In spite of its name, the Deserted Village of Feltville receives thousands of visitors every month. More than 2,500 visitors are expected on this coming weekend alone for the Village’s annual open house during Union County’s “Four Centuries in a Weekend” program. Even those who have been to the Deserted Village before will find lots of new things to see at the historic site in Union County’s largest park, the Watchung Reservation.
Staffed activities will occur at the Deserted Village from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22. Visitors may pick up a map and narrative at Feltville’s parking lot for a self-guided tour. Or take a leisurely ride and see most of the Village’s buildings and grounds from a narrated hayride, which will run continuously both days.
If you are interested in a more detailed excursion, join the ghost of David Felt at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday for a 1-mile/2 hour tour of the factory town that he built in 1845 to house a printing mill and the 175 people who worked in his mill, on his farm, in his store or school, or in other occupations. On Sunday at 2:00 p.m., Mr. Felt will provide a 30-minute long armchair tour on the porch of his general store for those who don’t have the time or stamina to make the walking tour. At other times, the ghost of David Felt will be available at the general store to converse with visitors.
Would you rather read more about it? Fifteen professionally prepared interpretive signs will be formally “unveiled” during the Four Centuries celebration. They use text and photographs to provide both a general history and very specific stories about the Deserted Village.
In one of his movies, Indiana Jones said that in archaeology, X never marks the spot. But take a tour of the Deserted Village at 3:00 pm on Sunday, and learn how an X on the ground yielded not only a great assemblage of artifacts, but also revealed an interesting social history. The tours will be led by Matthew Tomaso, Dr. Richard Veit, and Carissa Scarpa, all of whom are professional archaeologists who have conducted archaeological investigations at the Deserted Village. And children can get their hands dirty digging for artifacts throughout the weekend.
At 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, Revolutionary War historian and author Robert Mayers will speak in Masker’s Barn about General George Washington’s troop movements in the Watchung Mountains. His talk will be followed by a question and answer session and book signing.
“We are fortunate to have an author of Mayers’ caliber come to talk with Union County residents about the Revolutionary War history in their own backyard,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski. “When the County created the Battle of the Short Hills Historic Trail several years ago, we recognized the route Washington’s retreating forces took up what is now New Providence Road – just to the west of where everyone will be listening to Mayers’ presentation.”
The original settler of the area that is now the Watchung Reservation, Peter Willcocks, built a sawmill in the Blue Brook Valley in 1736 and supplied lumber to farmers as they built farms in what was then the frontier of America. Four Centuries visitors will find Peter’s son, John, in the Deserted Village cemetery, visiting the graves of his mother, Phebe Badgely Willcocks and other relatives. John was a New Jersey militia soldier who was killed early in the Revolutionary War, during the retreat of Washington’s army from Fort Lee.
Because of those Revolutionary War connections, Union County is now one of 14 counties formally designated for inclusion in the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area. Since the Crossroads program is administered by the National Park Service, visitors are now able to get their Passport to Your National Parks stamped in the Deserted Village’s general store. If you have not started to collect National Park Passports stamps yet, you can make the Deserted Village your first stop and buy a Passport right in the store.
Some visitors are expected to travel to Feltville from other states to take part in the Four Centuries program, and to get their NPS Passports stamped. Whether coming from near or far, up to eight families will, for the first time, be able to stay in the Deserted Village for the weekend in their own recreational vehicles. Permit applications are available at www.ucnj.org/dv.
The Church/Store Building was built by David Felt in 1845 to serve the needs of his mill town inhabitants. The general store downstairs and the church upstairs met the Feltville residents’ needs, both materially and spiritually. Today the general store serves as the Village Visitor Center and is open to the public most Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from noon to 5 p.m. Exhibits of artifacts, photographs and maps depict the Village’s history across four centuries. Starting this weekend, the Visitor Center will be a general store again, with nostalgic candy, snacks, toys and games on sale. A food vendor will be grilling nearby for those who want something more substantial to eat or drink. Picnic tables are available for families wanting to pack a lunch.
David Felt’s store provided the residents of Feltville with food from his 600-acre farm, which included livestock and apple and peach orchards. A small apple orchard was recreated along Cataract Hollow Road earlier this year. A hands-on demonstration of apples being pressed into cider will be ongoing throughout the Four Centuries weekend.
Children will be excited to play old-fashioned children’s games on the Deserted Village’s grass tennis court. They can also buy a small pumpkin and draw a face on it. And at the general store, they can learn from a schoolmarm how to write with a goose quill pen and ink.
All are welcome to tour the beautifully restored circa-1882 Masker’s Barn carriage house. Outside the Barn, sit for a while and roast marshmallows at the new campfire ring.
All activities for the Four Centuries weekend are rain or shine, and most are free of charge. Enter the Deserted Village via Cataract Hollow Road, off of Glenside Avenue (GPS address – 1 Cataract Hollow Road, Berkeley Heights). Wear warm clothes and sturdy walking shoes.
For additional information about the Deserted Village of Feltville/Glenside Park, visit the County website at www.ucnj.org/DV. Tickets are already sold out for Haunted Hayrides that will run at the Deserted Village on Oct. 27-29. Information about over 30 other Four Centuries in a Weekend sites is available from the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, (908) 558-2550, or on the Union County website at https://ucnj.org/parks-recreation/cultural-heritage-affairs/.