Good Reads and Online Learning: Musconetcong Origin Stories
Whether you’re busy homeschooling or have some time on your hands, we’ve got something for you to learn about the Musconetcong watershed. If you are interested in learning more about our River, here are three reading tips for you. Or, if you need to change up your online learning and homeschooling routine, look for the Children’s Online Learning section below. Either way, if you like origin stories, or learning why the watershed looks the way it does today, these books and online resources are great starting points.
“The Musconetcong Valley of New Jersey” by Peter O. Wacker (1968), is the go-to book for explaining the settlement patterns of the Musconetcong watershed by European colonists, as well as the charcoal industry, milling sites, and transportation developments. He explains the origins of much of what we see today, including the origin of many of our Historic Districts. There are some great nuggets. Did you know that in the 1700s, Beattystown, was a booming center of milling and boasted one of the few general stores in the Valley? By comparison, Hackettstown had 5-6 houses at the time. How times change! The early mills are identified and mapped out, including Asbury, Finesville, and Penwell, as well as ones which are barely visible today, like Squire’s Point in Lebanon Township, in the Point Mountain Reserve. One thing I took away from the book was how he used the architectural styles of houses to identify the cultural origins of the European settlers, and their timing of arrival into the Valley. Published in 1968 from Wacker’s doctoral dissertation, it is a wonderfully holistic perspective of how the Musconetcong’s villages came to be. While he does begin with a history of Native American habitation, some of the views are dated, and much has been learned since then, principally through the work of Herbert C. Kraft, which is the next recommendation. Wacker’s book can be hard to find in print. Try AbeBooks online if you want a print copy or you can read the pre-publication 1966 doctoral dissertation that informed the book.
Herbert C. Kraft’s “The Lenape: Archeology, History, and Ethnography” (1988) is the go-to book for the Native American history of our region. Right of the bat, he tackles some of the misconceptions about the Lenape that continue today from histories from the European settlers. For example, he explains the origins about there being three tribes: Munsee, Unami, and Unalachtigo and their association with the wolf, turtle, and turkey was a not exactly how the Lenape saw themselves at the time. Now, hundreds of years of history has passed, and those misunderstandings are infused in the culture today. Native American history is a contested terrain, but Kraft powers through it, with archeological insights and evidence, painstaking historical references, and an ear toward the Lenape’s views of themselves. His book begins with the search of, and qualifications of what makes “evidence” when researching Native American culture. He then takes a step back explaining how the geography of the region and the migration of people from Asia to America resulting in the Paleo-Indian settlements in the Musconetcong valley, like the Plenge site 13,000 years ago. He relates archeological and other information from a broad range of sites to relate the Native American history of the region. The Plenge site, which had Native American habitation through to European Settlement, experienced those shifts in in culture, too. John Kraft, Herbert’s son, has written a short article on the Lenape history in Northwest New Jersey, which is basically the cliff notes version of his father’s book.
Children’s Online Learning!
The Kraft’s cared very much about educating people about the Lenape. They were very instrumental in the creation of a Lenape Village at Waterloo Village. John also has a website, which includes kids activities and videos. Also, the State’s NJ History Kids interactive website, has activities, including an instructional video, worksheets, and activities about the Lenape and Waterloo Village (site 1 on the map), as well as several other historic sites across the state.
Taken together, Wacker’s and Kraft’s book, provide a fairly comprehensive perspective of the people who inhabited, and still inhabit, the Musconetcong watershed. Their work informed the Musconetcong’s Wild and Scenic River designation, and identify themes we hope to communicate in the future Interpretive Center in the Asbury Mill.
The Asbury Mill, in red circle, From Hunter Research, Beers Map of Asbury, 1874.
The Asbury Mill has its own history. While not a book, Hunter Research prepared a narrative report about the Mill as part of the archeological investigation of the site. Their report is my go-to source for developing interpretive talks or presentations about the watershed’s history, because it provides a very site-specific history. If you’re really into the history of Asbury, Dennis Bertland, a local professional historian wrote a detailed history of the Asbury Historic District, which explains many of the origins of the grand and ordinary homes in Asbury, its famous residents, and the milling history.
We’ve got quite a story to tell in the Musconetcong watershed. It’s not just about ‘old things’ or the past. How people have used the land shapes how we use it today. Places that were desirable sites for mechanical hydropower yesterday, are today’s obsolete dams, that are hazards, or in disrepair. The migratory fish runs that helped sustain Native Americans for thousands of years, are no longer. MWA’s ecological restoration activities to remove those dams allows the fish to return, growing their populations as well as the fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean that eat fish like river herring. We are now seeing increasing interest in our Counties to promote regional economic development through tourism. Free-flowing rivers for paddling, intact Historic Districts for sight-seeing, and cold, clean water for trout fishing are all part of that picture. It is all part of the story we hope to tell in the Mill’s Interpretive Center, for which we are actively seeking funding and volunteers. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Alan Hunt, PhD, serves as the Mill Committee co-chair, and Musconetcong River Management Council Executive Director which aims to protect and enhance the Musconetcong’s water quality and natural, scenic, and cultural resources.