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.
Still, Elizabeth wanted the company to try its hand at blueberry cultivation. While the Whites lacked the scientific background and education necessary to success in such efforts, Elizabeth had read about Dr. Frederick V. Coville’s research regarding blueberry cultivation, and in 1910 she convinced her father to support this research. Dr. Coville agreed, and he began to research and experiment at Whitesbog.
Under this partnership, Elizabeth would solicit locals to gather wild bushes with large berries, and Coville would apply his research in an attempt to hybridize and propagate them. By 1916, they had cultivated and produced a blueberry crop ready for sale and created the entirely new business of propagating and selling blueberry bushes. Eventually, at its peak of production, Whitesbog would cultivate 90 acres of blueberries.
As a typical company town, Whitesbog Village was home not only to Elizabeth White, but to a number of the company’s workers as well. In fact, 41 workers and their families lived in rented homes in the Village. Within the village there existed also a general store and post office, a schoolhouse, and a paymaster’s office, as well as the cranberry processing facilities. Among these facilities were a packing-and-storage warehouse, where cranberries were cleaned, sorted, and stored; a barrel factory, where coopers built and repaired cranberry barrels; a barrel storage warehouse, where the cranberry barrels were stored until needed; and a water tower, which was used as a look-out for forest fires (and to fight these fires as well) and to observe the surrounding bogs. Most of these buildings still stand in the Village.
In addition to the permanent workers who lived at Whitesbog, the company hired Italian immigrants, largely from South Philadelphia, to work during the harvest seasons, from early September to mid-October. They lived near the bogs in separate villages called Florence and Rome, neither of which stands today.
Of course, as harvesting technologies improved, the need for employees decreased, so fewer and fewer harvesters lived in the Village; still, even into the early 1970s, some employees lived at Whitesbog, though New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection purchased Whitesbog from the J.J. White Company in 1967, using Green Acres funds. The state incorporated it into Lebanon State Forest (now Brendan T. Byrne State Forest), and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry administers the land.
The Division of Parks and Forestry is not alone in administering Whitesbog. The Whitesbog Preservation Trust, created in 1982, leases Whitesbog from the state in order to preserve Whitesbog. Specifically, the Trust restores, protects, and enhances the lands, sites (and sights!), and buildings at Whitesbog so that it can continue to provide educational programs and materials about the history, culture, and environment that create Whitesbog.
The Trust can be reached at 609 893 4646.