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Feltville/ Glenside Park Archeological Dig Reveals 19th Century Life in Community By DEBORAH MADISON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times Editorís note: This is the first part of a twopart series. The second part will appear in the issue of September 7.
* * * * *
Just beyond the Scotch Plains border, on the outskirts of Berkeley Heights, nestled deep within the Watchung Mountains, stand the crumbling and partially buried remains of a once prosperous 19th century village.
Designed and operated by industrialist David Felt in the 1840s, the town of Feltville incorporated all of the amenities of a completely selfsufficient city, including a school, a church, a general store, a paper/ stationary mill and a variety of skilled artisans for the benefit of the factory workers who resided and worked in this picturesque woodland village.
Feltville was Mr. Feltís Utopian vision of a prosperous community for his factory employees. An idealistic Unitarian, he attempted to create a better quality of life for his laborers, providing them with not only adequate housing and decent working conditions, but also with quality education and a religious environment to better incorporate his workers into the mainstream of American life.
The only paved road leading into the town, Cataract Hollow Road, winds through the woods to a row of 19th Century Colonial cottages that hoveronabluff abovetheBlueBrook.
At the base of the bluff, the crumbled stone foundation of several mills mark the various sites of onceprosperous industries along the banks of the Blue Brook. A complex series of dams created a raceway of water power to the mills.
Only nine of the original 22 cabins remain standing today. Also called bank houses, because they are built into the sloping hillside, their weathered planks and thick, square nails reveal the age of the early Colonial structures.
Behindthecottages, halfwaydown the rocky ravine, on what is called the lower road, several weathered woodplankhouses dotthestonygray hillside.
Now just a rocky dirt trail, Ackerman Road once connected the villagewiththe townofScotchPlains.
The 120acre wooded site is now the subject of The Feltville Archeological Project, codirected by Montclair State University, the New Jersey Historical Commission and the Union County Department of Parks. Montclair University Archeology Professor Matthew Tomaso
coordinates a team of research professionals and studentsfortheproject. Professor Tomaso has written an indepth history of the Feltville site,
The Field Manual for the Feltville Archeological Project, from which much of the information for this article was taken.
The Feltville dig serves a number of purposes. It provides students with handson field experience in a professionallysuperviseddig.Thesiteís discoveries will be incorporated into an upcoming educational museum managed at the site by the Union CountyDepartment ofParksandRecreation and the New Jersey Historical Commission.
P r o f e s s o r Tomasoís dissertation will also piece together a picture of what 19th century life was like for the immigrant factory workers of Feltville.
Several locations within the site, identified as homesteads on old maps, have proven to be plentiful sources of artifact fragments which P r o f e s s o r Tomasoís team has collected and catalogued.
Limestone, whichwasdumpedinto privyholes to extinguish the odor, also preserved seeds, bones and other organic remains, revealing the residentsí diets and economic status.
Although Mr. Felt had an ideology ofhumanitarian concernfortheworking class, it did not extend to sharing living quarters or other amenities with them. The privy remains show differences in diet between Mr. Feltís workers and visiting dignitaries, who used the more exclusive outhouse behind his office.
Other common objects found by the research team include tobacco pipes, buttons, tools and fragments of clothing. Most of the objects, according to Professor Tomaso, are only tiny fragments. Rarely do they find items whole and intact.
A remaining cellar hole, located at the eastern margin of Feltville along the abandoned road bed of Old New Providence Road, is thought to be the original homestead of Peter Willcocks (later changed to Wilcox), one of the earliest settlers in the area. According to early historical accounts, Mr. Felt purchased the land
from one of the Willcockses.A grave stone belonging to John Willcocks, dated 1776, was found by a local historical society at the site. A later map indicated that the owner of the same home was Hannah Badgeley.
There are numerous Wilcox and Badgeley gravesites in the Scotch Plains BaptistChurchCemetery,who are believed to be descendants of these early Feltville settlers.
Mr. Felt sold the land in 1860 and the village changed hands five times, suffering multiple economic failures before being purchased by Warren Ackerman in 1882.
Mr. AckermanadaptedtheFeltville area for use as a resort known as
been abandoned, according to Professor Tomasoís historical field manual.
By 1927, most of theoriginalFeltproperty waspurchasedby UnionCounty,itscurrent owner. Today, only one of the cottages remains in private hands.
Residents of the park rent the cottages from Union County and are responsible for their upkeep and protecting the historical site from vandalism or trespassing.
Although the park is open to the public, visitors are only permitted on the main road.
In 1979, nomination to the State and National Registers of Historic Places afforded the area and structures further protection from demolition. The Union County Department of Parks and Recreation has launched a restoration plan, which will protect and preserve the historical integrity of the structures.
The church store has been exten sively rehabilitated and will become
an interpretive center within the next few years. Maskerís Barn, the only surviving structure built during the Glenside Park era, is due for rehabilitation this year.
Other contributors to the project include Stanley Walling, Director of the Field School for Montclair State University and Richard Veit, Professor of Archeology at Monmouth University who are codirectors and research consultants Glenside Park.ByaddingAdirondack
hardwood, also called twig and stick style to porches, and by adding dormers to the small cottages, Mr. Ackerman converted the farming/ milling village into a tourist attraction for the middle class.
Glenside Park functioned as a resort until 1916 when the property was subdivided for purchase by individuals. Part of the archeological research is separating artifacts and structural features of the early Feltville period from those objects left during the Ackerman/ Glenside Park occupation.
Among the many folkloric local legends which surround Feltville is the myth of it being an abandoned or deserted village. Feltville has never
for the project. Priscilla Hayes, a local historian has also contributed historical information and is preparing a social history of the area. Union County Director of Parks Maintenance and Planning Daniel Bernier, who lives in one of the cottages, was also an integral part of the renovation process.
Professor Tomaso expects that the site will remain an area of extensive archeological field investigation for many years to come.
Ingrid McKinley for The Westfield Leader and The Times THE ECHO OF DAYS GONE BYÖ These structures which are located in the Feltville Deserted Village in Watchung Reservation hearken back to days long ago. Pictured, left, is the renovated home which was the office to Mr. Feltís business. It was changed to a residence in the late 1800s. The current building has been renovated and is occupied as a private residence in the village. Pictured, right, is an original home of Mr. Feltís mill workers.
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