Martindale-Hubbell Knows How to Get Their Hands Dirty
Bright and early on the morning of Saturday, April 16, employees of Martindale-Hubbell volunteered to adopted a park to clean up at the historic Deserted Village of Feltville, situated in the Watchung Reservation in Berkeley Heights, NJ.
While many are familiar with the reservation, fewer know about the Deserted Village, once the site of a printing factory built by David Felt in 1845 and the village that grew up around it. When the factory closed in 1860, and other business venues failed in its place, the surrounding village became deserted — hence, the name. You may have driven past it, on Glenside Avenue, on your way to Route 78 East. But even if you haven’t driven past it, you may have heard the rumors associated with it, based on a 1972 unsolved murder case involving a missing teenager.
We’re not going to lie: we had heard the rumors and were fully prepared for ghost hunting on cleanup day. As the story goes, a dog found a decomposed human arm on the reservation, which led investigators to the corpse of teenager Jeannette DePalma, who had been missing for six weeks. Her body was surrounded by crosses, and a halo of stones was placed around the head, leading to speculation that her death was linked to a satanic ritual or witchcraft.
These tales were not enough to dampen our volunteers’ spirits, however. We split up into three groups and did some ground maintenance and some spring cleaning in the historic general store and church. We spread some mulch and gravel, fixed and replaced fencing, cleaned the windows and floors, and planted some new grass to keep the area fresh and green.
We were also fortunate to make some new friends, including Dan — and somebody else who was a little less friendly and in our opinion had a terrible work ethic. He just got in the way of our raking and leaf blowing.
On the other hand, Daniel J. Bernier, the director of the Division of Park Planning & Maintenance for the Union County Department of Parks, Recreation and Facilities, was a great help in getting the park in shape for the season. Bernier is the also the caretaker of the Deserted Village, where he and his family have lived for nearly 25 years. So, it’s not so deserted after all.
The Deserted Village, one of 25 historic sites across Union County open to the general public, offers a variety of events:
- On the third weekend in October, it is part of the Four Centuries program, where visitors can take part in guided tours and view exhibits in the restored church/store.
- It features an Operational Archeology program for local schools where students can learn about the principles and practices of archaeology by taking a site tour and even participating in an archaeological dig.
- The Haunted Hayride in the fall, offering a tour of the village and a stop at the cemetery, is one of the village’s most popular programs, providing area families an inexpensive and fun evening out.
Despite the village’s name and the rumors associated with it, we really had a fun day in the sun. It was nice to see that a little hard work and some elbow grease could make such a difference. The Deserted Village is nothing to be afraid of. The next time you’re in the area, stop by and tell Dan we sent you!