By Lauren Wanko
The wooden conveyor still hums in this early 20th century cranberry sorting and packing house.
“The building that we’re in is one of, if not the last surviving buildings in the state of New Jersey with its original machinery in place,” said Double Trouble State Park Historian Andrew Anderson.
It’s nestled in Double Trouble State Park, which encompasses more than 8,500 acres in the northeastern section of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The cranberry packing house, along with a dozen other buildings and inactive cranberry bogs, are part of the Double Trouble Historic Village.
“One of our mottos is that we are a window into the Pinelands industries,” Anderson said.
There was a sawmill on the property in the mid 1700s says Anderson.
“They would go out into the swamps, harvest the Atlantic White Cedar, load them onto horse drawn carriages. Bring them to the sawmill, they would be cut, milled, made into dimensional lumbers like two by fours, then shipped from here up to the seaport in Toms River,” he said.
By the mid 1800s, Double Trouble Village had two sawmills employing about 2,400 people.
It took between 50 and 100 years for a cedar to grow to the point where it could be cut down and milled into things like siding, says Anderson, so by the mid 1860s, the owners decided to convert the cedar swamps into cranberry bogs in order to make a yearly profit.
Cranberries were initially hand picked by migrant workers. Boxes would be brought to the packing house. The berries would be unloaded into a machine, which was designed to separate the good berries from the bad berries.
“Good berries bounce, where bad berries don’t,” Anderson said.
The good berries would bounce down the machine onto wooden conveyors into the next room where women would hand sort the cranberries just to be certain bad berries didn’t sneak through the machine. Then the fruit was pushed into boxes for the market or up the conveyor to be stored. As the industry expanded, growers looked for ways to harvest the cranberries at a faster pace, says Anderson.
“Which is why in the early 1900s they came up with the cranberry scoop, which is a wooden box with metal tines and that would be raked through the vines and the cranberries would be plucked off the vines,” he said.
Although these sorting and packing methods are a thing of the past, Double Trouble’s bogs can still be leased by growers today.