By Lauren Wanko
Tucked in the trees of Wharton State Forest lies the historic Batsto Village.
“People kind of think there’s nothing in the Pine Barrens and that’s not really true,” according to Michelle Hughes, a resource interpretative specialist at the New Jersey State Park Service.
Evidence of a once thriving company town and wealthy business owners remain today with more than 40 buildings still standing. This story began in 1766, the village was known as Batsto Iron Works, it later evolved into a glass making community. Workers lived in small homes, which cost about two dollars a month to rent in the 1880s. The village had everything workers needed, like a blacksmith shop, sawmill, ice house, post office and general store. According to Hughes, this where workers had to shop.
“They’re getting paid in company script, they’re getting paid in money they could only use at the store,” she said.
In the 1870s, Philadelphia businessman Joseph Wharton purchased the property and focused on agricultural and forestry endeavors. He also spent $40,000 to renovate the mansion on the land. It became his family’s third home and they only spent six to eight weeks a year there. Behind the scenes his many servants cared for the house and family.
“People are interested in that. And first they kind of think of it as ‘Downton Abbey’ even though it’s a little later than this, but it’s relatable to them,” said Hughes.
There was a call bell chimed to get the servants attention.
“As you are in any family room in the house they’re going to be a call bell, a little circular thing you turn, that is connected through wires on the wall, not electric wires just pull wires to a bell in the service areas and that’s going to let the servant know you need them in whatever room you’re in,” said Hughes.
Not every guest who knocked on the door here at Batsto Mansion was received. The entryway was considered a waiting room of sorts. Upper call guest would give their calling card to the servant. The servant would then give that card to the servants and they would decide whether or not visitors were farther into the house. Fortunately, today visitors don’t need calling cards to visit the mansion.
The state purchased the property in the 1950s. Now it’s open to the public.
“I kind of think something to think about here that is kind of humbling to me is its natural resources that brought people out here to begin with,” said Hughes, “and now its natural resources that’s bringing people out again today but for recreational purposes instead of business.”
And also for a history lesson that dates back 250 years.