Delaware Water Gap History’: a mobile review
DELAWARE WATER GAP — Reviewing books is essentially a
sedentary activity. One rests, reads, reckons and writes. So it was with
considerable interest that I anticipated the arrival of a book that promised
more than an armchair adventure. “Exploring Delaware Water Gap History:
A Field Guide to the Historic Structures and Cultural Landscapes of the
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area,” compiled by Susan Kopczynski
and edited by William Dohe, is a delightful publication crafted in the
form of a self-guided auto tour.
The tour begins at Kittatinny Point Visitor Center in
NJ and follows Old Mine Road north along the Delaware River, then crosses
the river near Milford, PA and follows Route 209, River Road and Route
611 south, a total of about 90 miles with 84 stops. It is a comprehensive
look at the historic structures chronicling the history of the Delaware
“Exploring” provides a solid introduction to its subject
without overwhelming the reader with information. One learns just enough
about the geology of the Water Gap, its wetlands and wildlife, its earliest
inhabitants, its evolving industries and current state of affairs. The
tour itself delivers the rest, a substantial amount of detail, history
and lore, allowing the learning to come to life through real experience,
through adventure and discovery. And thus, this review on wheels got rolling.
The best adventures–and the best books–have this in common:
one learns something from them, one’s perspective is freshened and one
experiences a pleasing sense of delight. So it was with this petite publication
and its charted course. Early in the book, one is advised to allow at least
four hours of driving time for the complete tour, with additional time
for picnicking, hiking or browsing at shops. Based upon my experience,
one could easily make a weekend of it. My companion and I spent four hours
visiting sites 58 through 84. We could easily have lingered longer, but
with the sun setting at 5:30, we found it necessary to keep moving. Along
the way, very little activity was going on, even in the towns. Although
we enjoyed being free to explore at our own pace, if you prefer the energy
of the tourist season, plan your trip for the summer months or early fall.
The tone of our tour was golden: withered corn stalks
at the road’s edge, wind soughing through the mellow grasses, sharp sunlight
slicing the bare deciduous trees. Driving from site to site, following
explicit directions that even include information about parking, it is
easy to forget that the Delaware River, or one of its “braided” branches,
is always nearby. The book occasionally weaves in tidbits of information
about the flora and fauna along the route, noting Eastern red cedars “planted”
by birds that consumed the tree’s berries, and explaining why the soil
has a reddish hue. I found these nuggets of knowledge to be interesting
and would have liked to see more.
Each stop is illustrated with a clear photo or painting
of the site described. Below the images, dates, details and historically
relevant notes provide the fodder for a positive educational encounter.
As we explored buildings and graveyards, limekilns and springhouses, it
was easy to imagine lives passing in these places. Here, people had gathered
for church picnics and quilting bees; there, an old farmstead lay in ruins,
the grand house completely gone, its outbuildings crumbled in heaps of
Aesthetically, “Exploring” is exceptionally appealing.
Like most field guides, it is compact and can be easily held in one hand.
The metal spiral binding makes the book a pleasure to use. But it is also
beautiful, boasting a heavy card stock cover and textured creamy pages
within. The sepia-toned ink lends the photos and paintings an enhanced
sense of age. There is even ample space where one can jot notes along the
journey. I would have liked to learn that the book was printed on recycled
papers, but could find no evidence of this.
Beyond the book’s appearance is its promise. If one takes
the tour to heart, opening mind and senses to the experience, wonderful
things can happen. On the back wall of a building displaying the stonework
of John L. Snyder, I discovered a burst of skunk cabbage poking from between
the stones, doing its best to gradually undo human endeavor. In the old
Dingman School, now the Pennsylvania District Ranger Office, I could almost
hear small feet pattering across the wooden floors. And throughout the
Hialeah Picnic Area, where tables and trash receptacles have replaced what
used to be vacation cottages, exotic specimens of Japanese maple and yew
provide living testimony to human presence.
A path leading away from the picnic grove provided a
stunning view of the Delaware River at sunset. The water’s surface, reflecting
the metallic sky, lay framed in the arms of the darkening trees. I stood
listening to the liquid ribbon, just one more person passing through, picking
up a sense of this place. Back at the car, a field of mummified sunflowers
stood sentinel, swaying ever so slightly as I lifted the book from the
Who will enjoy such a book? History buffs, poets, lovers
of architecture, families looking for an enjoyable learning experience,
anyone with a sense of adventure and an interest in how the past has determined
the present. Copies of this publication are available for purchase from
the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, National Park Service,
Bushkill, PA, 18324, and at Delaware Water Gap visitor centers located
at Kittatiny Point, NJ and in the village of Bushkill, PA.