Public Info

Colonial Era “Texting” Coming to the Deserted Village

Colonial quill pen writing in Union County NJ.
TEXTING IN COLONIAL TIMES…was done with a quill pen and a bottle of ink, as youngsters learned during Four Centuries In A Weekend at the Deserted Village last month. For youngsters so used to a digital world, writing a letter with a feather and real ink proved to be one of the most popular activities that weekend, so popular that it is being brought back. Families are invited to stop into the Church/General store on one of three Sundays, Nov. 30, Dec., 14, or Dec. 21 so that youngsters can experience what is was like to write a letter centuries ago. For those wishing to write a note to Santa, sealing wax available will be available so that youngsters awakening on Christmas morning will see that their letter was opened and read.

Youngsters–and maybe their parents–are invited to the Deserted Village of Feltville  in the Watchung Reservation to experience what it was like to “text” in Colonial America.

At the Four Centuries in a Weekend program in October, children were invited to write with a quill pen and ink on parchment paper to experience what it was like writing a letter in Colonial times.

The new activity proved so popular that staff had to start cutting parchment sheets in half.  By the end of the weekend, more than 400 children (some returned to do it again) enjoyed the experience.

When Four Centuries in a Weekend is celebrated across Union County at 27 different historic sites, the Union County Department of Parks & Recreation celebrates the event at the Deserted Village in Berkeley Heights.  There are games and activities for children, hayrides, and historic tours of the area.

The quill and ink writing activity was introduced for the first time this fall.  Youngsters sat at writing desks in the Church/General Store and then wrote their missives-although at one point some teenagers decided a treasure map was more to their liking.

“It was a total delight to see how that activity took off with the children,” said Union County Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski. “They were having fun, and also learning how people kept in touch with one another in the past.”

The Visitor Center in the Church/General Store is open most Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Noon-5 p.m.  The “Quill & Ink” activity will be staffed on three Sundays, Nov. 30, Dec. 14, and Dec. 21.

A Parks Department staffer will be on hand to guide children, and to suggest what they might write about if they had been alive in the 1700′s when the Reservation was all fields.

John Willcocks, one of the farmers who tilled fields that are now part of the 2,142-acre Watchung Reservation, fought in the Revolutionary War.  Willcocks served in the New Jersey militia and is thought to have been mortally wounded during the retreat of General Washington’s army from Fort Lee.

Youngsters are invited to consider how the farmers in the area would be concerned about how the war was faring and how they might well have written to relatives about the progress of those battles and concerns for their own safety

There is no denying that, given the approaching holiday, youngsters might also want to write notes to Santa.  In an era when the monitoring of electronic communication is so often in the news, youngsters will also experience how sealing wax was used to protect privacy during these times.

For more information on the Deserted Village of Feltville, go to, and for more activities in the Union County Park System, go to