We are sad to report the passing of our beloved Barbara Della Peruta. Barbara was a formidable woman and a talented artist whose dedication to the Blackwells Mills Canal House Association and love for the Canal House knew no bounds. All of us fortunate enough to have served with her at the Association will never forget her limitless imagination, her joy for life and the many laughs we shared as we worked on events and planning. The House won’t be the same without her…
The beauty and allure of the Blackwells Mills Canal House, Bridgetenders Garden and the D&R Canal by the talented painter, our very own, Barbara Della Peruta.
Architect Saadia Abbasi is an emerging glass artist trained in glass fusing. Saadia enjoys creating functional and elegant home accessories, jewelry, tiles and ornate wall panels. On Saturday, December 3, 2016, she exhibited her beautiful pieces at the Blackwells Mills Canal House. These are a few highlights of the show.
In the D&R Canal’s heyday, the bridge tender’s hut served an important function as a toll collector’s booth and as a warm, dry shelter from where to wait for barges and boats. At a speed limit of four miles per hour, the captain of a vessel would make a signal to alert the tender that he was approaching. The tender would then collect the toll and open the swing bridge to allow passage.
At Blackwells Mills there is not one but two bridge tender huts. The original toll booth, a simple nondescript structure, was moved from its original location across the street and attached via a breezeway to the rear of the Canal House. It serves a very useful purpose today as a storage shed.
The more picturesque hut gracing the entrance to the Bridgetenders Garden and the landmark that the site is known for, replaced the original hut and it has an interesting history of its own.
“In 1854, 20 years after the D&R Canal opened, the Millstone and New Brunswick Railroad was constructed form the main tracks of the New Jersey Railroad south of New Brunswick to East Millstone, with station stops at Middlebush, Clyde Road and Voorhees Avenue – all in Franklin Township. At one point, eight to ten passenger trains plus freight trains ran each day on the single-track rail line. Commuting to Newark, Jersey City and New York was now possible, and some early local businessmen did so. By the 1920s, auto travel was beginning to cut into the business of the Millstone line. It was a slow but steady decline. The Pennsylvania Railroad gradually phased out passenger service on the Millstone and New Brunswick line. Passenger service ended in 1930. After that, there was only an incidental freight train, carrying mostly coal to the rubber reclaiming factory in East Millstone.” Brahms, William B. Franklin Township, Somerset County, NJ: A History.
Having served as the railroad ticket office at Voorhees Station, the hut was moved to its present location in the 1920s, adding a beautiful and unique feature to the banks of the D&R Canal at Blackwells Mills.
But, there’s more to this structure’s distinction!
“Of the many architectural styles prevalent in the United States during the Victorian era, the Stick Style was the most expressive of a building’s underlying structure. Decorative wood trim, called stick work, was applied to the exterior to emphasize the basic wood frame structure underneath. Popular between 1860 and 1890 and built predominantly in wood, there are few pure examples of the style remaining in urban areas. The Stick Style evolved from the work of architect Gervase Wheeler, an English immigrant. The Stick Style is characterized by verticality, angularity, asymmetrical composition, and, because it was expressed predominately in wood, a certain fragility.” wentworthstudio.com/historic-styles/stick/
General characteristics of Stick Style architecture include a pitched roof, functional appearing “stick work” resembling structural elements such as “X” bracing and gable ends projecting over walls. According to the 1982 D&R Historic Structures Survey, our Bridgetenders station, “humble as this structure may be, is an excellent example of this style” and the only one of its kind along the canal.
Our pretty garden accent has more historical significance than meets the eye and it has been not only a silent witness to two very different modes of transportation and industry but a survivor of each. Long may it stand!
I enjoy photographing the many beautiful parks and gardens in New Jersey and while my list of favorites is long, there's one special place where I like to go to think, to relax and to celebrate the beauty of life. Bordered by the historic Delaware and Raritan Canal, this captivating spot is The Bridgetenders Garden. The product of human dedication and effort, this tiny parcel was once the pride and joy of the last bridgetender to live at Canal House, Sandor Fekete. And, no wonder! With its picturesque "Stick style" gatehouse and unparalleled view of the canal and the towpath, it is a spot blessed with unrivaled appeal.
During his tenure, Sandor grew a variety of crops in this garden and was well-known for his generosity in sharing the fruit of his labors. In 1997, at the Canal House Association's 25th Anniversary dinner, the late Wilbur Bryan, a neighbor, shared his recollections:
"Sandor kept a beautifully laid-out vegetable garden across the street from the canal house. He grew potatoes, corn, pole beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic. He also grew his own tobacco that he cured on racks in an upstairs room. He sowed and dried seeds from all those plants and started new plants in cold frames the following spring. He had grape vines along the canal and made his own wine. Finally, he had a very large strawberry patch in back of the house. I also remember a mass of morning glories grown every summer on strings up the side and roof of the little bridgetender's hut."
A remnant of the grape vine is rumored to still exist somewhere in the backyard of the Canal House but in the garden, Sandor's vegetables and tobacco are long gone. In their place, tulips, daffodils and bleeding hearts make a colorful appearance in spring and as the days grow warmer and summer unfolds, the garden explodes with color from a variety of flowers and plants. A prodigious border of lilies lines the grassy path along the canal, delicate roses contrast with the rustic split rail fence from which they peer at the road and fragrant wisteria, colorful coneflowers and white hydrangeas fill the plots to overflowing. Butterflies and bees relish this place as do avian and human visitors. A treat for the senses, the garden is an enchanting gem in a very unique setting.
© 2016, Vivian S. Bedoya
The towpaths of the D&R Canal State Park are among Central New Jersey's most unspoiled and historic attractions.
What we see today – the canal, towpaths and related structures – was built around the 1830s as a shipping lane for cargo, mainly coal, from the ports of Philadelphia to New York. Built mostly by hand, the Delaware & Raritan Canal was an ingenious route employing a system of locks to raise and lower water levels, and swing bridges to provide clearance for boats and barges to pass. A busy waterway in service for nearly one hundred years, canal operations closed by the 1930s as railroads made transport faster and more reliable. The canal, however, remained an important water supply system, a function it still serves today. In the 1970s the D&R Canal was designated an official State Park and preservation of this once vital part of New Jersey’s industrial history was ensured. The towpaths where teams of mules once pulled barges and boats now serve as a recreational byway enjoyed by walkers, runners, cyclists, fisherman, cross-country skiers and horseback riders. Under the protection of the D&R Canal Commission which guards approximately seventy miles that make up the park from development or encroachment, and with regular maintenance of its paths and parking lots, it’s easy to see why this is such a pleasant escape.
Blackwells Mills Road and Weston Canal Road, as well as Colonial Park's pedestrian bridge, are the closest access points to the park near the Blackwells Mills Canal House. Built in 2009, the pedestrian bridge connects Colonial park to the towpath, greatly expanding recreational opportunities at both. There’s something so relaxing and peaceful about a towpath walk that it’s easy to lose track of time and distance. Each segment of the park has its own distinct character and features which make exploring each one a wonderful experience. Like the Blackwells Mills Canal House, some old bridgetender homes remain as museums which open to the public periodically for special events. Other sections feature the sculptural black forms of the old lock mechanisms with their large interlocking gear wheels. The swing bridges are long gone replaced by causeways in Blackwells Mills and Griggstown but it’s easy to imagine how they functioned in their heyday.
The biggest attraction in this linear park is the enjoyment of nature as you travel along trails tucked away from busy roads, cooled by the shade of the trees or warmed by bright, sunny patches at clearings. A feature common to many of the park’s segments is a rocky but passable spillway, simple one-foot depressions in the towpath one hundred feet or more in length, clad with stone to prevent erosion. These are typically dry and and perform the important function of channeling excess storm water away from the canal and the paths into adjacent streams or rivers. At some spots in the park there are interpretive signs explaining history and other facts. Some concrete mile markers still remain – one side showing the distance to the southern terminus in Burlington and the other to the northern terminus in New Brunswick. Always present is the unobstructed view of the canal placidly flowing by on one side of the path and of natural areas on the other. Every season puts its special touches here whether in fragrant spring blooms, lush summer greens or fiery autumn foliage. Waterfowl love the canal and so do muskrats.You might glimpse a heron fishing or turtles basking in the sun, perched by the dozen on logs. Besides recreation on dry land, there’s canoeing and kayaking on the water and also fishing. But that is a story for another time!
© 2013, Vivian S. Bedoya