Public Info

Guillermo Thorn Returns for National Trails Day, June 1

Union County, NJ — If you missed the April exhibit on Guillermo Thorn and his wanderings through what would become the Watchung Reservation, you have another chance to view some of the photographs taken by this 19th Century photographer this Saturday.

As part of the National Trails Day celebration at Trailside Nature & Science Center, local historian Richard Palmatier will be exhibiting some of  Thorn’s works and discussing the Plainfield photographer’s explorations that ultimately documented the mills that once lined the Blue and Green Brooks on the border of Union and Somerset Counties.

“This exhibit explores a time in history that is almost unknown,” said Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski. “For over a century, these brooks provided the power to drive these mills, creating everything from lumber to gunpowder.  And it’s also fascinating to see Thorn’s photographs, which really mark the beginnings of photography itself.”

The Thorn exhibit and presentation is just part of the festivities planned for National Trails Day this Saturday, with special programs throughout the day for all ages. The event is free, and ample free parking is available.

At 2 p.m. guest speaker Don Weise will speak about the Best Hiking Trails in New Jersey.  The talk will cover health and fitness on the trail, hiking with families and wildlife awareness. Weise is the Director of Development and Membership with the NY-NJ Trail Conference.  In addition to having led close to 1,000 hikes since the 1990’s, he is an environmental advocate and author.   His latest hiking books will be available for purchase and signing.   

Free themed hikes for families will take place throughout the afternoon.  At 11:30 a.m. join Pete Axelrod, Educational Outreach Coordinator, from Wild Birds Unlimited in Scotch Plains.   The Watchung Reservation has several different habitats including woodlands, lakes, streams, wetlands, and meadows which make it an ideal area for birding.  Remember to bring binoculars if you have them or borrow a pair from Trailside as you learn how to identify common birds by sight and sound.

Visitors can join a Trailside Naturalist on the Sensory Trail at 12:30 p.m. for a “Sensory Hike.”  This hike introduces families with young children to the wonders of the outdoors and wildlife. Attendees will use their senses to observe the natural world. Smell sweet flowers, onion grass and mugwort and listen for animal sounds.  Feel nature’s textiles.  Learn how to identify poison ivy before it’s too late.  Learn how to stay safe on the trail while looking for signs of local wildlife, checking out their homes and hideouts. 

At 3:00 p.m. the “Stream Hike” offers participants a hike down to the Blue Brook to look for crayfish, salamanders, and aquatic insects.  Hikers will carefully collect, identify, and release these tiny creatures. It is advised to wear shoes that can get wet. 

Ongoing activities will continue throughout the day from 12 to 4 p.m. Participate in nature-inspired crafts located under the gazebo on the sensory trail. Join in the ongoing geocaching hikes which is now the rage with day hikers. With the help of the Northern New Jersey Cachers, a non-profit geocaching organization, work as a team to find geocaches around the reservation.  Throughout the day there will be opportunities to learn how to safely view the sun, with presentations by Amateur Astronomers, Inc. a member of the Miller Sperry Observatory in Cranford.

Reproductions of Thorn’s work will be on display in the Trailside atrium, with Palmatier explaining Thorn’s adventures through the area and the photographs he left behind, including a series of stereographs, the precursors to what would lead to Viewmasters and today’s virtual reality headsets.

Thorn was born in 1837, two years before the invention of the photograph. He would grow up to see photography infiltrate every aspect of 19th-century life. 

Thorn gave up a brief career as a drawing and painting teacher and opened his first studio in Saugerties, NY, before moving to Plainfield in 1864. 

While he quickly established himself as a professional photographer, taking portraits and scenics of the area, his personal life was marred by tragedy. By 1870, disease claimed the lives of his wife, Alice, and their five children. He eventually remarried, with his later children becoming muses for his pictorial work.  

As part of Palmatier’s presentations on Sunday, he will share old photographs of the foundations of long forgotten mills along the Green and Blue Brooks. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, these waterways were the industrial hub for this area, producing everything from lumber to paper to gunpowder, grist, material for hats and crushed stone. There were upwards of 12 mills along these two brooks. In some spots, you can still see remnants of the dams, sluices, and spillways that provided the water power to drive the machinery. 

With miles of trails, Union County’s hiking, bridle, and multi-use trails need the valued help of dedicated trail volunteers. Interested volunteers are needed for the Trail Maintenance portion of the National Trails Day. Included will be a free continental breakfast for all pre-registered trail work participants.  No experience is necessary and jobs are open to volunteers ages 12 years and up (children must be accompanied by an adult).  Projects may include working to reroute a trail, pruning vegetation growing into the trail bed and more. Volunteers should wear long pants and long sleeved shirts and sturdy shoes or hiking boots. Hats and a backpack for a re-usable water bottle are advisable. Preregistration is required by contacting Check-in begins at 8:30 a.m. and trail work goes from 9 to 11:15 a.m.

For more information about National Trails Day or other activities at Trailside, call 908-789-3670 or visit The facility is open 7 days a week from 12 to 5 p.m. Trailside Nature and Science Center is located at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside and is a facility of the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Visit or call 908-527-4900 for information about all Union County parks and recreation facilities.

Quick links to all Union County environmental programs and activities are available at The Green Connection,

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