Mill Brook Days
by Frank Dale
Millbrook School. Photo by Mike Mykowski
Millbrook Village, part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, is a re-created community of the 1800s where aspects of pioneer life are exhibited and occasionally demonstrated by skilled and dedicated docents throughout the village. Although most of the buildings at the site are replications, Millbrook has a real past. A few of the old structures have survived the ravages of Mother Nature, and escaped condemnation to make way for the ill-fated Tocks Island Dam project in the 1960s. Although the project sealed the fate of this and other villages in what is now a National Park, the Millbrook Village Society has worked hard and consistently to bring the village back to life.
Nan Horsfield, one of the area's outstanding historians, has accumulated a large and well-organized collection of books, files, newspaper clippings, photos, and more, telling the story of our area. But in addition to this material, her personal background, especially as it relates to her mother's side of the family, named Spangenberg, and especially to the generations of Spangenberg farmers who lived in and around the Warren County village of Mill Brook, tells a rich and endearing family story.
Millbrook Mill. Photo by Mike Mykowski
Her mother, born Mary Julia but known to everyone as Julia, was Nan's principal source of information, and her most intimate contact with the Spangenberg (earlier spelled Spangenburg) side of the family. Julia was the oldest of seven brothers and sisters born in old Mill Brook. Her birth date was 1903, and she lived an exciting and happy childhood in the little village and in the house owned by her father, Jason. In the same village lived other members of the family including Julia's favorite, Uncle Lester, a confirmed but happy bachelor who remained in the village until he died at a ripe old age in his ripe old house with heirlooms and junk piled to the ceiling. Julia's family home in the village was adjacent to the impressive local Methodist Church. The family didn't attend church often, but the children listened each Sunday to the hymn singing. Christmas was the only church day in this family and the children wore their shoes, sang hymns, and enjoyed the Minister's Christmas candy.
The other institution, the village school, dated back to 1840 when classes were held in the basement of the original church. When church membership outgrew its little home and moved to the present bigger structure in 1868, the school board took over the first floor of the small structure and educated local children here for almost a century.
Father Jason, after a house fire, moved his family from declining Mill Brook to a more promising and modern village called Layton, in nearby Sussex County. Here the family lived on, and Jason's two surviving children, now a little older, are still there. For a while Nan lived in Layton with her mother and clearly remembers Grandpa, who passed away in 1957 at age 87. His first daughter, Julia, Nan Horsfield's mother, reached the age of 92.
Millbrook Village interior. Photo by Dotty Waxman.
That ended the family's life in Mill Brook that had started, probably in the late 1700s. The last family head, Jason, had been born and raised here by his father, Andrew, and mother, Julia Garis. She was a member of one of the area's first families. Andrew, only age 17 when the Civil War began, managed to serve his country during this conflict and got home safely when it was all over. He produced his son, Jason, just 5 years later... and a few more offspring besides. Andrew was a farmer, too.
The Warren County map produced in 1881 as part of the Beers Atlas, identifies the village as a busy place with a grist- mill, a blacksmith shop, the Methodist Church, the school, a hotel, a store, and about a dozen dwellings. It also locates the homesite of Andrew Spangenburg and another home just up the lane from the church, of "Mrs. S. Spangenburg". "Mrs. S." was Sarah, the mother of Andrew and the widow of an earlier Spangenburg in the area, Andrew's father, James. James' birth date is 1808. His parents were Henry and Mary; her maiden name was Shoemaker. Henry and Mary are the earliest family members of record to live in Mill Brook, but little more is known of them. Son James, when he grew to adulthood, farmed the area. He took time off to marry a local aristocrat, Sarah Hill, and raised a fine family. He bargained and traded with his wealthy in-laws and acquired top quality farmland in the area. Perhaps his hard work shortened his life, for he passed away in 1866 at the age of 58. Or perhaps his short life was caused by his extra effort to produce and raise a first-rate family. He succeeded in the latter.
But the life of Mill Brook has not ended. Or, if it has, it's been reborn. The "new" church, built in 1860, still holds services, including those wonderful Christmas meetings, and the old one-room schoolhouse still stands and could reopen for classes tomorrow, if necessary. Even Uncle Lester's house survived. A sign identifies it as "Lester Spangenburg's Cabin"; its been cleaned up. And every year the still large and active Spangenberg family holds its reunion, with Nan Horsfield in the happy crowd. And coming up soon is an annual celebration that shows off the lovely and historically rich village to the general public. This event is called "Mill Brook Days" and it brings to life the family motto; "They Always Had A Happy Life".
It would appear the Nan has had good reason to love the past. The family supported itself with local farming, and Nan remembers as a child helping the family especially with roadside sales of their produce. Her mother and grandfather Jason both lived into their 90s. And Jason's grandfather James must have loved the community, for they all lived here and raised their children here, beginning in the early 1800s. They all raised large families-and healthy ones, with one exception. That exception was Uncle Lester, who never married, although he had a girl friend, once. But he lived in Mill Brook, to a ripe old age, in a ripe old house cluttered and filed with junk.
Millbrook Days are celebrated each fall at Millbrook Village in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, 12 mi north of Rt 80 at Old Mine Road and Rt 602. Admission is free.
For information on this and other events at the Village, check the Millbrook Village Society Facebook page.
If you like New Jersey history and anything about the Delaware River, you'll love Frank Dale's book, Delaware Diary.
Nearby accommodations and attractions
- Indian Head Canoes
- Kymer's Camping Resort
- The Great Divide Campground
- Wooden Duck Bed & Breakfast
- Harmony Ridge Campground
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Secluded ten-acre mini-estate adjacent to Kittatinny Valley State Park offers ten spacious guest rooms with private baths, some with fireplace, 2-person tub, and balcony. In-ground pool, country breakfast, free wireless Internet, bike/horse/walking trails. Corporate meetings are also welcome!
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23 Risdon Drive, Branchville 07826, 973/948-4941
13 Aug 2015, 21:48
They were an early family in this area and were active in the local church. I am told that there is a Welter family bible in the local church.
31 Mar 2015, 16:15
03 Mar 2015, 13:07
09 Feb 2015, 12:17
04 Oct 2014, 08:31
28 Sep 2014, 08:35
October 4Th and 5TH 2014
10 AM to 4 PM – Rain or Shine
Are you tired of the fast pace of the 21st century? Step back to a quieter time where the high price of gas, credit cards, cell phones and computers are not found. Experience Millbrook Days where Millbrook Village comes alive as it was over a century ago.
Volunteers in period clothing will demonstrate 19th century crafts and trades recreating the atmosphere of a late 19th century rural farming community.
Try the stilts, jump rope or roll the hoop. There will be kid’s games throughout the village . Marbles, checkers, ring toss, tug of war, sack race and corn husk doll making to name a few. Kids of all ages can join the fun. No batteries needed!
Millbrook’s “residents” will be busy plying their trades and doing everyday chores and activities. Woodstove cooking, butter churning, spinning yarn, weaving, natural dyes, gardening, lace making, sewing, quilting, food drying and preserving, gourd decorating, open hearth cooking and other things will be demonstrated.
The blacksmith, wood workers, wheelwright, carvers, slate splitter, tinsmith, miller, rope maker, chair caner, shaker box maker, chair maker, wooden pitch fork maker, wet plate photographer and other craftsmen will be demonstrating their skills. Step in and ask if you can help; there are lots of hands-on things to try.
An assortment of hit and miss engines will be setting the tempo for the corn Sheller, grinder and other vintage machinery. To some the sound of the old engines is music too. I hear they‘ll be making some ice cream with an engine driven ice cream churn, too. What flavor might that be?
Apples are in season. The grinder and press will be turning out some fresh cider and the kettle will be cooking down some apples for delicious apple butter. Lend a hand, it’s fun.
There’s something for everyone to see and enjoy. A friendly atmosphere abounds and new friends are sure to be found at Millbrook Village. Everything is free of charge and family oriented. Donations are accepted.
Picnic and rest room facilities are available. A food concession is available on both days provided by the Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church.
Millbrook Days is presented by the Millbrook Village Society in cooperation with the National Park Service.
Millbrook Village is part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Millbrook Village is located in Hardwick Township, NJ at the intersection of Old Mine Road and Millbrook Road, County Route 602N.
Parking and admission is free. Shuttle bus service is provided between the Watergate & Turtle beach area to Millbrook Village from 10 AM to 5 PM daily – free of charge.
For information or directions visit the Millbrook Village Society Website www.millbrooknj.com or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Millbrook-Village-Society/413672305431861?re f=stream or the NPS website www.nps.gov/dewa/millbrook village
or call 908-841-9531, 908-537-2544 or 973-875-3461
17 Jun 2014, 17:09
Hill House will have a resident weaver/spinner present from Frances Irwin Handweavers Guild, demonstrating textile arts from the period. Come and visit us!
Sunday, June 21
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Sunday, July 31
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