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Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Blogs First Birthday and Cranberries Revisited

Today marks a milestone here at the Blog. It was a year ago on Thanksgiving day that the Bass River Township History Blog was born. It was, in a way, a serendipitous happenstance, as it was never planned. I had no intention of starting a blog.

Jackie and I were at Jackie's sister Jean's home in Charlottesville, Virginia for the Thanksgiving holiday. Our niece, Catherine, and her dog, Jack, had just moved into a rustic cottage in the mountains outside of Charlottesville.

My niece, Catherine's, cabin outside Charlottesville, Va. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Boston.)

Nestled in a wooded mountain slope, there was a beautiful view from the cabin overlooking a beaver pond. A wide variety of birds and animals provided an almost endless parade of interesting observations and experiences.

The beaver pond was a stone's throw, just down the hill, from the cabin. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Boston.)

The beaver left their calling call on trees surrounding the pond. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Boston.)

Jack after a hard day of patrolling the beaver pond. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Boston.)

Catherine mentioned that she planned to start a journal of her wintertime experiences in her new woodland home. It put me in mind of Thoreau's journal, “Walden”, which chronicled his experiences living in the woods by Walden pond. I suggested, in passing, that she should consider writing a blog for her journal. That way she could share her experiences with the family as she chronicled her daily activities around her modern day Walden pond.

Little did I realized that my blog suggestion would result in the birth of the Bass River Township History Blog. Catherine had not heard of a blog and asked me to explain how they worked. I knew what a blog was but had no idea as to where or how to start one. That evening, I logged onto Jackie's sister's computer and Googled “How to start a blog”. After reading a few web pages on establishing a blog, I soon realized that I would have to go through the process of teaching myself to set up a blog in order to teach my niece, Catherine, how to start her own blog.

Rather than randomly choosing a theme for my blog, I asked myself if I were to actually write a blog what type of blog would it be. The first thought that came into my mind was a Bass River History blog. It was something I was interested in, knew something about, and had a lot of photos that could be included. It was a natural!

Surfing the net, I found a good home for a blog, Google's Blogspot, and taught myself how to design, write, and maintain a blog, so that I could explain it to Catherine. My first blog entry was short and had a Thanksgiving theme featuring Ry “Piper” Allen and his New Gretna cranberry bog. The next day it was published on the net, so that I could show it to Catherine. Little did I realize that the Bass River History Blog was being birthed, nor did I have any idea that it would be around for an entire year.

Well, here I am in Charlottesville for another Thanksgiving, writing the first anniversary edition of the blog, and what subject would be more fitting than cranberries which were featured on the first blog. Last Monday's blog with Tom Doherty's cranberry picking video actually began the cranberry theme which will be continued today.

When I think of cranberries I can't help thinking about another adventure involving my good friend, Murray Harris. You might remember Murray from previous blog adventures involving picking peaches and an exciting expedition to ancient graves at Clark's Landing. You can refresh your memory regarding these two adventures by clicking on the two links below.

Peaches -

Clark's Landing -

Murray is always looking for adventures that usually involve unique ways of doing things that most people would not think of or actually consider doing. Procuring cranberries for the traditional Thanksgiving meal is an excellent example. Most of us would stop by our local super market to buy a can of prepared cranberry sauce or a package of cranberries to make our own sauce. Not Murray! That's too simple and not exciting enough for him.

Each fall Murray would tie his canoe to the roof of his car and journey through the pines to Batsto where he would put his canoe in a tributary of the Batsto River and hand pick wild cranberries along it's banks. We might have difficulty finding the elusive red berries, but Murray clearly knew the right locations, as he would return, year after year, with a couple of buckets of the tart treats.

My father loved cranberries and enjoyed making a variety of home made jams and jellies. When I told him about Murray's annual fall cranberry expeditions into the pine barrens, my dad's lips started smacking just thinking about a fresh batch of home made cranberry jelly and relish. He got in touch with Murray and the two planned a joint cranberry picking expedition. I remember hearing about my dad's cranberry recipe plans for weeks, as the day of the expedition approached. It would be a day to remember in the Stemmer household for years to come.

My dad arrived at Murray's house in New Gretna with a five gallon sheet rock bucket to hold the red treasures. I'm sure my dad was thinking that it was like being taken on a hunting trip by Daniel Boone with your prey clearly guaranteed. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel. He was, likely, wondering if one bucket would be enough. Murray had already tied the canoe on the car, and they soon set out for the Batsto River where Murray would show my dad his “secret” cranberry locations.

I don't remember the exact details of their trip, but I clearly remember asking my dad how many cranberries they picked. “Three”, my father answered. “Wow, three buckets!”, I replied. “No, three cranberries!”, my dad exclaimed. Seems, it was a disastrous year for cranberries. Somehow, I couldn't help laughing. My dad's expectations were like a kid's at Christmas, and Murray was the Daniel Boone of cranberries. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for those of you who know Murray, anything could go wrong at any time and usually does. It's his great charm! It is a part of his very being . . . and it just happened to surface at a Thanksgiving season when, unfortunately for my father, cranberry expectations were running high. When my dad got back from the great cranberry expedition, he looked like the kid who got coal in his Christmas stocking. I still laugh thinking about it.

I thought I would end this Thanksgiving's Blog, as the blog started – with some photos involving cranberry harvesting. The first Blog's cranberry photos featured Ry Allen. This year's cranberry photos feature my friend, Howard Ware, who is mentioned on the Blog from time to time. Howard worked at the Lee Brothers cranberry bogs for many years, helping with their construction as well as helping with the annual cranberry harvests. I'm thankful that Howard has shared the photos with me.

Howard worked at cranberry harvest time in the Lee Brothers fields in Chatsworth, NJ for a few years. The photos below were taken in the late 1980's when Howard was in his late 70's.

A machine beats the cranberries apart from the plants. The berries rise to the surface creating a red sea of cranberries throughout the bog. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

The Lee Brothers bogs in Chatsworth, NJ are a sea of red during cranberry harvesting season. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

Howard (center) wearing waders, raking cranberries at the Lees bogs in Chatsworth. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

Closeup of Howard "pushin the berries". (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

Howard (center) pushing the cranberries toward the conveyor system that loads the berries on waiting trucks. It's a far cry from the hand picking of cranberries at the time that Ry Allen harvested cranberries in his New Gretna bogs featured in the first Blog entry. (Photo courtesy of Howard ware.)

The cranberries are corralled by a yellow collar similar to those used to contain an oil slick, pulling them toward a conveyor belt which lifts them onto a waiting truck. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

Howard also helped with the construction of the Lee Brothers cranberry bogs which were constructed on the site of their blueberry fields in Charsworth, NJ.

Howard (right) helped to lay out and set the sprinker system in the Lee Brothers cranberry bogs. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

Howard setting a sprinkler head in the new Lee Brother's bog in Chatsworth. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

Howard (left) helping to join piping from the irrigation system by an earthen dike used to contain the water in the cranberry fields. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

Most things regarding the bogs have been mechanized, including the setting of the cranberry plants which was done by a tractor pulling a group of men who hand fed the plants into a mechanism that placed them in the sandy soil. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

The crew takes cranberry plants from a flat and places them in a wheeled contraption that plants them in the sandy soil. Howard is seated in the center of the first row. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

A closeup of Howard planting cranberry plants on the back of a specially built rig pulled by the tractor. (Photo courtesy of Howard Ware.)

I hope you all enjoyed our little foray into the evolution of the Blog, my father and Murray's cranberry adventure, and a visit with Howard Ware at the Lee Brothers cranberry bogs in Chatsworth. Hopefully, you learned something about cranberries and got a few laughs along the way.

Pete S

PS- Today's Blog entry was extra long, so the next entry will be Wednesday, December 2nd. I need a few extra days to catch my breath.


  1. My stepfather worked one season harvesting cranberries in the area but the bog was not anywhere near as large as what you show. Of course, that was in 1946 or 7. The fact that I still remember it means that to see the berries being harvested from the water was quite impressive to my young mind.
    Beverly Mathis Robinson