You can take a step back in time and experience life before the days of cellular phones and the other trappings of modern life with a visit to Millbrook Village in New Jersey’s Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
The original settlement began in 1832, when a farmer named Abram Garis built a gristmill on a small stream near the newly-built Columbia-Walpack Turnpike. Before long a few people had built homes near the mill and a couple of small businesses, including a blacksmith shop, opened. By 1875, the community that became known as Millbrook had reached a peak of 75 inhabitants. There was a Methodist Church, school, hotel, store, and a dozen or so homes. The village’s houses and shops lined both sides of the turnpike.
But, as was the fate of many small villages across the country, beginning about 1880 new opportunities in larger towns and cities began drawing people away. The gristmill closed around 1900, and the blacksmith was the only business that was still open by 1950. In the 1950s, the Columbia–Walpack Turnpike was realigned to accommodate stream impoundments and bypassed the community. A handful of die hards hung on for a while, but for all intents and purposes, Millbrook became a ghost town, all but forgotten.
Things began to change in the 1960s when the Tocks Island Dam project was proposed. The National Park Service, working with the Millbrook Village Society, moved several structures threatened by the project to higher ground at Millbrook to preserve them. Over time, more buildings were moved to the site and Millbrook Village was reborn.
The Millbrook Village Society has worked hard to bring the village back to life. Today the old turnpike is the main street and visitors can stroll its half-mile length through the village and see what pioneer life was like in the 1880s. The church, built in 1860, still holds services, and the old one-room schoolhouse is open to visitors. On weekends in the summer interpreters in period clothing demonstrate pioneer crafts and skills, and explain that while life may have been harder in the village’s heyday, it was also simpler, without many of the cares and worries we deal with today. Because the village is staffed by volunteers, different things may be on the agenda from day to day, as manpower permits.
Over time, many of the original buildings and those that were moved to the village fell into disrepair and were rebuilt, or replicas were built on their locations. So a lot of what you will see at Millbrook Village does not date back to the good old days. It’s kind of like what a tour guide told me once at another historic site, “This is George Washington’s ax, but the head has been replaced twice and the handle three times.”
The old village comes alive every year on the first weekend in the month of October for Millbrook Days, when more than 150 volunteers of the Millbrook Village Society give guided tours of the community, demonstrate the work necessary for rural living between 1850 and 1900, and often draw spectators from the crowd to participate.
Millbrook Village is located in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, approximately twelve miles north of Interstate 80, at Old Mine Road and State Route 602. Parking and admission are free. The village is open daily from dawn to dusk between Memorial Day and Labor Day and various buildings are open to the public on weekends, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The number of buildings open for visitation depends on the number of volunteers available on any given day. Visitors are free to explore the village during the offseason, though most of the buildings are not open.
Besides the village itself, the 70,000 acre Delaware Water Gap has much to offer, from fishing to more than a hundred miles of hiking trails (including over 25 miles of the Appalachian Trail), canoeing, and waterfalls. Birdwatchers love the area because of the huge numbers of species that can be found there during different times of the year, including Great Horned owls and Eastern Screech owls, a variety of warblers, thrushes, cuckoos, wrens, and hawks, to name just a few.
For more information on Millbrook Village, visit https://www.njskylands.com/hsmillbrookvillage
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Thought For The Day – Last year I joined a support group for antisocial people. We haven’t met yet.