I think my love of abandoned places goes back to my childhood. Every day after school my best friend and I would take off on our bikes to some of the last remnants of Old Motor Parkway on Long Island to explore this relic from 1908. Something about the crumbling highway and surrounding encroaching woods held mystery and magic for us ten-year-old girls.
Fast forward many years, and I still get that adrenaline rush when we are out in the woods and come upon an old foundation covered in moss or a crumbling brick wall surrounded by trees. Fortunately, New Jersey is a treasure trove of old industrial construction just waiting in our woods to be discovered and enjoyed. Here are just a few of the beautiful ruins our state has to share with those adventurous enough to pursue.
North Jersey Abandoned Spots
Cliff Dale House
If you park at the Alpine rest area along the Palisades Parkway and walk to the north end of the lot, you’ll spot a trail marker. Take the Long Path (Teal Trail) for a little over ½ mile. You’ll soon see the first remains of the Cliff Dale Mansion.
Built in 1911 by sugar and flour millionaire George Zabriskie, this once 15 room mansion on 25 acres was bordered by a terraced garden. Forsythia fields and daffodils still remain to give a lucky visitor a sense of the magnitude of these once glorious grounds. Sold to Rockefeller in 1933, the house was slated for total demolition by the CCC. The goal was to restore the view of the Palisades for all to enjoy. Lucky for us, the crew left enough of the bottom two stories to give all of us a chance to view this once private sanctuary of the rich.
Rionda’s Tower/ “The Devil’s Tower”
If you exit Route 9 at The Esplanade in Alpine, you’ll enter a quiet residential neighborhood with large private homes. In the middle of the street stands the tower.
In 1910 millionaire sugar importer Manuel Rionda built a tower for his wife so she could view the NYC skyline from their home in Alpine. The tower was connected underground to their estate. Legend has it that in 1922 his wife saw her husband having an affair from the tower and leapt to her death. At that point he sealed the tower and filled in the tunnel. The tower was left for town to decide its fate.
From a grassy circle in the middle of the road, this tower casts a giant shadow over the million-dollar neighborhood of Rio Vista where residents like Beyonce, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder and Britney Spears have real estate.
South Jersey Abandoned Spots
(Mays Landing/Atlantic Co.)
Just off of Route 559 in Atlantic County is a quiet little park by the side of the road. If you’re not looking, you’ll probably drive right by it, as we did numerous times.
Built around 1754 and in production for almost 60 years, the Weymouth Furnace is a monument to South Jersey’s industrial period. This iron blast furnace was used to produce cannons and balls for the War of 1812. When the production of iron was no longer profitable here two paper mills also harnessed the power of the Great Egg Harbor River. The land was acquired in 1966 by Atlantic County and later developed into a park.
This is a tricky one to find. Park along Route 542. There was a small path and a sign for NJDEP State Park Service. We followed that trail towards the Mullica River.
Once at the river on the right-hand side the brick remains of a structure come into view. The stone foundation goes right to the Mullica River. Founded in 1870 this small town of 70 homes and a hotel was once the center for the Wapler’s Glass Company. For three years this town was one of many in South Jersey producing glass shades and Christmas decorations.
(Bass River/Burlington Co.)
There’s a small park along Route 679 and Bodine Field Road. If you park on the right and take the trail to the right it’s just a short walk.
Harrisville was founded around 1795 and remained active until the 1880s. This once-thriving paper mill was the center of this once prosperous town. The towering brick walls that remain are reminiscent of ancient Mayan ruins. The fire of 1914 was probably the end of the town, but thankfully not everything was destroyed or looted. In the 1970s a fence was erected to preserve what remains today.
(Bass River/Burlington Co)
I’m including this one as a courtesy to others. We went off in search of these ruins while visiting Harrisville. We soon discovered that not only is the area fenced in, but the town had also buried these ruins years ago. There is nothing to see here except an odd mound in the middle of the forest surrounded by fencing. It is near the Batona Trail, so if you’re hiking here anyway, at least you know what this is/was.
The Pine Barrens comprise nearly one-quarter of New Jersey’s geography. If you’ve studied our history, you know that the Pine Barrens are anything but empty. They contain the remains of our Native American and industrial past thinly covered by one to two hundred years or so of recent vegetation. There is so much to be discovered once we open our eyes and our minds to what is out there just beyond that next bend. New Jersey can be your treasure chest too if you’re willing to get out there and go. The ten-year-old in you will say, “thank you.”