Union County’s Deserted Village to Come Alive

The Deserted Village of Feltville will once again host an annual open house featuring colonial games, cider pressing, an archaeological activity and guided tours as part of Union County’s Four Centuries in a Weekend event October 16 and 17, 2021, from noon to 5 p.m. each day.

All activities for the Four Centuries in a Weekend are rain or shine, and most are free of charge. Enter the Deserted Village from Cataract Hollow Road, off of Glenside Avenue (use GPS address 1 Cataract Hollow Road, Berkeley Heights). Free parking is available at the entrance to the site.

Visitors can pick up a free self-tour guidebook at the parking lot, or use their cell phones to take an audio tour.  A list of activities will be available at the reception table.

This year, the Deserted Village will feature new attractions including special presentations by a historian and an archaeologist, and a new display of historical photos.

The Deserted Village of Feltville is located in Union County’s Watchung Reservation. It was established in 1845 by the entrepreneur David Felt, who built a paper mill, housing for workers, and other buildings for communal use.

As part of the weekend’s festivities, the “ghost” of David Felt will stroll the grounds of the Deserted Village and converse with visitors, telling tales of the factory town he built and recounting memories of the people who worked in his mill, on his farm, and in his store and school. At 1 p.m. each day, Mr. Felt will also offer a 20-minute long armchair tour from the porch of his general store.

Activities for children will include old-fashioned games on the Deserted Village’s grass tennis court, pumpkin painting, using a quill pen and ink to write, and searching for artifacts at the site of the Felt house.

A small apple orchard has been recreated along Cataract Hollow Road to recall the 600-acre farm established by Mr. Felt to provide food for the villagers. A hands-on demonstration of apples being pressed into cider will be ongoing throughout the Four Centuries in a Weekend.

Visitors of all ages can also bring their “Passport to Your National Parks” to the general store and get it stamped in recognition of Union County as one of 14 counties formally designated for inclusion in the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area.

While at the general store, visitors are invited to view exhibits of artifacts, photographs and maps depicting the history of the Deserted Village across four centuries. Nostalgic snacks, toys and games will be on sale at the store. Families are also invited to pack a picnic and use one of the nearby picnic tables.

The beautifully restored circa-1882 Masker’s Barn carriage house will be open for the weekend. Visitors can tour the premises and view a photo display celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Union County Park System. Visitors are also welcome to linger outside Masker’s Barn and roast marshmallows around a campfire with the ghost of the original caretaker.

Moving even farther back in time, visitors can take a short walk to a small family graveyard on a hillside just beyond the general store. John Willcocks, a New Jersey militia soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War along with General George Washington’s regular army, will be there writing his will and telling stories of his relatives buried at the site.

The Deserted Village has seen many changes since its origin as David Felt’s business enterprise. Over the years it has been used as a resort, an artists retreat, and relief housing during the Great Depression.

By the 1970s the Deserted Village was all but forgotten, but in recent years several researchers, both self-taught and professional, have uncovered tantalizing details about the fascinating story of people who have lived, worked and even died at the site.

Special programming on October 16 and 17 will provide visitors with an up-close look at some of their work, through the eyes of historian Priscilla Hayes and archaeologist Carissa Scarpa.

On Saturday, October 16 at 2 p.m., Scarpa will discuss archaeological investigations at the homestead of the Raddin-Badgley family, and Hayes will add three mysteries from village history to the presentation.

On Sunday, October 17 at 2 p.m., Hayes will describe life in the late 1800s when the Deserted Village served as a summer resort called Glenside Park, with Scarpa providing additional details from the archaeological record.

For more information about the Deserted Village of Feltville, visit the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation online at ucnj.org/dv.

For locations, hours, special events and other details about more than 30 other historical sites participating in Four Centuries in a Weekend this year, visit the Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs here or call  (908) 558-2550.