Bus Tour: Exploring the Heritage of the Pine Barrens

QuietCranberriesAtHarvest[1]THIS TOUR IS FULL.

The Pine Barrens! It’s a vast region of forests, streams and swamps, encompassing nearly 25% of New Jersey. It’s a gigantic watershed that once was considered a possible water source for Philadelphia. It is home to 330 wild orchid species, 5 species of carnivorous plants, a fern that reaches its maximum height at 2 inches, pine trees that need fire to open their cones, a 12,000 acre pigmy  forest, 43 endangered animal species and of course the legendary Jersey Devil. Agriculturally, the Pine Barrens are home to the world’s first cultivated blueberry and the first automated cranberry picker (still in use today).  Local residents, born and raised in this area of South Jersey are known as “pineys.”  Common surnames include Sooy, Steelman, Scull, White, Ong, Giberson and Leeds.

For our excursion on Wednesday, October 26, the family name of White stands out. After Joseph White inherited some land from his maternal grandfather that included wild cranberry bogs, he established an agricultural cooperative and named his business Eatmor.  Eatmor Cranberry Cooperative, today, is known as Ocean Spray and consists of nearly 700 families across the continental US. On our tour of Pine Barren Native Fruits, a working cranberry and blueberry farm, we will learn much more about the history of the cranberry, the White, Darlington and Fenwick families, as well as witness an authentic cranberry harvest on a guided bus tour of a cranberry bog. In addition we will enjoy a “taste testing” of cranberry and blueberry products, a cooking class and sharing of recipes by Pine Barrens Native Fruits.

gristmill-cws[1]The Pine Barrens is also home to the Historic Village of Batsto, our afternoon tour stop. Batsto was founded in 1766 as an iron-making town. In those days NJ was the center of the iron industry, because bog iron (limonite) was plentiful in the little rivers of the Pine Barrens. Batsto supplied household products such as kettles, cooking pots and five-plate stoves for Philadelphia as well as munitions for the Revolutionary Army. Some of these stove plates can be found in the Henry Mercer collection in Doylestown and if you stroll through Philadelphia’s “olde city” section, take note of the iron fencing. It is likely some of it came from Batsto. Later, after iron production declined, glassmaking became the small town’s chief occupation.

Window glass was becoming popular in the mid 1800’s and Batsto produced this for many South Jersey homes. While the iron works and glass-making furnaces are no longer standing you can still see remnants of the charcoal mounds that fueled the furnaces as well has the sawmill, post-office (third oldest, still active US Post Office in America), the general store and ice house (ice was cut from the frozen Batsto Lake) and many other original buildings. There is also the Richards Mansion, a small museum and a museum shop. Joseph Wharton (Wharton School of Business) bought Batsto along with thousands of acres of Pine Barrens in the latter part of the 19th century and in the 1950’s it was deeded to the state of NJ. Today it is called the Wharton State Forest.

mansion-cws[1]This will be a walking tour of the village, on typical south Jersey sandy soils. Several options include a 45 minute tour of the mansion, visiting the various buildings, going to the nature center or spending time in the museum. Alicia (historian) and Gill (naturalist) will be our hosts. A working blacksmith may be on-site.

The tour will be led by Harry Anselmo. Our Perkiomen coach bus will depart from the Mennonite Heritage Center at  6.45 am  with boarding at 6:30 AM and return there at approximately  6 pm on October 26.  Your car can remain parked at the Mennonite Heritage Center for the day —we encourage car pooling if possible. The tour cost of $95 ( $90 member) includes all admission fees, gratuities and a box lunch.