The Deserted Village of Feltville is a historic jewel tucked away in Union County’s Watchung Reservation. Earlier this month it received a polish from a hardworking group of volunteers organized by the Linde Group of Berkeley Heights.

“It is truly inspiring to see local businesses and residents give their time and energy to help preserve one of Union County’s most unique and cherished historic landmarks,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Mohammed Jalloh. “The Linde Group has set a wonderful example of community service.”

As participants in Union County’s Adopt-A-Park program, the Linde Group volunteers came to the Deserted Village of Feltville on Friday, July 17. With the help of Union County staff, they cleaned floors, roofs and gutters at the church/general store, planted a wildflower meadow to control erosion, removed invasive plants, cleared weeds, and installed split rail fencing.

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Located within Union County’s Watchung Reservation, the Deserted Village still retains 10 of its 22 original wood frame buildings, including the church/store and a former carriage house called Masker’s Barn.

Its origins have been traced to 1736, when Peter Willcocks built a sawmill along the Blue Brook to produce lumber for farmers settling the frontier in the area of present-day Berkeley Heights and New Providence.

New York businessman David Felt bought the site in 1845, in order to expand his printing and book finishing business. He built a town for his workers and named it Feltville.

By 1850, the population of Feltville had grown to 175 people and business was booming. But David Felt retired in 1860 and sold his property. Six other businesses were tried at the site over the next 20 years. As all of them failed, the residents of Feltville moved away and the former mill town earned the title, “Deserted Village.”

In 1882, Warren Ackerman bought the property and converted it to a summer resort that he called Glenside Park.  The resort was popular for more than three decades. It closed in 1916 after vacationers, enabled by the invention of the automobile, discovered a new summer spot called the Jersey Shore. 

A new era for the Deserted Village began in 1921, when the Union County Park Commission was established to form one of the first county park systems in the entire nation.  Glenside Park was purchased for inclusion into the Watchung Reservation, which became one of the first parks in the new Union County Park System.

Today the Deserted Village is the scene of guided tours and other history programs, educational and cultural activities, and the County’s annual “Haunted Hayride” event.

Several buildings have been restored with the help of Union County and State historic preservation grants. The Church/Store is open as a Visitor Center from noon to 5 p.m. on most Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Masker’s Barn was fully renovated in 2011.  It is used for lectures, meetings and public programs, and is also available for private events such as birthday parties, bridal and baby showers, and weddings.

Directions and more historical details about the Deserted Village are available on the Union County website at ucnj.org/dv.

For information about booking an event at Masker’s Barn, visit the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation online at ucnj.org/dv or call 908-654-9805.

Individuals as well as school, community, and corporate groups can find out more about Union County’s Adopt-A-Park Program by calling Parks and Recreation at 908-789-3683 or by visiting ucnj.org.

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Photo credit (all photos): Betty Ann Kelly/County of Union.