Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stone House

(You should see Stone House II, III, and IV for factual corrections and further thoughts on this subject.)

O Stone House, how old are you?

Above: Typical sign posted on main roads at the township boundary, June 2009.

Settled in 1680

My town, South Orange, was "settled" in 1680. This year comes from an item in the Records of the Town of Newark, recording business of the town meeting of September 27, 1680, as follows:
Item— Nathaniel Wheeler, Edward Riggs, and Joseph Riggs, have a Grant to take up Land upon the upper Chesnut hill by Raway River near the Stone House ; provided they exceed not above fifty Acres a piece.
— Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, volume VI, Newark: the society, 1864.
That's the whole item. That's the source of the claim to 1680. Historians have undertaken an almost biblical exegesis of its significance.

Newark and the Third Division

A bit of background. Newark was established by English colonists from Connecticut in 1666, two years after Britain acquired New York and New Jersey from the Dutch. The colonists at first kept together in a town near the Passaic River briefly called Milford and then Newark as it is still known today.

The Third Division was ordered at the town meeting of May 28, 1675. By the order, some of the town's common land was to be assigned to settlers. The area involved, known then as Newark Mountain, extended from the west edge of town, just beyond modern Martin Luther King Boulevard, to the top of First Mountain in the Watchun Ridge.

Charles T McGrath Jr self-published a book in 2005 called Newark Mountain / Third Division of Land / Circa 1696 A D.McGrath spent half of 2004 working out a map of the Third Division as of 1696 from available sources. It was not a simple task, because the oldest two books of Essex County deeds were lost in a fire more than a century ago. A version of McGrath's map can be seen here. Below is a segment of it showing central South Orange:

Above: Marked in red are the locations, left to right, of the Riggs House, Brown House, and Pierson House.

Stone House

Judging by the item in the town meeting, by September 1680 a stone house existed in the area.

But where was this stone house? The key phrase in the item is "near the Stone House". The word "the" appears to mean that there was only one such house in the vicinity. The word "near" appears to mean that the house was not on the land granted to the three.

The South Orange Historical and Preservation Society identifies the stone house as the one now called "The Stone House by the Stone House Brook", located just off South Orange Avenue, at Grove Park, behind the police station.

Beatrice Herman, in The Trail to Upland Plantations, 1976, wrote that the stone house was the joint residence of brothers Thomas and Joseph Brown, located at Tillou Road, just north of the crossing of Ridgewood Road and South Orange Avenue. This house is long gone. Herman was given access to papers belonging to the Tillou family, descendants of Joseph Brown, and from them she even dates the house to 1677.

John Whitehead, in The Passaic Valley, New Jersey, in Three Centuries, 1901, suggests that the stone house might be the one known then and now as "The Old Stone House", located just southwest of the crossing of Jefferson Avenue and the Morris and Essex Railroad, South Orange Township (later renamed Maplewood), but he admits, "whether this is the edifice referred to in the description just quoted can not be ascertained". This is not the house. It's worth knowing about because if you research this topic, you may run across pictures of it labelled as the Old Stone House in South Orange, or as the Durand House, since it was owned for a time by the Durand family.

Henry Whittemore, in The Founders and Builders of the Oranges, 1896, says that the "two oldest houses still standing in the Oranges are the stone house in South Orange and the Samuel Harrison place in Orange, near Tory Corners, in Washington Street". The reference to a stone house is clarified a page later as "the Stone House by Stone House Brook", where he also calls the Brown house "probably the second house built in South Orange".

Above: Drawing of the Stone House by the Stone House Brook, from Whittemore.

Daniel T Clark wrote about South Orange Township (the present South Orange and Maplewood) for William H Shaw's History of Essex and Hudson Counties, 1884. Clark quotes the 1680 town record and provides a great deal of information on early settlers. In referring to the Timothy Ball house on Ridgewood Road, dated 1743 on a stone built into the chimney, he asks, "Is not this house the oldest now standing in the village?". This house is at 425 Ridgewood Road, Maplewood, and is commonly known as a stopping place of George Washington, whose wife had Ball ancestors. It is two blocks outside the present boundary of South Orange Village. Clark knew about the Stone House on the Stone House Brook (see below), but evidently discounted it as being as old as the Ball house.

I wish Beatrice Herman had quoted and named the specific source that led to her conclusions. She clearly did a great deal of research, but was strangely reluctant to name sources. "An historian noted for his accuracy wrote in 1884", she says, introducing a sentence from Shaw's History. Nonetheless the claim for the Browns' house as the first stone house seems fairly convincing to me, because I have faith that the Tillou family documents gave her information the other writers did not have.

Stone House by the Stone House Brook

The claims for the Stone House by the Stone House Brook have some problems. The word "near" does not apply to it ; construction of a stone house or addition about a hundred years later is documented ; and the size seems large for a first house in the wilderness. All of these objections are a little slippery, so we need to look further.


The original (English) owner of the property on which it stands was Nathaniel Wheeler, one of the three grantees in the 1680 town record. Research done by David L Gassman for the Nomination Form for the National Register of Historic Places in 1987 traces the ownership, showing Nathaniel Wheeler to 1726, then Elisha Stansborough, Samuel Stansborough, Samuel Pierson, Bethuel Pierson. There is no disagreement about Wheeler being the original owner in any source I have seen.

But this is not where Wheeler lived. The first county road survey in 1705 places Nathaniel Wheeler's residence at the intersection of Main Street and Valley Road in West Orange (using modern names). Herman cites an unidentified source (as usual), a newspaper story from 1942, as dating Wheeler's house to 1684 ; since the source and reliability of this cannot be determined I can only suppose that it might be true. It was Wheeler who deeded the land for the Presbyterian Church graveyard at Main Street and Scotland Road.

James Hoyt, in Mountain Society / History of the First Presbyterian Church, 1860, reports that Wheeler obtained a "warrant" for three tracts on April 10, 1696, one of which clearly describes the site of the Stone House by the Stone House Brook and its surrounding property.

From this and other surveys and grants, it appears that the town meeting item of 1680 simply authorized the three men to survey property and make a claim. Wheeler seems to have finally made his claim sixteen years later. On one hand, this knocks out the problem with the word "near", but on the other, it makes it even more unlikely that Wheeler built a substantial house on the land before he had a secure claim to it. It also tends to show that the site of the house was still unclaimed, available land in 1696.

If we let go of the 1680 meeting item, the oldest documentation of a house of any kind on the Stone House Brook is a survey made in 1767 by Thomas Ball, when Joseph Gardner was selling property to Daniel Riggs that was adjacent to that of Samuel Pierson. In describing boundaries it happens to mention a point "near against said Pierson's house".


Clark and Gassman agree that Bethuel Pierson took ownership in January 1773 (probably an old style date, modern 1774) from the estate of his father Samuel. Clark (in Shaw) writes:
Deacon Bethuel Pierson had a stone addition added to his dwelling-house, which he caused to be dedicated by religious ceremonies, especially requesting that the following words should be sung on the occasion: "Be not too proud by any means, / Build not your house too high ; / But always have before your mind, / That you were born to die." Deacon Bethuel Pierson died in 1791, aged 90 years.
The source for the above information is, sadly, not stated. But it places a stone addition to his house somewhere in the range of 1774 to 1791. If the Stone House by the Stone House Brook dates from 1680, where is this addition to it?

I tend to think that the stone portion is the addition, and that the earlier house was not stone, because of the word "stone" being placed before the word "addition". The large size of the addition may well be what made Pierson nervous enough to want the deprecating words sung.


The dimensions of the stone part of Stone House on the Stone House Brook are about 50 feet by 30 feet. I can't quantify this without researching some other very early New Jersey houses, but that seems to me very large for a wilderness home. By circa 1780, not 1680, the size might make sense.

There is a theory that the stone part is a combination of Bethuel Pierson's addition and the original house. That would take care of the size problem, but raises some questions about construction that we can look at below.

Stone House Brook

But what about the name of the brook? As Clark writes,
Bethuel Pierson gave a mortgage upon one hundred acres, whereon he now lives at the mountain plantation by a certain brook called Stone House Brook. (A, m'tg'e Essex Co, p 250.)
The later portion of the sentence seems to be a quote from the Essex County A book of mortgages, but it is not written in quotation marks. At any rate it appears that the brook had the name Stone House Brook when Bethuel Pierson acquired the property.

The obvious question is why the brook would be called the Stone House Brook in 1773/74 if Bethuel's addition to his house was the first stone house there. And actually the name goes back even farther.

Stone House Brook appears in the Newark town records as early as 1686, cited by Clark (in Shaw). I quote the item here (a little more accurately than Clark) as printed in the Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society publication, where it appears under October 4, 1686:
Item— Joseph and Thomas Brown have Liberty granted, to exchange their Father's Third Division of Land lying beyond Elizabeth River, and to take up the Quantity thereof on this side Ruway River, below the Mouth of Stone House Brook.
This is the oldest reference to Stone House Brook. Another survey of 1694 also mentions Stone House Brook in describing lands of John Treat with a north boundary along the brook.

The solution proposed by Herman is that the brook flowed into the Rahway River almost opposite the Browns' stone house, and took its name from that. As a parallel example, notice on McGrath's map that Luddington Brook empties into the Rahway River opposite the land of Thomas Luddington.

Above: The last above-ground section of Stone House Brook, behind the parking lot of the Rite-Aid store on South Orange Avenue, June 2009.

The Brown House

The 1686 town record just quoted creates confusion about where the Browns first settled. John Brown, father of nine children, died in 1690, and in his will he granted land to his second and third sons:
To my two sons, Joseph Brown and Thomas Brown, their heirs, etc, forty acres beyond Elizabeth River as bounded in my Patent to be equally divided between them.
But as we see in the 1686 town record, four years earlier the two sons had already obtained permission to exchange this land for land nearer the mountain. They even had surveys run in 1686. Clark quotes from Joseph Brown's survey:
... a piece of upland granted by the Town vote, 30 acres on the mountain side down to Rahway River, bounded by the River East, John Treat South, Top of the Hill West, and Thomas Brown North ... note this Land hath a House on it, built by Joseph Brown and Thomas Brown, either of them having an equal share of it.
A similar survey for Thomas Brown shows his property to be immediately north. Clark adds also that the land of Joseph Brown had passed (by his publication date, 1884) to descendants in the Tillou family, just as Herman would report in 1976.

Joseph was born in 1652, and Thomas in 1655. They came with their father from Connecticut in 1666. At ages 22 and 25 they could have constructed a stone house in 1677 as Herman states. What the town record of 1686 is saying is that they wanted to exchange their inheritance from one part of their father's estate to another part of his estate—
to exchange their Father's Third Division of Land lying beyond Elizabeth River, and to take up the Quantity thereof on this side Ruway River
—that is, to take up the quantity of their Father's Third Division of Land at the Rahway River. This conclusion is forced by the fact stated in the survey that the two had already built a house on the land they would get by the exchange. From Herman's account it appears that they were living in the house on that land, and that is probably why they wanted to make the exchange.

The Riggs House

In the Newark Mountain book, McGrath also raises the spectre of another "old stone house", a house belonging to the Riggs family. The following is quoted from Hoyt:
By the will of Joseph Riggs, 1688, land at the mountain was given to his sons, Samuel and Zophar. The latter is supposed to have been the father of Joseph, who died 1744, aged 69. It embraced probably the farm a little west of South Orange, on which an old stone house yet remains, in which Elder Joseph Riggs was born, in 1720.
The Riggs family is confusing because of the then-common practice of reusing the same names in each generation. This Joseph Riggs (d.1689) is probably the same one named in the 1680 town grant, and he may be the brother of Edward Riggs, also named in the grant. Clark (in Shaw) disagrees with Hoyt's comment above, and "conjectures" that Joseph Riggs (1675-1744) is the son of Edward Riggs.

The Riggs house was at the present southwest corner of Ridgewood Road and South Orange Avenue, according to Clark (in Shaw). The survey made for Joseph Brown in 1686 has this land, neighboring his to the south, owned by John Treat. The transfer from Treat is not documented, but a survey for Treat made in 1694 covers only lands on the east side of the river, and in 1705 the road survey refers to a house at the intersection as owned by Joseph Riggs. On Joseph Riggs's death in 1744 it passed to his son Daniel.

Daniel "rebuilt" the stone house to some degree in 1774, and it had a stone over the entrance with a heart enclosing the letters "D S R 1774". This house still stood in 1860, but Clark (in Shaw), 1884, describes the site as occupied by the rectory of the Church of the Holy Communion. This in turn is now long gone. McGrath comments:
The Old Stone House and Joseph Riggs stone house were very similar. Both of them were one and a half story brown stone houses. They were also both built on South Orange Avenue around the same time frame and within a half mile of each other.
But if so, it only goes to suggest that neither is "the" one stone house that existed in 1680. The source of the brownstone is certainly not, as McGrath speculates, the trap rock (basalt) quarry that once existed on South Orange Avenue on the hilltop. Brownstone, also known as Newark sandstone, comes from the area east of the Rahway River.

I do not think the Riggs house was the stone house.

Above: Painting of the Riggs House, from History of the Oranges by Stephen Wickes, 1892.


The survey of the Stone House by the Stone House Brook made in 1999 for the Township provides some detail about the structure lacking in all previous accounts. This is important because of the theory that the stone portion is a combination of an old house and Bethuel Pierson's documented stone addition.
The original structure consisted of a 1-1/2 story house, parts of which may still be identified within the northern portion of the building. This section reportedly dates back to before 1680 during the Colonial era. It was presumed in Dr Gassman's application to have been a gabled structure measuring approximately one unit wide by one unit deep with an end chimney, although we have no basis to confirm or contradict this assertion based on what was observed at the site. Construction is primarily of rubble stone.
In 1773, upon acquisition by a new owner, Bethuel Pierson, a 1-1/2 story side-gabled hall and parlor addition are reported to have expanded the footprint of the building. As noted in Dr Gassman's application, this addition included a porch, a chimney, and presumably measured one unit deep by two units wide. Indeed, our investigation of exposed structure, revealed in part by extensive deterioration of building elements, indicates differences in floor framing for both the First Floor and Second Floor between the front and rear sections of the 17th/18th Century campaign. To illustrate, the spacing of the 5" by 7" beams above Room 110 is 39" to 40" o.c. whereas structure above the adjacent Room 107 appears to be 4-1/2" x 4-1/2" @ 16" o.c. The First Floor structure, seen in the basement spaces, also has slight variations. In Room B2, which is below Room 110 and portions of Rooms 109 and 103, 4" x 7-1/2" members spaced at 33" o.c. can be seen. The structure above the crawlspace, under Room 107 and the northern portions of Rooms 109 and 103, consists of 8" diameter timber spaced at 33" o.c.

Above: My sketch of the basement, based on the 1999 Preservation Plan by Abramson and Associates. It is not to scale. The distances are estimates measured on a drawing in the Plan and should be correct within a foot or so. North is to the right.

The foundation of the stone part of the house is divided almost evenly into two parts separated by a stone wall about two feet thick. The northern half has a crawlspace less than three feet high, of about 50 feet by 15 feet, external dimensions, with walls about two feet thick. The floor above is supported by timber of about 8 inches diameter (not milled into a rectangular cross section), set 33 inches apart measured center to center. The southern half is a full basement of about the same size externally, but it is much smaller internally, only about 32 by 12 feet, the east and west ends being apparently very thick masonry (or hollow?). Above it the floor supports are milled lumber about 4 inches by 7 and a half inches, also set 33 inches apart center to center. The joists therefore span a reasonable 12 feet or so in both parts of the basement.

Gassman proposed that the original house was roughly the northeast quarter of the structure, approximately square, and that Bethuel Pierson's addition, dwarfing it, makes up the rest. The old part would be what is called Room 107, or possibly a little more. It's not clear to me that the basement construction supports this. I have not seen it for myself, but it is described as being consistent all the way from one end to the other. An original house of 50 by 15 feet would be exceedingly peculiar.

The northeast corner is nearly inaccessible and I was not able to get a look at it. The photograph by McGrath, below, does not show any noticeable change in the stone wall along the east side of the house, as would be expected if addition had been made.

Limited archaeological digs conducted around the house have found the east side to be the only interesting area for artifacts. Items found there include clam shells, Staffordshire slip ware, and a wood shingle cutter. Part of another foundation wall, now under grass, was found running parallel to the house, but its extent is not known, and the experts called it "certainly later" than the stone part of the house. None of the items found can be dated earlier than about 1750.

Above: The west side of the house, June 2009. The eighteenth century house is the stone portion, center, with a bay window added later and extensive later wooden additions above and to the right.

Above: Detail of the northwest corner, June 2009.

Above: The east side of the house, 1987, from McGrath, Newark Mountain. The proposed original part is on the right side, but the large windows and door would be later changes to it.

Gassman writes,
Henry Whittemore identifies the Stone House by the Stone House Brook as the first house to have been built in South Orange (p 353). That contention is not in doubt.
Yet a quote from Beatrice Herman ten pages earlier shows that he was familiar with her book, in which she champions the Brown house. At any rate Gasman does admit that "the house itself has not been properly surveyed" (as of 1991) and that more research "might establish the exact nature of the additions made by Bethuel Pierson".


I think the best candidate for the stone house of 1680 is the Brown house. The name of the Stone House Brook could be derived from the Brown house opposite its mouth, just as the name of nearby Luddington Brook comes from the lands opposite its mouth, not the lands it runs through. I realize that I rely quite a bit on Beatrice Herman's unspecified sources from the Brown and Tillou family papers.

If I am right, the Stone House on the Stone House Brook need not have been there by the time the name of the brook was first documented in 1686. Evidence then falls through all the way to 1767, when a house on Samuel Pierson's land is mentioned in a description of neighboring
land. The house need not have been new at that time, but proof of it being any older is lacking.

My two paragraphs on the competing claims in Wikipedia have gone unchallenged longer than I expected.

But the evidence is so sketchy that I can't put this question away. Like Gassman I would like to see more evidence and apply it to the problem.

Next time: Dinosaur.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


04:15, mid summer. Wake up! Time to walk six miles! Let's bounce.

0 (04:20) House, South Orange —elev 225 feet

The magic hour. Get outside. You should experience this if you haven't. You can't do it in the city that never sleeps, but you can do it out here in the towns that do sleep. I miss living in the city sometimes but this is something I can't do there.

04:20. It's really late at night. It's really early in the morning. I go out and the world belongs to me. I'm down the front steps, across the street to the side that has sidewalks, and I start to walk.

I get a special feeling walking in the darkness before dawn. The streets are there, the houses, the trees and plantings, but nobody's around. Pretty soon they're going to turn the lights on, and the people will come out and start doing stuff. But not yet. For now I'm the only one here.

It's cool. In two ways. This is the low temperature point of the day. But there's also a stillness that casts mystery. A car comes by, and the driver tosses newspapers to the houses on his route. But he's past in a minute. Look up in the silent sky and see the moon. Somewhere in a tree one bird cheeps a note, but no other joins in. It's too soon. The world is not quite ready.

The road I follow is a pre-colonial trail. Ridgewood Road runs along the base of First Mountain, the first Watchung Ridge, locally called South Mountain. It's not straight for more than three blocks, but it maintains a general southwest trend. It undulates mildly up and down with the natural contours.

In the darkness I pass the eighteenth-century Ball House, where Washington stopped (and possibly flept). There's a big tree by the roadside to which he reportedly tied his horse. The curb curves out around it. A stream comes down the hill, and I can feel the cooler air around it. A block farther, across the road, is a small house that comes right up to the sidewalk and must be from the same era. Both of these stand perpendicular to the road.

Many of the houses in our old suburbs are from the 1920s. They all look different, and they stand close by each other on pleasingly small lots. The trees have grown tall and full. My walk goes in and out under their canopy. Outside the canopy I see the last stars and the moon.

Ten minutes on, 04:30, the morning chorus begins. Every bird in town starts its call. And I mean full 5.1 stereo. It's crazy. I pass a stone school from the 1920s, stone churches, and another old house. The darkness is fading into pink light.

1 mile (04:35) Lenox Place, Maplewood —elev 200

There are two streets in Maplewood called Lenox Place, and not only do I pass both of them, but I hit both at mile markers!

I've just passed another colonial house at the Baker Street corner. Some houses around this point are from the late nineteenth century.

Five minutes on I turn off Ridgewood Road, just before it crosses under the railway. I now follow Glen Avenue, which was laid on the original curving path of the railway after the railway was straightened around 1910. There is no sidewalk and I have to walk in the pavement facing traffic. Moving mostly west now.

Wyoming Avenue. I don't know why a residential development in New Jersey is called Wyoming. The Lackawanna Railroad was based at Scranton, in Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley: does that answer the question or just beg another?

This is where I turn around on weekdays, almost two miles out. I have to get back around 05:30 so I can get ready for work. Lately what I do is loop around to the right through small streets to avoid walking back on the inside of the curves on Glen Avenue. That adds a little distance and I end up doing just over four miles in an hour and ten minutes.

2 miles (04:50) Glen Avenue reverse curve, Millburn —elev 200

Definite light in the sky now. I can see pretty well when I'm not under the trees. In the bushes it's still inky shadows.

The road here squeezes between South Mountain on the right and the railway on the left. The Watchung Ridge is interrupted at Millburn, because of some geological process I cannot explain (because I don't know what it is). The houses on the right are uphill from the street, and those on the left have trains in the backyard.

And then the houses end. On the left is Millburn station and its parking lot. On the right is the forest of the South Mountain Reservation, starting at the abandoned grade of the railway siding to the quarry (it looks like a straight and untended dirt road).

It's 04:55 as I pass the side road to the reservation parking lot. This is where I will go in soon. The park opens at dawn, and Nature enforces the rule. That is: it's just too dark under the trees to see the path up the mountain! Instead I kill ten minutes looping around downtown Millburn.

Under the railway. Pass the wedding dress shop and the diner across the street. Right into the main drag, Millburn Avenue. Pass a bakery, the first sign of life. It's not open yet, but a couple of people are inside baking. One day the old baker happened to be standing at the doorway and we said hello to each other. He was the first person I met. Pass Futter's shoes, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, all closed now, but busy later. Turn right into the little cross street, pass the storage place, right again along the back street, where I reach mile 3, on my way back to the reservation.

3 miles (05:05) Millburn center —elev 180

I reach the reservation entrance for the second time, and there's just enough light to see. I follow the paved road that goes in to the parking spaces, not far.

I would call the next section dirt paths, but they're pretty rocky. South Mountain is basalt, the
stuff they make gravel out of. There used to be a big quarry operation right here just inside from the parking area.

It's about three hundred feet to the top. I'm well warmed up by now and nice and loose. On the way up I stop only twice to admire the view. You do realize that's the only reason I stop.

First fit. 05:10. From the parking spaces, slightly left up a wide trail, under a fallen tree, then right, to a grassy space, in front of the quarry. Stop and admire the rock wall the cutters left behind. Shirt off ; I get warm from the climb.

Second fit. With the quarry to my back I enter a narrow, rocky unmarked trail going uphill under the trees. Leave civilization. From this point I must have a little daylight to mark where I step. First there are two short, steep runs that I can take at normal walking speed: up, hairpin to the left, up, hairpin to the right. The next stretch is longer and mostly less steep, so I can catch my breath as I go. There's one big washout in the trail. Stop at the next hairpin turn to the left. I'm about about two-thirds of the way up already.

I can see that these trails were built, not just worn in by hikers. They're like a shelf on the
hillside: it slopes down from above, then there's the trail level about five feet across, and then the slope again. That big washout really just restores the natural slope. The rocky surface of the trails seems to be large chunks of gravel, maybe from the quarry I just passed (convenient!). They were built decades ago. The reservation was put together in the 1890s and these trails may be early twentieth century. They're not marked by blazes.

From this stop I can barely see the summit and cannot see the town, now that the trees are in leaf. I am in a
wilderness. No one is around. I am in the fading shadows of dawn.

Third fit. Now there's one last steep climb with more rocks than before, and one more turn to the right. Past that it gets grassy again and the tree cover is less solid. I saw a wild turkey here a week ago. The last section goes over outcrops of bedrock.

Very quickly the climb is over and I am at the Washington Lookout, a concrete platform with a metal pipe railing around three sides.

It's about 05:25 by now. The climb takes about 15 minutes. I'm very warm by the time I reach the lookout, even on a cool morning. I always take a couple of minutes here. It's inspiring. I'm alone with a fine view across miles of New Jersey terrain, except on a few very cool and moist mornings, when there is only grey fog below. That might be the best. It increases the feeling of being someplace far away.

Actually I am not quite at the top. That's just up a gentle rise from here, where there is a metal plaque set into a rock. I pass it as I step onto the pavement of Crest Drive.

South Mountain is a ridge. From here I will walk a mile and a half almost level along the ridge top.

4 miles (05:35) Crest Drive, Millburn —elev 550

The mile marker is just beyond the loop. Crest Drive is closed to cars, and that has preserved the smooth pavement. Later in the day, the drive is a favorite for people with bicycles and skateboards, and runners and dog walkers. They get here by driving to the parking lot a mile north. The drive winds its way through a forest that has not been cut for a hundred years.

A few times I have walked a whole mile from the lookout without meeting anybody. But more often there's some lone individual who shows up along the drive, usually a runner with or without a dog. I'm cooling down, and there is sometimes a good breeze up here that we d
on't feel down in town where the mountain shelters us. Shirt on, somewhere along here.

I keep hearing a red-bellied woodpecker near the loop. There are some dead trees in the woods that they must like. I feel like I should come across more wildlife than I do. If I knew more bird calls I could name more. I've seen chipmunks and deer and a rabbit. I've seen raccoons, possums, and groundhogs out my back window but not up here. Once in a while a bear gets into the reservation but no one's reported one this year. That's something I don't want to see.

5 miles (05:55) Bramhall Terrace, Maplewood —elev 575

I've now come to the part of the drive still open to cars. The runners and others usually park here and go down the drive to the lookout. Far fewer people climb up like I did. Bramhall Terrace is the largest of a few lookouts along the drive. You can see New York.

By this point I have usually seen a few more people, but not always.

I feel loosened up. I used to think my first mile was the slowest, and I was really moving by this point, but when I checked my split times twice for this story I realized my first mile is in fact the fastest. I go from 4 miles an hour down to 3 by the end.

South Orange Avenue. This is the end of Crest Drive, and the least attractive part of the walk. I turn right, east, and walk along the edge of this busy county road, protected by a metal barrier, and then past an apartment house called The Top. The downhill grade starts. After a few more blocks I can cut off into a suburban street again. Full daylight by now, but the sun is still low.

6 miles (06:15) Lenox Avenue hill, South Orange —elev 300

I continue steeply downhill. Here I pass the other Lenox Place, which extends into Maplewood a half block away (see mile 1).

I reach Ridgewood Road at about 06:20, and home a few minutes later. I run up the front steps— sometimes.

Usually I have time for this six mile walk only on weekends, but a few weeks ago I was home on a weekday because I had to take the cat to the vet (he's fine). As I reached the road opposite my house, and looked both ways for cars before going across, who do I see approaching but Runner Girl, heading south. This is just when I would have been walking to the earlier train. (If this paragraph makes little sense to you, click that link.)


What's that? Why do I do this at dawn? Didn't I mention the magic feeling at the start of the walk? Besides that, it's not as hot as it will get later, and there's none of that damned bright sunlight. It's got everything going for it really, doesn't it?

Distances were worked out using Gmap Pedometer.

Next time: Stone House.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


[The College stories start here.]

Mary and I got into quite a few political arguments back in college. She was all for justice for the oppressed peoples, and I was all naive in other ways. I had got firmly into challenging everything I was told, and even when it was a counterculture authority I questioned it. So I questioned her too.

One of hot topics that year was the Angela Davis case. A year or so before, the activist young assistant professor had been fired from U C L A just for being a member of the communist party. Now she had been implicated in supplying guns for a courtroom shootout. Many left wing college folks thought it was a frameup, and Mary was one of them. I should have seen how strongly she identified with the studious socialist woman but I didn't. I just thought it was a bad idea to supply guns to anybody.

Mary and I had talked about the subject several times without changing our minds on it. Somewhere in the archive of the Columbia Daily Spectator is a letter to the editor that I wrote on the subject. I have to mention it for the sake of this story, but I don't want to see it again. Luckily it's not online.

Mary saw it of course. I didn't see her for a couple of days, but she barely spoke to me the next time I did, the next Saturday when we worked together. She said something about "that letter" and that was about all.

This wasn't good. Luckily our friend Lisa was there that day too, and when I covered her break in Philosophy Library I asked if she'd wait for me outside after work so we could talk a little bit. One of Lisa's favorite things was giving advice. Whatever plans she might have had weren't till later, so we were on.

I'll grant that Mary was polite all day. We closed up and went downstairs and out the main door of the building, and Lisa was there ahead of us. She looked at both of us and asked what we wanted to talk about. Mary must have called her while I wasn't around!

"Nothing", I lied. "I wanted to say hello", Mary lied. Lisa started walking and we both followed like sheep on each side of her. I think Lisa was playing the gambit where you can get people to talk by making them uncomfortable with silence. She just looked at us with a Mona Lisa smile. I think I said "um" at one point. Mary and I both normally walked east from the door to get to our residences but Lisa was leading us west toward Ferris Booth Hall. When we got to the end of the library building, Mary said what she usually said, "I have to go study", and peeled off toward the gate.

I said goodbye to Lisa and caught up with Mary. As we walked along the street she looked straight ahead as if I was not there. "I was thinking about the Angela Davis case a lot because of all the talking we did about it." Oh, that's not a good start. It's almost blaming her. "I just wanted to put down what I thought of it. I didn't do it to get you. It's just my opinion." I couldn't back down from just having an opinion different from hers. That wasn't quite what was wrong here either. She was always annoyed at me having different opinions but she would never deny that someone could.

I had to go for it. "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings." I didn't know what else to say. We were at her building by now and I knew I wasn't going up. She finally said something. "I know. I have to go now."

I was now at the gate at the other end of the library building. I went back on campus there and completed a circle around the library building back to where we left Lisa. She was still there as I half expected, sitting on the stone wall outside Ferris Booth. How could Lisa resist finding out what the two of us wanted to talk to her about? Maybe one of us would come back. She knew it was worth hanging out for a little while.

I jumped onto the wall next to her. As I did so I happened to glance toward the gate and I think I saw Mary appear and immediately turn back, as if she'd walked back along the street side as soon as I was out of sight. I wasn't sure it was her. I told Lisa. "I'll see her later. She usually takes longer." Whatever that meant.

I wasn't sure Lisa knew what was going on so I started talking. There wasn't much to say. "Did you see the letter to the editor?" and "She won't talk to me" and "I apologized just now but I couldn't read her reaction". "Oh, you never can read people." Freakin' Lisa. She was right, but still.

She jumped off the wall and said, "We should see if Robin is home".

Robin lived in Furnald. This was the cool dorm. You could make it first choice when you applied for next year's housing, but you didn't have much of a chance. It took luck and maybe something else to get in. The artistic free-spirited people lived there. If you lived in Furnald you were almost automatically interesting. No, I never lived there.

Robin liked to use all three of his names plus the "III" that came at the end. That was both arty and pretentious, but Robin knew how to play pretentious so that you enjoyed him doing it. I'm sure he was the gayest person I ever met in college, but we didn't really have gay people in those days, so he was just kind of different. A little theatrical, like a hammy actor whose life was his performance piece.

He was home. What a room he had. He had painted it black, except for the wood trim which was red. I always wondered what the dorm people said to him after he turned in the room at the end of the year. How many coats of paint would it take to change it back to the standard off white? As you might be guessing, I wanted to do the same thing. Maybe not black and red, but something. But I lacked the energy, or the nerve. Still, I liked people who went and did things like that. A victory for the human spirit, right?

I'd been to Robin's before with Lisa. Once the two of them got going their mood infected me too. We had had some laughs in the black room.

Lisa filled Robin in on why we had come by, and I realized she knew more than I thought she did. Mary must have supplied some of it. I brought the story up to date with what had happened today. We couldn't stand each other, but what should I do to make peace with her, because it was important to me that I do.

These were the two wizards about to apply their legendary skills to a tough case. Legendary, I tell you. I never really knew what the hell I was doing. But they would know. They would put their fingers right on the solution. I expected deep insight here.

Robin spoke. "I have no idea. What would you do besides talk to her? This is the strangest relationship I've ever heard of. "

Now coming from him that was quite a statement. All I could do was start laughing, and so did we all. We ended up all right that day. There was just nothing else to say about it. Later on after we broke up for the evening, maybe Lisa went to see Mary. I never found out for sure.

The next day I went down to the Metropolitan Museum with my friend Rachel from Art History class. We had an assignment to write about medieval paintings. We spent a long time looking at every single thing in the large medieval room and talking about the styles and symbolism and which works spoke to us across the great divide of the centuries and cultures. We spoke the same language, Rachel and I. When we went out a guard commented that we sure must like medieval art. Yeah, that or something.

Rachel was a nice Jersey girl. I really liked her. She at first thought that I had an advantage in our course because I'd been Catholic and she was Jewish. That is, unlike her I would know who the saints are. She was learning it all from scratch. That was funny, but I had to tell her that even though I went to St Catharine's School (so spelled), I was not aware that I could identify St Catherine as a woman resting her arm on a broken wheel. The nuns had not taught us the attributes of the saints. Imagine. The museum labels told us who each saint was.

So there we were talking about things and trying to understand them together and losing track of time. It was a good day, one of two or three we spent at museums. You're wondering why I am not writing more about Rachel, but she had let on to me before long that her dream was to find a nice Jewish boy. By an accident of birth, this was not something I could fulfill for her. We were doomed but we had a few nice times.


This song and video, Anthem, captures my mood as I journey through the past. I'll write more about it in another post, but you can check it out now. Maybe you're not into Trance music, but stick with this. It's got a lot of heart.

(That's . Archive readers: If this has dropped from Youtube, search for Anthem by Filo and Peri, featuring Eric Lumiere, the 3:21 video version. Song, vocal, guitar are by Eric Lumiere.)

[The next college story is Dinosaur.]

Next time: Walk.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Growing Smaller

[The College stories start here.]

When it comes to arguments
I had with Mary, back in college, most of what I can remember involves me being an idiot. She put up with a lot, and pretty graciously.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression though. Let me first tell you one I cannot be totally blamed for.

We're going to do this like one of those television shows where they show you how the crime was committed, using actors and dialog and hand-held cameras. It's almost like being there. You won't be able to stop reading this. If you have something you have to do right now, come back. It's a real screen pager (that's like a page turner, but online). Compelling stuff. You'll be telling the neighbors about it.

The scene. College days, Saturday, in October or November. Mary and I were covering the full ten to six at Burgess-Carpenter Library. We're sitting behind the charge-out desk. We're not looking at each other, because we couldn't stand to look at each other, but we're both sitting there in those high wheely chairs, and looking at the shelving on the far side. Mary is not reading her book.

Me, on the weather, always a sure fire conversation starter: "The days are growing shorter. I don't like that
it's dark now when we leave."

Mary, making the opening move: "A thing can't grow shorter."


"If it's growing, it wouldn't be shorter."

"People say it."

"It bothers me. How can something grow shorter?"

"Just does."

"No, it can't."

"What word would you use?"

"I don't know. Some other word. The days are shorter now."

"They are. They've been growing shorter since mid summer."

"They've been shorter. They didn't grow shorter."

"Sure they did. It was still light at six a few weeks ago."

"That's because they've been..." She stopped in time. It was hard to trip her up. "The days have become shorter."

"In the spring they'll get longer."

"Yeah." She trailed off in that midwest drawl.
Steady now.

"But now they're growing shorter."

"Yeah. No. They can
grow longer but they don't grow shorter."

"Can they
get shorter?" Now I was working without a net. I was counting on figuring out where to go in the next few seconds.

"Yes. Do you know
where they get it?" Oh no.

"Get what?" I stalled.

"Shorter. Where would you
get shorter?" St Basil's pumpkins. Did she have something in mind here, or was she drowning too?

Break. Luckily, someone had finally come to the desk to check out a few books. Mary ran the ID card and book cards through the machine (an early automated circulation system that I should write about sometime) and handstamped the due date on the cards and put them back in the books, and the person left. While she was busy I noticed we were almost out of the temporary book cards we used for books that didn't have cards yet. I knew what to say.

"This pile is growing short. I'll go in the office and get more."

"OK". Wait for it. "The pile can't grow short."

"Well, just look at it."

"It is short, but it's not..." Mary had this sigh sometimes. She was right though. One of us needed to bring in something new. I had just restarted the same thread.

"They're running out and they don't have legs. They're getting exhausted but they haven't moved. The supply is growing short. It's figurative language."

"I know, but even so, they can't grow short. It doesn't make sense."

"Can they run out?"

"Well, just look at them." Generally repetition is frowned upon, but sometimes it is the right play. I nodded respectfully.

"But they can't run, in any sense of the word."

"But they can run out. That's different."

"This is growing old." Could I get her to say a thing can't grow old? No. Damn, she was quick.

"Yes. It can't grow young though, can it?" This is why you need to think ahead one or two moves. She had that wide grin on her face now. I called time and went off to get the cards.

Intermission. Something about this reminds me of a remark made in a match I had a few years later with a girl I worked with then. Someone unfamiliar with the rules overheard us and asked, "Are you two married?". I said truthfully, "I am but she isn't. Why?" A tangent run could have been started but the person was not able to reply.

As I got back with the cards, someone else needed books checked out. I took this one. Like the books in the previous transaction, these all had computer cards in them already. The temporary cards I got were being used less and less often. Mary noticed it too.

"There aren't so many books without cards any more. What would you say about that?" She was baiting me. I needed a moment to follow through.

"The number of books without cards is growing smaller."

"No, it's growing fewer. It couldn't grow smaller."

"Fewer means a smaller number." I nearly had her. Growing fewer? But she recovered with a
disjuncta obfuscura move so fine that I went along with it.

"A smaller number of things. The
cards don't get smaller, because a thing can't grow smaller."

I took a temporary card and ripped it in half.

"It didn't grow smaller. All of it is still there. It's just in two parts."

"What if I took a card out in the rain and it shrank?"

"I don't think cards shrink in the rain. If they do, they don't
grow smaller."

"The books wouldn't grow smaller either."


"Now that we're discussing which things can grow smaller, we imply that it is possible for some things." Ha. Point for me.

"No we're not." This was contradiction, not argument.

"I am thinking of something that grows larger." Move on, move on.

"OK. Is it bigger than a breadbox?" Standard question, but, oof, now I was thinking of a different thing.

"Sorry, no."

"I knew it. Does it actually
grow larger, or just become larger?"

"Please. I don't know." The word "grow" was starting to sound strange now. I was no longer sure what it meant.

"Are you growing tired?"

"What does that mean? How can a person
grow tired?" I was thinking that a person could grow hair, but could a person grow tired? My voice was getting close to that whining tone that even I can't stand. A glance at the wall clock showed me I was saved. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

"Familiarity breeds contempt."

"Q E D. I mean it's break time. Do you want to go see Lisa or do I?" Going to see Lisa was not some weird expression we had. It meant going to cover break time in Philosophy Library. I usually did it, but I wanted to make the offer.

"I don't know about you but I want to get out of here." So do you, dear reader, don't you?


OK, let's calm down now.

For some reason I cannot resist telling you the worst argument ever. I guess it's for balance. This will show you what can happen when you are clueless. I still kick myself about it. We won't recreate the dialogue this time. I just can't do it. Let me just describe it.

Our supervisor told me something one day that I thought was very cool: I was the one in charge on Saturday. Yes, even though Mary had worked there longer, it was me. Maybe it was because she had skipped out that summer while I had stayed and worked full time (when I lived with the communists). Maybe it was because I was doing a better job in some way— this idea appealed to my vanity. Or maybe it was because our supervisor thought the girl should not be in charge. That last one was actually the reason.

Did I see the truth? No. It was not a surprise coming from the man it came from, so I should have thought of the possibility. And I believed in equal rights for women. Our generation were going to change the world, and this was one of the thing we were going to set right. It was something I strongly agreed with Mary about (there had to be something!). Absolutely. If the truth had been pointed out to me I would have acted differently. But why would I need to be told? Was I really that oblivious? Yes. I do need the whack on the head sometimes.

What made the situation especially volatile is that our supervisor did not tell Mary. He didn't have the guts. So the time bomb ticked away. For quite a while it never mattered. Mary and I both had the same work ethic. We divided up the work and just did it, and we got everything done without any problems with each other. We were practical people. We didn't need anyone to be in charge.

So here we go. A time came when Mary and I were both sitting at the desk, and some person was returning overdue books, and wanted not to pay overdue fines, and we were going in different directions about whether the excuse was working for us. When I saw that I was not convincing her of my position, I played the in-charge card. We have discussed this enough, I stated like the head umpire, and I will now make the call, because I am in charge. An idiot, but in charge.

Mary took the news remarkably well I thought. We did what I wanted. Once we were alone she made it very clear that she did not know anything about this being in charge thing nor was she fine with it. She did not doubt my word even though it was news to her. That's why she did not contest it. She had no trouble believing that our supervisor had told me this. She knew who she was dealing with. Oh no. I got it.

I wonder what else Mary had had to put up with. What an ass he was. And this one time I became his accomplice, delivering another insult to her on his behalf. That's what gets to me even now. She deserved better.

It would be sweet to be able to go back in time and whisper in my young ear, on a few choice occasions, words of wisdom like No! You idiot! If only. This one wasn't fun, Mary. I'd love to undo it.

We got over it somehow. But I wonder how long it stung.

Argument from authority is always weak anyway. If you can't convince someone on the merits, you've lost, no matter what force you apply. You grow smaller.

(First Alice illustration by John Tenniel, The Nursery Alice, 1890, and two more by Margaret Tarrant, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1916.)

[The next college story is Steps.]

Next time: Anthem.