Batsto Village

Batsto Village (website), located in Wharton State Forest in New Jersey, is a preserved and restored village that once manufactured iron and glass. The village contains many well-maintained 19th century buildings, a museum & gift shop, the Mullica River, and Pine Barrens hiking trails. History & nature — something for everybody. There’s also a connection to the Jersey Devil.

Batsto Mansion:
Batsto Mansion

A large sample of the bog iron that was used for iron manufacturing:
Bog Iron

The Mullica River is dammed at the site of the village to power a mill (or two). The Mullica is a favorite of kayakers, but maybe not at this exact location. It was previously known as the Batsto river.
Mullica River

The nature trails are loaded with opportunities for naturalists and photographers.
Mushroom

Batona Trail

1936 Wildland Firefighter Memorial, Bass River State Forest

There’s a Wildland Firefighter Memorial located along East Greenbush Road in Tuckerton, New Jersey, in Bass River State Forest. In the woods behind the memorial, there are foundations of buildings from a former Civilian Conservation Camp (1933-1942). If you walk the trails and explore the woods, you’ll find foundations, slab floors, chimneys, and other chunks of old buildings.

The Pine Barrens are prone to fires, in part, due to the flammability of pine sap. Sadly, fires occasionally take the lives of the brave fighter fighters who protect the Pine Barrens.

The slab floor of building:
Wildland Firefighter Memorial, Foundation

A chunk of tile from a bathroom:
Wildland Firefighter Memorial, Tile Floor

A lichen that looks like the outline of a cartoon alien:
Wildland Firefighter Memorial, Lichen that looks like an alien

Other stores about the Pine Barrens:

Atsion Furnace in the Pine Barrens

The thing with Google Maps is… it thinks you’re driving a monster truck. Countless times Google Maps has directed me to take my front-wheel-drive sedan down single-lane mud roads with potholes the size of small vernal ponds.

Think I’m joking? Look at this big chungus:
Huge pothole

Sometimes these navigational mulligans lead to an interesting find, like the Atsion furnace. After backing my feeble vehicular contrivance out of the mud and craters death trap road, I took the next lane over. That turned out to be a dead-end — the “Mullica River Canoe Launch” — there was a small dirt parking lot for kayakers and the cola-colored Mullica river. The water in the Pine Barrens is really cola-colored: pitch black at its deepest parts and translucent brown at its edges. I’ve heard the color comes from tannins from pines and/or the bacteria that create bog iron.

As I turned around I noticed a tall (maybe 15′) stone structure resembling a furnace or kiln. I parked the car and investigated. At the base of the structure were layers of charcoal and a scattering of bog ore. Oyster shells — used as a flux for making iron — were also present. I took some photos and walked the nearby grounds, finding the ruins and foundations of many small buildings, and remnants of the New Jersey Southern Railroad.

Atsion Furnace:
Atsion Furnace

A look inside

Remnants of the New Jersey Southern Railroad:
the New Jersey Southern Railroad

Intrigued, I researched the area and it turned out the structure is called the Atsion furnace. I bought a book on eBay called Atsion: a Town of Four Faces by Sarah W.R. Ewing. According to her book, Atsion has had a long history of industrious investors and entrepreneurs, starting in the 1700s. Atsion has been home to industries as diverse as iron refining, iron casting, charcoal manufacture, lumber cutting, paper milling, ice harvesting, and farming cranberries, blueberries, and other fruits & vegetables. I think the only enduring industry has been farming.

Delapidated house:
Abandoned house

Kayakers, history buffs, and urban explorers will enjoy this location.

More Pine Barren stories:

The Franklin Parker Preserve and abandoned railroad tracks

Back in July, I was hanging out in the parking lot of the Brenda T Byrne State Park welcome center, waiting for the sun to set so I could get some video of Northern Dusk-Singing cicadas singing. These cicadas, as their name suggests, sing after the sun has set. I located a male cicada perched in a tree close to the ground and was poised to film it singing when I noticed the silhouette of a man appear in the distance manifesting like a ghost out of the haze of twilight. He walked directly towards me. Was he a ghost? Was he a serial killer? Turns out the guy was a trucker who liked to hike and stopped by to get some information about the park. We talked for a while and he gave me some tips about other local parks and trails like the Franklin Parker Preserve. The trucker was intrigued by the abandoned train tracks that ran through much of the Pine Barrens as well. I missed getting a video of the cicada singing, but I got some good tips on new trails, and later I snagged a cicada nymph which I was later able to watch molt.

Chatsworth Lake, across the road from the entrance to The Franklin Parker Preserve:
Chatsworth Lake

The Franklin Parker Preserve, maintained by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, is located in Chatsworth, New Jersey, not far from Hot Diggity Dog and the Brooksbrae Terracotta Brick Factory. Ecologically speaking, it is prime Pine Barrens: sandy soil, with obvious dunes in some places, multitudinous pine trees, blueberry bushes, oaks, and a black-water river. The hiking trails are scenic: winding through forests, over dunes, alongside and over swamps, and the West Branch Wading River. The park is recommended for everything from horseback riding, to fishing, to bird-watching — as a naturalist, and someone who enjoys finding abandoned stuff in the woods, it’s a most excellent place to explore. The cicadas you’ll find in the park are the Pine Barrens cicada (June-early July), the Northern Dusk-Singing cicada (July-August), and the Dog-Day cicada (late July-September).

The quiet, cola-black waters of the West Branch Wading River:
Cola-black water

The abandoned railroad:
Franklin Parker Preserve railroad

I’m sure a lot of folks will ignore the railroad that bisects the park, but like the Trucker, I was intrigued. The main hiking trail crosses the railroad — just a step or two and you’re over it. But, if you follow the tracks north-east, you’ll discover a decaying train bridge made of timber, that crosses the West Branch Wading River. If you go southwest your path will be blocked by a pine forest. The railroad is the New Jersey Southern Railroad. If you start at Franklin Parker on Google Maps satellite view, you can trace the path of the railroad north to Raritan Bay, and south to Vineland, bisecting the Pine Barrens. You can catch glimpses of it alongside the Brooksbrae Terracotta Brick Factory and in Atsion near the abandoned furnace. Over the years the Pine Barrens has been home to many industries including bog iron harvesting, iron forging, charcoal manufacture, lumber, brick making, glass making, paper mills, ice harvesting, and farming cranberries and blueberries. Trains were needed to transport these goods north to New York and west to Philadelphia (the New Jersey Southern Railroad connecting to the Camden & Atlantic and/or Atlantic City lines). With little manufacturing in the area, starting in the mid-20th century, there’s been little need for a railroad. The forest has reclaimed the land, but the ghost of the railroad remains.

More from the Pine Barrens:

Dot and Brooks Evert Memorial Trail Preserve

The Dot and Brooks Evert Memorial Trail Preserve is located in the middle of New Jersey on the north-western edge of the Pine Barrens. It is near Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, the Michael Huber Warbler Preserve, and an entrance to the 53.5-mile Batona trail. The preserve is maintained by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. The entrance is along the curiously named Ong’s Hat road; it is easy to miss, especially if someone is tailgating you while you’re trying to find it.

Evert Trail

It is near the ecological border between the Pine Barrens and the divide between inner and outer coastal plains. You won’t find the sandy soil and multitudinous pine trees typical of the Barrens — instead the Evert Trail Preserve is mostly swamp, streams, and trees growing from small lumps of ground periodically rising above the swamp. This is a unique experience! The trail is constructed from planks of wood seemingly floating on top of the swamp. It’s not for horses, bicycles, or ATVs — I weigh north of 250 pounds at the moment, and there were times I was sure I would sink. Good balance and concentration are necessary. This trail/preserve is best for hikers, naturalists, and birders.

Spoilers! Here is a video of part of the trail:

Along the way you’ll see hundreds if not thousands of different types of swamp-loving fungi and plants like this Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus):
Evert Trail Swamp Loosestrife

And even though it is 50 minutes from Leeds Point, I’m sure the Jersey Devil has been here. It’s the spookiest and most memorable trail in New Jersey.

More stories from the Pine Barrens:

Tracks with Graffiti

Pasadena Terracotta Brick Factory

The graffiti-decorated ruins of the Pasadena Terracotta Brick Factory — or “Brooksbrae” as Google maps calls it — exist in the woods alongside Pasadena Woodmanse Road in Manchester Township, NJ. If you allow Google Maps to direct you there, it will lead you down treacherous mud roads. Instead, drive down well-paved Pasadena Woodmanse Road* and look for graffiti on the road, park your car, climb the hill, climb over the train tracks and walk into the woods. Spray painted trees, discarded spray paint caps, the smell of aerosol paint, and random yucca plants will show you the way.

There’s no missing it once you get there. Walls, doorways, and foundations — most without rooves or floors — trees and grasses reclaiming the land — graffiti scripts and modern-day hieroglyphics covering anything mad-made. Most graffiti is bubble-letter tags, but there are enough illustrations & variety of vibrant colors to make it interesting. It’s reminiscent of the graffiti road in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Brick Factory

Graffiti on a wall

the vestibule

* The best way to get there is to start at Hot Diggidy Dog in Chatsworth, get yourself some hot dogs, then go north on Main, and make a right onto Savoy Boulevard and take Savoy all the way to Mt. Misery Road. Make a right onto Mt. Misery, and then a quick left onto Pasadena Woodmanse Road, and look for the graffiti.

Graffiti on the road

The brick factory is not far from Hot Diggity Dog, the Franklin Parker Preserve (more train tracks), Evert Trail Preserve (floating swamp trail), the Michael Huber Prairie Warbler Preserve, and something called Hidden Lake.

I’ve always been curious about the Pine Barrens, thanks to the legend of the Jersey Devil, John McPhee’s book The Pine Barrens, and reading dozens of Weird NJ magazines. As a child, I collected rocks and minerals; someone gave me a hunk of rainbow-colored glass from the Batso glassworks, and at the time I vowed to visit Batso but never made the trip until 2019. Later in life, I made trips to Manchester to look for Megatibicen auletes cicadas — the largest cicada in North America. Summer of 2021, with nothing else to do, I started visiting the Pines almost every weekend.

More from the Pine Barrens: