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.

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A Delaware River Primer

OCCASIONALLY on weekend mornings I like to jump in my car and head out on the road. I work at home and may never leave my house for weeks at a time except for errands. Usually I have no idea where I’m going but more often than not I wind up somewhere along the Delaware River. My good friend Rick says I’m one of those people who can enjoy going for a long ride to a place that has absolutely nothing. Rick never leaves his house either, but he’s happy with that.

There’s something about seeing a large body of water that stirs me, especially if there’s some ship traffic on it. I wonder where they’re going, where they’ve been. The water’s like that too. There’s a history to it, the river.

The Delaware River Watershed

The Delaware River Watershed

The American colonies declared their independence from Britain near its banks and it was crossed and re-crossed many times by troops in the war that followed, including Washington’s famous campaign on a snowy December night in 1776. Also near its banks the first brick house in the U.S. was built and the first log cabin; the first public school in the American Colonies was established; The American Weekly Mercury, the first newspaper in the Middle Colonies was published. The first successful trial run of a steamboat took place on its waters in 1787—and—Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud, collected from a secret location along its banks is used to rough up baseballs for all of the Major and Minor Leagues.

Born as run-off from the receding Wisconsin Glacier approximately 10,000-15,000 years ago, the Delaware rises from the western slopes of the Catskill Mountains. Its headwaters are actually 2 branches: the East Delaware and West Delaware. They converge in eastern New York State and become a natural boundary between New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware during a run of over 350 miles. It is the longest un-dammed river east of the Mississippi.

The river takes its name from English nobleman Thomas West, the 3rd (or 12th, if you’re able to decipher the mysterious British titling system) Baron De La Warr (or Warre), who sailed for Queen, country and the London Virginia Company to North America and landed in the Virginia Colonies on June 10, 1610 (my birthday, although not that year). He had been petitioned to persuade the Jamestown settlers not to give up their nearly disastrous attempts to establish a colony and go home to England. The colonists had arrived in the middle of a drought in 1607 and were ill-equipped to live in a land that could be abundant in good times but completely wretched in bad times. Even the native Powhatan called it “the starving time”. These settlers were businessmen and English dandies who naively expected to step off their ship and literally find gold and other valuables waiting for them. Almost none of them possessed adequate survival skills and as a result, one in every five of the colony died.

Help was on the way however, in the person of Captain Samuel Argall, an English explorer and adventurer who had been appointed to find a northerly route to the New World to avoid harrasment from the Spanish—which he did. Until this time, the customary route was to sail south towards the Caribbean, and then catch the trade winds to the coast of North America. When he arrived at Jamestown, Argall unloaded his life-saving cargo of supplies and immediately headed back to England for more. On the way, however, he was blown off course in a storm and found himself in a very large bay, unaware that Henry Hudson had been there a year before, almost to the day. Where Hudson had not given any name to the bay, Argall took the opportunity to name it in honor of his employer– The Baron De La Warr.

So the entire river, state, valley and any number of other entities have been named for Thomas West, Baron De La Warr, even though he never laid his eyes on any of it. Even the native inhabitants were called the Delaware, although they called themselves by their own name–Lenni Lenape. It means Original People. They had lived in the area for thousands of years, nearly as long as the river itself, which they called Lenape Wihittuck –Rapid Stream of the Lenape.

Their particularly lyrical language remains throughout the Delaware Valley giving us place names like Allegheny, Lehigh, Kittatinny, Lackawanna, Navasink, Pocono, Manayunk, Wissahickon and of course Mauch Chunk.

Finn’s Point

FINN’S POINT takes it’s name from it’s earliest European settlers who crossed the Delaware from the New Sweden colony in Wilmington. It is home to one of the most remote National Cemeteries in the country. Over 2,400 Confederate soldiers are interred here, along with Union guards, German POWs who died at Ft. Dix, and U.S. Armed Forces members who served in the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and more recent conflicts.

It is also home to the Finn’s Point Rear Range Lighthouse. Located at the foot of the aptly-named Lighthouse Road, which bisects with Fort Mott Road in Pennsville, the rear-range light is the back half of an old two-part navigational system. The front range light was located in a small, house-like structure and sat about a mile and a half away on the banks of the river. The object (if you were a river pilot) was to steer the vessel toward the two lights, and when they lined up vertically you would know you were in the middle of the shipping channel. Then you would continue until you were able to spot the next set of lights and start the process over again.

Finn's Point Rear Range Light

Finn’s Point Rear Range Light

At over 94 feet tall, the rear-range light is all that’s left of the system, the front-range having been razed in 1938. The tower was built by the Kellogg Bridge Company in Buffalo, NY in 1876 and shipped by train in pieces to Salem, where it was hauled by mules to the construction site. Fashioned of 1/4 inch thick wrought iron, it’s an 8 ft diameter black tube supported by a skeletal framework. It contains a cast-iron spiral stairway leading to the lantern and watch-rooms. The lighthouse keeper would have to climb all those steps every six and a half hours to wind the weight powering a cylindrical shade that gave the light its on and off sequence.

The Finn’s Point lights and the Liston Rear Range Light at Port Penn, Delaware, both built around the same time, were extremely important aids in guiding maritime traffic transitioning from the bay to the river during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Finn’s Point light continued to be in service until 1933 when it was extinguished. It was replaced the following year with an automated system, then, in 1950, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river channel and the lights became obsolete, finally going dark a year later. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The light is not available for visits except on special occasions.

Further up the river, in Billingsport, NJ is an almost identical tower, the Tinicum Rear Range light. Both are on the list of stops for the annual Lighthouse Challenge, sponsored by the New Jersey Lighthouse Society: http://www.lighthousechallengenj.org. The object of the challenge is to visit as many available lighthouses as possible over a two-day period, usually 12-14 stops. It’s a great road trip and helps to raise money to support the preservation of these historic sites. I go every year and sometimes my friend Rick comes with me; two gentlemen of a certain age needing frequent pit stops.