Ringing Rocks

IF YOU EVER find yourself in Milford, NJ, be sure to stop in at the Ship Inn–New Jersey’s first brew-pub. I did a number of years ago to cash in on a ticket for a FREE!! beer that I had received at the Frenchtown Wine Festival for doing an imitation of my English mother-in-law. She sounded a lot like a Monty Python character, bless her soul.

And after enjoying a refreshing beverage and maybe a plate of steamers, cross over the bridge there into Upper Black Eddy Pennsylvania and you’ll be on your way to another attraction—of an entirely different sort. Turn north onto Route 32 and in just a short distance you’ll see a sign for Ringing Rocks County Park.

The Ringing Rocks

The Ringing Rocks

You’re in for a strange sight. A open field of 7 or 8 acres strewn with boulders as if some giant had just poured them out of an immense bucket. But that’s not even the weirdest part. There’s a reason they’re called “Ringing Rocks”. If you bang on them with something hard, like another rock, they make a hollow metallic sound, like a hammer on an anvil. And there always seems to be plenty of visitors testing them out, many of whom bring their own hammers. The boulders are composed of diabase–volcanic basalt which contains large amounts of iron and aluminum. In the nineteenth century a Dr. J.J. Ott collected rocks of sufficiently varied pitches to play some tunes accompanied by the Pleasant Valley Band. A rock concert?

There is endless speculation as to how this field of boulders came to be. The first thought is that it was created by a receding glacier, but glaciers were not known to have traveled this far south. And glacial deposits would be in a valley or hollow, but this boulder field is actually at the top of a hill. Inevitably there are fringe explanations of meteorites, comets, strange magnetic fields and of course, paranormal activity, but most probably the rocks went through thousands of years of freeze-thaw cycles that broke them up into so many boulders.

Near the rock field is a lovely little waterfall, that may not have much water depending on the time of year you visit, but well worth the short hike to get to it.

The Windmills of Your Mind

JUST a few miles north of Frenchtown, right on the river, is Milford, NJ. Milford hasn’t quite found it’s tourist groove yet, but is on it’s way.

The main road branches here as you enter the town. If you turn left, you will come to yet another of the 50+ bridges that cross the Delaware. And if you follow Route 519 to the right, (north) that will lead all the way to Phillipsburg, at the confluence of the Lehigh River. Along the way, you’ll find one of the quirks that make the back roads so enjoyable.

In the course of research for this book, I’ve acquired quite a few guide books and travelogues, some very helpful, some not so much. In one of them I found an attraction that seemed to speak to me—a windmill museum, in of course, Holland (New Jersey). Provided with directions that seemed only slightly vague and a quick study of Google maps, I felt fairly confident. Not that many roads–rural area–there was probably some kind of signage for it–how hard could it be to find? I’m going to condense this for you. After several hours of tracking through the hilly countryside of Hunterdon County, back-tracking, fighting gnawing hunger pangs and the wicked urge to relieve myself with no Super Wawa or fast food chain in sight, I finally found a road sign that looked promising. And it took only a few more false turns, some well-worn oaths and there I was, staring at an authentic six story Dutch windmill that was…closed for business. And looked like it had been for a long time.

Volendam Windmill Museum (closed)

Volendam Windmill Museum (closed)

Two of the mills four arms were missing, severed by a storm some years back and it had a look of general neglect. There was also an old, weathered sign advertising “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree Farm”. Obviously quite an enterprise at one time.

The windmill was the brainchild of Poul Jorgenson, a skilled engineer and toolmaker who spoke seven languages. Born in Denmark, he never forgot the kindness of a miller who allowed neighborhood children to sweep the mill’s floors for leftover flour during the harsh times of World War I when food was scarce. This experience prompted Jorgenson to build a real working mill to teach people about the industry. He traveled throughout many countries studying, sketching, measuring and photographing all types of milling operations so that he could incorporate the best features into his dream. After his retirement in 1965, Jorgenson began work on the mill, and along with his wife, May, built the entire structure by hand, using only the outside help of steel workers and masons. Incredibly, he and his wife were both in their sixties, carrying fieldstone and wrestling lumber up six flights of stairs to lay flooring. Not to mention being able to somehow install the one-ton millstone. They wound up with a working mill that could actually grind grain into flour, powered by the wind gathered by four sail arms 68 feet in length. The top or cap, could be rotated to meet the direction of the wind.

When completed they called their creation the Volendam Windmill Museum in honor of a town in Holland, and probably also because they were in Holland Township, NJ. Unfortunately, Poul Jorgenson died shortly after. But May carried on until 1993 when she passed away. Other family members continued but the attraction closed after the wind arms were damaged in 2007. There’s a certain sadness to the place, a broken and empty windmill sitting on a wind-swept hill.