British Soldiers and Historic Preservation

I’ve always loved history and old things, and I especially enjoy knowing what has gone before me here in my own home area.  It is everyone’s heritage – it’s who we are.  So, it took me about three seconds to join the Landmark Preservation Tour when the call went out for volunteers. The Tour is run by the Walpack Historical Society, which oversees, promotes and protects historic landmarks within the Sussex County portion of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA).  Every week, on rotating shifts, a team of members drives through the park from near the Milford Bridge to Flatbrookville and back again, checking the historic homes I’ve mentioned in this post for weather damage and vandalism which, if discovered, is reported to the Park Service so it can be repaired.  Driving the Old Mine Road along the Delaware River, being out in Nature with people of like mindset, and in one of the most pristine and scenic areas of the state, is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours a week. 

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Though I take this tour on my own quite often, I hadn’t been to our first stop in many years, because it’s where my wolf-dog Maia stopped me from going any further last time I was out there, easily 20 years ago.  We were hiking there alone, and as we approached this old house, Maia’s head went down, hackles came up, and she put herself broadside in front of me.  Her message was clear – I was not to take another step toward that house.  We turned around and went quickly back to the Jeep.  I always listened when Maia spoke.

The Decker Ferry House was built around 1800, though the original house on that site was built in 1756.  The Delaware is just beyond this house, where a flatboat ferry transported travelers, including British soldiers, across the river to Pennsylvania.

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Those British soldiers are long gone…but in front of the Knight house is an old stump – cedar, I think, and the on top of the stump was a whole army of  British soldiers.  These British soldiers hold a special meaning for me, because they are one of the first plants that I researched and identified when I was just a kid, roaming around and having fun exploring the woods on our family farm.  I always equate them with those wonderfully happy times. 

British soldiers are lichens, and are named for their resemblence to 1700s -era British redcoat uniforms.  What is really cool is that they are two organisms living together to form a third.  As with all lichens, British soldiers are formed by a fungus and an algae.  In this case, Cladonia cristatella is the fungus, which provides shelter for the algae, Trebouxia erici, which provides food for the fungus.  Lichens are scientifically named for the fungus part, so British soldiers are also called Cladonia cristatella.  I’m sure that must get confusing at times…

soldierstump.jpg

The inside of the stump was of course hollow, and an equisite spider web was suspended in the opening.  It was midday, with harsh lighting, so photography opportunities were awful.  I will be going back for more photos of my favorite little armies and old stumps.

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The weather was absolutely perfect and we enjoyed lunch in one of the several picnic areas in the park.  This one is more secluded, right along the river, under towering hemlocks, only 10 minutes from my house…..and may very well become my new office!

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And yes, though most of this Landmark Preservation tour of duty involves inspecting historic homes in a sad state of disrepair or ‘benign neglect,’  there are a couple of glimmers of hope.  One is the restored Van Campen Inn, which I wrote about here, and the other is the Westbrook Bell house.  This little gem of a house is tucked away off the road, and has been well-maintained because park rangers have been living in it since the government acquired the building.  Before that, nine generations of the Westbrook family lived here on this farm.  The larger part of the house was built in 1726 and the addition at the rear was built sometime before 1776.  The Delaware River is directly behind and below this house, which is high enough on the ridge to escape flooding.  It almost has a story-book feeling to it, nestled in the woods the way it is.  It’s family must have loved it dearly.

Fortunately, we didn’t find any new damage to these old structures on this particular day.  We did  enjoy the weather, each other’s company and conversation, and a pristine park that, in spite of its tumultuous beginnings, now preserves this area from otherwise certain development.  And it’s only minutes from where I live.  Life is good.

8 Responses to “British Soldiers and Historic Preservation”

  1. mon@rch Says:

    Such an interesting post and I two just love history things!

  2. Ruth Says:

    Those British soldiers are so interesting. I will have to look for some of the redcoats. History is well worth preserving. I wish there were more teachers who taught it with passion and relevance instead of turning many students off the subject.

  3. FC Says:

    What a neat old house. As pretty as the scenery is, I still think it was very wise to listen to your good dog that day.
    When I was a park ranger, I lived in a historical building inside the park and it is a good way to keep a building alive.

  4. KGMom Says:

    Most interesting. I love history too and so often buildings have so much to tell.

  5. Laura Says:

    Neat how they’re standing up so tall in your first pic, yet when viewed from far away they’d hardly be noticeable.

  6. Larry Says:

    I love local history and folklore too!

  7. James W. Fisher Says:

    Great story. Johannes Westbrook is my 6x great grandfather–the W in my name is Westbrook. Great to see the old homestead in such good shape.

  8. Diane Bereczky Says:

    I am a Daughter of the american Revolution. My great Uncle Ira Fravel, became a SAR (Son of American) by useing an ancestor of Johannes Westbrook. I would love to see the house and receive more information on the family and home. I live in Central Ohio Thank you for your great site.


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