To get from Catonsville, Maryland to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, anyone with any sense flies. Enter Yr Fthfl Srvnt and his trusty BMW Z4 3.0i roadster from the lunatic fringe… Yes, with the prospect of 2 weeks on Cape Cod, I decided to fit in as many Z4 tours as I could. After all, it would be a grand opportunity to explore new sights outside of my usual Mid-Atlantic region!
After some quick highway miles to get me in the vicinity of New and Different Places, my first stop of the day was in Blairstown, NJ (formerly known as "Smyth's Mills," "Butts' Bridge," and "Gravel Hill"). The town was first settled in the early 1700s, and mills seem to have been a prominent feature of the place throughout, with this one having been built in 1825.
The town is named for John I. Blair, who started his career in business at age 10, trapping and selling rabbits and muskrats. By 25, he owned a general store in Butts' Bridge, followed soon by four more in other towns plus four flour mills. He eventually became fabulously wealthy as a banker and railroad magnate, serving as president for a total of 16 railroads. He was also very generous, establishing over 100 churches across the country (usually near his rail lines) and making large donations to Princeton, Grinnell, and other colleges. At least two other cities are also named after him (Blair, Nebraska and Blair, Wisconsin).
Today, Blairstown is best known for the Blair Academy, a small private prep school with a long list of notable graduates. "Blair Walk" is a scenic path along this lake and over the dam—except the bridge has been temporarily removed for repair.
The general store (perhaps John Blair's?) seems to be thriving and on this very hot day was providing welcome shade to a local resident.
As I continued on, heading for Port Jervis, New York, I suddenly spotted another imposing old mill by the side of the road.
And immediately across the street was a functional old church building.
Soon enough I realized that I was in Millbrook Village, NJ, the site of a very old town that today is partly original and partly recreated by the state. It flourished from the 1700s through the time of the Civil War, but the railroads bypassed the town, and industrialization elsewhere forced many of its companies out of business. By 1950, Millbrook was home to only a handful of farmers, retirees, and other residents.
Of course, every proper village should have a mill and a church, as I had already seen, as well as a general store…
… a wagon shop...
…a scenic rabbit…
…and a scenic park ranger! She was enormously helpful and encouraged me to explore the entire village. Lester Spangenberg built the cabin behind her in the early days of the original Dutch settlement (although it's since been substantially renovated). He lived in this cabin for many years with his wife and 11 children, finally deciding (wisely, no doubt) that they needed a larger place.
Nan took time from her embroidery to give me a tour of the George Trauger House, built in 1860 by her own great-grandfather. She lived here as a child.
The village also has a blacksmith shop and a number of other original buildings, original-but-moved-here structures, and recreated homes. The Depue cabin was built before 1830 and was relocated to Millbrook to avoid being covered by water from the proposed Tocks Island Dam across the Delaware River, which would have flooded much of the area near the Delaware River Water Gap. The dam was never constructed as a result of the outcry from local residents, environmentalists, historians, and others.
Millbrook Village was one of those unexpected joys that are so often encountered on drives through rural America. It's not shown on Google Maps or Garmin Mapsource, and there's not a lot about it on the Internet. But it proved to be a lot of fun, and I left with some reluctance. But there was more to see, naturally, including this condemned bridge over Flat Brook. It was the first of many bridges I would find on this trip—some condemned, some not—and the only one that I didn't drive across.
Before I knew it, I was in the middle of a veritable ghost town, namely Walpack, NJ. It was formed in 1731, although Dutch miners were in the area as early as 1664. As of the 2010 census, Walpack was the third smallest municipality in all of New Jersey, boasting 16 residents—but, during my visit, I saw no one at all. Its name derives from the Lenape Indian word for "whirlpool." Once threatened by the Tocks Island Dam, a number of original buildings have survived, including this old Methodist church. Inside, the walls, ceilings, and staircases are covered by beautiful fresco paintings, discovered behind wallboard by the Walpack Center Historical Society. There was once a 60-foot tall spire on top of the belfry, but it was removed after being struck repeatedly by lightning. (Fresco photo courtesy of The New Jersey Churchscape
Right across the street sat what must have originally been a one-room schoolhouse for the town. It now appears to be part of a roads-maintenance facility. Ach, what an outrage! But, it could have been worse. The website "Weird New Jersey" has a fascinating account
of the war that erupted between the Army Corps of Engineers, towns like Walpack, and various hippie enclaves in the late 1960s. Walpack's church, schoolhouse, and other buildings might easily have been bulldozed, but today they stand a chance of restoration.
Civilization soon returned in the form of Layton, which was founded in 1800. This antique automobile, however, dates only to 1923. Anyone care to identify it? (Calling Unity…) It's for sale, by the way, along with the Rolls Royce next to it and assorted other pre- and post-war classics.
A primary goal for the first leg of my trip to Cape Cod was to find "Grey Towers," the mansion built by James Pinchot, the father of former Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot. Gifford and his brother inherited the estate in 1914, and Gifford lived here for the rest of his life (when he wasn't working in Washington, DC as the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, or in Harrisburg, PA as governor). It was a stunning place, but I had to forgo a tour of the interior due to the lateness of the day and my pathetic progress toward Port Jervis.
And, as long as I've posed a question to John, here's one for the rare and beautiful Jody: I bet you can immediately identify the flowering plant shown above!
After further meandering and random sightseeing, I finally arrived in Port Jervis, which dates back to 1690. Over the years, the town has survived numerous floods and fires, including the time it was burned by the famous Indian warrior Colonel Joseph Brant and his Mohawk, Iroquois, and British Loyalist forces during the American Revolution. Brant, also known as Thayendanegea, was well-educated, affluent, and fluent in English as well as at least six Native American languages. We will meet him again further up the Delaware River.
Port Jervis' historic Erie Depot railroad station was easy to find. From its construction in 1892, it was the busiest passenger station on the Erie Railroad.
I was also looking for the railroad turntable located in Port Jervis—the largest and one of the last such turntables still used in the U.S. With minimal difficulty, I found it at the back of a shopping mall, complete with vintage diesel locomotive and passenger cars. As seen in the historic photo (courtesy of the New York State Archives), the turntable was originally situated within a roundhouse (see lower right of photo). Sadly, the roundhouse burned in the late 1970s or early 1980s. (As best I can determine, Joseph Brant was not involved.)
Port Jervis is also home to Fort Decker, constructed in 1793 and now the oldest building in the city. This stone house is located on the site of the original Fort Decker, which Colonel Brant burned during his 1779 attack on Port Jervis. John B. Jervis
lived here while serving as the lead engineer for the Delaware and Hudson Canal. The city was later named for this extraordinary individual, who designed the country's earliest railroads and locomotives among many other accomplishments.
From Port Jervis, my route was taken from RoadRunner Magazine
—and what a route it was. New York State Route 42 is a scenic highway that clings to the side of the mountain along the Delaware River. It dates back as early as 1859 and was paved in the late 1930s. It offers many beautiful overlooks as it twists and turns across Hawk's Nest and follows the river. A "must-drive" for anyone fortunate enough to be in the area.
Further along said road, I found the historic "Pond Eddy Bridge" across the Delaware. Current engineering surveys characterize it as "structurally deficient" and "basically intolerable, requiring high priority of replacement." It would have been scrapped if not for the houses on the Pennsylvania side of the river for which the bridge is the only access. Replacement planning began in 1999, but to date no work has started. For now, it is still capable of holding a BMW Z4 (and its driver…). It also offers a nice view of the Delaware.
Near Minisink Ford, I happened across the home of Zane Grey, the famous author of books about the American West, including Riders of the Purple Sage
. Grey built this home and lived in it from 1905-1918. It remained his favorite residence even after he and his wife moved to California, and he is buried nearby. His home is now a museum.
Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct is the oldest wire-suspension bridge in the country (1847) and connects Minisink Ford in New Jersey to Lackawaxen in Pennsylvania. It originally served as an aqueduct carrying the Delaware and Hudson Canal across the river but has since been converted to automotive traffic. Its builder, John Roebling, designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge 20 years later.
Now, speaking of Minisink Ford… Remember how Colonel Joseph Brant and his troops burned Fort Decker and the town of Port Jervis during the Revolutionary War? Well, the Patriot families were so incensed that they hastily assembled a militia to go after Brant and extract justice. They caught up with and attacked the Mohawk and his forces as they were crossing the Delaware from Lackawaxen to Minisink Ford. A fierce battle ensued for hours, but the militia was poorly trained and inexperienced. Many fled, leaving the core of the militia seriously outnumbered. Colonel Brant and his troops progressively gained the advantage and eventually killed nearly all of the remaining militia. Most notoriously, Lt. Colonel Benjamin Tusten, a physician and second-in-command, was tending to 17 other wounded Port Jervis men at "Hospital Rock" behind the front. As the other members of the militia were overrun, Brant's men reached Hospital Rock and proceeded to slaughter all of the wounded there, including Dr. Tusten. (Historic sketch courtesy of the American Heroes
Joseph Brant was characterized as "a monster" following this battle and the horrific massacres at Wyoming Valley and Cherry Valley. In actuality, historical accounts reveal that he ordered his men not to harm women, children, and other civilians, and that he often interceded to prevent torture by members of his forces. And while many civilian atrocities were committed at the Wyoming Valley Massacre, Brant himself was not there. He was finally defeated at the Battle of Newtown by General Sullivan's forces that systematically destroyed every Iroquois Indian village in the area, killing many civilian Native Americans in the process and ending the Indian and Loyalist attacks in western New York. (Apparently one side's "atrocities" are another sides "military campaign.") Brant lived to a ripe old age, however, and is considered quite a hero in Canada. He is known to have met both George Washington and King George III of England.
Leaving the Revolutionary War mayhem behind me, I ventured off-route to find the Tusten Stone Arch Bridge, built in the late 1800s and named after the nearby town that is named after our Lt. Colonel. The bridge was scenic enough, but Ten Mile Creek was even more so.
By now I was well and truly Behind Schedule. Moreover, I'd promised to arrive at my bed and breakfast for the night, in Newburgh, NY, by 8:00 PM. The ever-helpful Zumo was telling me that I would make it by exactly 8:00 PM—but only if I made no further stops. Naturally, I detoured over to Narrowsburg in search of the Kirk House, which I couldn't find, but the town itself was scenic. This is the Arlington Hotel, from 1894.
I skipped the Rockland Mill Complex, owing to the time. And to the large number of No Trespassing signs that even I would have a hard time explaining my failure to observe… Too bad, since some historic photos suggested that the mill and other buildings are quite interesting. (Oh well.)
The quaint town of Roscoe, NY merited exploration, but I limited myself to just a few photos of the western-style storefronts and the fire department museum. I really wanted to stay longer—mostly at the highly regarded Roscoe Diner, since I'd skipped lunch and was more-or-less starving! But I still had roughly 150 miles to go and many more sights to see. Thankfully, my wife Nancy had packed a number of cookies and Mounds bars with me, and I worked my way through them as I continued on the tour.
Thus fortified, I sped on to find the Downsville Covered Bridge. It was built in 1854, and, at 174 feet, it's one of the longer such bridges in New York.
Downsville itself had quite an array of historic-looking houses. I couldn't decide which side of this one I liked better—so here are both sides.
With the daylight beginning to fade, I actually managed to drive a full 33 miles without stopping for a photo. I think that's a lifetime record for me.
But soon enough I reached Pine Hill, where I found both the scenic fire department and the Ulster House Hotel. The latter was a very popular stop in the Catskills Mountains at the end of the 1700s through the 1950s, but its fortunes faded in later years, and it sat vacant for decades. Recently, it has reopened as a B & B called the Colonial Inn.
With visions of my 8:00 PM arrival time beginning to fade from my thoughts, I enjoyed driving along the West Branch of the Neversink River. Scenic, empty, and full of curves—plus the occasional waterfall.
Ironically, the original town of Neversink now lies beneath the waters of the Neversink Reservoir, which is part of the water system for New York City. Neighboring villages of Bittersweet, Eureka, Montela, and Lackawack suffered similar fates.
With some difficulty I found the C. Burton Hotel, built originally as a tavern in 1851 and expanded a few years later into its current configuration. Sadly, it now stands vacant, but in its prime it was a very popular destination, with visitors arriving by stagecoach from throughout New York. The building's elegant Greek Revival style stands out in this part of the state. I hope that someday its ballroom will once again host the best dances in the area.
With the sun setting, I settled for just one more photo—of the 1874 Grahamsville Church. Did I mention that Grahamsville is named after Lt. John Graham, who was massacred along with 17 other Patriot militia by Indian and Loyalist forces on September 5, 1778, 2 months after the Wyoming Valley massacre? Times were tough back then!
Leaving Grahamsville, I abandoned the last bit of my planned tour and hightailed it to Newburgh for the night. Fortunately, my very pleasant innkeeper, Nancy Billman, was there waiting to welcome me to her historic 1820 house. After 450 miles and nearly 14 hours of driving, touring, and photographing, with temperatures ranging from 70 to 95 degrees, I was only halfway to my ultimate destination of Cape Cod! But that's okay; that means I still have the second day of the trip to tell you about…