Roamed on 10/20/2012
One of the greatest bonuses to being a ranger is you get a detailed behind the scenes look at the park and the surrounding area. There always seems to be at least one person in each park that knows it like the back of their hand and can direct you to where the neat spots are. In my park last summer (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area) this person was Braiden. One day at work he mentioned that he had discovered an old ruined church just outside of the park in New Jersey. As I am always looking for cool things to explore I made a mental note of it.
Unfortunately, a combination of poor directions from Braiden and my own lousy sense of direction doomed my first two attempts to locate the ruins. On my third try I broke down and did what anyone does when they can’t find an answer. I did a search on the net. It was a little hard to find but I eventually succeeded in locating it.
My little sister, Laura, decided to accompany me on my final quest to locate the ruins. Our first stop though, wasn't the church. While hunting down the location of the church I had stumbled across an entirely different ruin mentioned on Google Earth, so I figured we would head to that mill ruin as well.
The mill ruin was supposed to be in the White Lake Wildlife Management Area. Unfortunately, the NJ department of Fish and Wildlife really has no good trail maps of its WMAs online. So to find the trail, we hoped that once we got there that we would find a map of the area attached to a board or something. Our faith did not go unrewarded. There was indeed a map, although it was almost completely faded to a nasty off white color.
We parked at the spot indicated on the map but were shocked to find there was no trail. Confused, we hiked toward the creek that was supposed to be next to the ruins. We even asked some bicyclists,who were doing the nearby Paulinskill Valley Rail Trail, if they knew the location of the mill. No luck. We were just about to give up hope when they came back. Certainly, there was no mill ruin in the area, they said. However, just up an old road there is a rather large icehouse ruin. The stupid net guy, as they so often do, had gotten it wrong.
The funny thing was the old road started back where we had parked. We didn't go up it because it looked like it led to an active farm. I am a little leery about hiking near farms like that. I have hiked several places where I knew of some old farmers keeping a well-oiled shotgun just for people trespassing on their land. Because I rather like myself without a lot of holes, we did not even consider it.
Does that look like a trail to you? You can see the farm to the left.
We found the ruins just like the old couple said, a quarter of a mile back into the woods we came across the ruin. When you first come across it its sheer mass causes you to stop dead in your tracks. I have seen many ruins across America and few are as large and well preserved.
My sister Laura, shows just how huge the ruins actually are
On seeing the ruin it makes sense that it was an icehouse. In the days before refrigeration people would go out to the lakes and saw off huge blocks of ice. Using insulated boxes and rooms lined with sawdust they used it to keep their food cold all year long. The ruins location, right next to a large lake, would have been ideal for processing and storing the ice. It may be hard to believe now but this was a major industry at the time.
Later, I would realize that part of the problem was that the ruin is in the White Lake Natural Area not White Lake Wildlife Management Area. They are right next to each other so I guess a little confusion is understandable.
Afterwards, we finally went to the church. It was only a mile down the road. We didn't need to make a single turn. It was much easier to find being literally right of the road. They even had some interpretive signs up so you can’t miss it.
The church had its start in the fervor of the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800’s. At this time a massive eruption of religious passion was gripping the nation. It led in turn to people seeking new paths to God and this led to the founding of the Christian Connection. The Connection was the “first” Christian denomination to be founded on American soil.
While I don’t really buy the whole first church thing, the Connection did have several interesting things going for it. It was the first to use religious newspapers to keep connected. This was important for them because the churches were almost completely decentralized. They had no form of central authority; each church was on its own. Couple that with the fact that the entire movement was founded on the passion of its preachers. It’s not surprising that the church perished. Over time, the zeal of its leaders inevitably declined, and many passed away, sapping the church of its strength. Individual churches, as they were never part of a higher authority in the first place, drifted away leading to the death of the movement. Eventually the remaining churches were absorbed into the Congregational Churches.
This particular church was built in 1841 and lasted until 1870, only 29 years. The church nowadays is the centerpiece of the Hardwick Township historical society, which is where the interpretive signs come from. Unlike most ruins, where signs are posted telling you to stay out, at Spring Valley they actually want you to come inside. They have benches and what would be a beautiful garden in the spring. It’s almost a chapel. It’s a very peaceful setting.
Over my career as a ranger I have seen a lot of interesting and historic ruins. However, to find two such high class ruins only a mile or two apart from each other is definitely a rare treat.
Directions- Icehouse: Go north from Blairstown, NJ on Stillwater Rd. (County Rt. 521) for approximately 3.4 miles. Turn right onto Spring Valley Road for one mile. There will be a pull off to your left.
Directions- Spring Valley Church: Instead of turning right on Spring valley road turn left and travel approximately 1.5 miles. The church will be visible from the road.