Whitesbog Village

by Jessica Westerland/Editor | Jul 16, 2015
Whitesbog Village Whitesbog Village consists of a collection of buildings that are nestled in amongst the scenic cranberry bogs and blueberry fields that comprise this historic site in Pemberton Township.

The Whitesbog Preservation Trust is a non-profit organization that was created in 1982 to preserve Whitesbog. The Trust leases Whitesbog from the State of New Jersey in an innovative partnership agreement. “The mission of the Trust is to restore, protect and enhance the land, sites, and buildings at Whitesbog and to provide educational and interpretive programs and materials about the history, culture, and natural environment of Whitesbog.”

Whitesbog wasn’t always a cranberry and blueberry growing farm. It was formerly the site of the 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.” However it was the physical conditions produced by the iron industry that set the stage for cranberry cultivation in Whitesbog. The American cranberry grows naturally and extensively in swampy areas of the North American temperate zone, so the cranberry would thrive in the disturbed strip mined conditions in the Pinelands area.

Colonel James A. Fenwick realized the potential market for this crop, and purchased a 490-acre area which included the site of the former canal and canal pond that fed Hanover Furnace during its operation. He then proceeded to cultivate and prepare the land for cranberries.

By the 1860s, Colonel Fenwick's efforts proved successful and the cranberry boom began. Land that was originally thought to be without worth was now found capable of producing 30 to 60 barrels of cranberries worth about $10 each in American markets and $20 over in Europe.

The next part of the making of Whitesbog came when Elizabeth C. White became interested in the land around the cranberry bogs where there were wild blueberries growing. Blueberries are ready for harvest in July, whereas cranberries are harvested in September. This made the blueberries a perfect compliment. Around that time other New Jersey gardeners and farmers had tried to grow blueberry crops in their gardens and failed. Blueberries were deemed unable to be cultivated.

White 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. She realized the potential value of this work, and convinced her father, Colonel Fenwick, to support Dr. Coville's research. “White 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.

Five years later in 1916, the duo of Coville and White managed to cultivate and produce a blueberry crop ripe for sale. White coordinated and managed the labor intensive process of gathering the berries, which left Coville to apply his scientific knowledge and technique necessary to propagate and hybridize the 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.” This plan allowed her to find the best blueberry plants in the area and use them for Coville’s studies.

“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.” White's business savvy didn’t end here however, and in 1927 she helped organize the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association.

White 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 White became one of the first major growers to move to the bogs in 1923. Ms. White lived at “Suningive,” her home in Whitesbog Village, until her death in 1954. Her house is currently under renovation to become a museum.

If you visit Whitesbog, you can take a car or walking tour through the bogs and village, or step into the General Store and for refreshments, gifts and handicrafts. There are also events each month throughout the year that help visitors learn more about the area and history of Elizabeth White and Whitesbog. To check out the Village's calendar, click here and then on either of the two calendar options available on that page.

Sunday, July 26, don't miss their Living History Tour. Historic Whitesbog Village will come alive with workers and residents from the 1920s. Join them in their daily activities. Visit Suningive, the home of the “Blueberry Queen.” Interact with those who helped make the blueberry one of America’s favorite fruit.

Saturday, August 1 is their Volunteer Work Day. Have fun with friends working in the gardens, the General Store, repairing trails or working around the Village. Lunch is provided.

Whitesbog is located at mile marker 13 on County Route 530 in Browns Mills (Pemberton Township). For more information, call 609-893-4646, e-mail WhitesbogPreservationTrust@comcast.net or go to whitesbog.org.


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Author: Jessica Westerland/Editor


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