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).
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—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.
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 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.” One of the upcoming fundraising efforts includes the Waterloo Music Festival, which will be held on the grounds May 14 and 15, 2011 and will feature the performances of such well-knowns as the Chapins. 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).
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.
 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).
 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).
 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).
(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!)