Trigger Warning: This post contains a single photo of a spider.
It was Mother’s Day last Sunday and, as my Mother’s Day treat, I wanted to go and explore somewhere new. This Spring has been totally drecih – a good Scots word for dreary. It has been chilly, grey, and wet, and not very conducive to getting out and about. Between the weather and a too busy schedule, I felt like I was getting cabin fever from not getting out and about and exploring. So Mother’s Day was the perfect day for going for a wander somewhere new. We chose to go to Batsto, an abandoned town in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. I learned about the existence of Batsto from Richard Lewis’ wonderful photography blog. Rich was actually kind enough to let me pick his brains about things to do and places to explore in the Pine Barrens. My boys are good walkers with great stamina but we have learned from experience that they enjoy themselves a lot more and whine a lot less if we provide some sort of focus to our hikes, rambles, and wanderings. I felt that exploring Batsto Village as a prelude to hiking a trail would be a great day out.
Our first port of call was the Visitor’s Center. This was primarily so we could use the restroom after our drive from the Philly ‘burbs but it also provided a useful introduction to the history of the town. Interpretative boards and exhibits informed us that Batsto was founded in the mid-18th Century – though the Lenni Lenape lived in the area before. It was a chap named Charles Read who set up the first ironworks there, using the bog ore found in the area and trees from the woodland for the smelting furnaces. That Batsto Iron Works changed hands a few times and had a boom period during the Revolutionary War as it provided a range of products, including munitions, to the Continental Army. Then, in the mid-19th Century, as the iron works declined, Batsto became a glassworking area, particularly renowned for its production of window glass. The village came under state ownership in the 1950s and the last resident left in the 1980s.
A little bit of history absorbed, we ventured outdoors to begin our explorations. We saw a pile of bog ore and the remains of a wooden ore boat, used to transport the raw ore from the lake. We also saw the ice house where food provisions could be stored. Huge chunks of ice would be cut from the lake and packed with saw dust inside the ice house so that the food could be stored there without it spoiling. I am old enough to remember some people still having cold cupboards in their houses rather than refrigerators but it was a good opportunity to explain to my kids how things were done before electricity and the advent of domestic appliances. Another outbuilding contained carriages, some of which looked like carcasses picked clean by carrion. Other barns would have housed different farm animals. In the wheelwright and blacksmith workshops, the many and various tools of the trade were on display. I could almost imagine the blacksmith and wheelwright wandering in, picking up the equipment, and setting to work.
The younger boys enjoyed playing inside the mule barn. Unfortunately, rather than taking inspiration from the actual setting and playing a game of old-timey farmers, they decided to turn it into a horror game in which they had to stay steps ahead of some malevolent ghosts who were tracking them down. There were some genuine shrieks when they found themselves squeezed into thickly webbed corners with spiders. Thankfully no other visitors were within earshot at the time. While they spooked each other, I took my time studying the Corn Crib. I had never seen such an agricultural structure before and its strange shape really appealed to me. It was as if a wonky pentagon shaped barn had had a tunnel bored through its centre. This was where corn was stored and shucked. The machinery that did so was powered by a water turbine attached to the adjacent Gristmill. This was another building the boys enjoyed exploring because there were multiple accessible levels within it. The basement layer was also thick with dusty grit which enabled them to scrawl spooky messages to each other – and any visitors who followed after us.
In the middle of all of these agricultural and industrial buildings were a mansion and a general store. I absolutely loved the architectural design of the mansion because it was so utterly crazy. There were a variety of shapes and angles on every facet of the house. There were also windows of every shape and style. Maybe I liked it because it was quirky. Maybe it was because it was the type of house I might end up drawing with no symmetry or organised pattern to the design. I would love to take a tour of its interior some time. We could go inside the general store which was fun. The interior contained a display much like customers would have encountered upon entering the store. I am a sucker for things being stored in little drawers and little pigeonholes. I have fond memories of selecting penny sweeties (candy) from wooden drawers when I was wee which might be part of it. I, therefore, particularly liked seeing the drawers of spices. Mr Pict liked the veranda outside the general store. It put him in mind of westerns. I think he could imagine sitting in a rocking chair watching the world go by from that veranda.
We took the path past the lake and a weir roaring with water. This brought us to the area where the iron furnaces once stood and the site where the glassworks would have been. Little or no trace remains of either. The sawmill was still standing, however, and we could see how the trees from the surrounding woodland would have been turned into lumber products, including shingles for the exterior of houses.
Just a little way off from the sawmill were all the remaining village houses. These were houses, built in the early 19th Century, that occupied by the village workers. A few of them were open so that we could go in and see the rooms and some mock ups of how they would have been furnished. I always like to imagine how people would have lived in the past, being much more interested in social history than industrial history.
Our intention had been to take one of the nature trails that leads off from Batsto. However, the children were getting hungry which makes them grizzlier than bears. We knew that setting out on a trek was inviting disaster that would start with grumbles and escalate to snarls. We, therefore, determined that we would walk through the woods to the church that once served the people of Batsto and is still in service today for the local community. Half way down the trail, however, we discovered that the path ahead was flooded with no obvious way around. It had rained hard all day the previous day so this was not all together surprising but it was disappointing. Mr Pict and I decided not to push our luck with the kids and their stomachs so, with a sigh, we turned around and headed back through the woods, through the village, and back to the car.
Rich had recommended a few places to eat in the area so we headed to one of these. I love to eat out for Mother’s Day as it means I don’t have to cook or clean. I love it even more if the food is especially delicious. The Vincetown Diner did not disappoint. It had the relaxing, laid back atmosphere and spaciousness of a diner but the food was a step up from regular diner food (though I am actually a fan of diner food). I had crab cakes with garlic mash and lemon aoli which was packed with flavour and stuffed me to the gunnels. My eyes were bigger than my belly and had scanned the dessert case on the way to our seats so I still went ahead and ordered the chocolate volcano cake. I was only able to eat one mouthful of it so I boxed it up and had it the next day. Still scrumptious.
We had a superb day out exploring the Pine Barrens. We will likely return to Batsto again, maybe in a different season, and we would also like to explore more of the surrounding area and trek along some of the trails. I also hope the dreary weather has ended now so that this can be the first of many weekend wanderings. We have been cooped up for too long.
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