A New Jersey Company Town
Yesterday afternoon, as part of our two- day exploration of south jersey, NoCoins, Leah and myself set off in search of a village called Whitesbog, where cranberries and blueberries were historically (and presently) grown.
For those who haven’t been taught much about this fair state where I was born, the South of New Jersey has a large area of Pine Barrens, where there are a plethora of state parks. The Whitesbog village is located in Lebanon State Forest, strangely renamed the Brendan T. Byrne state forest, but Im just going to keep calling it Lebanon because I think its a more beautiful name.
So I had a general idea where to drive to, and after an hour or so of riding in circles through narrow roads between the pine forests, we suddenly came upon the little sign for Whitesbog Village. From there, a very skinny and bumpy road, which passed several fields of what I assume were blueberries, eventually came to a clearing and a whole series of houses which looked very 1800’s. Even stranger was the fact that no one was around; each house was closed up and perfectly silent, as if everyone had fled the town and left it for accidental tourists like us to discover.
We managed to find a map on a rickety bulletin board, and decided to walk the village in search of strange buildings and eventually – blueberry fields. Apparently it is Maine that produces the most blueberries in north america, 25% of all blueberries to be exact. In Europe it is France and Austria that grow the most. New Jersey, meanwhile, comes in just behind Maine, along with a few other states, as a major producer of high-bush blueberries.
As lovely as it was, to walk around what seemed to be a ghost town and among the wild blueberry bushes, it was also extremely erie. NoCoins talked about how it was mostly Italian workers, who were hired from South Philly as seasonal workers, who lived in these little bungalows in the middle of nowhere. He talked about how they would be paid with credit and then use this credit to purchase food and goods from the company store, a pseudo slavery, in many ways.
I kept thinking of those Italian workers, as we snapped photo after photo. What happened to them. How terrible or wonderful was their time in this village? And what of their children and children’s children?
Seemed like alot of sacrafices were required, so that people could have their berries.