Industries

The Pine Barrens were home to several different industries and trades, some of which no longer exist today and others that were unique to this area due to its environmental features. These industries include:

Charcoal Making

One of the first industries in the Pine Barrens was charcoal making. Charcoal dates back to Egyptian times and is usually done in connection with mining and smelting. A successful bog iron furnace used at least 20,000 acres of timber. It took almost four cords of wood to make 100 bushels of charcoal. After the cords were cut, a pole called a “fergen” (also spelled “fergin” or “fagan”) was placed in the center of the field with cords of wood stacked around it in a teepee-like fashion. Layers of turf called “floats” were then packed onto the sides of the pit to prevent air from escaping. The person tending the pit was called a collier. Turf was applied with rakes and because the pit was usually taller than the collier, a rudimentary “ladder” was sometimes fashioned. The ladder was also used so the collier could check on the fire’s intensity during the two weeks it would take for the charcoal process to complete. The pit was then “blackened” by covering the turf with a layer of sand, four to six inches deep. The fergen was pulled out and kindling was dropped down to start the fire. Once the fire was going, more wood would be added and then the top was covered with turf and sand. The fergen, sharpened on end, would be used to punch draft holes in the bottom. The collier would watch the color of the smoke that escaped from the holes. If the smoke was blue, the fire was burning too hot and he would plug some of the holes with sand. If the fire was too hot, the wood would burn instead of char. The color of the smoke would also let him know when the process was complete.

An experienced collier could watch up to 20 pits at a time. They stayed in the woods the entire time, sleeping alongside the pits so they could closely watch the fires. They often kept a dog with them. When the charcoal was done, the collier poured sand into the opening to extinguish the flames and push out any remaining air. Charcoal was highly combustible and exposing it to air could cause the entire pit to explode. The coals were gradually cooled and packed in 30-35 pound bags. Mules would pull specially designed boxes that allowed the coal to be dumped out easily. Coal that wasn’t used locally was often transported to New York and Philadelphia. The last documented pit in Ocean County was extinguished in 1976.

Bog Iron

Bog iron is believed to be the first iron ore ever mined. Scandinavian Norseman used bog iron for helmets, weapons, tools and boat repair. The first record of bog iron mining in New Jersey was the Tinton Falls Iron Works, established in 1675. Bog iron is formed by a complex chemical process that takes place between decaying vegetation that builds up in the rivers and beds and the iron salts found there. In many areas of the Pine Barrens, the bottom of the streambed is made up of marl or greensand which contains iron. The iron oxidizes as it is carried to the surface of the water and then becomes deposited along the banks, where it mixes with mud and hardens into rocky ore beds. The bog iron is then mined from the swamps and transported to the furnaces for smelting. At least 17 furnaces and forges were built in the Pine Barrens.

Besides the bog iron, the Pine Barrens contained two other key ingredients for smelting: water power and fuel. Streams powered the bellows to keep the furnace going. Furnaces were “put into blast” in the spring when the water wheel thawed and ran 24 hours a day until it froze again in December or January.  Charcoal provided the fuel. As the stream beds were mined, the ore was gathered in ore boats and brought ashore.

During the Revolutionary War, Batsto provided the Continental Army with iron fittings, cannons, cannonballs, and pans for desalinating water on ships. Workers at the Batsto Furnace were exempt from military service because of the importance of the products they produced for the war effort. They also made stoves, firebacks, nails, kettles, and water pipes for New York City and Philadelphia. George Washington even purchased four monogrammed firebacks (used to line the back of fireplaces) from Batsto in the 1780s, two of which can still be seen at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Glassmaking

When the bog iron industry stopped production in the Pine Barrens due to a better source of coal being found in Pennsylvania and the depletion of bog iron in the pines, unused forges and furnaces turned to glass making.  The Pine Barrens was full of sand used to make glass. However, it was difficult to get clear glass because of the minute amounts of iron in the sand. The sand was mixed with lime and potash and melted into glass. A glassblower had to be a master craftsman, able to handle 100 pounds of blowpipe and molten glass and turn it into a cylinder 10 inches wide, five feet long and an eighth-inch thick, within five to 10 minutes. Some would chain themselves to a post to counterbalance the weight. They were paid not for what they blew, but for how many boxes of usable glass they could produce.

In 1806, James Lee and others built the first glass factory in Millville. This area along the banks of the Maurice River became known as Glasstown. The factory was renamed Whitall, Tatum & Co. in 1848. By 1876, they were making a variety of medicine, apothecary, show bottles, perfumes, poisons, food storage containers and carboys in a wide range of colors. Ralph Barber worked at the Whitall Tatum Company where the glassblowers were allowed to make glass for themselves on their own time. Barber is legendary for his Millville Rose paperweights. In 1912, Barber left Millville to become superintendent of the Vineland Flint Glass Works owned by Victor Durand. Barber supervised the skilled department that produced x-ray tubes. It was while in charge of this department that The American Institute of Glass named Barber “the greatest glassblower in the United States.”

The Great Depression had a significant impact on glassmaking in New Jersey as factories closed and workers were unemployed. The United States government formed the Works Progress Administration to put people to work nationwide. The WPA set up a glass factory in Vineland in the 1930s managed by Frank Dougherty, Sr.. Theodore Corson Wheaton was born in Tuckahoe, New Jersey, in 1852. He graduated from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1879 and established himself as a country doctor. Between 1883 and 1892 while living in Millville, Dr. Wheaton operated three drugstores and a general store, in conjunction with his medical practice. It is not surprising that this energetic doctor became interested in pharmacists’ and physicians’ glassware. In 1888, Dr. Wheaton became involved in the financing of a Millville glass factory. By 1890, he was the sole owner and the company was renamed the T.C. Wheaton Company. Women also worked in the factory at the T.C. Wheaton Company.

Old Spice bottles were originally made of pottery by the A. E. Hull Pottery Company in Crooksville, Ohio. By the 1940s, the demand for these products had risen to millions of bottles and Shulton – Old Spice’s manufacturer – was forced to shift to automatic filling and closing processes due to the porosity of the pottery, inaccurate filling and prohibitive costs. The first glass bottles were manufactured by Wheaton after several months of research and several thousand dollars spent developing the right blend of materials to give the new bottles a “pottery appearance.”

Paper Manufacturing

After several owners, the town that was to become Harrisville was sold to William McCarty, Thomas Davis and Isaac Ashmead for $7,000 by Samuel Richards, owner of Atsion, part-owner of Martha and Speedwell furnaces and brother of Jesse, Batsto’s owner. It was promptly named McCartyville. McCarty decided to erect a paper mill at the site, even though there were already at least 29 other paper mills in the state in 1834. He also built a new dam, a grist mill, a sawmill, a company store and housing. Richard Harris, a former employee of McCarty, eventually purchased the property in 1856 and he and his father, John Harris, became the new owners of Harrisville.

The Harrisville Manufacturing Company incorporated in 1865. The mill used salt hay from the Mullica River for its paper source. It was brought to the landing by barges and then delivered by mule teams, as shown here. The salt hay was bought for three dollars a ton. The iron content of the water gave the paper a strange brown color, like butcher’s paper, and all attempts to make it white failed. Despite this, the mill prospered until the Harris family defaulted on their mortgage in 1890. Harrisville was eventually bought by Joseph Wharton in 1896, although the mill was no longer operating at that time.

Pineballing

“Pineballing” was the Piney name given to collecting pinecones for sale to florists, usually in New York City or Philadelphia. This activity was typically done in the Pygmy Pines area since the short tree size made the cones more accessible. Cones were usually collected after the first frost when there was less pitch in the stem and they could be snapped off the tree more easily. The cones that Sam Ford from Herman City has in his basket at the left have already opened. Pinecones remain closed until they are exposed to a high heat source like a forest fire, which softens the resin coating and allows the cone to “open up.” Many pick “green cones” that need to be heated up in makeshift “pinecone poppers” before selling them.

 

Salt Hay

Charlie Weber was one of the last salt hayers in South Jersey. His parents arrived here as part of the German immigration wave to Egg Harbor City. Charlie rented salt hay meadows on the lower Wading River and harvested them each year. Salt hay was used as packing material for glassware in Egg Harbor City, Hammonton, Batso, and Green Bank. It was used in the pit-casting process for manufacturing iron pipe and in road construction. Paper mills, like Harrisville, experimented with using salt hay. Charlie would take his horses, Prince and Kate, and walk over 20 miles harvesting the salt hay. It would then be loaded onto a barge on the Mullica River and taken upstream to dry land for baling and shipment. Note the covering for the horses to protect them from mosquitoes and greenhead flies.

Mossing

“Mossing” was another common activity in the Pine Barrens. Sphagnum moss is a unique plant. It is able to absorb moisture up to five times its own weight. The secret lies in its intricate matrix of capillaries and surrounding air spaces, allowing water to be trapped and held like a sponge. Because of its absorption properties, Native Americans used the moss for diapers. It was used during wartime for bandages. Today, florists use it to support  floral arrangements and keep them moist. Pulling moss from the bogs with a moss rake is tough, hard work, mainly due to the weight of the waterlogged plant. Once it is collected, it is spread out in open fields to dry and put into a moss press like the one Sam Ford is using at left, to further squeeze out the moisture and compress them into bales.

 

Cranberry Harvesting

Cranberries are one of three indigenous fruits in the Pine Barrens; the other two are blueberries and grapes. The flower of a cranberry resembles the head of a crane, and so they were first called “crane-berries.” In the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth centuries, cranberries were picked by hand  using a wooden or metal scoop. It was a backbreaking job to tediously remove all of the berries from the vines. Many were missed, it was time consuming, and vines would be badly damaged, but no other means had been invented yet. Entire families would participate in the cranberry harvest.  Children as young as three would help the other family members in the bogs. Children missed several weeks of school during September and October to help their families earn money. Pickers were responsible for completely filling their containers with clean, undamaged berries. If their collection was satisfactory, the inspector would give them a ticket that they could redeem later for goods or cash. Families would live in small shacks during the picking season, which could last six to eight weeks. Today, cranberries can be harvested by either a “dry” or “wet” method. The dry method is used for fresh cranberries, while the wet is for juice, sauce and items like Craisins. The wet method involves flooding the bog when it is time to harvest and since cranberries contain air chambers, they will float.

Other industries and occupations include:

  • Agriculture
  • Fishing
  • Hunting and Trapping
  • Decoy Carving
  • Basketmaking
  • Shipbuilding
  • Blacksmithing
  • and more!