Nestled at the foothills of the Appalachian Trail in the Great Limestone Valley, you’ll find a 69-acre spring-fed body of water now called White Lake. Founded in 1997, this 394-acre preserve is a varied habitat comprised of fertile meadows, sinkhole ponds, and mature hemlock trees. It is home to several rare plants, and wildlife ranging from: black bears, bald eagles, osprey, bobcats, and snakes.
When we arrived at White Lake, we were greeted by a friendly red-winged blackbird singing in the tree. We crossed to the lake’s left and began on the Blue Trail. This dirt trail leads you through moss-covered rocks and winds through rolling hills.
At the intersection, take the Green Trail, which will lead you past a private residence, The Stewart’s House. Shortly after passing this structure you will come to a clearing. At this point, the ravine will be on your side. If you look down, you will see vegetation, and a swamp filled with skunk cabbage. Your background music becomes the sounds of woodpeckers tapping off in the distance.
Follow the Yellow Trail off to the right; this is where the fun begins. Along our hike, we noticed the remnants of stone border fences. We followed the fences only to find the remains of a century old limestone kiln. Limestone has been used for many purposes throughout history, to neutralize soil acidity, produce certain metals, and as a mortar-type paste when mixed with water. The hills of Warren County are full of limestone, and until the 1920s, the practice of burning lime continued in northern NJ.
From the kiln ruins, follow the Yellow Trail and continue up the incline to the opposite side of the ravine. Here you’ll soon notice more rock wall remnants. The trees are just starting to bloom, so we got some nice vistas of White Lake through the trees.
You’ll soon come to the remains of a large chimney. We tried researching this structure’s history but could not find much information. There’s probably associated with the ruins of the ice house/marl factory, which is just up ahead. e old factory is beautiful, and much of the exterior is intact. Larger than Van Slyke Castle, my Abandoned Sites friends will love this place.
History of the Ice House/Marl Factory
In 1764 Johann Wass immigrated to Hardwick from Germany and changed his name to Johann Vass. In 1802 at age 38, he purchased land with his third wife (apparently, his previous wives predeceased him), and he christened the lake on his property “White Pond.” The white coloration of the lake is caused by the reflection of the mollusk shells from the lake’s bottom. This was used as a fertilizer and a new invention at the time, cement.
Around 1850-60 the Knickerbocker Ice Co. erected this large factory to house over 20,000 tons of ice that could be cut from the lake in winter. Since this was a seasonal product, they diversified and used it for marl manufacturing the rest of the year. The structure is comprised of stone walls and has stood the test of time. If anyone has a drone and takes an aerial shot of this site, I’d love to see it from above.
After passing the old factory, cross the stream and rejoin the Blue Trail. Now we’re on the lake’s far side, going along the marsh. There’s an easy way past a private house, and you must stay along the mowed path. Enter the woods, and the trail is dirt and mossy rocks again. Follow the stone steps down and head to the right on the Red/Blue Trail. The last few yards we passed several birdhouses, and we were lucky enough to watch the tree swallows swooping back and forth feeding their young in the boxes.
White Lake is a quiet gem nestled in the foothills of the mountains. You can kayak, bike, bird watch, and hike in an area rich in history. Standing on the shores of the lake, near the old factory walls, it’s easy to imagine a time when ice was cut from this lake and the limestone kiln glowed off in the distance.