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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 8-18-23 – Custodians of History

Nature is a huge part of my self-care process. Whenever possible, I spend a morning in the woods, walking around, looking at wildlife and taking pictures. I usually post a few of the photos on Instagram, which has become a collection of of my favorite experiences. One of my go to places is the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It is rich in history along its 40 miles of the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi. Like all of us, the park has a history. 50 years ago, it was the site of one of a significant environmental battle, which led to the cancellation of the Tocks Island Dam project, although that occurred well after much of the land was cleared by the government through eminent domain. There remains a great deal of animosity in this community towards the government as a result.

There are hundreds of miles of abandoned roads and structures in the park, some stretching back to pre-revolutionary times. Unfortunately, many of these structures have been vandalized and are really deteriorated. Some of the these structures and sites in the park are national treasures. There are people who have given of their own time and energy to preserve them so we and future generations can experience them. People who do such things are really special.

This post is a shout out to all who give of themselves to sustain something for future generations. The park, which is my go to mental self-care destination, only exists because of the actions of environmentalists in the late 1960s. In my travels through the park, I have found some of the gems they fought to preserve. In recent weeks, I had two experiences of people who are still working to preserve our history in the park, I have thought of them often since those encounters.

One is the Walpack Cemetery, the ground where multiple revolutionary and war of 1812 veterans are buried. I found this link with detailed information on the site and its history, which goes back to the early 1700s. The native American name for this land is Pahaquilong, meaning “the place between the mountains beside the waters.” Land purchased nearly 300 years ago when it was a British colony. Descendants of the families, the Rosenkrans that lived on this land now preserve this cemetery and carry the oral history of their families from those times long ago. I would recommend reading the link. The cemetery is an amazing treasure. As I walked through it with a volunteer whose family lived here from those times recounted stories of his family, including sheltering local tribe members from storms in their kitchen nearly 300 years ago. It is incredible to think about the connections to this land that they have.

I know this as I was there in mid-July walking around the area when I encountered them maintaining the property, which is next to a historic ferry crossing pictured above. It was operated by the Rosenkrans family until a dive bomber plane practicing in WWII took out the guide cables for the ferry while doing practice runs in the river valley. Much of what was there 80 years ago, including the house that also served as the place to pay tolls is still there.

A few weeks later, I was a few miles north on Old Mine Road, one of the oldest continuously used roads in the nation at the Van Campen Inn. It was owned by the same family, the Rosenkrans before it was sold to the Van Campen’s. It is now a part of the park. Several regiments of the Continental army camped in front of the Inn on their way to the Battle of Trenton on the day after Christmas, 1776. John Adams was reported to have stayed here on his way to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The building is quite remote. It needs some help with peeling paint and some wood rot visible.

I ran across a man who had put a great deal of effort into preserving the structure. He has an incredible knowledge base about the building and its history. I mentioned the people who were preserving the Walpack cemetery and he personally knew them. It seemed apparent to me from the conversation and what I could see that the preservation of the area was something being driven by individuals with deep personal connections to the land and its rich history. In reflection, a lot of the history that has been preserved around us is primarily there because people dedicated their time and energy into ensuring it was around for future generations.

These people are our custodians of history. Keeping gravestones free of weeds, documenting what they find for the future, and putting pressure on the government to preserve buildings and historic sites. My guess is that nearly every place that has been saved has a history that includes people who stood up to ensure that they preserved for us. It requires consistent attention. It can be lost, a local case in point in my community is the now shuttered Liberty Bell Museum with this dead weblink. Gone forever. An event in history I am personally connected to now lost to future generations. We can discard our own history as we did in Allentown with the hiding of the Liberty Bell in that same era.

I am grateful for the custodians of our history. People interested in keeping the things alive to remind us of our heritage, so we can learn from it. They do our society a vital purpose.

What are you grateful for today?

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