Bald Pate Mountain

Fare To Midlands

Story & photos by Bob Koppenhaver

Just a few miles south of Lambertville lies an area ripe for weekend adventure and exploration. Components of local, national, and natural history are well represented, as well as brilliant prospects for craft seekers, hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and picnickers. To get there, head south from Lambertville on Route 29, enjoying glimpses of the Delaware & Raritan Canal feeder and the Delaware River along the way.

Bald Pate Mountain
Part of the former the Kuser Estate on top of Bald Pate Mountain

Washington Crossing State Park

A couple of miles down Route 29, you will soon pass by the county workhouse, Bald Pate Mountain, the village of Titusville, and finally arrive at Washington Crossing State Park. Established in 1912, the 800-acre park commemorates one of our nation's most important early historical events. On Christmas night in 1776, after pushing off their Durham boats from the Pennsylvania shoreline and crossing the ice-laden Delaware River in the dark, General George Washington and 2400 Continental Army troops landed on the river's New Jersey bank. Upon regrouping, they marched nine miles south to Trenton to defeat surprised Hessian troops who lay sleeping off the effects of a late night celebration. Washington's troops gained a much needed morale boost that would carry the nation to eventual victory over the British army.

History buffs will enjoy visiting the Nelson House, located at the spot along the Delaware where Washington's troops landed. Inside, visitors may view period furnishings plus vintage photos of the neighboring railroad and canal. Not far from the river is the 18th-century Johnson Ferry House, where living history demonstrations are occasionally presented to the public. Evidence hints that George Washington and his staff used this house to discuss their final plans for the Continental Army's march to Trenton on that fateful Christmas night. The Visitor Center Museum contains exhibits of Revolutionary War artifacts and documents with emphasis on the "Ten Crucial Days" which began with Washington's crossing, and include the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.

Washington Crossing
The annual Christmas Day reenactment at Washington Crossing State Park

One of the most widely attended events offered at the park is the annual Christmas Day reenactment of the crossing of the Delaware. Unlike the original, which occurred in frigid weather through life-threatening ice floes during the dark of night, the daylight reenactments are dependent on weather and water conditions, so check first if you plan to attend.

Nature and outdoors enthusiasts will want to visit the park's 140-acre Natural Area and its associated Interpretive Center, which offers outdoor, and nature programs throughout the year. From the Interpretive Center, nature trails lead through fields and woods and pass by an observation blind from which observers might catch glimpses of birds, deer, and other wildlife. Since some birds spend the winter here, bird watching can be good here year round.

An astronomical observatory is located near the Interpretive Center. Operated by the Amateur Astronomical Association of Princeton, Friday night sessions are offered. To find out more, call (609) 737-2575 or check their website .

Trails for hikers, bikers, and cross-country skiers cover 15 miles within the park although the park's website should be checked for any restrictions. Also, near the river, there is a hiking & biking trail along the Delaware & Raritan Canal feeder where anglers will be able to fish for sunfish, bass, and pickerel.

Cultural enthusiasts will want to attend summertime concerts and performances at the park's Open Air Theatre. Operated by the Washington Crossing Association of New Jersey from June through August, events take place on an open outdoor stage. For more information, call (609) 737-1826.

Details, directions, and other park information may be found at the park's website.

Howell Living History Farm & the Pleasant Valley Historic District

While Washington Crossing State Park celebrates events that affected the whole of American history, other nearby sites illuminate vital aspects of local heritage. Retracing your route, head back up Route 29 about 4 1/2 miles to Valley Road (about 2 1/2 miles south of Lambertville) and turn onto it, following it about 1 1/2miles to Woodens Lane. Turn left and go another 1/4 mile to the entrance lane on the right leading to the Howell Living History Farm. You are in the Pleasant Valley Historic District.

The Pleasant Valley Historic District is a small area that holds more than a dozen locally historic sites, one of which is the Howell Living History Farm. Within this District are also at least two other farmsteads, two old public school sites, the Phillips gristmill, a blacksmith shop site & house, the old Phillips Burying Ground and more. These sites may be visited on horse-drawn wagon tours originating at the Howell Living History Farm.

The farm is owned by Mercer County and is operated by the Mercer County Park Commission in assistance with The Friends of Howell Living History Farm. The operating farm is open to the public, serving as an educational facility whose purpose is the preservation and interpretation of turn-of-the-century farm life.

Offering a widely diverse seasonal schedule, visitors can return time and again, experiencing something different each time. Some of the many seasonal demonstrations that can be seen here are ice harvesting, sugar tree tapping and maple sugaring, lambing and sheep shearing, beekeeping, potato and corn planting, haying and wheat harvesting, honey collecting, and potato harvesting. Other scheduled events are wagon tours, hayrides, ice cream parties, workhorse rides, and even an old-time baseball game.

To locate the Howell Farm entrance with a GPS device use: 70 Wooden's Lane, Lambertville, New Jersey. For a wealth of information about this facility, for their schedule, or for more historical information about Pleasant Valley, check online. online. Other contact information as given on their website is by phone (609) 737-3299, or by email .

Bald Pate Mountain

While both Washington Crossing Park and the Howell Living History Farm illuminate and preserve the area's past, a new Mercer County park located between them shrouds most of its historical mysteries, while providing opportunities for outdoor activities. The Ted Stiles Preserve at Bald Pate Mountain is named in honor of the man who led a 9-year campaign to make the park a reality. Stiles, recently deceased, was a resident of Hopewell Township and a long-time professor of biological sciences at Rutgers University is also credited with the preservation of more than 9,000 acres other natural lands in New Jersey.

Bald Pate Mountain's peak is Mercer County's highest point, about 470 feet above sea level. On clear days Philadelphia is within sight, as is the Delaware River below. The park contains more than a thousand acres, and, although some sections are still in the formative process, over ten miles of unpaved trails, marked and unmarked, are currently open for hikers, bikers, equestrians, and hunters during the season. While some of the trails, such as the mountaintop Ridge Trail are reasonably level, many others are sometimes steep. A few trails have picturesque steep stone steps that require some degree of caution to negotiate. Within the park, birdwatchers may find a large number of neotropical migratory songbirds. Bald Pate is possibly the only location in Mercer County with breeding pairs of Kentucky hooded and worming-eating warblers.

The origin of Bald Pate's name is one of the park's mysteries. Until the mid-20th century, the mountain was known locally as Kuser Mountain, named for the family who owned it for many decades. In Henry C. Beck's 1939 book Fare to Midlands, reference is made to the top of the mountain having been cleared by one of the Kusers, perhaps for a landing strip. Possibly the bare mountaintop suggested the more recent name of Bald Pate. At the summit, the Kuser estate, called "Strawberry Hill", included a main house, lodge, and various outbuildings. For a few years in the early 1900s the family established a game farm on the mountain, raising pheasants with the assistance of an experienced gamekeeper and other local workers. In 1986 the family sold the property to Trap Rock Industries, and in 1998 Bald Pate Mountain was acquired from TPI by Mercer County.

Two large parking areas have been constructed in the park, one at the base of the mountain on Fiddlers Creek Road alongside Kuser's former lane to the top, where a visitor center complex incorporates the original structures at Strawberry Hill. Eventually the lane will be improved, allowing for limited vehicular and handicapped access to the top of the mountain. A "smart gate" located at the lane's entrance will remain closed when the small parking area at the mountaintop visitor's center is full. Access to the top by foot will not be limited. It is expected that public groups and organizations will also be able to use these mountaintop facilities for various meetings and gatherings.

Although Bald Pate Preserve's present day trails pass through woods that seem to have always been there, that was not always the case, especially in the eastern portion of the park, known for many years as Honey Hollow. If Henry C. Beck had not explored Honey Hollow in the 1930s, talked to the "locals", and then recorded his adventures in Fare To Midlands, there is little chance that anyone today would have any knowledge of the settlement that once existed here and up the sides of Bald Pate. A check of U.S. Census records shows that well over a dozen families lived in the area for many decades, some for two or three generations. Old newspaper articles and ads give scant hints of their lives, both socially and in business. Among the trees, protected by the thorny multiflora roses that have taken over as the predominant undergrowth, are remnants of a fairly large settlement of long forgotten farmersÉ and maybe even a bootlegger or two.

The most obvious vestiges of the former inhabitants and their labors are the prominent stone rows that run along, and sometimes cut across, the park trails. Before early farmers could plow and seed the earth they first needed to clear this very rocky hillside to make usable fields. Removing rocks was an ongoing process, as frost heaving brought a new crop to the surface each winter. Each year, the farmers dumped the rocks along the edges of their fields, defining their properties' boundaries and the lanes that ran from one farm to another.

Also scattered throughout the area are rock caches, some of them large enough and stacked neatly enough to suggest that you are looking at the ruins of a house; or maybe ancient waypoint markers for alien invaders. These collections however, like hundreds of others found throughout the northeastern U.S., were simply intended to be used for future construction of homes and barns; structures that never came to be. As the fields were abandoned and natural progression took over, corn, hay, and wheat were replaced by cedars, and then maples, elms, and other hardwoods that rise above the prickly invasion of the multiflora rose. Scattered throughout, begging to be discovered, are the remains of more than a dozen structures, mainly ruins of houses, barns, and springhouses and the faint old lanes that once connected them. All that remain of the old houses, probably constructed by local stonemasons or even the farmers themselves, are foundations and cellar holes, or nondescript heaps of rocks where they tumbled.

Another mystery is reflected in the name of one of the park's trails, the Copper Hill Trail. Local legend hints at the existence of a long-lost copper mine, its workings attributed—probably incorrectly—to the labors of Indians. Somewhere here on the mountain the mine does, or did, exist. Beck visited the small mine, and in his book included a photo of its entrance.

chimney in the woods
A chimney rises alongside the Copper Hill Trail.

Along the Copper Hill Trail, despite having an uncanny knack of remaining hidden in plain sight a few feet off the trail, hikers and bikers suddenly notice a fireplace and chimney rising in the woods. But who has taken the time to notice the strange construction of the adjacent cellar hole? Could it be that bootleggers really did change this place to make illicit Prohibition products as claimed by Beck?

Or way off the established trails, who built that old springhouse that has "DHP Aug 1845" inscribed in its mortar? The springhouse is obvious as is the large ruined cellar hole beside it, but where was the barn? Nature's progression is bent on concealing forever all that once existed here, as it has done in the rest of the Hollow.

springhouse
A spring house entangled in the underbrush

Here at Bald Pate questions arise that beg to be answered. Who were those former inhabitants of Honey Hollow? How many of them were here? Why did they leave? What happened to their homes? Possibly, as time goes by, more answers will surface but for now, as you use the trails of Bald Pate, remember that this wasn't always "just woods."

To find access to the Ted Stiles Preserve at Bald Pate Mountain, drive up either Pleasant Valley Road or Fiddler's Creek Road, looking for any entrances or parking areas. Until construction is completed at the park the access entrances and parking areas will vary. Large portions of the park are closed to non-hunters during certain days of hunting season from mid-November to February. Check the Mercer County website for schedules during that period. Or call (609) 989-6532. Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space is also helpful.

The author, Bob Koppenhaver, has been collecting information about Honey Hollow for years. Anyone interested in sharing their own information about the area or who may have questions please email

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse
  • Artisanal cheeses, wood fired breads, 100% grass-fed beef, whey fed pork, and suckled veal, 100% grass-fed ice cream, pasta made with Emmer wheat and our own free-range eggs, and pesto made with our own basil! Bread and cheesemaking workshops are held on the working farm as well as weekend tours and occasional concerts.

    369 Stamets Road, Milford 08848, 908/86GRASS

  • Bouman Stickey Farmstead
  • 114 Dreahook Road, Stanton 08885, 908/236-2327

  • Decoys and Wildlife Gallery
  • This wildlife art gallery contains the area?s largest selection of hand carved decoys, representing carvers across the US, as well as an extensive collection of original paintings by some of the nation's most renowned artists.

    55 Bridge St., Frenchtown 08825, 908/996-6501

  • Made To Order
  • Delightful fantasies beyond words! Gold, Platinum & Silver Jewelry, Wildlife Photos, Crystal, Lighthouses. Perfume Bottles, Santas, Witches Balls, Oil Lamps, Paperweights, Chimes, Art Glass, Wishing Stars. Now featuring Pandora Jewelry.

    44 Main St., Clinton 08809, 908/735-4244

  • Ship Inn Restaurant and Brewery
  • New Jersey''s first brewpub where, in addition to14 British ales and hard cider on tap, you can enjoy selections brewed on-site. The menu is derived exclusively from cuisine from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Lively weekend entertainment, on and off premise catering.

    61 Bridge St., Milford 08848, 908/995-7007

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Comments

Fairfax Hutter
08 Oct 2015, 05:53
Meant to add that PennEast will take 2.6 MILES out of Baldpate with many 120 year old trees. Not only will they destroy the heart of Pleasant Valley, the prettiest valley in Mercer County, but they will cut through the arguably prettiest valley in all of NJ--the unspoiled Wickecheoke Creek valley near Rosemont a short distance downstream from covered bridge. They'll also cross the Lockatong and all those special rocky C1 streams north of Moore's Creek all the way north of Milford NJ where they nip the Milford Bluffs and plunge though steep and stony Gravel Hill. PennEast crosses 80+ rivers including many Class A Trout Streams in PA and mostly C1 streams on its circa 114 mile route from Luzerne County PA to Mercer County NJ. 15% route and 27% in NJ cross Important Bird Areas (IBAs.) This duplicates from exact same start to finish less than 6 miles away Transco Leidy Expansionwhich is under construction now--2 pipeline super highways side by side. This is a 36" Natural GAS pipeline so not a NIMBY alternative to dangerous Bakken crude oil trains. This project has serious problems from the start to finish. PennEast said ENTIRE route in NJ is in the Coastal Plain. They boasted a "list of beaches" in Hunterdon that they're sparing to Delaware Twp. audience. They said this month that Hopewell NJ is in the Hudson River Watershed! Please research, intervene, and call your legislators:

http://mercerme.com/bipartisan-opposition-stands-united-against-penneast-pi peline-ferc-and-njdep-urged-to-deny-proposal/
Fairfax Hutter
07 Oct 2015, 20:08
URGENT: PennEast Pipeline proposes to blast and clearcut a 100' -125' wide swath up Baldpate Mountain running diagonally and nearly lengthwise up to ridge top. This will obliterate the Pleasant Valley Parking lot, kiosk, and some of the Ridge Trail. Coupled with JCP&L's 285' wide easement (of which ONLY 100-125' is cleared) this could create a 300-400' wide, '2 lane divided highway' marching up Baldpate for a 'Baldpate Mohawk.' These are 120 year old mature trees they'll be felling. They'll be blasting igneous diabase. They plan at least two access roads including a new 1300' one as well as slashing across Pleasant Valley, mere 200' from the Howell Living History Farm. PLEASE FILE TO INTERVENE WITH FERC DEADLINE AS SOON AS 10-15-15! For maps and info and "The WACAP Intervenor Convenience Service" see:
http://thecostofthepipeline.com/
Tim Case
17 Sep 2015, 10:20
Lived in a house at the bottom of mountain on Church Rd. from 1972 to 1976. Still hike trails with dog almost every day.Also curious about the "James E Howard" sign behind one of the abandoned houses on hilltop.Who was he?
Faith
19 Aug 2014, 07:50
Where in wash x state park does the trail begin
Any idea?
Or is it best to start at entrances off fiddlers creek or pleasant valley?
Thanks
Marie Hutchinson
29 Jul 2014, 17:22
I recently heard of someone who had a wedding reception at Bald Pate and was wondering if I could get some information about having a reception there.
s.a. Harrison
03 Nov 2013, 10:44
Anyone have any information on Mike Kuser since he sold Strawberry hill
Denise Papp
04 Jun 2013, 05:06
Picked up a Mercer County Parks guide that contained scant information about Bald Pate. However, did a little internet research for the rest. My husband and I have been there the last 2 weekends. First the blue trail, second the red loop trail. Loved them both. The views are beautiful and the air is sweet with the smell of wild roses. We live in Trenton and love having something like this so close to home (about 15 mins). After reading this page, we are looking forward to dsicovering the different structures scattered about the mountain.
John Schafer
02 Apr 2013, 07:13
I discovered this gem of a park just yesterday thanks to a geocache being hidden here. Never did find the cache but it was a real treat to discover new hiking trails. This area is quite beautiful. I especially liked the old farm by the pond. It looks like it would be a nice swimming spot on a warm summer day! My dog and I did a long loop hike here yesterday from Washington Xing park,thru Bald Pate along the ridge trail to the Howell farm then a few miles of road walking back to the Delaware canal towpath. We will be back!
BOB LECH
28 Jun 2012, 01:03
New Jersey is the arm pit of the Nation
David Blackwell
16 Mar 2011, 07:47
I wanted to add a couple of things about the mountain. It was actually Ted Stiles of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space who conceived the idea of acquiring most of the Mike Kuser property from the Quarry who had bought it, but needed a zoning change to expand the quarry operations. FOHVOS brokered a deal to give the Quarry some expansion, and a time limit, in exchange for selling the rest to become a park. And that was only 1/3 of the former Kuser landholdings. There were two other heirs also holding land. The FOHVOS plan included strageties for all of it using Hopewell Township, Green Acres and Mercer County money. We also created the Pleasant Valley Historic District as part of that master plan.\r\n\r\nTwo Kuser brothers began buying land on the mountain in 1910, and John Kuser ultimately owned it all, about 150 parcels large and small. In the 1930's he left a mountain to his three children undivided! They separated their own shares, stretching from the river to Honey Hollow Road. It was during the ownership of the Kusers, who wanted the mountain as a hunting preserve, that the remaining families were bought out and left.
paul hunter
23 Oct 2010, 22:37
i walked baldpate mountain (or as we called it kuser's mountain) a multitude of times forty-five years ago. it was clean and beautiful. there were four seasons-snow in the winter,colorful leaves in the fall,all kinds of flowers in the summer, and new growth and buds in the spring. there were old houses and chimneys,open fields and lots of huge trees. the area was very secluded and rustic especially before the powerline came through. enjoy the mountain, there is a great wealth of nature and beauty.
Geraldine Lewis
28 Jun 2010, 22:17
So glad to hear from Lisa! I've been hiking Baldpate since prior to recent renovations (since 2006-07) and was always fascinated by the two old estates - wondering who had lived there and why they were abandoned. Why and when did your grandparents leave the farm by the pond? Did anyone live there after them? What a beautiful yet isolated setting? Also, does anyone know who James E. Howard is? (the name on the back of the little house near the farm and on one of the barn buildings across from the main estate?
Lisa Stewart
11 May 2010, 22:33
Being the granddaughter of someone who lived on top of this mountain, i can say that i am not disappointed in what i found on my recent visit.\r\n My grandparents, the Burds lived in the farmhouse next to the pond for more than 20 years. I have so many fond memories of being up on this mountain and am happy that so many others can now enjoy what i got to for so many years. Kudos to Mercer County for keeping this space open.
Bill M
19 Sep 2009, 14:13
Hiked the Blue trail from the new parking lot on Fiddlers Creek Rd up to Strawberry Hill and then the White trail to Copper Hill Trail and walked Fiddlers Creek back to the lot. About 4.5 miles and 3 hours with photo time in that mix. A hidden gem is an understatement. \r\nI found this site after coming across the old chimney and was doing a search for it. \r\nSo much to see! Highly suggested, especially now that the weather has cooled down a bit. \r\n\r\nBlue trail from the lot has some steep stone step sections but easily passable taking your time. Copper Hill trail was very muddy in spots.
Terri Miller
15 Mar 2009, 05:25
Thanks, Wayne!
Wayne Henderek
27 Feb 2009, 15:53
Go to "njtrails.org". Pull down Mercer Co. Hit the link forTed Stiles Preserve. Presto, a trail map.
Jack Kerins
14 Feb 2009, 13:32
This is a gem of a trail. I walked for two hours (I was lost even though I knew I was heading in the right direction). Where in Mercer County can you walk for two hours and not see a house or cross a road? Trails are well marked but without a map I was never sure if I wanted the blue or the red or the white trail. If anyone has a map, let us know.\r\nJack\r\n
Dave Goessling & Amy Biggers
26 Oct 2008, 12:41
We hiked the blue and orange trails on a beautiful late October Sunday: what a fantastic hidden-in-plain-sight gem this park is! It will be even better when the parking areas and visitor's center are completed and improved. \r\nOne thing that's sorely needed (and I'm sure is coming, maybe in the spring?) is a trail map. The trails are well marked, but you don't really know where they go. For now you have to just follow your nose and the sun, though.\r\nA great place for hiking! Go!
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