Corrections or additions?
This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann was prepared for the
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
scurvy, giving navvies everywhere reason to be thankful.
In the mid-1860s, the cranberry industry literally boomed here,
the center of this world in its day. Sandy land surrounding the
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
website: www.whitesbog.org. There you can link to Pine Barrens
Memorize their directions; then find your way to this "town that
The vibrant cranberry harvest continues throughout October. On
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.
Any spring or summer’s day trip offers posted lists
and color photographs of unique Pinelands wildflowers, including
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
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
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’
Red metal roofs shelter factories and warehouses. Identify the
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
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
Elizabeth. At 22, she began working on her parents’ plantation,
tickets to harvest workers in return for laboriously hand-filled
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
In 1911, she encountered the work of Dr. Frederick V. Coville.
enlisted family support for his research, a berry of a different
For Elizabeth and her father were convinced — despite local
— 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
as outsiders called Barrens’ residents. She set them on a quest to
find the most reliable wild berries. Elizabeth provided gauges,
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
one of the keystones of blueberry breeding to this day. Sample
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
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
and moonshine — among other pastimes — had generated a
of misfits. It would take 50 years for John McPhee’s incisive book,
"Pine Barrens," to counter the damage. McPhee is frankly
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
to the "cranes" and the memories of Indians, pirates and
stout laborers, silent canoeists. And to you, if you’ll take yourself
to those trails and waters in any season.
530, Browns Mills, 609-893-4646. Night sky viewing with powerful
provided by Tom’s River Astronomy Club. Preregister. $5 individual;
$10 family. Saturday, November 4, 6 p.m.
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