I had been sent the notice that the County of Morris, New Jersey was having a two-day Open House of many of their historical sites for touring and for special events for a program entitled “The Pathways of History: Museum and Site Tours of Morris County, NJ”.
The “Pathways to History” event takes place every May
The weekend event spread to small museums, historical homes and cemeteries all over the County with walking tours and lectures at various sites. Having never been or even heard of many of these sites, I was interested in visiting as many as I could for my blog, “VisitingaMuseum.com” which is here on WordPress.com as well.
I plotted my two days of the event and tried to organize the trip so that we could see as many sites as we could. The event asked the sites to open one of the two days as…
I have to say that I was very impressed by the Whippany Railway Museum. It was not one of those usual train museums with bric-a-brac and posters and a uniform here and there. The museum building itself is a highly organized history of the rail system not just in New Jersey but all over the country. It showcases how New Jersey played a big role in the growth of the rail system and how transportation has changed over the last 100 years.
The museum displays were highly organized and well documented with all sorts of equipment of how a train functions, lighting equipment for the outdoors, and indoor dining, menus and manners for a time when rail was a form of luxury travel. It shows the progression from just transportation for the movement of product to a sleek way to travel from destination to destination.
The Whippany Railway Museum at 1 Railroad Plaza
There are all sorts of everyday items that show how maintenance of the trains have changed over the years and the modernization of the railcars. They have a display on lighting that has changed over the years and the way that communication was done between the trains and the staff. Even the uniforms have not really changed too much over the years.
Race is touched on with the advancement of Blacks in the Pullman coaches as porters and later supervisors. There was even a discussion on the strikes for better pay and working conditions. I thought it was interesting about the discussion of being called a “George”, which was a term for George Pullman, the owner and developer of the luxury cars. It might have been meant as a compliment but came off as a slur. It showed a progression in the field that in some ways has not changed.
The museum also showed that rail life could be lonely and not the best in working conditions for anyone which is why the unions became so powerful in later years. It also showed the ingenuity of how the rails conquered the West and opened the country up for development. With each stop, towns developed, and populations have changed. You see how this has been affected even today as rail is not as popular as it once was, and these small towns are dying off.
Where the museum really shines and where I saw the most pride is in the rail cars that have come to the yard over the years and have been carefully restored. The Southern Railway No. 385 built in 1907 for faster freight service, the Texaco Fireless Cooker No. 7240 built in 1937 for industrial switching duty and one of the newest steam locomotives still surviving, the U.S. Army No. 4039 built in 1942 for WWII service are just some of the cars on display (Whippany Railway Museum pamphlet).
The railcar that most impressed me was the Lackawanna Railroad Subscription Club Car No. 2454 that was once known as the “Millionaires Express” (Whippany Railway Museum). The mahogany paneled car carried businessmen from New York City through towns in the middle of New Jersey. What I thought was interesting was the people who rode it (Christie Todd Whitman’s father was a member) and the fact that you had to ‘buy’ the seat, which meant that no one could ever sit in ‘your chair’ if you were not there. This car ran for 72 years finally retiring out in 1984 (probably due to the recession and changing times).
I ended up spending about three hours at the museum due to a very detailed tour by one of the volunteers named Mike. He gave the most interesting hour-long tour of each car and how they were renovating it and carefully restoring each one to its historical integrity. He was so detailed and when the other volunteers chimed in with their stories as well, made it a fascinating tour of the whole yard.
When you are visiting the museum, allow time to take this every intensive and detailed tour of the museum grounds and just don’t concentrate on what’s inside the building. The museum spreads out all over the yards and take the time to explore each car and learn its history. It is an educating and fascinating way to spend the afternoon.
The museum modernizes:
The Whippany Museum under new directions
The History of the Whippany Museum:
(From the museum website)
The story of the Whippany Railway Museum began many years ago when the Morris County Central Railroad (MCC) first opened to the public on May 9th, 1965, at Whippany, NJ. On that exciting day a half-century ago, former Southern Railway steam locomotive No. 385 departed Whippany for Morristown, NJ with the MCC’s first trainload of over 400 passengers. At the end of the day over 1,500 people had traveled on a nostalgic trip into railroading’s colorful past. For the next 15 years until it ceased operations in 1980, the MCC would carry on this excellent tradition, leaving memories for untold hundreds of thousands of visitors that would last a lifetime.
The Morris County Central was founded by a New Jersey aerospace technician, the late Earle H. Gil, Sr. of Parsippany. His idea of running steam excursion trains was formed in the late 1950’s when conventional steam railroad operations were fading fast. Gil hoped that a financially successful heritage railroad would justify the great expense involved in keeping one of these magnificent machines alive.
Having acquired No. 385 in 1963 from the 16-mile-long Virginia Blue Ridge Railway (VBR) in rural Piney River, VA, the MCC ran an outstanding operation through the woodlands of suburban New Jersey. In 1966, Gil acquired another VBR steam locomotive, No. 4039 a former US Army 0-6-0 switcher that was soon added to the MCC’s roster of vintage steam-era equipment.
Threatened by development of the property alongside the Whippany Station, the Morris County Central RR saved the Whippany Freight House from demolition in June 1967 by having it moved across four sets of tracks to a site opposite the station building. Originally used by our predecessor organization, Morris County Central Railroad Museum, this classic railroad freight house is now the headquarters of the Whippany Railway Museum.
The Morris County Central was a fine example of what a conscientious group was able to accomplish, with moderate resources and good taste in the preservation of operating steam. It proved that trains, steam locomotives and haunting whistles continue to linger in the minds of the American public.
Fifty years on, the Whippany Railway Museum continues the tradition and proves that it is indeed possible to have a quality operation through much hard work by its dedicated group of volunteers and the tremendous support of the visiting public.
(From the Museum Pamphlet):
Here you can visit the restored, 1904 freight house with its outstanding collection of rail and transportation artifacts and memorabilia. There are dozens of historic railcars and exhibits on view. We are proud to feature the largest collection of American-built standard gauge steam locomotives displayed in New Jersey.
Marvel at one of the oldest steam locomotives in America, the Southern Railway No. 385 built in 1907 for fast freight service, Texaco Fireless Cooker No. 7240, built in 1937 for industrial switching duty and one of the newest stream locomotives still surviving, the U.S. Army No. 4039, built in 1942 for World War II service.
A Video on the Washington Township Historical Society
I came to the Washington Township Historical Site as part of Morris County’s “Pathways of History” tour and visited the Union Schoolhouse Museum and then the Union Church and Burial Ground that is located right next door on the same property. This sleepy little town was once a bustling manufacturing site with the sawmill and Ghrist around the corner and the Welsh Farms Ice Cream factory up the street from the site.
The Union Schoolhouse Museum at 6 Fairview Avenue
The museum, which was once the town’s schoolhouse, is an engaging site that showcases how the town developed over the last two hundred years. On the bottom floor, the society has Native American artifacts, period furniture and clothing and in the back of the museum is a full display of the original Welsh Farms Ice Cream factory. The Welsh’s were a very prominent family from the area.
The Welsh Farms Ice Cream Factory display
Some of the old bottles and equipment from the factory
The second floor of the museum has a display of town memorabilia from different businesses, farming equipment from the area’s agricultural past and pictures of businesspeople and prominent citizens of the town. It shows how the commercial past of the community kept evolving.
Display of the town memorabilia
To the side of the second floor is a display of a period schoolroom from the time that the building served as a school of the local population. You can see that not much has changed over the years.
School rooms of the past are not too different from today
The one thing that creeped me out was a picture of a local businessman from the 1800’s who looked exactly like the actor, Blake Ritson, who plays “Oscar Van Rijin” in the TV show “The Gilded Age”. These men are almost 100 years apart and he looks like the actor from that exact time period.
The picture is of local businessman Ernest Paul Hunger
I had to take this picture because everyone says you have a twin from the past and I can tell that these two men look exactly alike in the same clothing. What is really interesting is that they are the same age at the same time period. Like that picture of the gentleman from the 1880’s that looks exactly like actor Nicolas Cage, I think there is some weird time travel here. It is almost like the film “Time after Time”.
After touring the whole museum, I went next door to visit the church and the cemetery for a tour. When I exited the museum, I had not really noticed the beauty of the gardens that surrounded the museum. The local garden club had done a great job in landscaping and planting the walled garden around the museum. In the early Spring, it was a colorful display of flowers.
The walled garden was so colorful in the early spring
The cemetery walk was intriguing in that you got to walk through the ruins of the old church and get to see how it was once constructed. It gave me insight of how big these churches were at one time and building construction was in early colonial New Jersey.
The ruins of the old Union Church
The Union Church surrounded by the cemetery
When we visited each family’s plot, there was a discussion about what contributions that everyone made to the town and their place in society. What was interesting was that the volunteers were cleaning the tombstones with tombstone cleaner, and I had wondered when we were taking the tour why they looked so new. There is a lot of care of the people of this cemetery.
The whole site is an interesting look into the community’s past by a group of volunteers who give it their all to make the site interesting, historical, visually engaging to the visitor and offer a surprise or two into history that you may not know of New Jersey. One the warm, sunny day that we visited the site, it made it even nicer to walk around and have the time to soak it all in.
When you visit the Union Schoolhouse and Union Church and Burial Ground take the time out to take the formal tour of the site. It is very informative to a past that is not so different from today. It offers a lot of insight of people’s lives of this community.
The history of the Union Church and Cemetery Site:
(From the Washington Township Historical Society pamphlet)
Mission: To bring together people interested in the history of Washington Township, Morris County, NJ and promote a better appreciation of our American heritage.
The history of the site:
European settlement had begun in Long Valley by 1730. The early settlers, primarily from Germany and Holland, came fleeing religious persecution, an oppressive tax burden and hoping for a better life in America.
In 1749, a joint log meeting house had been built near the site of the Stone Church by the Zion Lutherans and Dutch Reformed Congregations. During these early times the congregations were served either by preachers from these churches or by laymen. One of the ministers of the time was Henry M. Muhlenberg, who has been called the Father of the Lutheran Church in America. His son, John Peter also ministered to the Raritan Valley before 1772. In 1776, John left his church in Virginia to raise and lead a regiment in the American Revolution, serving with distinction and retiring as a brevet major general.
On February 4th, 1774, the Dutch Reformed and German Lutheran congregations drew up articles and agreements that provided for the building of a joint meetinghouse. “Whereas we the members of the Evangelical Reformed Congregation and we, the members of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation are willing to build a meeting house jointly, “Acted the 4th day of February 1774, which is testified to by: Henry Muhlenberg Jr., deputy director of Zion’s Welsch; Diedric Strubel; Conrad Rorick; Casper Eick; Anthon Waldorf; Adam Lorenz; Philip Weis; Christopher Karn; Leonard Neighbour; Roulof Roulofsen; John Schwackhammer; Andrew Flock.”
Let the Building Begin:
According to local tradition, the stone used to construct the building of the meetinghouse, the people of the two congregations turned out in a body to cart the stone. It had been a previous agreement, that whoever on the day appointed, should bring the first load, should receive the honor of having his horse decorated with flags and ribbons. The story goes that Judge David Welsch, then 17, secretly loaded his wagon and hid it that night. The next day, wagons came like thunder from all parts of the valley. Although David Welsch was confident of winning, he was almost beaten. Before he could unload his wagon, all of German Valley was on the ground.”
A Stately and well built structure:
A description of the Stone Church was given during a sermon by Reverend Alfred Hiller in July 1876. He said, “it was a heavy gallery on the one side and across each end; the entrance on one side (south), under the gallery and on the opposite side (north) was the pulpit, one of the Jack in the Pulpit style, with sounding board suspended above. There is no chimney on the church, in the center of the church, a space about eight feet square was made with a dirt floor and on the square a great mass of charcoal was burned, the congregation getting for their share at least the smell of the fire.”
The Old Stone Church today
Historic photographs indicate the building had a clipped-gable or jerkin-head roof with roof ridge parallel to the longer north and south walls. The two-story church, three bays wide and two bays deep, featured a wide and two bays deep, featured a wide central entry surmounted by a segmental arch, as were the windows. The walls were of coursed rubble stone construction, pointed with a white lime-rich mortar, except on the south or front elevation which was stuccoed and “penciled” with white pointing to replicate regular ashlar stone. However, this may have been a later 19th century embellishment.
In 1832, both congregations decided to separate houses of worship. Since that time the Old Stone Church has stood abandoned and surrounded by the graves of the early congregants. Despite efforts at stabilization between the 1960’s and the 1980’s, the deterioration continued until recent efforts spearheaded by the members of the Washington Township Historical Society with permission of The Zion Lutheran and Long Valley Presbyterian Churches have improved this.
The Old Stone Church with the cemetery surrounding it
I visited the Obadiah La Tourette Grist & Sawmill during a visit to Long Valley, NJ for Morris County’s “Pathway to History” tour and this was one of the most unusual and interesting sites on the tour. The mill was once one of the most active businesses in the area. The Mill processed and packaged flour for the areas farmers making it one of the most profitable businesses in the region. By the end of WWII, the Mill was itself was becoming antiquated and larger producers could make the product for far less money and the business closed.
The Obadiah La Tourette Mill
The Mill itself it is getting a renovation, and, on the tour, I took, you could visit all three floors of the Mill and see how the product was made. On the first floor is where some of the processing took place.
The first floor now greets you where it once served as the Receiving area
The wheat was brought in, processed and milled. One of the machines is still in the building. This is where the raw product was brought in for processing into flour.
Processing the flour
The bottom level is where are all machinery is where the power source of the stream moved all the equipment along.
This was really interesting because the stream still lies underneath the mill and you can see the flow of water throughout the bottom of the building as it had over 100 years ago. This is how Mother Nature did her part before electricity.
History of the Obadiah La Tourette Mill Restoration:
(From the Washington Trust Pamphlet)
The Mill was built in circa 1750 and owned by Philip Weise. The Mill was essential to the economy and development of German Valley and the surrounding agricultural community. For much of its history, it was the most successful business in the village, grinding grain and producing flour and animal feed. A sawmill was located behind the grist mill during the 1800’s.
Originally powered by two water wheels, the mill was converted to turbine power by owner Obadiah La Tourette in the 1870’s. Milling operations continued until the early 1940’s. Most of the machinery remains, reflecting the history of milling over 200 years.
The stream is the power source of the Mill
In 1991, the Washington Township Land Trust purchased the condemned building and embarked upon its restoration with the aid of volunteers, grants and generous donations. The current scope of work is being funded by a grant from the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust Fund. It includes the restoration of structural framing, soffit trim, doors and siding of the street facade; restoration of some first-floor beams and joists and restoration of thirteen windows.
The Mill in 1993
The History of the Washington Township Land Trust:
(From the Washington Trust Pamphlet)
The Washington Township Land Trust of Morris County, NJ was organized in 1990 and incorporated in 1991 as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation. It is exclusively for charitable, educational and scientific purposes, to protect and preserve the lands, watercourses, ponds, streams and structures which contribute to the natural beauty and rural character of Washington Township.
To achieve this, the Land Trust acquires interests in land through purchase or donation, manages land uses for the benefit of the public and makes itself available to the Township of Washington to assist in the stewardship of public lands and easements.
In 1991, the Land Trust acquired the Obadiah La Tourette Mill and the surrounding ten acres of land, now preserved as a wetlands park. A portion of the park has been set aside as a memorial garden for Helen Andrews, a longtime resident of Long Valley and wife of Stan Andrews. The Land Trust also administers the issuance of easement markers for Washington Township and may in the future expand its operation to the monitoring of easements.
The Land Trust provides education to the public on various preservation issues such as conservation easements and other topics of value. Lastly, the Land Trust works with other land trusts, open space groups and conservation organizations to provide an organized approach to meet our common goals.