Corrections or additions?

This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann was prepared for the

October

25, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Red & Blue & Whitesbog

by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

What’s blue and red and white all over? Blueberry and

cranberry center, Whitesbog Village, on the fringe of Lebanon State

Forest, near Browns Mills and Toms River. Here cranberries have been

harvested since the time of the Lenni Lenapes. To these bogs came

ships’ captains when clippers ruled the waves. Their red fruit saved

sanity, teeth, and lives. The berries’ high vitamin C content

conquered

scurvy, giving navvies everywhere reason to be thankful.

In the mid-1860s, the cranberry industry literally boomed here,

Whitesbog

the center of this world in its day. Sandy land surrounding the

Village

went from worthless to spectacular in the 1800s, producing 30 to 60

barrels of cranberries per acre, worth $10 each in this country and

$20 in Europe.

In tiny Whitesbog, a seemingly limitless woman — Elizabeth Coleman

White — also invented the cultivation of blueberries. Before Miss

White, commercial growing of this fruit was considered impossible.

But to this woman, Pinelands born and bred, "impossible" was

kin to obscenity.

Whitesbog Village, alluring destination in any season, is hidden,

an egg tucked into the nest woven by Routes 70, 72, and 530, not far,

from Fort Dix. Despite isolation, the village maintains a

comprehensive

website: www.whitesbog.org. There you can link to Pine Barrens

information.

Memorize their directions; then find your way to this "town that

time forgot."

The vibrant cranberry harvest continues throughout October. On

Saturday,

November 4, join a Whitesbog Star Party at 6 p.m., sponsored by the

Toms River Astronomy Club. The Pines are far from artificial light,

deep in blessed darkness where stars take center stage. Telescopes

provided (rain date is November 11). This is your chance to learn

to distinguish double stars, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies.

Registration: 609-893-4646.

Any spring or summer’s day trip offers posted lists

and color photographs of unique Pinelands wildflowers, including

flattened

pipewort and horned bladderwort. The cognoscenti travel here from

other continents to view Barrens specialties.

Drive in on any dreamy afternoon, when gilded light slants through

those eponymous pines. You’ll find yourself at a subtle and deserted

crossroads, presided over by a rickety General Store. If it’s before

3 p.m., the newly renovated store should be open so you can buy a

guide to the dike driving tour. (To order in advance, call

609-893-4646.)

If not open, pamphlets abound; but you’re on your own on dike roads.

Don’t set out for the bogs now. Instead, walk "down certain half

deserted streets . . . the murmuring retreats" of the two berry

industries, once New Jersey’s glory. You’ll think you’ve stepped into

a three-dimensional Edward Hopper, profoundly vacant. You’ll peer

into Andrew Wyeth rooms with shredded curtains, dust motes in sunbeams

along scoured wood. Walk very slowly, taking in the whole perspective

of this once-bustling company town. Where Italian families once

burgeoned

in four-square company houses, emptiness and silence reign. Study

your rudimentary map. Printed arrows point to rustic Browns Mills

to the west, to nonexistent Rome to the east. With its sister city,

Florence, this place exists only in memory. Homesick Italian workers

of the bogs founded both.

Stroll empty lanes where non-profit Whitesbog Preservation Trust is

turning back the hands of destruction. Restoration of the General

Store and one of the Worker’s Cottages was celebrated in July. Ridged

black metal roofs keep elemental forces from the tidied workers’

cottages.

Red metal roofs shelter factories and warehouses. Identify the

cranberry

packing and storage building, where Whitesbog’s managers developed

the first cranberry sorting mechanisms. Walk where felled trees and

trampled grasses signal some ghostly dwelling. You may find yourself

whispering in honor of those who labored and left.

This vacated venue carries the year ’round aura of Halloween. You

may back off from the workshop, lurid signs warning of pesticides.

Odd cottony batting puffs and expands through shattered panes, like

ectoplasm run rampant. Dead ahead, a 1930s green Chevy truck sits

idle, gleaming incongruously among the ruins. It could be the Joad

truck of "The Grapes of Wrath." You wouldn’t be surprised

to hear Rose O’Sharon’s querulous voice.

Try to call back the sounds of machinery, workers’ voices, shouts

of children on their way out of the schoolhouse. Note two privies

(one hopes that they are survivors, not the sole facilities). Solid

and discreet, they seem to be his-and-her. Requisite crescent shapes

decorate their back walls. But no one has opened and closed these

doors since the 1940s.

Ruin has a way of triggering the phoenix, especially

in the Pines. Whitesbog burst into life upon the ashes of Hanover

Iron Furnace. In a matter of decades, that industry had burgeoned

and vanished, leaving what seemed worthless swamps. Colonel James

A. Fenwick, in the early 19th century, purchased a 490-acre tract,

birthing the first cranberry boom. It took J.J. White (born 1846)

to innovate and expand upon the 100 acres he received from his

grandfather

in 1866. With brother George’s site, the Rake Pond Cranberry Company

sprang to life.

White soon married Mary Fenwick, beginning a joint book on cranberry

cultivation, soon the industry guide. Neighbors mocked their operation

"White’s Folly". But the folly soon surpassed all other New

Jersey cranberry growers.

The Whites also produced four daughters. Among them was the

aforementioned

Elizabeth. At 22, she began working on her parents’ plantation,

distributing

tickets to harvest workers in return for laboriously hand-filled

boxes.

Elizabeth would devote her entire life to improvements and innovations

in berry cultivation and harvest. She involved Dr. John B. Smith,

government entomologist. This expert soon eliminated a species of

katydid that had been decimating crops. But Elizabeth didn’t stop

with katydids.

In 1911, she encountered the work of Dr. Frederick V. Coville.

Elizabeth

enlisted family support for his research, a berry of a different

color.

For Elizabeth and her father were convinced — despite local

cynicism

— that the blueberry could and should be cultivated. Five years

later, she and Dr. Coville had a crop to sell.

Elizabeth’s gifts included a way with people, especially

"Pineys,"

as outsiders called Barrens’ residents. She set them on a quest to

find the most reliable wild berries. Elizabeth provided gauges,

accepting

no fruit smaller than 5/8-inch. The Whites rewarded seekers with money

and by naming fruit after their discoverers. Some names had to be

altered: Sam Lemon’s became "Sam;" Rube Leek’s

"Rubel,"

one of the keystones of blueberry breeding to this day. Sample

Whitesbog’s

wild fruits in summer to discover that workers were also rewarded

by marvelously varied flavors.

After identification, the most promising bushes had to be chopped

for propagation, seriously challenging workers. Ultimately, the field

was narrowed to six varieties: Rubel, Harding, Sam, Grover, Adams,

and Dunphy. Elizabeth White soon harvested not only berries, but also

an entire propagation business. White bushes now bear extensively

in North Carolina and Michigan; and to a great extent in Washington,

Oregon, British Columbia, and New England; somewhat in New York and

Connecticut. In 1927, her new crop was worth $20,000. At production

peak, 90 acres of blueberries sustained Whitesbog.

Elizabeth’s enthusiasm spilled over to local hollies, then rare

Franklinia.

This shrub — with white fruit as well as flowers — was named

after Benjamin Franklin. It was reportedly found only in the South,

according to naturalist, William Bartram. I can’t promise you’ll find

Franklinia on your own in Whitesbog. But, when the Preservation Trust

gets Elizabeth’s Suningive garden blooming again — the restoration

project is now underway — Franklinia should have a place of honor.

This woman’s resume reads like a family tree: who organized the first

New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative? Became first woman member of the

American Cranberry Association? Was the premier woman to receive the

New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s citation?

In the early 20th century, sociologist Elizabeth Kite carried out

controversial research in this region. From her published work came

the derogatory term, "Piney," Kite having concluded that

inbreeding

and moonshine — among other pastimes — had generated a

population

of misfits. It would take 50 years for John McPhee’s incisive book,

"Pine Barrens," to counter the damage. McPhee is frankly

admiring

of the region’s crusty characters. Even so, Pinelands locals still

resent Kite’s indelible slur. Elizabeth White had supported Kite’s

research, though disagreeing with its negative conclusions. Declared

Elizabeth, "I am a Piney myself."

But Whitesbog’s fascination is not limited to haunting

scenes, nor biological breakthroughs. Not even to unforgettable women.

Enchantment awaits, out on that driving trail, up on golden dikes,

between ancient cranberry fields. In June, star-like cranberry

blossoms

are tucked among the bitter greenery. In July, in fields no longer

tended, you’ll find every berry hue from white to pink to rose to

burgundy. Past and future — red, then white — pass in review.

Walk down, kneel, touch the waxen berries and the history of founders

and workers, sailors and Lenni Lenapes, wisely encouraging these

stubborn

little plants since long before European settlers.

Frissons of fear may accompany you on your journey: The simplistic

map declares many passages "Impassable Sand Roads." Without

the purchased guide, you can only hope that you’ve followed all the

right arrows upon wooden posts. You’ll drive high on fragile sand,

among certain cave-ins, alongside waters the color of stout. There’s

no way of gauging depth, — unsettling. After all, this is the

Pinelands. The Jersey Devil (a native), is known to fly. But could

these fathomless waterways hide a Jersey Loch Ness Monster?

The fruitful bogs are framed with ditches full of legendary Pines

water. Canoeists go into rapture over this substance. I touched it

first at Whitesbog. These waters "are lovely, dark and deep,"

the hue of strongest tea, espresso. Rich in tannins from cedars and

pines, they are dyed by centuries of oak leaves and roots. Bog iron

forms, slowly, from these substances; seems almost to be floating

in the waters swirling about you. Coppery particles catch light; other

bits are black as coal. When you step into a bog pond, your mottled

leg turns the color of ripe pumpkins. To swim it is to savor a

full-body

massage. The waters are silken, almost oily, yet squeaky clean. You

long to imbibe, as seamen did. Knowledgeable whalers filled barrels

for two-year voyages, knowing Pines water would not spoil. However,

no one is to drink of any wild waters in this, our 21st century,

because

of dire intestinal implications.

In midsummer, white water lilies open along shimmering waterways as

far as the eye can see. Yellow exclamation points erupt, the

tight-fisted

heads of bull head lilies. All along the roads dance waist-high tufts

of healthy prairie grasses. July holds the brief glory of rare Turk’s

Head lilies, — bobbing, bittersweet. You can rekindle belief in

Pinelands pirates with flowers flung like Pieces of Eight alongside

Whitesbog roadways.

In autumn, swamp maple flares amidst the dark waters. Setting off

that vibrancy is the green-black density of the Pines themselves.

Crimson woodbine and scarlet poison ivy hold plump berries aloft,

luring migrant birds who attract predatory raptors, especially at

dusk. Off across inky impoundments, large white egrets settle and

fish. Early inhabitants mistook them for cranes, hence "crane

berries."

If you’re very lucky, a late golden shaft will zap onto a creature

of intense cinnamon brown. Impressive as Bambi’s father, it may well

plant four hooves across your roadway, staring and daring approach.

You’ll know you’re not in Kansas in these dappled lanes. You’ll have

to wait for winter for Whitesbog’s white glories, the rare tundra

swans. If it looks like snow, it’s probably these winged creatures,

worthy of a journey in themselves.

Whitesbog was once Cranberry Central, then Blueberry Genesis. It

reverted

to the "cranes" and the memories of Indians, pirates and

privateers,

stout laborers, silent canoeists. And to you, if you’ll take yourself

to those trails and waters in any season.

Fall Star Watch, Whitesbog Historic Village, Route

530, Browns Mills, 609-893-4646. Night sky viewing with powerful

telescopes

provided by Tom’s River Astronomy Club. Preregister. $5 individual;

$10 family. Saturday, November 4, 6 p.m.


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