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Learning Hibernia

Wildcat Ridge

Story and photos by Robert Koppenhaver

Tucked between Rockaway Township's town of Hibernia and Split Rock Reservoir lies a large portion of Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area, one of New Jersey's many multi-use WMAs. Throughout the state, these tracts of land have been set aside for a variety of public uses including hiking, nature study, photography, exploration, fishing and hunting. Wildcat Ridge WMA also offers a great opportunity to delve into the area's history, some of which might be surprising and unexpected.

Wildcat Ridge contains nearly 4,000 acres in Morris County, an area of the state that has had its share of development. At first, the thickly wooded land within this WMA reveals only a minimal amount of the human touch. But appearances can be deceiving, the first clue being that most of the trees here are less than 60 years old.

Years ago, much of Wildcat Ridge showed the intense scarring caused by large-scale mining operations working to extract their share of a very large, productive vein of iron ore underlying this area. Nature has successfully reclaimed the land; trees have grown back, streams again flow unaltered, and even some of the grossly disfiguring mining remnants have been incorporated into nature's altered plan.

Today, lovers of nature, history, and geology will all find something here, laced with a bit of intrigue. Hikers will find miles trails–blazed and unblazed–and old woods roads running maze-like through most of the WMA. A hike here makes you feel as if these woods never felt the effect of a disruptive human hand, but occasional reminders of past mining still remain in the form of a foundation here, an old wall there, long shallow trenches, and overgrown old roads.

You'll find a wide variety of plant life in the scattered boggy areas, along rocky outcrops, in old fields, and throughout the thick woods. Sharing this area with you will be some of New Jersey's typical wildlife such as squirrels, turkeys, and deer. If you're lucky you might also see more unusual inhabitants such as porcupines, otters, bears, and even bobcats. And make sure you keep an eye out for timber rattlers which also live here. Beyond that, Wildcat Ridge boasts a beaver pond, a hawk watch, and a bat cave!

Wildcat Ridge Hawkwatch can be accessed by parking in the gravel lot at the southern end of North Hibernia Road, walking a short distance to the Orange Trail and then following it easterly for less than a mile to a rocky overlook. Established in 1997 as an official Hawk Migration Assoc. of North America (HMANA) site, it is manned by volunteers during the spring and fall hawk migrations. During those weeks it is possible to catch sight of as many as 16 different species of hawks. Offering an amazing view of the mountains and valleys to the east, on a clear day you may even catch a glimpse of the NYC skyline.

Bat Cave
The bat cave near the lower Hibernia Road parking area.

Until their population was decimated by the white nose fungus in recent years, it was possible to see large numbers of bats from an observation deck located at the southwestern base of the mountain, near the town of Hibernia. The platform, which keeps observers at a safe distance yet close enough for a good view, faces a large mine opening in the mountain that people frequently mistaken for a cave. New Jersey's largest known bat hibernaculum, estimates are that up to 26,000 little brown bats once used this former mine as a shelter, hibernating here during the winter since at least the 1930s.

Today's impressive bat shelter is the former Andover mine tunnel (not the same as Sussex County's Andover mine), going back thousands of feet into the mountain. A few years ago this entrance was partially sealed so that people are kept out while the bats have easy ingress and egress of the tunnel. As you approach the area of the mine's entrance, depending on the current temperature and humidity, you may notice a fog or mist emanating mysteriously from its mouth. Or sometimes, even from hundreds of feet away, you can feel the cold draft blowing out of the mine.

A large beaver pond is situated a short distance from the first parking area near the end of Upper Hibernia Road. By following a red-blazed trail eastward, you will reach a large pond on the left. Depending on whether high waters from storms have broken through the dam or beavers have built it up again, the appearance of this pond will change from time to time. At least two active beaver lodges have been observed here.

Hiking Trails

Utilizing unmarked old wagon roads, faint unmarked trails or newer blazed trails, hikers will encounter walking paths covering most of the area. Blazed trails include the white-marked Four Birds Trail, the short red-blazed beaver pond trail, and the Orange Trail.

The Orange Trail, accessed from a parking area at the end of Upper Hibernia Road, is less than a mile long. Many hawk watchers follow this trail to reach the Wildcat Ridge Hawkwatch located at its eastern end.

The longest marked path is the 19-mile-long Four Birds Trail. Blazed with white, it threads its way through this WMA, passing by historic remnants as it continues northward into Farney State Park. Opened in 1996, the southern trailhead is at a gravel parking area on Lower Hibernia Road a short distance from its intersection with Green Pond Road (Rt. 513).

History, mystery, & lost things

If you prefer less established trails, at least two or three unmarked old roads pass through the woods. As you walk these roads, now narrowed by overgrowth, try to picture the former horse and wagon travelers who once depended on them to get back and forth. If you hike here when the foliage and undergrowth are thick, it may seem as if this area has been largely untouched by people. But there is a different impression if you visit when visibility is better. Scattered nearly everywhere along the old road connecting the present Upper and Lower Hibernia Roads are remnants and traces of old foundations and cellar holes, abandoned lanes and woods roads. But it's the trenches, the abundant rock piles, and the pits that leave the best clues that mining happened here, and lots of it.

Hibernia Mine Map
This historical map shows the Hibernia mining sites, many of which are quite evident at Wildcat Ridge.
Iron Mines & Mining in New Jersey, Geological Survey of New Jersey, Vol. VII., by William S.Bayley, 1910.

Along this old road was a collection of mines now called the Hibernia Mine, a misnomer since at least a dozen shafts were sunk here by nearly a dozen different mining companies. At first the mines were individually-owned tracts, each company of miners working the same rich vein of iron ore that runs deep under the mountain for a mile or more. Over the years, one by one, the tracts were consolidated into larger but fewer operations.

Eventually the Andover tunnel at the base of the mountain, today's bat hibernaculum, was driven so far into the mountain that it connected with most of the shafts. Standing on this ground today it is hard to imagine that the deepest shaft went down 2600 feet and that somewhere in the rock below you are 26 mine levels!

The Hibernia mine, one of the most productive iron mines in New Jersey, had its own railroad, the Hibernia Mine Railroad, the only incorporated mine railway in New Jersey. It was used to transport ore from the mines here to the Morris Canal and larger railways a few miles south in the town of Rockaway.

Hibernia Ruins
Mining ruins along an old road that runs through the former Hibernia mines.

Although due caution is advised when heading off the trail in this area, most of the shafts have been filled in, at least partially. Although you might not locate the old shafts, finding traces of the many ancillary structures is fairly easy. Scattered across the top, sides and base of the mountain are many old foundations and ruins, some of them very large and still impressive even in their deteriorated condition.

A lost village

At one time a few hundred miners were employed to work the tunnel and shafts at Hibernia. Even though very little remains of their former community on top of the mountain, at one time there were dozens of dwellings, a large school, a couple of saloons, and even a hotel. Based on the pattern of houses shown on old maps, they were probably built by the mining companies to house their workers. Today, looking around the barren and wooded areas up here, it's hard to imagine that any sort of village ever existed.

A good indication of the former village's size is the number of school age children it had. In 1867, when the Upper Hibernia school district was created, it was large enough to warrant hiring both a principal and an assistant teacher, while many other surrounding school districts had only a teacher. In the 1880s, today's town of Hibernia was the Lower Hibernia school district and the mining village that was once located on top of the mountain was designated as the Upper Hibernia district. Nearly all of the dwellings of the upper district were intermingled with the mines and their associated structures. The 1880 Census shows that the mountaintop village had 740 residents. In comparison, the town of Rockaway had 1,052 residents at the time, only slightly larger than the lost mining village.

A cemetery forgotten

Cemetery at Wildcat Ridge
A forgotten cemetery high above today’s Hibernia.

Not far off the old mining road lies one of the most surprising clues hinting at the size of the village's former population. A large cemetery lies in the woods, deep in the middle of nowhere. Spotting it on new topographic maps almost makes it seem as if the mapmakers made some mistake, especially if you are familiar with this remote area. It is on the mountain high above today's Hibernia. Why would anyone ever put a large cemetery way up there, away from the town? Perhaps a visit to the site will verify that the cemetery exists there yet today. A couple of signs hanging near the front of the cemetery declare the sacred ground to be “St. Patrick's Cemetery”, established in 1869.


A gravestone indicates eastern European ancestry in the vanished village.

Heavily vandalized over the years, exploration of this rather large cemetery reveals one of its most interesting features. A large percentage of the remaining gravestones memorialize what appear to be eastern European names. Even the text, which is carefully carved on the stones, is of that ethnic language.

So why is this forgotten cemetery all the way up here? Because, back then when the cemetery was being used, it was near the lost and forgotten dwellings of the former mining village; the one that once existed amidst the mines not far away. As surprising as it is to discover the cemetery hidden in the woods, it is even more remarkable to look at other old maps and see a Roman Catholic Church located near the mountain top in an area that today leaves scant signs as to its existence. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that it indeed stood somewhere up here to serve the spiritual needs of the miners and familes. It was called “St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church” and was most certainly associated with the cemetery of the same name a few hundred yards away.

Because of the ever present dangers of mining, the citizens of the vanished town needed frequent spiritual consolation. Even a brief search of old records shows that death was a regular event at the Hibernia mines.

Today, some might lament the effect the Hibernia mining operations had on the land. Large areas of the earth's surface were torn up so that huge amounts of iron-bearing rock could be removed and put through the dirty work of mineral removal and processing, polluting air and water. Imposing piles of waste rock still characterize the landscape, and open shafts remained hazards for years. But neither history nor nature like imbalances, and the mines' evolving effects have found a way to turn positive. Had the mine owners not retained their huge tracts of land for so many years, chances are good that subdivision and ensuing development would have taken place.

Future development of this WMA seems unlikely, ensuring that the public will have a place in which to get out in nature; a place for the beavers to build their dams and lodges; a place where groups of hawk watchers can gather to admire the surrounding “wilderness” while waiting for the next flight of hawks; and a large subterranean home for thousands of bats.

Accessing Wildcat Ridge WMA

Due to the net-like maze of trails and old roads here, many of which may be faint and unmarked, it is a good idea to carry at least a simple trail map of the area. Even finding the parking areas may be challenging, depending on which maps you use. A GPS or compass will ensure that you won’t become disoriented. Wear sturdy boots and bring a hiking stick to help navigate the rocky terrain. Don’t forget water and trail snacks to enjoy along the way.

Lower Hibernia Road Parking Area

From the Exit 37 overpass of Interstate 80, drive 2.8 miles north on Green Pond Road to Lower Hibernia Road on the right (east). Be aware that some maps call this road Lower Hibernia Road, others call it Sunnyside Road, other maps just leave it unnamed. Whatever it may be called today, not long ago it was still known as Lower Hibernia Road. Since this road may be unmarked look for it about 1200 feet north of Dudak Road which will be on your left as you pass it.
Once located, turn right onto Lower Hibernia Road and almost immediately look for and turn into the gravel parking area on the left. When the foliage is thick the entrance to this lot may be easily missed. Park here for the Four Birds Trail’s southern trailhead, the trail to the bat hibernaculum, and access to the area in general via a steep rocky old road heading up the mountain.
The observation deck for the bat mine is about 800 feet from this parking area via the white-blazed Four Birds trail for the first 450 feet. When the white trail bears left, continue straight up the slope. Continue upward for about 150 feet, looking for a level trail that bears off to the left. The observation platform will be about 200 feet down this trail, about 100 feet before the large opening of the bat mine.

The steep rocky old road heading up the mountain beyond the turnoff for the bat mine will pass through the main former mining area and will connect with Upper Hibernia Road and its parking areas about a mile away.

Upper Hibernia Road Parking Areas

Upper Hibernia Road is usually well marked on most maps. To access the parking areas located at its southern end, continue on Green Pond Road 3.6 miles beyond Lower Hibernia Road (6.4 miles from the I-80 overpass) to Upper Hibernia Road on the right. Turn right onto Upper Hibernia Road and drive 2.5 miles to the first parking area or 0.2 miles further for the second parking area, both gravel lots.
The Orange Trail to the Wildcat Ridge Hawkwatch starts just beyond the southeastern corner of the second parking area. Look for a gated old road heading easterly for this trailhead.

Continuing southwesterly on foot beyond the barrier at the end of Upper Hibernia Road leads directly through all the former areas of mining. Along this old road you will encounter various side trails to explore, some of which are marked, many of which are not marked.

Comments

Mike
17 Jul 2013, 08:29
Hey Erica, The trail leading to the cemetery I believe is unmarked, it connects to I believe the Orange trail but it is a turn off at one point. Look up a map of the area in advance and plan out your route, it's not hard to find it when you have a general idea!
Erica
28 May 2013, 10:17
Hello. I remember going to see the cemetery when I was in grade school. I went on a hike with one of my friends to see what it looked like today, but we couldn't find it. I tried opening the map on freemapsource.com but my computer wont let me open those types of files. Can anyone tell me the trail that would lead us to it?\r\n\r\nThanks Erica
mathew gyurik
05 Feb 2013, 15:40
My grandmother said the name was slovic, and was changed when they came to the USA. There are 2 other spellings yurik and byurik. They all work in the same mine.
Andy
18 Jun 2012, 12:07
I lived in Marcella, on Green Pond Road, and my Dad and I would hunt near the cemetery in Hibernia. My Dad shot a wicked buck there once in bow season in the late 1970's and gut shot it. Strangely, it died right in the cemetery, and we found it the next day covered with frost of a cold late October morning. Great memories.
June Kelly
15 Jun 2012, 05:34
I AM RESEARCHING THE KELLY FAMILY TREE . THE KELLYS HAVE BEEN IN ROCKAWAY FOR GENERATIONS. MY GRANFATHER WILLIAM VINCENT KELLY (SON OF JOHN) married MARYJANE RYAN,WHO MOVED TO HIBERNIA, BUT WAS BORN IN NEW YORK. MY FATHER WILLIAM STEPHEN KELLY(1915-1969) WOULD GO TO HIBERNIA AS A BOY SEARCHING FOR AND COLLECTING ARROWHEADS , WHICH WERE PLENTIFUL AND YET I HAVE HEARD NOTHING OF THESE FIRST NATION PEOPLE. I KNOW THE DARKNESS THAT SOME OF YOU HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT AND FEEL IT IS ATTACHED TOT THE AREA. I ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE AND LOOK FORWARD TO HEARING MORE. JCK
Morris County Library
22 Apr 2012, 12:58
After many questions about St Patrick's Cemetery, we hiked up there and took pictures. There are only around 35 legible gravestones now. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mclib/sets/72157629856065569/\r\n\r\nReference Dept, Morris County Library, Whippany NJ
Jeanni Machinshok-Martincak
16 Apr 2012, 17:39
If you enter the cemetary from Upper Hibernia Road My fathers Father is buried in the back corner near the fence.\r\nHe was Slovak and his name was Jos Andrew Machinshok....aka Martincak.\r\nI know there was a lot of vandalism there and was wondering if there were any markings on the graves. I would appreciate any thing you can tell me. Ill health prevents me from hiking those mountains...altho i did as a child.I would appreciate hearing from any one in Hibernis,, I was married in 1956 and lost touch with most of my childhood friends. Janet aka Jeanni Machinshok /Martincak
Hunter
26 Nov 2011, 08:21
An observation during a Thanksgiving hike.... St. Patrick's Cemetery is in bad shape due to damage from Hurricane Irene and the October '11 snow storm. Downed trees litter the grounds. It's sad to see.
Georgi
13 Aug 2011, 06:34
Would anyone know where and precisely which house were the last Superintendent of the Mines lived? We think perhaps it was the old Dave and Jan Bloom (Jan Bloom was the artist and Editor for the Marcella Mountaineer during the 1970's) homesead or perhaps the foundation that resides in the woods along Upper Hibernia Road?
Elizabeth Scholl
25 Jan 2011, 09:21
Perhaps this page should be updated, as of 2011, 90% of the bats that normally overwinter at Hibernia mine have died from white-nose syndrome.
TomG
03 Nov 2010, 05:14
An enjoyable and well researched article....followed by wonderful comments.\r\nJust an FYI: Our hawk watch web site is now updated and can be found at: http://www.wcrhawkwatch.com/kiosk.html\r\nThere you will find trail maps to download, a history section and much more, which may be of assistance to assure you have a safe and enjoyable hike/walk at the WCR WMA.\r\n\r\nThe maps include the Red, White (4-birds), Orange and other pertinent info.\r\n\r\nPlease feel free to access any of the downloads that may be of help to you.\r\n\r\nEnjoy...
Jeanne
01 Sep 2010, 16:27
There is a new book out which has pictures of what this area looked like in the early 1900's. I was able to find a picture of my uncle as a schoolchild in Oreland (my grandfather was a miner). The book is called Images of America-Rockaway Township, authored by Eleanor Mason and Patricia White.
Georgi
01 Sep 2010, 13:23
I grew up in the farmhouse at the end of the row of 3 houses above the mine shaft and whose property runs down to the beaver pond. I had a horse and used the barn (which was torn down) which dates back to the early general store before the general store in Hibernia. There was an upstairs and downstairs on the far left of this house. This house did have some paranormal activity when we as kids were growing up. Please respond and we can discuss this. \r\n\r\nAs for the long shallow trenches up in the woods. They had nothing to do with the mines. However there was a large forest fire back in the 1960's where helicopters were dumping water and men dug the trenches to prevent fire jump and to stop the fire there. \r\n\r\nAs a child, we explored areas in detail, saw mountain lions (real cougars) often, and sometimes with cubs. They are so much larger than the Bobcat. There was a lot of areas found that you may not know of (or may know of). Down by the mines there was old equipment laying around and an open mine shaft that dropped off into water far down. This is now partially buried with stone. There are many stories from from the woods back there.
Marianne
09 Jul 2010, 13:29
I have relatives buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery in Upper Hibernia, and would like to go there. I tried to access a map at http://www.freemapsource.com\r\nbut the file type is "kmz" (/) and my computer will not open it. Any suggestions?\r\n\r\nThank you, M.
Jeanne
17 Mar 2010, 13:59
You can view a partial list of who is buried at St.Patrick's cemetery at this site:\r\nhttp://www.findagrave.com
Dan De Lorenzo
16 Mar 2010, 19:52
I lived on Meggins Rd. in the 90's and my property ended where the area you are describing began. Me and my Rottwieler used to go out on nice weekend days and walk for hours at a time. It was truly amazing. I miss those days and that dog.
Joseph Bakos
31 Dec 2009, 07:06
I lived in New Jersey and my father and I used to hunt in this area. It is amazzing to see the old buildings. Both my grandfathers worked in the mines and my grandfather on my dads side died there. I have been to the grave several times, I have two uncle's and I beleive my great grandfather buried their.I also have old books that show the mines and the men that worked in them so many years ago. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Minnie
30 Sep 2009, 13:51
Well My faimly members are buried there and One day I am going to go there and See them. but I heard It is really big and lots of the tombstones are broken and stuff
Andreas
30 Jul 2009, 13:20
I have explored this area extensively and there is many relics from the past the remain. There are at least three mostly complete vehicles in the woods. There are some remains that may be debris from a major explosion at Picactinny in July of 1926 just a few miles away. The Hawkwatch is a great spot to view the migration during September. There are also many Geocaches in the park. The trails are not well marked, but maps are available online if you search for them. There are trails that link to Split Rock reservoir as well. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
Vince
21 Jul 2009, 20:32
Beautiful Country up there. A small reminder of what NJ used to be and look like before the city folk built it up with homes and centers. My family has been deer and bear hunting that area for many years. Truely beautiful.
claire cesaletti
01 Feb 2009, 08:40
we live at the end of hillside road in Marcella and we would love to see the trails between us and Green Pond ridge on a map! thanks if you get some time
Roy De Young
21 Jan 2009, 07:11
I live on a hilltop fairly close to the graves and we have had some "unusual" activity in the house that I would like to research. A friend of our family lived on Hillcrest Rd (off of Rockaway Valley Rd) and told us in great detail of the extreme amount of sightings and paranormal activity in that area. Does anyone know of any sightings or information other than the BS that circulates around the Split Rock Reservoir legends? For the amount of activity in the area one would think that some pretty awful stuff may have gone down here many years ago.
msdillligaff
07 Jan 2009, 04:01
A couple of decades ago I was on what I thought was mine hill road or maybe it was green pond rd...the one directly off the highway...and pulled off not to far from the highway and started walking and came across a mine entrance that was boarded up....I trekked up the mountain side and came to a metal handrail which suprised me. On the other side was a very deep chasm. I remember turning off to the left after following the rail for a while and found a graveyard that looked like it was in a foreign language that I had never seen....Was in my teens then...anyway the graves were outlined in wood {2 X 4's?} and some headstones were still very visible then.....Anyone have any clue as to which mine this was near or which cemetery or language it was? Thanks in advance....
Jeanne Allen
16 Sep 2008, 08:39
I went to the cemetery in May and found two Gyurik ancestors with legible gravestones. The front of the cemetery has Irish names, and on the downward slope there are graves in Hungarian (at the time these immigrants worked here, most Eastern European countries were part of the Austria-Hungary empire) If anyone had ancestors who were miners in Hibernia, I would love to hear from you. The Historical Society has information about the mines.
Joe
18 Aug 2008, 14:52
I was just there today. The cemetery is pretty big for a forgotten site. It was really creepy seeing it in the middle of nowhere. I would like to investigate the cemetery with my paranormal team one day.
Arminda Bakos
29 Jun 2008, 13:45
Well I dident go but my mom did and my Great great great great grsandfather is buried there and he was from czec
TOM G
14 May 2008, 12:23
Jeanne:\r\nMost of the head stones are quite legible, and the cemetery itself is easy to move around in (respectfully of course). It is overgrown so when on the trail, you need to keep a watch for it's entry point.\r\nDue to much vandalism over the years, approx 3 years ago, a local boy scout troop attained permission from the state and went in to clean up and refresh the cemetery area itself. I believe they actually erected white crosses to replace damaged head stones. \r\nBelow is a link which one of our volunteers at the wildcat ridge hawkwatch has online and will give you an idea of the trail to the cemetery.\r\n\r\nhttp://home.att.net/~f.vanderburgh/wsb/html/view.cgi-home. html-.html\r\n\r\nEnjoy Jeanne
Jeanne Allen
06 Apr 2008, 13:43
Thank you for this site! My grandfather worked in the Hibernia mines and lived there from 1899 to about 1912, so I'm very interested in the cemetery and whether any ancestors are buried there. The records for the cemetery are supposedly kept in Boonton- Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I was wondering if there are any headstones or grave markings.
Mapmaster
13 Mar 2008, 11:07
I made a map of Wildcat Ridge WMA and many other WMAs and public lands. I put them up free to view on my web page if anyone wants to take a look.\r\n\r\nThe site is:\r\nhttp://www.freemapsource.com\r\n\r\nLet me know if you need something else mapped and I will see what I can do.\r\n

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