The story of Whitesbog begins not with a cranberry bog, as might be expected, but with iron furnaces. In 18th- and 19th-century South Jersey—particularly in the Pine Barrens—iron furnaces were a booming business. However, while businesses like the Hanover Iron Furnace were meeting with immense success, the industry’s production had destructive effects on the Pinelands, dredging the land and diverting water to varying locations. Fortunately for cranberry growers, however, these effects on the land created an environment conducive to cranberry growing. So, in the mid-1800s, with this information in mind, James A. Fenwick purchased 490 acres of land (including the site of the former canal and canal ponds that had fed Hanover Furnace) to begin growing cranberries. By the 1860s, Fenwick’s efforts had culminated in success, and the cranberry boom began.
Joseph J. White, Fenwick’s son-in-law, was also an up-and-coming cranberry farmer, and in 1882, when Fenwick died, White took control of the cranberry operation, although it would belong to Fenwick’s widow until her death in 1911. At the same time, White began to acquire properties adjacent to his father-in-law’s and farm them for cranberries as well. Elizabeth Coleman White, his eldest daughter, assisted him, beginning her career at Whitesbog in 1893.
As a young, enterprising woman, Elizabeth became interested in the idea of growing blueberries in the land between cranberry bogs; after all, since blueberries ripen earlier than cranberries, their July harvest would complement cranberries’ September harvest. There was one problem, however: many New Jersey farmers had tried to cultivate blueberries in their fields, but these attempts had all culminated in failure. In fact, it had become widely accepted that blueberries were simply not a profitable crop for New Jersey farms.
In 1857, after having experienced considerable success growing cranberries at a small bog called “Skunk’s Misery,” James A. Fenwick, a New Jersey farmer, purchased 108 more acres of bog and pineland along Cranberry Run south of Hanover Furnace. Fenwick must have known this land would give rise to great numbers of cranberries, as the land had been a natural cranberry meadow.
Joseph Josiah “J.J.” White, son of Barclay and Rebecca Lamb White, was born on his father’s farm, Sharon, in Springfield Township, Burlington County, New Jersey on January 22, 1846. Barclay also owned pine and swamp land on the Wading River, about 25 miles from the family homestead. It was here that he attempted to cultivate the wild cranberries growing there.
As a boy, J.J. would visit Wading River; it was during these years that he first became interested in cranberry culture. Later, in 1860, when he was fourteen, his maternal grandfather, Restore S. Lamb, deeded him 100 acres of land near Rake Pond near New Lisbon. At this time, White’s uncle, Restore B. Lamb, was having considerable success growing cranberry vines on seven acres of land nearby, and this success surely imprinted itself on young J.J White.
Elizabeth Coleman White was born to Joseph J. White and Mary A. Fenwick White in New Lisbon, New Jersey on October 5, 1871. She spent her early years in Springfield Township and Smithville. Around 1881, the family settled permanently in New Lisbon at Fenwick Manor, where Elizabeth would live until 1923 when she built her home Suningive at Whitesbog.
Elizabeth Coleman White’s efforts to cultivate blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) began in 1910 when she read the U.S.D.A. publication “Experiments in Blueberry Culture,” researched and written by Dr. Fredrick V. Coville. Realizing the potential value of such work, Elizabeth and her father decided to contact Coville and offer him their support.
Cranberry Packing and Storage Building
Since the goal of cranberry villages was to produce, pack, and sell cranberries, the cranberry packing and storage building was an important part of each settlement. J.J. White designed Whitesbog’s cranberry packing and storage building, which was the largest in New Jersey, and built in three sections between 1890 and 1900.
The Historic Whitesbog Tract encompasses all 3,000 acres of Whitesbog, including cranberry bogs (both active and fallow), blueberry fields (both active and fallow), woodlands and waterways, and the Village, which includes Elizabeth White’s residence, Suningive, and its gardens.
The Whitesbog Preservation Trust Archives acquires and preserves artifacts in a variety of formats that document the history of Whitesbog Village, the cranberry and blueberry industries of New Jersey, and the individuals who contributed to that history. The volunteer staff at the Archives is in the process of organizing, processing, and cataloging multiple collections.
Currently, the collections include artifacts and documents related to cranberry and blueberry culture and development, cranberry and blueberry harvesting records , patents relating to cranberry and blueberry machinery, Whitesbog labor issues pertaining to migrant workers, ledgers and photographs, publications and personal correspondence of Joseph J. White and Elizabeth C. White, and holly culture. The Archives also contains records related to both the cranberry and blueberry cooperatives.
Research in the Whitesbog Preservation Trust Archives is available by appointment only.