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Hunterdon Land Trust

HLT Passes 9,500 Total Preserved Acres Milestone with Latest Project

Eisenberger property trail.

The trail that winds through the newly preserved Eisenberger property.

Ninety-eight acres of mostly pristine, verdant forest untouched by churning plow or digging backhoe, and undisturbed by hungry deer . . . in New Jersey?

A rare occurrence indeed. And, what’s best of all, these acres off Ludlow Station Road in Bethlehem Township will remain unspoiled for generations to come thanks to Hunterdon Land Trust.

“We target land for preservation based on the impact that landscape will have,” said HLT Executive Director Patricia Ruby. “This particular property was a priority because its unusually healthy forest provides clean water and resilient native wildlife habitat.”

HLT Land Steward Stefani Spence knew the moment she stepped onto the property that it was special.

“It’s very rare in Hunterdon County these days to see such a healthy forest – heavy deer browse usually paves the way for a carpet of invasive species, but this preserve has an abundance of native plants in the understory and we saw very few invasives,” Spence said. “The fact that these woods were never cleared for agriculture and have remained essentially untouched plays a big part in how healthy they still are today.”

The land offers an ideal setting for passive recreation; an existing trail slopes uphill through a charming deciduous forest, rewarding hikers with stunning views of surrounding mountains and open fields. The property is also near the Tower Hill and Charlestown reserves – both owned by Hunterdon County — creating the possibility of someday linking several trails.

—–

Another compelling reason to preserve the land is its adjacency to a tributary of the Musconetcong River, which feeds into the Delaware. Protecting the watershed of the Musconetcong – one of only five federally-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in New Jersey — also furthers the efforts of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), primarily funded by the William Penn Foundation.

The DRWI is among the nation’s largest non-regulatory conservation efforts, involving 65 non-governmental organizations — including Hunterdon Land Trust – working together to protect and restore clean drinking water in the Delaware River watershed, the source of drinking water for 15 million people in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

HLT purchased the land from Princeton resident Peter Eisenberger, who had owned it for more than 25 years. In this preservation, patience paid off. HLT’s initial inquiries into preserving the land date back to January of 2001 but efforts to secure funding for the purchase proved difficult.

“Finding the funding is often the biggest challenge,” said HLT Director of Acquisitions Jacqueline Middleton.

HLT and Bethlehem Township kicked in New Jersey State Green Acres money, Hunterdon County awarded the project a grant, the William Penn Foundation provided key support, and The Nature Conservancy contributed funds for closing costs and technical reports.

“All these organizations played an important role in making this preservation possible – we can’t thank them enough,” Middleton said. “We also appreciate the property owner’s patience as we worked to raise the funds for this purchase.”

HLT, in turn, transferred the property to Hunterdon County who will own and manage it.

The Eisenberger Preservation brings the total amount of acreage preserved by Hunterdon Land Trust to 9,526 and closer to its goal of protecting 10,000 by the end of 2020.

(Hunterdon Land Trust is your local nonprofit protecting the places you love in the Hunterdon County area. Learn more here about donating or volunteering because the things you do locally can make a world of difference!)

Exploring the Site of the Former Copper Mines on the Dvoor Farm

Retired geologist Mark Zdepski has been studying copper mining in Hunterdon County for more than two decades. Slag found here offers clues to the land’s mining past.

Partially hidden beneath the fallen branches, dried leaves and detritus near the Walnut Brook that courses through the Dvoor Farm lies a gold mine of information about the land’s history in the mid 1800s.

Or, for the sake of accuracy, a copper mine’s worth.

A smattering of clues crops up offering an interesting glimpse of  Hunterdon County’s mining industry past that stretches beyond a street name. The fact that this evidence still exists astounds retired geologist Mark Zdepski, who has studied copper mining in the county for more than 20 years.

“This is amazing because it’s untouched,” Zdepski said. “Somebody could have come in here with heavy equipment and taken it all out and used it as fill or something, but they didn’t; they left it here — just waiting to be interpreted.”

Mining Company map

Courtesy of the collections of the Hunterdon County Historical Society.

Copper mining in Hunterdon County dates to pre-Revolutionary times. Efforts then and during the 1820s-1830s met with little success. Mining fever cooled here until around 1846 when workers for Hugh Capner — who owned a home next door to the Case-Dvoor farmstead — began digging a new cellar on his farm and discovered copper ore. Flemington attorney Charles Bartles was instrumental in forming the Flemington Copper Company, and a mining operation was formed east of the Walnut Brook where property now owned by the Dvoor Farm and St. Magdalen Roman Catholic Church meet. This was the largest of several mines in the Flemington area.

A number of mining companies were formed in the ensuing years. Some were out to make a quick buck via stock jobbing; others were serious attempts to draw copper ore from the earth. In the end, mining resulted in a litter of failed companies and a riot in 1861 by miners. Some investors like James Graham, owner of Graham’s Magazine (which at one time employed Edgar Allan Poe as a critic and editor), lost a fortune. Merchants in town who extended credit to miners lost too.  But the bottom line is that there just wasn’t enough copper beneath the surface. Hubert Schmidt in Rural Hunterdon notes: “It is doubted that ore was ever obtained on a profitable basis; stock manipulation was more important to the various promoters than was actual mining, and many persons lost their money as a result of it.”

Maps and reports of the site found in the archives of the Hunterdon County Historical Society indicate a number of shafts. Above, a number of buildings could be found including an engine house, a gigging house, a blacksmith’s shop, laboratory, miners’ houses and an office.

More than 150 years after the last Irish or English miner struck a pick into the earth, Zdepski stops along the shoulder of Mine Street near Shields Avenue, bending down to examine a black rock. “This is slag here,” Zdepski said. “They probably tried to do ore reduction and over here is some anthracite coal. You can see the gas vesicles in here so this has been melted. This is probably from the blacksmith’s shop.”

Rounding the corner onto Shields Avenue, he halts at a 5 1/2-feet-X-4-feet hunk of concrete jutting out from a slope alongside the roadway. “We have a picture (from the 1930s) of truck dumping concrete into a void back when Shields Avenue was being widened,” Zdepski said. This opening doesn’t appear in any of the 19th century mining maps suggesting this was an earlier shaft from the Revolutionary period.

Hill in the woods which is likely a muck pile.

We tramp into the woods around trees, over branches, through tangles of sticker bushes. We stop at the remnants of the Hunt shaft, one of several that stretched across the land. Behind that a hill rises. “That’s the muck pile; muck being the term for rock blasted out of the underground and hauled to the surface. Any time you have rock that’s broken up, that’s the muck.”

While standing atop a muck pile, Zdepski discusses how one could determine the size of the underground headings — the horizontal passageways in the mine — largely through the use of detailed contour maps and by calculating the cubic yards of excavated material.

Zdepski notes that the diligent observer can also find evidence of coal combustion residue from the steam engine used while mining for copper ore. Evidence of copper staining is present too. Flat rectangular surfaces also provide possible hints of where the crushing and jigging house and engine house would have been located.

A diligent eye can, indeed, get a sense of the copper mining industry that existed on the outskirts of Flemington in the mid-1800s.

In the meantime, additional clues about Hunterdon’s mining industry lurk beneath the soil. Zdepski said that with some clean up work and experimental test pitting, more could be learned about the history that happened here.

Standing alongside the Walnut Brook, looking around, Zdepski ruminates, “There’s a lot to see here — and a lot to understand.”

Concrete slab on Shields Avenue.

Murder on the Case-Dvoor Farmstead — Part 2

Philip Case day book entry for Oct. 7, 1803. Courtesy of the collection of the Hunterdon County Historical Society.

Part 2: A Murder on the Farm

Oct. 7, 1803 doesn’t appear particularly noteworthy if one peruses Philip Case’s day book entry for that date. But that Friday was anything but typical at Case’s tannery when a disagreement between two slaves on the property had deadly consequences.

Slavery was an ugly part of the history of Case’s tannery. The Case family hired local labor and purchased slaves to work; records indicate that Case was taxed for one adult male slave in 1786, 1789, 1802 and 1803, and he likely owned several other African Americans.

New Jersey has a rather muddled history when it comes to slavery. NJ was the last northern state to abolish slavery; it took until February 1804 for it to enact a gradual abolition. Its act declared a “freedom of the womb,” by granting emancipation to any child born to a slave after July 4, 1804, but required these children to serve their mother’s owner until age 25 if male and 21 if female, as James Gigantino noted in his book The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey 1775-1865.

This meant that there were still slaves in New Jersey on the eve of the Civil War. Gigantino offers one example: “In 1789, Catherine was born a slave in Hunterdon county, New Jersey. Like thousands of other slaves in the state, she worked daily for her master, John Hagaman, on his hundred-acre farm in Amwell.  . . In 1840, Catherine moved with her master to neighboring Raritan. Although the 1850 Census recorded her as a free woman, on February 16, 1856, Hagaman sold sixty-seven-year-old Catherine as a “slave for life” for twenty dollars to Charles Sutphin of Somerville.”

At the tannery on October 7, 1803 a slave named, James, was asked to help Mr. Pettit “draw out dung.”* A second slave, Brown, who had just started working in the tannery was told to help but complained of a pain in his side. An hour later, Brown agreed to help Pettit and joined James by the bate pit.

———

Later, the two slaves were again working, when Pettit heard a loud noise, and upon investigating, found James and Brown fighting with dung forks. James poked Brown, warning that he “would run him through” if he did not stay out of his way, according to witness statements taken during the coroner’s inquest into the murder.

Both men were very angry, but the forks were taken away and things seemed to calm down.

The two eventually retired to the basement kitchen when another commotion erupted. Workers rushed to the scene to discover that James had wrestled Brown to the floor. Brown “cried out he would not fight because of the pain in his side,” according to the inquest. The men pulled James off Brown, but as soon as he was freed, Brown attacked James again only to wind up pinned to the floor a second time. The two were separated again. Brown waited for James to turn his back when he grabbed a heavy iron trammel from the fireplace, and swung it.

The blow crushed the side of James’s skull, and he crumpled to the floor. As witnesses grabbed Brown, James drew his last breath.

An inquisition was led by Nathan Price, one of Hunterdon County’s coroners, on Oct. 15 at Case’s home. Among the “good and lawful men” participating in the inquiry were: Philip Case, Mr. J. Pettit, John Barton, Jacob Matteson and Jacob Werts. After hearing testimony, the inquiry concluded that Brown, indeed, “inflicted the wound willfully, maliciously and with the intention to take away the life of . . . James.”

On Nov. 11, 1803, Brown was hanged in front of the Flemington Courthouse.

* The process from turning animal hides into leather was discussed in part 1 of this blog post. Check it out for information on “drawing out dung.”

Coroner's inquest page.

The final page of the Coroner’s Inquest into the murder of James.

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