Return to the Old Mine Road

In many places along the Old Mine Road within the state of New Jersey, neglect and the sharp edge of the budget axe have scraped the pavement off the surface, and revealed the powdery and pocked dirt origins of this ancient trail, said by some to be the oldest commercial road on the North American continent. It stretched from the Pahaquarry area to the New York village of Esopus (Kingston) on the Hudson- about 100 miles. Today, within Warren and Sussex Counties, it retains much of its pre-Revolutionary War charm and remoteness, although many of its historic structures have vanished, following the the federal government's plan to construct a dam across the Delaware River at Tocks Island. Many of the homes in the region were either demolished, left to decay or to become targets of vandals' torches.

By Glen Lewis
Some may have sipped a glass of ale with General Gates as they sat behind the thick, safe stone walls of the Van Campen Inn or some other structure along the Old Mine Road.

The dam was never built, but some say that eventually, it will be. Were the area ever flooded, much of the road would be lost. Mystery has always surrounded the memory of the Old Mine Road. No one has ever said with clear authority who built it and when, although most attribute its origins to the Dutch in the 1600's. One who wrote about the road, and interviewed some of the local inhabitants of the area in the 1950's was Henry Charlton Beck in his book, The Roads of Home, published in 1956. He quotes freely from earlier books by Amelia Stickney Decker (That Ancient Trail), and John Barber and Henry Howe who compiled Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey. Some of the references to the road are quite revealing as to its origin and early users. Barber and Howe's 1844 publication included even older information from a source entitled Hazard's Register. According to Beck's sources, the road was "said to have been in order fifty years before William Penn set foot on American soil in 1682." Beck also states that "as early as 1641 the Journal of the Netherlands was telling tales of 'high mountains exhibiting strong indications of minerals.'"

When you are aware of the antiquity of the road, and its use by people and horse or ox- drawn wagons loaded with ore possibly more than 350 years ago, and then by such well known figures as John Adams, Count Pulaski, and General Horatio Gates, who all are said to have been guests at the Van Campen Inn, you experience a sense of history not found in many places in our country. I have stood before the Van Campen Inn and tried to envision its early inhabitants and their guests, some of whom may have taken refuge from attacking native Americans. But the road was already old when the Inn was built. It's route has been largely undisturbed within the state, so when you travel along it, you share the footsteps of those people from so long ago, who had no concept of what America was, or that some of their unborn relatives would be New Jerseyans or Americans. Some of their names linger today in the area. Beck mentions the names Rosencrans, Westbrook, Spangenburg, Hull, Decker, Losey, Depue, and even Smith. I know people with these names whose families trace their heritage to the area. Some may have sipped a glass of ale with General Gates as they sat behind the thick, safe stone walls of the Van Campen Inn or some other structure along the Old Mine Road.

The Copper Mine Inn and the gated copper mine adit (left) are dramatic reminders of essential parts of New Jersey's history that can be told along Old Mine Road.

To the relative newcomers to the area, like me, it is easy to feel that these modern descendants of the old folks we read about in books have a certain elevated status. Their ancestors found something that was worth keeping- a place, a way of life, a tradition, and their offspring were smart enough to stay. Of course, not everyone did. That's easy to see as you travel west into Pennsylvania, or north into New York State, and you find these same names again and again on headstones or street signs or in telephone directories.

As the mines in the area closed, and men and women took to farming or working for canals or railroads or the other companies which began to prosper in the skylands and neighboring localities, the Old Mine Road remained a country lane in New Jersey, and became Route 209 in New York. But the history is rich and those houses and barns which still stand have an address that anyone could be proud of. A visit to the Old Mine Road is very enjoyable, and worth the time it takes to get there. And if you're lucky, you just might come across a person who can share some stories about life along the old road.

Sites along the road

Glen Lewis writes regular features for Skylands Visitor Magazine. He loves to hear from those with similar interests.

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • High Point Mountain Motel
  • Pet friendly, AAA-rated motel offers all the comforts of home on seven country acres on a spectacular hillside location minutes from High Point State Park and Appalachian Trail. Cozy, warmly decorated rooms with up-to-your-door parking offer free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus microwaves and minifridges. Kids age 12 and under stay for no extra charge.

    1328 Route 23, Wantage 07461, 973/702-1860

  • Sussex County Fairgrounds
  • There's always something fun happening at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. Visit our web site for a full year of family fun, right in your own backyard.

    27 Plains Road, Augusta 07822, 973/948-5500

  • Harmony Ridge Campground
  • Outstanding family facilities near Culver Lake and Stokes Forest include over 200 sites on 160 acres, cabins, trailers, tent sites, camp store, laundry, hot showers and full range of on-site activities.

    23 Risdon Drive, Branchville 07826, 973/948-4941

  • Legends Resort Timeshare Resales & Rentals
  • This distinctive resort features 400 standard guest rooms as well as one floor of luxury timeshare suites. The beauty of the Kittatinny Mountains meets modern amenities like Olympic-sized swimming pools, a recently renovated health spa, and championship golf courses on-site. To rent a timeshare from an individual owner (often at a discount!) or for more information on timeshare resales at the Legends Resort & Country Club, contact SellMyTimeshareNow.com, an independent timeshare resale and rental company.

    877/815-4227

  • Wooden Duck Bed & Breakfast
  • 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!

    140 Goodale Rd., Newton 07860, 973/300-0395

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Comments

HistoryLady
09 Mar 2017, 20:51
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA) is creating a Historic Properties Management Plan (HPMP). The purpose of the project is to develop and adopt a strategy for the long-term management of all the historic buildings at DEWA. The number and condition of the structures exceeds the park's funding and maintenance capabilities. A HPMP is needed to guide the NPS in making strategic, prioritized maintenance and preservation decisions for the buildings remaining in the park. DEWA is seeking public input regarding the process, the categorization system, and preliminary treatment/use options being proposed. Info is posted at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectId=62667
Comments may be posted there or mailed in by 3/31/17.
Burson W. Bell
22 Jan 2017, 20:21
Hi Kathy,
I hope I'm not too late to be of assistance but I just stumbled onto this site. I am the last surviving family member who actually lived in the Westbrook-Bell house. Its address is 200 Old Mine Road. Google Earth is your friend here. I strongly advise you to contact the head of the Ranger service first. They do not appreciate folks prowling around unsupervised and even family members who still reside in the area have been chased off at gunpoint. My great-grandmother, Clementina Westrook, married Benton Bell and the name was added. Good luck with your search.
Kathy (Kuykendall) French
24 Jul 2016, 09:11
Hello everyone. I am traveling from Chicago area to N.Y.C. Aug. 11th. Doing a QUICK DRIVE THRU, Port Jervis. Can anyone tell me where the old stone house built and owned by Westbrook/Jacob Van Kuykendall is located? Along Delaware River in Port Jervis. Can't find an address. I want very much to take a quick picture for my family history.
Kathy French
Suzanne Stanley
19 Jun 2016, 08:33
This message is addressed to R. Westbrook M. (above) I am also a descendant of the Bell/Westbrooks. I grew up in NJ and then Pennsylvania as a teenager. I now live in Virginia. My husband and I plan to make a trip to visit the area this summer. Any information you can give me would be greatly appreciated. I have many stories from my father (whose grandfather was Judge Emmet Bell, and grandmother was Belle (Westbrook) Bell.) to share.
kelly kuhn
06 Jul 2014, 16:32
Just had a mountain bike ride today on old mine road. I stopped at every marker. Every house. Even the cemetery. A lot of history. Love the road.
jgumaertesta
07 Apr 2014, 17:55
lest we not forget thy "why" this historic area is now considered "neglected"... Tock's Island Dam Project. These historic properties were taken by Eminent Domain - some compensation monetarily but a pittance of their priceless value. when the bulldozers ran February 1973 to remove the squatters historical value was not on the agenda. I am a descendant of Johannes Westbrook - his home survived on most part of a pre-1960s historical marker & the fact it was used up until 10 years ago as a residence for park rangers. Yet the losses are greater still, the Old Mine Road is the longest & oldest road between Esopus (Kingston) NY & the Pahaquarry Copper Mines in the Jersey. there was a Westbrook Family Day @ the stone house in 2010.
R. Westbrook M.
25 Jun 2013, 20:00
Having taken my children to their historic ancestral homestead (The Westbrook Bell House) today, I was thrilled just now to read this post on the Old Mine Road. I am descended from Helen Westbrook who is indeed of Johannes Westbrook and Severyne Westbrook and the rest. What an exciting day for us discovering our history and honoring our personal connection to early American fortitude! I hope to help preserve the ancestral homestead, which seems to be falling into serious decrepitude. We could not find the family burial grounds near the grange, but will try again soon. Feel free to contact me, I'd like to get involved--so would my three near-teenaged kids.
Fred Schofer
23 Nov 2011, 08:25
Preston,\r\nWalpack is not deserted or abandoned. It is mainained by the Walpack Historical Society and there are some full & part time residents.Check the NPS website for upcoming events in the area\r\n Fred Schofer\r\n Millbrook Village Society
Preston
20 Oct 2011, 08:00
Jeff,\r\nI wish I had experienced what you did. You were very lucky. It wouldn't surprise me at all if there were spirits inhabiting these areas. I am related to most of the old settlers in that area. I drove down the road in September right after the devastation of hurricane Irene. My mother and sister got spooked on the Old Mine Road because it was so narrow and full of holes. Eventually we had to turn around because of trees down. I heard from some people that Walpack is a ghost town. Not sure if that is because the town was deserted for the dam, or because of experiences they have had.
Jeff Walker
12 Oct 2011, 18:54
Has anyone experienced any hauntings on any of the trails or areas you can explore? I was on the Copper Mine trail today and had an experience that I believe was the ghost of possibly someone that worked the mines back in the day.
Raj
02 Jun 2010, 13:15
I drove from the North (Rt 739) southwards and it was pretty scary. Its a gravel road with the river on the right, and very thick vegetation blocking all the light. Lot of potholes on the road and when it rains you have no idea how deep are the potholes. Our scenic drive turned out into a scary adventure. I would still do this again if I can go in a group with multiple cars.
Tom
30 May 2010, 14:39
The road is blocked:\r\nhttp://www.facebook.com/pages/Reopen-Old-Mine-Road/121583027881 563
jim purcell
24 Jan 2009, 21:28
having hunted the old mine road for the last 50 years, I find the road safe to drive. I drive the road about 5 times a year.The road bears witness to the struggles of the early frontiersman who encountered hostiles during the French and Indian wars, the American Revolution and Civil wars.Old Fort Shapanack is in ruins next to the Van Campen house on a hill.The early settlers would seek refuge from the Indians at "yaugh" houses required by colonial law to provide shelter to travelers
Grunklepa
15 Sep 2008, 04:56
Old Mine Road- Yes driveable .paved much of the way only in the Walpack valley is it still dirt,pot holes large enough to swallow a small car.but improved lately-Everyone's Invited \r\nto experiance The Old Mine Road & Its rich History on October 19,2008 SUNDAY- for VAN CAMPEN DAY-from rt 80 take last exit in NJ old mine rd north,past Worthington State Park,pass the Core Hole for Tocks Dam,then Copper Mines,\r\nVan Campen Glen & Milbrook Village, over the mountain,stop at the SALAROVKA HOUSE now a General Store at the top for a snack,cross Big Flatbrook, turn left,past Stephens Point & Walpack Bend,when you past the Knight Farm your getting Close,but keep going til see our signs.And explore and have some Safe Free Fun
GRUNKLEPA
15 Sep 2008, 04:33
Again the Government Strikes in last week STAR LEDGER the National Park Service has decied to raze some 100 Historcial Houses left to decay within the Park Boundries,First they drive the Owners Out-leave the Houses to Decay-now some 20 years later Tear them Down. These houses once owned by the first settles in our nation,some 200 years old,unmanaged by the Park System and let die.With History Lost-whats left for our Grand Children? Living History is much better.Grunklepa
John Fimiani
18 Apr 2008, 16:19
is the old mine road driveable
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