it was facing difficulties in continued operations, difficulties which remained for the next fifteen years.

Many farmers could not meet the increasingly rigorous (and expensive) hygienic standards demanded by the large dairy producers, and those who could were often already having their milk trucked out in bulk.

Price's Creamery was loosing business.

Even so, photographs of it from the period show it as a spotlessly painted, neatly manicured facility--a "showplace," neighbors called it.

By 1946, the owners of the creamery were the Sussex Milk & Cream Company. A possible sign of weakness in their business came just after the war, when the creamery owners gave their men one day off per week (it formerly operated seven days a week).

By 1949, Price's was one of only nine creameries still operating in Sussex County, where dozens of creameries had formerly existed. In 1954, the Price's Switch Creamery withdrew from the Milk Producer's Association, a farmer's organization which helped support the price paid to farmers.

In March 1961, having already been inoperative for some time, Price's Creamery closed permanently, after nearly seventy years of operation.

The plant was not vacant for long, however, but was sold to Barrier Chemical Industries, a manufacturer of floor waxes and other chemical cleaning products. In this respect it was like a number of other Sussex County creameries, whose large facilities and railroad access made them perfect for light industry.

It seemed like an ideal use for the building, and Barrier's founder and president, Kurt J. Wasserman, was an innovative chemist who had big plans. The name of the company came from its focus on products--paints, waxes, coatings, insulations--that provided a "barrier" (against dirt, weather, etc.).

In the next decade, Barrier Industries prospered at the old Price's Creamery site. The building was expanded several times, and the payroll grew to forty persons paid a total of a quarter-million dollars a year.

Barrier's floor cleaners and waxes were used in 80% of the high-rise buildings in New York City, and at one time they had a contract to supply the U.S. Postal Service with floor cleaning supplies. By 1973, Barrier was planning a national expansion into the midwest and west.

All seemed rosy--on the surface. But Barrier's neighbors didn't think so.

Complaints about Barrier by neighbors began in 1974: grounds overgrown, building peeling paint, trucks coming and going at all hours of the night, rubbish everywhere around the plant. And--more sinister--reports of a white substance polluting nearby Wawayanda Creek.

Such complaints did not stop the Township Committee from approving Barrier's plans for further expansion, a move recommended by the town's Industrial and Economic Development Commission. Barrier continued to enjoy excellent business, and made numerous assurances that there was a "zero waste or pollution factor" at the plant.

Neighbors doubted this, and Barrier's continued failure to live up to requests to clean up the property and comply with zoning laws led the township to reject yet another expansion plan in 1976, after which time Barrier relocated operations to Port Jervis, N.Y.

Already, inspections by state and local officials had noted the presence of numerous ditches filled with a white waste, open tanks, and foul smells throughout the facility.

Later inspection revealed the fact that far from being a zero pollution facility, much liquid waste was diverted into open trenches in the ground and via pipes to Wawayanda Creek. Soil and groundwater samples revealed elevated levels of contamination by a variety of chemicals, including oil and grease, petroleum hydrocarbons, trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene, phenol, methylene chloride, and thirty-five additional unidentified substances.

Wasserman, however, denied that the pollution was related to Barrier's operations on the site.

Barrier had virtually abandoned the Price's Switch site by 1979, and the firm's subsequent history in Port Jervis was equally problematic. The firm encountered financial difficulties, and while in bankruptcy closed their Port Jervis plant.

In the winter of 1994, utilities for the building were disconnected for non-payment, resulting in a burst water pipe and subsequent flooding, and the freezing and leaking of numerous containers of unidentified chemical products, their contents spilling throughout the building--all in all one of the city's worst chemical spill incidents.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimated cleanup costs as the site to be upwards of $4 million. Barrier Chemical Industries has since gone out of business.

Plans by the NJDEP to clean up the Barrier Industries site at Price's Switch were first advanced nearly two decades ago. By 1983, the State had planned to have the site cleaned up "within four years."

Sixteen years and innumerable delays later, action is finally occurring.

Attempts to have the site designated a Federal "Superfund" site were not successful. A lawsuit by neighbors Charles and Ruth Quaglia against Barrier for contamination of their well was ultimately settled out of court in the mid-1980s.

The end of the story will come in July, when cleanup of the site will be completed. Asbestos contamination has already been removed. Monitoring wells will be capped, truckloads of contaminated soil excavated and shipped out, sludge in storage tanks pumped out for disposal off-site, and demolition completed on the Barrier Industries building--long a dismal wreck, now enclosed by a chain-link fence and its southern end already razed.

The cost, paid for by NJDEP, is estimated at $350,000, which will become a lien against the property, along with existing tax liens--in the unlikely event the property finds a buyer.

Overgrown, dilapidated, and sad, Price's Creamery is far removed from the "showplace" of the dairy industry it once was, or the industrial boon it was once thought to be.

˜ Jacobus Van Brug

Johnston, Andrea R. Living on the Farm. Sussex County Agricultural Society, 1976.
New Jersey Herald, Newton, N.J.
Ott, Pauline Appleman. 116 Years of Creameries in Sussex County, New Jersey, 1861-1977. Self-Published manuscript, 1977.
Schmidt, Hubert G. Agriculture in New Jersey. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1973.

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