Friday, November 18, 2016

New Jersey's Living History

     Allaire Village is a quietly preserved village in the middle of New Jersey.  Over a century ago it was a self-sufficient community with a glowing furnace producing iron for the Industrial Revolution.  A town complete with carpentry, blacksmith, and even a bakery.  The bakery is still active today and supplies bread, as well as locally sourced baked goods, to visitors.  The shops are alive with volunteers showcasing their skills and educating anyone that will listen on their dying trades.  We, as a family, enjoy visiting these living museums and interacting with the re-enactors and volunteers.  And what better days to visit but the cool, sunny weekends of Fall, October, Halloween.
     The village hosts an Autumn festival for a small, token fee.  The shops are alive.  The houses warmed by fired hearths.  The gift shop brimming with ideas for the upcoming holiday season.  There is fresh bread and other treats, pumpkin picking and crafts, a train ride and hiking trails, even a traveling flea circus.  It is quite a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in NJ.  Not many folks make use of this resource as is evidenced but the "uncrowded" feeling of the place, even as children race back and forth between the activity tents.
     As the sun begins its descent, we stretch our legs on a 30-mile back road jaunt toward another living museum, the site of one of NJ's largest cranberry bogs.  Whitesbog lays claim to the innovation of the highbush blueberry and is a National and State Historic site.  We were visiting for the spooky lantern tour of the bogs and the surrounding Pine Barrens.  The local caretakers and volunteers were excited to see our arrival and to share their knowledge of the community.  The place had a lonely, fading feel to it, which only added to its Halloween charm.  The buildings held all the museum standards while also being decorated for the evening's events, replete with real lanterns with actual flickering flames.  There was a community bonfire and elegantly dusty general store.
    The sky loomed grey and grumbling with far off thunder as we took to the walking paths following our lanterned guide from building to building, past the glowing depiction of the Jersey Devil and into the Barrens.  We were only amongst the trees for a few paces when the Halloween lights began to glow in the trees and the planted wisps of artificial spider webs brushed against our faces.  Then with a booming thunderclap, the skies opened, and in the dark of the woods and the October evening, we were thoroughly soaked.  Turning frantic circles along the paths, the guide had us misguided for a few steps and the spooky tour was truly becoming a trick and a treat.  The village's volunteers, in their earnest to make the best possible situation out of a stormy deluge, had created the best Piney experience one could ask for.
     It is a mystery why anyone would not visit these living history sites or make the day out of enjoying such local treats.  But for me and my road-tripping family, we'll take the smaller crowds and unique gems along the back roads.

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