In the beginning - The VillageThe following is a summary of the "Historic Architectural Survey and Preservation Planning project" for the Village of Whitesbog, Burlington and Ocean Counties, NJ, by the Historic Conservation & Interpretation, Inc. September 1982.
The story of Whitesbog begins at the current site at Fort Dix, the site of the former Hanover Iron Furnace. The production of iron was a dynamic and important industry in the Pines, but ultimately the most destructive. The process of dredging the land and diverting water had a devastating effect on the land. Ironically, it was the physical conditions produced by the iron industry that set the stage for cranberry cultivation. The American cranberry grows naturally and extensively in swampy areas of the North American temperate zone. The cranberry thrived in the disturbed strip mined conditions in the Pinelands.
Realizing the potential market for this crop, an enterprising Colonel named James A. Fenwick purchased a 490-acre tract which included the site of the former canal and canal pond that fed Hanover Furnace during its operation. He proceeded to cultivate the land for cranberries. By the 1860's Colonel Fenwick's efforts proved to be successful and the cranberry boom began. Land that was thought to be worthless was suddenly found capable of producing 30 to 60 barrels of cranberries worth about $10 each in American markets and $20 in Europe.
An enterprising young Elizabeth developed an interest in cultivating the land between the cranberry bogs where wild blueberries were growing. Blueberries ripen earlier than do cranberries. Their harvesting in July would complement the cranberry harvest in September. Many New Jersey farmers tried to cultivate the plants in their gardens but without success. At the time, it was generally accepted that blueberries could not be cultivated. Elizabeth did not have the scientific background or education necessary to cultivate the fruit herself. However, in 1911 she read about Dr. Frederick V. Coville's work in blueberry cultivation. Realizing the potential value of this work, Elizabeth convinced her father to support Dr. Coville's research. Elizabeth knew that the size of the cranberry farming operation at Whitesbog could provide the financing and infrastructure necessary to carry out experiments on a large scale. Dr. Coville agreed to do his research at Whitesbog.
In 1916, only five years after Elizabeth White's alliance with Dr. Coville, they had managed to cultivate and produce a blueberry ripe for sale. Elizabeth coordinated and managed the labor intensive process of gathering the berries while Coville applied his scientific knowledge and technique necessary to propagate and hybridize fruit. Recognizing their ability in distinguishing the endless varieties of blueberries in the fields, Elizabeth hired the local "Pineys" to search the Pines within a 20-mile radius of Whitesbog and locate the choicest blueberry shrubs. She devised a plan that enabled them to locate the best possible plants in the area.
The result of the blueberry research done at Whitesbog was the production of a new crop, as well as the entirely new business of propagating and selling blueberry bushes. At its production peak, Whitesbog had 90 acres of blueberries under cultivation. Elizabeth's business prowess did not end with cultivation, in 1927 Elizabeth helped organize the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association. She was also the first woman member of the American Cranberry Association and became its first female member to receive the New Jersey Department of Agriculture's citation.Elizabeth became one of the first major growers to move to the bogs in 1923. Ms. White lived at "Suningive," her home in Whitesbog Village, next to her grandfather Fenwick's first bog, until her death in 1954.