Category Archives: Reading the Landscape 2016

Reading the Landscape: 46


Riding through Watchung Reservation in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, I come upon the Deserted Village of Feltville.


I park my bike to have a look around.


The Deserted Village of Feltville is in some ways the model for all American suburbia. An employer builds housing for his workers.

David Felt, a businessman in Boston, Massachusetts, decided to move to New York City in 1825. By 1844, the production of his mill could not grow fast enough to meet the demands of the merchants he supplied, so Felt began to look for land in New Jersey on which to build a second factory. Eventually he bought land from the descendants of Peter Willcox, and in two years, he had built a mill on Blue Brook, two dams for the mill, and a town for the workers in the mill. He named this new town “Feltville”. Within the little town, Felt gained the nickname of “King David”, for he required the residents to attend services in the churchhouse and their children to attend classes in a one-room schoolhouse.

The nearby towns of Basking Ridge and Berkeley Heights started out in fact as corporate villages for the gigantic Bell Labs complex in Basking Ridge. Feltville is now part of the Watching Reservation and the Union County Park system (one of the few things New Jersey has ever done right.


What to do if you find Yogi and Boo Boo trying to steal your picnic baskets. I occasionally see black bears in Watching Reservation but never manage to get close enough to take a photograph (not really a good idea anyway).


Don’t selfie-shame me bro.

Reading the Landscape: 45

DSC05116-001The Sears Roebuck store at the foot of the Watchung Hills near Plainfield, NJ has one of the most interesting murals I’ve ever seen in a nondescript chain store. Beneath the painting is a plaque. The type is too small for a blog sized photo, but I’ll cut and paste the words from the town of Watchung’s website.

Around 1670, a group of Dutch settlers was traveling from the Amboys up an old Indian trail which is now Somerset Street. They were under the leadership of Captain Michaelson. The Watchung tribe of the Lenni-Lenape Indians was traveling the same trail for their summer trip to the ocean to fish and collect shells for wampum.

During the night the settlers were camped near what is now the center of the Borough. Deer Prong, an advance scout for Chief One Feather’s tribe, was shot when he surprised a sentry. During the skirmish, Captain Michaelson was captured and was to be burned at the stake. Princess Wetumpka, who was traveling with the Dutch, and had some years ago saved the life of Chief One Feather, intervened and saved the life of Captain Michaelson. The Indians befriended the Dutch and allowed them to settle in the valley. The legend ends with the full tribal ceremony marriage of the Princess and Chief.

I don’t know how much truth there is to the “Legend of Watchung” but the mural serves as an unintentional critique of American settler colonialism, a picture of what the surrounding landscape looked like before white people took it over and covered it with ugly suburban sprawl. Who wouldn’t prefer the waterfalls and the trees to strip malls, Route 22, and the car culture? It’s also part of my childhood. Traditionally, my father always took us shopping at the Watchung Sears the day before Thanksgiving.

The mural was dedicated in 1965, the year I was born.