on Friday 07 April 2006
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in content > Barn Registry

BARNS OF SUSSEX COUNTY, NEW JERSEY
By: Rudolph J. Spatarella
March 27, 2006

Standing barns as we see them today in Sussex County, New Jersey are beautiful but melancholy reminders of a past that is rich in history while much else has succumbed to the ravages of progressive growth. When you come to think about it, little else remains of historical value in Sussex County. The earliest settlers that came replaced Indian occupants of the land in this region in the 17th and 18th Centuries. We know of the past Indian occupants of the land almost entirely from artifacts recovered by amateur and professional archaeologists. Those artifacts were and continue to be recovered by individuals who value the origin of such things.



On the other hand, as urban spread overtakes even remote areas of the county almost nothing remains intact except for numerous barns that dot the landscape, which were an indispensable source of survival for the local residents of earlier days. Barns often contained more value than was present in household furnishings when you consider livestock that were sheltered within them. Add to that the many hours of intensive manual labor consumed while harvesting hay and corn and other grains to be used as food for people and fodder for livestock. The barn was needed also as a place to milk cows daily. Selling milk privately as well as delivering it to collection centers called “Creameries” was once the sole source of income for dairy farmers. Sale of milk provided needed cash income for serving other family needs such as purchase of supplies, clothing, machinery and livestock.

What may be regarded, as other important artifacts of life in Sussex County are the many farm tools, machines and wheeled and sled conveyances as well as the Mills and Lime Kilns that still exist in scattered areas. Stillwater Township also contains many original homes of the earliest settlers. Those barns and silos appear as ghostly remnants, some gray and in disrepair and others of bright or faded red and still others of gleaming white that seem to defiantly resist the tide of urban sprawl.

Having been a part time and later permanent resident of Sussex County I was privileged to work on fanns and to appreciate all that it took for self-sufficient farm families to provide a basic means of survival while enjoying a charming way of life. But more than that, I have lived during the period when farming communities were disintegrating because newer technology and new industry developed that provided alternate sources of income for local residents.



Farm life became more difficult to continue while farm children were pursuing higher education and seeking previously unavailable careers. There were other matters of course that turned the tide for farmers even while newer farm equipment technology was helping to make farming less reliant on intense physical labor. Also to be considered was that sale of milk products became more competitive in time, which served to severely limit farm income. The result was that dairy farmers became land and equipment rich, but pocket- money poor.

With increasing land values and a demand for speculative land acquisition, many farmers quickly sold their farmlands as a means to a common goal of modern Americans: Instant financial security and gratification. In essence a way of life was abandoned at a dollar value that has since deteriorated. The net effect is that former farm owners are poorer still than they were before they sold their irreplaceable land, a way of living and a once exquisitely beautiful and healthy environment.

Barns alone may not create romantic interest, but the possibility exists in barns that may be well around 100 years old, that a great amount of romance took place inside of several generations of farm families that owned them. Each family could tell its own romantic story. The other interest, which I have, is that barns are historical reminders of an age and a way of life that can never be duplicated or recovered in Sussex County.

For this reason, as a member of the Stillwater Historical Society I would like to begin a Registry of Barns still standing in Stillwater and contiguous Townships. It is my hope that owners of properties containing barns and Silos will have an interest in preserving as long as possible what I consider the most valuable historical remnants of the formative culture of our beloved county.

I would like to have a photograph of any large barn in the designated areas. If necessary I can be contacted to personally take the photograph. In addition if possible, I would like to obtain an approximate date of construction as well as the names of the original, past, and present owners and any anecdotes that may be added of historical significance. I may be contacted by mail addressed to: Barns, Stillwater Historical Society, P.O. Box 238, Stillwater, New Jersey 07875.

In conclusion I would like to add that membership in the Historical Society of Stillwater is open to all residents in or out of Stillwater Township. It is suggested that you join in order to receive notices of the many interesting society-sponsored events that will occur during this year. Meetings are held in the Stillwater museum across from the Presbyterian Church on the corner of Route 521 and Stillwater Road on the second Thursday of each month at 7:30 PM. All visitors and prospective members are welcome.



Finally there are many residents of Sussex County who spent years of contentment with life in Stiliwater and surrounding townships. One way in which they may leave a worthwhile legacy is to return a portion of their gains to provide an endowment to the Stillwater Historical Society. Membership and miscellaneous income alone is not enough to build a sufficient financial base with which to support maintenance of the old Schaefer Mill and to pursue other historical projects. It would be great to assure the success of needed ventures and be a worthwhile memorial to donors of substantial funds.

Let us speak more of the reasons for a flourishing historical society. The period in which farms, dairy and other of Sussex County prevailed if not always prospered it is because times were simpler then. The only reminders of the glorious past are left to individuals who freely give their time and energies to maintain records of that period. Since the first settlers set foot on American soil, farming was the chief if not the only source of means to survival. For the hundreds of years that followed Civilization was able to reach its peak in America through farm production and related technology that promoted economic success.

Agriculture was the undisputed top of the curve denoting man’s progress for survival. The operative curve that may be demonstrated by charts and explanations may be seen in every other man-made activity. Look to history to find the comparisons in other fields of endeavor and in the arts. For instance: We know that primitive man made the most basic kind of music, and that an upward curve in time and technology culminated in the works of composers such as Beethoven, Bach, Mozart et al. It is undeniable that the curve began to take a downward turn that has now culminated in pop-music, which is little removed from the noisy incoherence created by savages.

See what has come to be called Art, including Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Primitives failed to achieve beauty until the period when Classical Art began in Greece and Rome, reached unimagined heights then faded, but was rediscovered and renewed, reaching new heights of perfection during the Renaissance. That too was the top of the curve that proceeded to turn downward bit by bit until modernism destroyed any grace and beauty to be found in our times.

And so it is with Agricultural activity that is being replaced by Asphalt and sprawling development, blotting out the rich heritage that spawned and nourished generations of independent Americans.

It is nice to imagine that those empty and deserted Barns could survive much more beyond the present, but the tide of progress is irreversible and they are doomed to rot or be destroyed by generations that have no further use for them.