WHEN THINGS FALL TO RUIN: PASSION AND COURAGE AT WATERLOO VILLAGE

The collapsing upper floor of what was known as The Ironmaster's House. Nathan's Mom can't exactly recall from the photos which house she lived in, but this one is in the running because of its location almost directly across from the Grist Mill.

Back in November 2010, we attended Nathan’s 20th High School Reunion in New Jersey. He grew up in Sussex County not too far from the state’s famous Waterloo Village, a 19th-century site on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places which was, at one time, a bustling museum. Shuttered in 2006, it now sits in ruins and is abandoned (this 1981 New York Times article describes what a day at the village was like when it was operating as a museum[1]).

Interestingly enough, Nathan’s mother had, as a child, lived in one of the houses on the property. This was during the 1930s and 1940s (more on this here[2]—I’m not real keen on Wikipedia as a resource, but it’s the only reference I can find to this portion of the property’s history. One other note? I’m pretty sure Nathan’s mother wasn’t a “hobo”, however, it was considered, by today’s standards, low income housing). Because of the property’s current state of abandonment and the stories she’d told me about what it was like to live there, I was very anxious to see it. So the day after the reunion, before heading back toConnecticut, Nathan and I went for a drive, camera in hand.

On the road toward the Grist Mill, which is in the distance. I love the look of this photo -- it reminds me, for some reason, of the short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Even on such a clear, warmish November afternoon, the place had a ghostly melancholy; among the collapsing or sagging roofs, molded visitor center floors, dilapidated signage, and vacant picnic tables I could hear voices from the past: visitors, museum staff and original residents alike (I include a complete photo tour below).

For both safety and legal reasons, we did not approach any of the buildings or try to enter them—the zoom on my camera was good enough, and should be good enough, for anyone who wants to visit. There’s a respect that must be paid.

There is an operating church on the property—The Waterloo United Methodist Church, and it was their lot in which we parked. As we were headed back to our car, a gentleman came out of the church and introduced himself (sadly, I don’t remember his name now). Nathan told the man about his personal connection with the village, and then we spent at least an hour talking about its condition and future.

We were pleased to find that there are efforts being made to restore the place to its former glory. An organization called Friends of Waterloo Village[3] is “working in partnership with the NJ Division of Parks and Forestry to raise awareness and to raise funds to restore Waterloo Village, one building at a time. The group plans to begin their efforts with the grist mill and blacksmith shop by raising $100,000. Donations will be deposited with the NJ Land Conservancy earmarked for Waterloo Village.”[4] One of the upcoming fundraising efforts includes the Waterloo Music Festival[5], which will be held on the grounds May 14 and 15, 2011 and will feature the performances of such well-knowns as the Chapins.[6] Another is the American Heritage Festival, which will be held at the village September 17 and 18 of this year.

Before our conversation ended, the gentleman proudly showed us the original cemetery headstones, which had just recently been power-washed and restored to as close to their original condition as possible (please note that the Waterloo United Methodist Church is privately owned, and I am uncertain as to whether it was the Friends organization or the church which paid for the stone cleaning).

The cemetery's shiny restored stones. They look like they were put in yesterday.

While there is hope, it’s a massive project. There are miles to go before they sleep, here. But based on the passion and courage of the man I talked to, I think the Friends of Waterloo Village will keep going and stay awake until they’re finished.

In many ways, Waterloo Village is an architectural metaphor for all human relationships. When things fall into ruin, it may be so overwhelming it’s easy to abandon them. But it’s important to keep in mind that this really is a choice: nothing is hopeless. Sometimes it’s just a question of our own levels of courage, how much passion we have for the project, and how much we’re willing to invest in rebuilding.


[1] Ira Henry Freeman, “New Jersey’s Historic Waterloo Village Turns Back the Clock,” The New York Times, May 17, 1981 http://www.nytimes.com/1981/05/17/travel/new-jersey-s-historic-waterloo-village-turns-back-the-clock.html (accessed April 19, 2011).

[2] That article on Wikipedia can be read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterloo_Village (accessed April 15, 2011).

[3] The Friends of Waterloo Village’s official website: http://friendsofwaterloovillage.com/

[4] Sussex County, “Historic Waterloo Village to Come Alive Again!,” Sussex County New Jersey, May 27, 2010, http://www.sussex.nj.us/cit-e-access/news/index.cfm?NID=18853&TID=7&jump2=0 (accessed April 15, 2011).

[5] For more information and to get your tickets for the Waterloo Music Festival: http://waterloovillageevents.com

[6] Lyndsay Cayetana Bouchal, “Chapin Family, Molly Hatchet to headline Waterloo Music Festival,” The New Jersey Herald, March 26, 2011 http://www.njherald.com/story/news/27Waterloo (accessed April 19, 2011).

PHOTO TOUR

(Melissa Hunt, I understand you used to work at Waterloo Village. If you have ANY comments about any of these photos that can add depth or answer questions, please let me know or comment below. You rock!)

The Meeting House, from what I understand, is where they held events.

Along the path to the Meeting House. I said they probably held events there--such as gatherings and weddings?

What's left of the stone garden outside The Meeting House. I would've loved to see this manicured and in bloom.

One of the homes on the property. Melissa, if you can identify this, it would be awesome.

I am liking the curious way that second floor window is boarded up.

This is a close-up shot (I zoomed in) of the first house's curtains inside one of the bay windows. I don't know why I was attracted to it. It just spoke to me. Like this is the curtain the ghost brushes aside when it needs to see the daylight.

The Smith's Shop. I believe this is on the priority list for restoration.

I think this was the back of another building across from the Smith's Shop.

This was such a bucolic scene I had to photograph it. We didn't walk over the bridge, but I found another urban explorer's website that said it was still in good condition; they'd taken pictures of themselves on it.

The dilapidated sign for the Grist Mill. I love the way paint deteriorates. It's like the shedding of dead skin.

A shot of the Grist Mill. I love the empty doors and windows; they're like soulless eyes.

The Grist Mill.

A close up of the Grist Mill door. I think these stones are going to need a really heavy restoration?

What is known as The Peter Stone House. This is also one of the contenders for the building in which Nathan's Mom lived. She couldn't remember from the pictures, but did recall it was across from the Grist Mill, and this is one of two of those buildings that are.

This is The Iron Master's House, which, like the Peter Stone House, isn't open to the public and, since it is across from the Grist Mill, is another contender for the building in which Nathan's Mom lived. I find it interesting that both of these buildings aren't open to the public, though, so perhaps both of them could have had resident housing at one time?

This close up shows how the Iron Master's House is deteriorating.

Part of the lock for the canal.

I guess this was part of the lock and canal?

Another part of the lock and canal.

Always nice to see a bat house!

Nathan thinks this might have been the old school house.

This is the backside of the house that had the canal parts and plaques in front of it (the house with the red door).

This is the back of the Peter Stone House. I'm particularly fascinated by the overgrown grounds.

The back of the Peter Stone House. Can we say creepy?

Nathan believes this may have been an old barn or garage that has been converted into a home for showcase purposes.

The cupola on that building. Nathan really liked it so he got a close-up.

This house was really tiny--in fact, Nathan made the comment that "our chicken coop was bigger than that" (for those of you who don't know, he grew up on a farm). He also made the comment that, because of the fenced-in yard in the front, it really did LOOK like a chicken coop.

The home on the farm site. It looks as though this home and the whole area has been well kept, so it may be that this portion of the property is still in use, perhaps for Scouts or schools.

The well is in the foreground; in the background, a small animal pen or possibly food storage.

At left, the chicken coop. At right, an outhouse.

The home.

Horse stables. Nathan remarked that these looked as though they were remarkably good shape, and so they had probably still been in use in the not-too-distant past.

The empty picnic tables. Some of them look new, actually. This is where you can almost hear the hish and whisper of past visitors.

The snack shop. I love the soda machine blocking the door.

The back of the snack shop.

The Museum Shop.

The moss on the floor of The Museum Shop. Nathan says this much moss isn't unusual for Sussex County -- there's moss everywhere.

The inside of the Museum Shop. I find it so interesting all the informational displays are still there.

The United Methodist Church on the grounds of Waterloo Village.

I believe the church uses this building. What's interesting is that Nathan said he'd visited where his mother had once lived when he was a child, and he swears it was THIS house (which would make sense, since there are a couple of doors and she'd told him there were three apartments in the building). We DO know the house she lived in was the old inn.

One of the restored cemetery stones. What a beautiful job.


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About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in countless magazines and anthologies. She has received three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies, is a co-editor for Read Short Fiction, and co-hosts the Dark Discussions Podcast. Her work Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks; her horror novel, Bad Apple, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s also a member of the New England Horror Writers Association. More info: www.kristipetersenschoonover.com

Posted on April 22, 2011, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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