Deserted Village Self Guide Tour

This unique historic resource is located within the 1,955-acre
Watchung Reservation, the largest of 36 parks in the Union
County Park System. This site is listed on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Over the course of three centuries, this area has been a farming
community, a quasi-utopian mill town, a deserted village, and a
summer resort. This brief guide will help you understand the history
of the village, its archaeological remains, and other features of the site.

The walking tour described is about one mile long, starting and
finishing in the parking lot just off of Glenside Avenue. Three of
the houses in this Village are inhabited; others have very weak
porches. Therefore, you are asked to not walk up onto the porch
of any building except the restored Church/Store Building.


For the safety of your pet and the enjoyment of this area by other park users,
you are asked to adhere to the County ordinance that dogs be restrained by a leash.

Walk down Cataract Hollow Road to the first bridle trail crossing and turn left on that trail.

Turn right onto the first hiking trail and follow it to the Village cemetery.

The first settler of this area was Peter Willcocks, an Englishman who moved to this area around 1736 from Long Island. Peter built a dam across the Blue Brook to harness the brook‟s water to power a saw mill which he constructed. Clearing the trees from the sur-rounding forest, Willcocks produced lumber which was purchased by settlers developing farms in the surrounding frontier countryside. In the fields created by the removal of trees, the Willcocks family farmed the land for the next century, attracting other settlers, such as the Badgley and Raddin families.

Of the five headstones seen in our cemetery today, only one is original. The others were placed here in the 1960's to replace stones that are missing. Two of the headstones are for the same person, John Willcocks. None of the stones stand over the actual grave of the person shown. It is believed that about two dozen peo-ple were buried in the Willcocks family plot.

At the far left is a headstone commemorating Phebe Badgley Will-cocks. Phebe Badgley met and married Peter Willcocks while still living in Long Island. When she and Peter moved here to the sec-ond Watchung Mountain, her brothers and sisters came with them and settled in an area on the First Watchung Mountain which today is the Scout Camping Area behind the Trailside Nature & Science Center on the other side of the park.

The original stone near the right, and the newer stone to the right of it, commemorate John Willcocks, one of five children of Phebe and Peter. The old stone bears a fairly typical Puritan-influenced design called the Death‟s Head by archaeologists. This style originated in New England and is typical of 17th and 18th century tombstones throughout the Northeast. Although the dates on the stones would seem to indicate that Phebe and her son died on the same day, we currently believe that Phebe died in June of 1776, but her death was not recorded until after her son‟s death.


In addition to the resort business, Ackerman also was involved in raising fancy cattle. He used Felt‟s vacant mill as a stable for his cattle, and built this road as a quick way to get his cattle up to the former farm fields for grazing. The abandoned mill was torn down in 1930 after it was deemed to have become a safety hazard.


Continue along Cataract Hollow Road,

stopping in front of the third small cottage (#12).


As with the other houses we have seen, these three small cottages were divided down the middle. Though smaller, the 1850 federal census suggests that these cottages housed from 6 to 12 people each. House #12 gives us the best glimpse of a true mill worker‟s house, with both of the original entry doors still intact. The back yards of these cottages revealed many interesting archaeological features, including a two-seat privy, a thick spread of scattered arti-facts, walkways corresponding with those of the Commons area de-scribed above, and a well, the top of which can still be seen be-tween the two westernmost cottages.

During the conversion from mill town to summer resort, the interior partitions were opened up to make these single-family dwellings. A water supply and a steam laundry were constructed at a spring-fed pond further out along this road. Electric lights were installed along the resort streets. With indoor plumbing and electricity, residents of the village no longer needed oil lamps and chamber pots, so such materials were taken into the back-yards and dumped into the no-longer used privy. This privy, excavated in 1999, contrasts sharply with that described above in the east side of the village. Its vault is constructed of loosely laid basalt without mortar, and it is about twice the size and depth of the privy near Felt‟s office. It was also very poorly maintained, since one of its walls partly collapsed in the 19th century and was never repaired, and perhaps never cleaned, since the artifacts within it represented every time period of the vil-lage‟s occupation. Clearly, a different set of standards was main-tained by Felt and his workers.


Continue along Cataract Hollow Road a

short distance to its end at Masker’s Barn.


Many of the summer resort visitors were from New York, Orange, and Newark. A barn was built here in 1882 to house horses and the buildings here in Feltville, you need to use your imagination to visualize the buildings as they were first built in 1845, without the large porches and roof dormers that you see now.

In 1998, the Feltville Archaeology Project excavated a privy vault behind this building. Few of the artifacts recovered in this excavation dated to Felt‟s time, indicating that this privy was probably meticulously cleaned during its lifetime. The privy itself, however, tells a more interesting story. It was constructed from cut and mortared sandstone blocks and its vault remains pristinely intact today. This privy, and the fact that it was well maintained throughout the time of its use, indicates an investment of time, labor and care, which is un-common in the nineteenth century countryside of central New Jersey, and indicative of an interest in the future of the village which could only have come from Felt himself.


Continue walking down Cataract Hollow Road to the next building

(Building #2—the Church/Store).


This building was built by David Felt to serve as the general store for his mill town. Six hundred acres of fields around this site were being farmed, with the crops that were harvested being sold to the village residents through this store. The mill workers were pre-sumably also able to buy meat from livestock that Felt raised, as well as the fruits of his apple and peach orchards. However, it is interesting to note that bone remains from the meals of some of Felt‟s workers which were recovered from another privy excavated in 1999 indicate that meat was more often obtained through local hunting and fishing, and contemporary descriptions of the village discuss gardens surrounding each of the workers‟ houses. By 1851, a Post Office was established in this building, as well.

David Felt ruled Feltville with a beneficent but stern hand, and earned for himself the paternalistic nickname “King David”. Village residents were required to attend religious services each week in a church on the second floor of this building, but were allowed to wor-ship and practice religion in accordance with their own beliefs. Felt provided a priest, minister, or rabbi each week to conduct the ser-vices, and eventually hired a non-denominational minister, Austin Craig, to remain in full-time residence. Craig later became a presi-dent of Ohio‟s Antioch College, and his collected sermons and let-ters have been published in two volumes.



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