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The Deserted Village of Feltville: A New Jersey Family Day Trip
Hiking the Trails of New Jersey to Visit the State's Past
The deserted village of Feltville, which was also known as Glenside Park at one time, is in the northwest portion of the Watchung Reservation, a 1,945-acre park in central-north New Jersey that is largely undeveloped. The village was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Although the park has playgrounds and a golf course, the main activities in the reservation are hiking and horseback riding. There are a number of trails, including a six-mile one that is very popular. The one we like the most is a one-mile walk through Feltville, which was never really abandoned in its almost 300-year history.
All photos in this article were taken by us unless otherwise noted.
The First Buildings and the Cemetery
A Confusing Start to Visiting a Deserted Village!
The first building a visitor will encounter when walking from the park's parking lot nearest Feltville was the village's post office back in the 1800s. It is also the first indication of why the sobriquet ''Deserted Village'' is a misnomer -- the building is inhabited and the occupants look like they have a lovely vegetable garden in the backyard.
The pamphlet the park provides says not to disturb any building that looks inhabited, so we've never taken a photo of the home. Next to it is the park's former general store, which also served as its church (see photo below). This building isn't occupied and looks like it may be opened at times by the park, but we've been here several times and it always seems closed.
From there we cut off the paved road and walk up a trail to the village's ''cemetery.'' I put that in quote marks because there's no bodies under these gravestones. The park has erected this site to inform the public, and all but one of the gravestones here are replacements.
The first settler here was Peter Willcocks, who built a mill along the park's Blue Brook in the 1730s. The cemetery represents the Willcocks and Badgley families, who were the first to populate the village.
Interestingly, the only original stone is for John Willcocks, who died in June 1776. According to park literature he is believed to have died from wounds suffered during George Washington's retreat from Fort Lee, New Jersey, during the Revolutionary War.
Photo credit: The photo of the church below is from the park's website here.
The Village's General Store/Church Restored
Enjoying Nature With a Dash of History
Hiking off the Paved Road
The main road to the rest of the village is paved, but we prefer to take one of the many trails through the woods. You have to be a bit adventurous to go on the trails, or a veteran of the reservation, because the map of the park is almost useless and the trails are poorly marked. Hikers on a number of websites and blogs have pointed this out, and we find it true almost every time we go.
We tend to wind our way down to Blue Brook, the main stream in that part of the reservation, then just work our way west upstream to the village. The nice thing is that the trails are pretty popular so if you do get a bit lost you can always ask a fellow walker.
One thing we always find funny: The park has all these signs that say dogs must be kept on a leash, and we have never seen a dog on a leash on any trail! The dogs run around, getting wet in puddles and streams, and almost always are way ahead of their owners. We don't mind unless they try to jump up on us.
John Willcocks, Who Gave His Life in the Revolutionary War
Blue Brook: A Boy's Favorite Playground
Why We Usually Take a Roundabout Route
The main reason we always take a trail to below the village is that Blue Brook is a favorite spot of the youngest member of the Goldenrulecomics family.
There's just something about young boys and water, and if you have seen our review of Niagara Falls' Cave of the Winds (here) then you know how much he loves getting wet.
Once we get down to the brook he spends a lot of time skipping stones, watching sticks flow down the current and climbing on the logs. His main enjoyment is seeing just how close he can get to falling in the water, much to the consternation of his mother!
On this visit, he has a buddy with him, so we linger even longer than usual before heading up to the village's homes.
Thankfully There's a Sign to Tell us This is a Stream
Visiting the Former Homes of Feltville
Up the hill from the Blue Brook are the former homes of the village's residents. Originally built for millworkers, the homes were renovated in the 1880s after Feltville was bought by a man named Warren Ackerman. Ackerman renamed the village Glenside Park and pitched it as a summer resort for people from New York City.
Each house was split down the middle, similar to duplexes. With new porches and railings, the buildings were similar to cottages in the Adirondacks. The resort offered tennis, golf, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and it thrived until World War I.
Oddly enough, it wasn't the war that did the resort in. It was the automobile. People who once visited the resort now were able to drive down to the Jersey shore.
In the 1920s the resort was sold to the local park commission. The houses were rented out and the village was fully occupied until the 1960s, according to park literature. Now it looks like only one-half of one of the workers' houses still is occupied (judging by the nice mailbox in the front).
Down the trail a bit is the Masker's Barn, which was built circa 1882 and used as a stable for the summer resort.The building was modernized by the local county, which uses it as classroom for archeology classes.
There is an archeology site nearby but we didn't visit on this trip. Instead we headed back to the parking lot to head home. The walk we did took about 90 minutes, but a good bit of that was letting the boys play in the water.
A Video History of the Deserted Village
Watch this to find out how Feltville came to be called the deserted village!
Have You Ever Explored The Deserted Village of Feltville?
The Impact of Moving Water on the Brook's Edge
Hiking in New Jersey
Hiking is actually quite popular in New Jersey, from the Pinelands in the south to High Point in the north. Here are a few books that detail many of the trails available.
For More Information
- The Deserted Village | County of Union, New Jersey
Union County, New Jersey's website detailing the deserted village. The website has a trail guide, which isn't very good, plus some small histories that have been written about the village available for download.
- Watchung Reservation - Wikipedia
Wikipedia's page on the Watchung Reservation
- Feltville Historic District - Wikipedia
Wikipedia's page on Feltville.
We Almost Stepped on This Snake on the Trail
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