Old Mine Road
On That Road Again
By Bob Koppenhaver
In the 1600s Dutch miners discovered copper ore in a beautiful ravine located about seven miles north of the Delaware Water Gap. To access the ore and to transport it to Kingston, New York, they constructed a road, now known as the Old Mine Road. Primitive by present standards, it was a major undertaking in its day, and legends of the road and its Dutch miners have persisted for over two centuries.
Old Mine Road runs about 40 miles through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA), along the northwestern edges of Warren and Sussex Counties on its way to Kingston. The Recreation Area was established after the abandonment of the proposed Tocks Island Dam project in the late 1960s. The entire district was condemned, and most of the structures razed, in preparation for a vast reservoir that was to cover the communities and farms that once stood along the old road. The dam was never constructed, and the pristine atmosphere that permeates the park today is ironic compensation for the havoc wreaked by the plan.
Flood damage sometimes obstructs part of the road that closely follows the river's contour. Yet again there are whispers about damming the Delaware. Still, the road's natural beauty and solitude make for a beautiful drive along its accessible portions. And knowing what was once along the route gives a better appreciation of the character of the old road and the people who have lived along its edges.
Interstate Route 80 west provides easy access to the southern portion of Old Mine Road and leads past some interesting sites on the way. After driving west past the Columbia exit (#4), the Interstate passes under a huge former railroad bridge that crosses the Delaware River. When it was built in the early 1900s, this viaduct was the world's longest poured concrete bridge. As you enter the Water Gap beyond the bridge, on the right are about a dozen old cellar holes, all that remains of the forgotten hamlet of Browning or Browntown. The folks residing here were associated with an old slate quarry farther back in the mountain, and one of the first volunteers for duty in the Civil War lived here.
Winter solstice: For a special treat, on the first day of winter, pull over into the grassy overflow parking area just across Dunnfield Creek. Look back, and, if you are here early enough, you will see the sun rise out of the middle of the Water Gap.
The former site of Dunnfield, another hamlet consisting of a few houses, a post office, train station, and a thriving slate business, is now a parking area for the Dunnfield Creek Trail and others.
Past the parking areas you'll see the sign for "Last Exit in NJ Flatbrookville." Turn right at the bottom of the ramp and proceed to the 3-minute traffic light that accommodates a one-way stretch ahead. On your left, the New York-Susquehanna & Western once ran along the river, carrying passengers, freight and milk from local farms. It passed through Dunnfield and crossed the river about a mile ahead. Today the old railbed is used as the Karamac hiking trail.
Past the light, the single-lane road seems to hang from the edge of the cliff, indicating how difficult travel once was around the mountain. The narrowest portion of the Water Gap has been known as "Indian Ladder" for centuries. Before blasting for the railroad and the highway that later followed cleared the way, travelers needed to use a notched log or rope to assist them up and over the projecting rocky outcropping that came straight down to the river.
Ground Hog Hollow rises into the mountain on your right. This area was once peppered with estates used as vacation getaways by prominent New Yorkers. Today only large cellar holes up on the mountain above the hollow remain to mark where these large homes were located. More recent tenants live in an active bear's den farther up the hollow and a fox den down toward the river.
About a mile beyond, Karamac Trail heads toward the river where it merges with the old railbed. The Farview Trail, an antique mountain road, heads up and over the mountain, passes by an old home site or two and eventually meets the Appalachian Trail. The trail names recall the former Camp Karamac, a large resort, popular in its day, and its predecessor, the Far View House. Karamac boasted a large lodge, tennis courts, archery range, waterfront swimming and boating areas, dances amd bands, and other activities befitting the agendas of young socialites. Wandering along these trails you can still find traces of the old camp, including the tennis courts.
Paint Spring deposits. Photo by Bob Koppenhaver
Another mile and the ruins of a very old dam can be seen in a small ravine in the mountainside on the right. Following the watercourse up the mountain for a quarter-mile or so will lead you to the Paint Springs. These two small pools are surrounded by rich rusty orange "mud" deposits, the pigments of which could be used to make paint or, mixed with bear grease, maybe even war paint!! The "Paint Spring Lot" was surveyed a couple of hundred years ago, indicating early interest in these pigments. Or perhaps the rusty deposits pointed to iron ore in the mountain.
A small riverside hamlet called Brotzmansville once sat below the old dam. Over the years the hamlet had a few mills, houses, a school, and a post office. Nearly all traces were washed away in 1955 when the Delaware River rose to a level eclipsing even the recent floods.
From the Interstate exit to here, the road has passed mostly through Worthington State Forest, named after C. C. Worthington, a wealthy late nineteenth century industrialist who once owned all 8,000 acres contained within the park, and hundreds more across the river. While developing resort property in Pennsylvania, Worthington maintained a relatively natural character in Buckwood Park, his domain that extended from the river to the top of the mountain, including Sunfish Pond. The road passes the State Forest headquarters on the left, located in a former farmhouse that was, during Worthington's tenure, called Buckwood Inn Farm, probably supplying fresh farm goods for the resort across the river. An old ferry ramp below the farmhouse predates the farm, providing interstate transport for early Americans. Long before that, this spot was a major crossing for Minnisink Indians fording the river.
Across the road from the headquarters, a beautiful waterfall cascades down the mountain. Farther up the steep mountainside an ancient stone bridge spans the watercourse above the waterfall. Near this old bridge are the remnants of a terracotta pipeline that once ran from Sunfish Pond at the top of the mountain to the ferry farm below. The pipeline used gravity to carry the cold fresh waters of Sunfish Pond down the mountain to serve Worthington's farm and guests. It has been suggested that the pipeline crossed under the Delaware River to bring the water to Worthington's guests at his PA mansion near Shawnee.
A mile up the road from the State Park headquarters is the parking lot for the Douglas Trail, a 2.5-mile long path that leads up to Sunfish Pond on the top of the mountain, named in honor of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas for his part in helping to save the pond's natural character. Less than a mile beyond the Douglas Trail the road follows very closely to the river's edge. Along here is a tiny parking lot from which you can see Tocks Island upriver. Had the dam project been completed, there would now be an earthen barrier across the river rising 150 feet over the island. The New Jersey mountainside would have been deeply gouged out to provide fill for the dam and to make room for a large spillway.
Not far from this parking area, the Army Corps of Engineers cut a tunnel 600 feet into the mountain above the roadway. In order to test the stability of the strata surrounding the proposed dam, 1,200 rock-core borings were extracted to determine what rock layers lay beneath. The Rock Cores Trail zigzags up the mountainside, roughly covering the area where the borings were done. Some of the borings, as large as 2 or 3 feet in diameter, are still up there, awaiting your inspection. Upon first seeing them you will think you have discovered the pillars of an ancient temple.
Rock core samples left by the Army Corps of Engineers
Less than a mile upstream from Tocks, a few old overgrown lanes lead up from the bottomlands along the river, one of which once served a 1930s country resort called Harry's Farm, where the Rutgers College football team trained in the summer, and Jersey Joe Walcott prepared for battle with Joe Louis. Another of the lanes led down to the Coppermine Inn, frequented by tourists and locals for many years. In the 1700s one of the Shoemaker ferries was established here as a lodging for guests, including raftsmen guiding huge timber rafts to markets downstream. In the 1800s this inn was under the proprietorship of another Shoemaker, and was known as the Union Hotel.
Less than two miles beyond Tocks Island is the parking area for the Coppermines Trail, which passes near the mines for which Old Mine Road is named. Although many people refer to the portion of the road from the Gap to this point as Old Mine Road, it really begins here at the copper mines. Although there is no substantial proof, legend says the Dutch started these mines as early as the 1600s. Mining was attempted a few times from at least the 1700s until the early 1900s. After the last attempt to mine copper failed, the land was taken over by the Boy Scouts of America and converted into Camp Pahaquarra, a popular summer camp that incorporated some of the mining company's buildings for its own use.
A few small openings may be a result of early “pick & wedge” explorations by Dutch miners. Photo by Bob Koppenhaver
The copper mines and associated workings are across the road from the parking area. There are 18 mines or diggings existing today, mostly small in scope, remnants from the late 1800s and early 1900s. No one really knows what the earliest mines looked like or where they were. Legend states that the Dutch covered their mines or blew them shut to stop the English from taking them over in the late 1600s. Some still visible small openings may be a result of early "pick and wedge" explorations.
To see the lower mine, follow the trail a few hundred feet until the trail forks to the left along Mine Brook. Follow the brook and trail a few hundred yards until you suddenly come upon the mine adit. The mine is gated and locked, but just seeing this old mine in this beautiful ravine is worth the walk back there.
Moving on a short distance beyond Camp Pahaquarra, the Old Mine Road passes former Camp Cowaw, another BSA camp used until this area was taken over for the Tocks Island project. About a quarter-mile beyond former Camp Pahaquarra, the road passes the Poxono Island Boat launch, once Camp Cowaw waterfront.
A mile beyond the boat launch, the Calno School still sits along the road, a lonely reminder of a different time when families lived here. Behind the school is a large bottomland once known as Pahaquarry Flats. Nearly a mile long and half a mile wide, Native American villages of various time periods occupied this vicinity. A short distance beyond, the road passes a small cluster of houses and farm buildings once owned by VanCampens and Depues, both long-established family names throughout the valley. These structures are some of the few that survived the razing done in preparation for the never-to-be-built reservoir's rising waters. In the late 1800s, these and other homes located here were shown on maps as Calno Post Office.
About 250 years ago, during the era of the French & Indian War, as many as eight forts were built along the NJ portion of Old Mine Road. Some of these forts were fortified houses; others might have been more conventional stockaded forts. One of these forts, designated on old documents as "Van Camp's", was located somewhere here near the VanCampen and Depue homesteads.
Just beyond the buildings, a lane on the left crosses Van Campen's brook and once led into a farm or two. More recently the area along the river back there was used for the Depue Recreation Area. This area is now closed, again due to recent flood damage.
Continuing on, Old Mine Road parallels the beautiful Van Campen's Glen. The first trailhead is reached by turning right at the sign where a short dirt lane leads to a picnic area from which hikers can follow the naturally sculpted streambed of Van Campen's Brook into the Glen. Or continue to a small marked roadside parking area a little further up to hike down the glen. Either way will yield beautiful views along one of the nicest paths in New Jersey.
The Calno schoolhouse is currently unoccupied.
The long-vacant Coppermine Inn (above) still awaits a tenant while the Delaware View House (below) housed a small general store for years.
Just before the hamlet of Millbrook lies the entrance to the Watergate area, acres of groomed grassy lawns on which to picnic, a pond or two, and public restrooms! Soon you'll come to Millbrook Village. Although it appears quite different from when it was a functioning, viable town a hundred or more years ago, this assemblage of structures is meant to resemble the old towns of the period. Millbrook is the site of a popular fall festival sponsored by the National Park Service in October.
Leaving Millbrook, Old Mine Road continues into Walpack Township in Sussex County. About a half mile from Millbrook is the northern trailhead for the Hamilton Ridge Trail, which leads to another trail steeply downhill toward the river, along the slides of Sambo Falls. Follow it until you finally reach another ancient path along the edge of the river. It has been claimed that this old trail is actually the original Old Mine Road.
About a mile beyond the trailhead, the Delaware View House is located on a T-intersection of Old Mine Road and the former Flatbrookville-Stillwater Road, which heads up the hill to the right (a fascinating trip in itself.) The original Greek Revival farmhousetwo rooms up, two rooms downwas built in 1837. In 1892 a multi-storey addition was built around the house to become a lodge called the Flatbrook Hotel. Sometime in the early 1900s it became known as the Delaware View House until 1926, when the building became known as Salamovka, a resort for Russian émigrés. Today the building serves as a general store for park visitors, part of the Historic Leasing Program invented in the 1980s to attract private investors to occupy and rehabilitate historic structures. Stop in for a hot dog, a chat with proprietor George Kately, and a beautiful view over the river valley from the front porch.
From the Delaware View House, the Old Mine Road descends for about a half-mile before crossing the Flatbrook and reaching a stop sign at a T-intersection. Turn left to stay on Old Mine Road through the former town of Flatbrookville. Years ago you would now be passing the Flatbrookville School, Flatbrookville church, various dwellings, even a post office. Today only a few buildings remain.
Here the road twists through the Walpack Bend, so named for the large S-curve in the Delaware. Walpack, the historical name for this general area and for the surrounding township, is the corrupted form of a more complex Indian term meaning "whirlpool". Sources from long ago referred to a circular eddy in the Delaware at the mouth of the Flatbrook. It is said that this circular current becomes pronounced during times of high water, so strong that it can suck down large trees.
About 3/4-mile from the stop sign by the Flatbrook and along the last curve of the "S", you will see a lane coming up from the left to meet Old Mine Road. This was the way down to old Decker's Ferry, one of the oldest ferries on the Delaware, dating from the 1770s. Due to the large S-curve in the river, this was the only place on the river where you could cross into PA by heading east! Also near this lane is a marker commemorating Old Mine Road, one of only two that still exist.
Fort Walpack, another French & Indian War bastion that may have been located in this area, is depicted on a couple of mid-1700s maps and described in a 1758 letter as a "wooden church, a small blockhouse, palisaded", an interesting combination of structures for a fort. Just beyond the Old Mine Road marker and just before reaching the Rosenkrans Ferry lane, there once stood the Lower Dutch Walpack church, built in 1747. Traces of this ancient church are difficult to locate, if they exist at all.
The private lane leading to the former Rosenkrans Ferry is on the left about a quarter-mile from Decker's Ferry lane. Like most ferries of the era, it was little more than a large flat-bottomed boat capable of carrying one car, or a horse and wagon, guided across the river by an overhead cable. To get the ferryman's attention from the Pennsylvania shore, customers rang a bell.
Just beyond the Rosenkrans Ferry lane, along the sharp drop-off on the left, is the site of a little known local legend called Ruthern Jump. The legend says that a man named Ruthern jumped down this steep incline for a quart of rum and broke his neck. No one knows whether he survived long enough to take a sip.
For a mile and a half beyond the Rosenkrans ferry lane, Old Mine Road passes a few houses and another lane known as Smith's Ferry. There are many more interesting sites of interest along Old Mine Road before it exits New Jersey at Port Jervis, New York.