New Jersey/ Pennsylvania: Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Old Mine Road
Old Mine Road

Courtesy of National Park Service

Established for its natural beauty and recreational value, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area also contains within its boundaries a diverse variety of historic places. The park encompasses American Indian archeological sites, European colonial structures, and the remains of rural villages from the 18th and 19th centuries. Visitors to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area can enjoy exploring these culturally diverse destinations, many of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Minisink Archeological Site, also known as the Minisink Historic District, is a National Historic Landmark. This historic district covers more than 1,320 acres of land extending to both banks of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and to Minisink Island, one of the largest islands in the river. Minisink was the most important settlement of the Munsee, who lived in the Middle and Upper Delaware Valley for much of the 17th and 18th centuries. The district is one of the most extensive, best preserved, and most intensively studied archeological locales in the Northeast. Excavations have uncovered information about Munsee burials and diet, and artifacts such as a copper kettle, a silver spoon, and thimbles that illustrate contact between American Indians and Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. Throughout this period, colonists traded many goods with the Indians including brass kettles, iron axe-heads, and cloth, in return for animal pelts. Visitors to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area can hike the Minisink Historic District while on the Joseph M. McDade Recreational Trail, or take a canoe or kayak to Minisink Island to walk around.

By the mid 1600s, Europeans began to explore and settle the Delaware River Valley. One of the ways in which Europeans traversed the area was by following the Old Mine Road. The Old Mine Road, which visitors can still travel on today, was originally an Indian trail. The trail connected the Hudson River, Port Jervis, and Philadelphia areas, and eventually provided European and American settlers with an important route for trading goods and crops. As one of the first commercial highways in the United States, the Old Mine Road played a significant role in the development of the region, as did another Indian trail on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, named the River Road. The River Road linked the Philadelphia area to where Bethlehem, Nazareth, Stroudsburg, and Shawnee-on-Delaware are today. These roads played a pivotal role in the development of the region. The Old Mine Road, for example, very likely played an important role in the early mining activities of the area.

While the evidence is in dispute, some local historians credit the Dutch with first mining in the area. The claim is that the first Europeans to the area were the Dutch, who came as early as 1626 in search of copper and other valuable minerals, and traded manufactured goods for fur pelts with the American Indians. The area known as the Pahaquarry Copper Mines contains the historic remains of mining activities, and the surrounding area is open for visitor hiking. While the history of the Pahaquarry Copper Mines area and the Old Mine Road is not absolutely clear, these areas are unquestionably historically significant. Visitors to the Delaware Water Gap can take the self-guided auto tour, “A Ride Down Old Mine Road,” to explore this scenic New Jersey side of the park.

As the European population in the area grew and communities became more settled, families such as the Rosenkrans and Van Campens constructed permanent stone houses, while others like the Dingmans established ferries to assist settlers in transporting much needed supplies, cattle, and crops across the Delaware River. Visitors can view the Isaac Van Campen Inn, a colonial stone farmhouse constructed around 1746, from an unpaved portion of the Old Mine Road or take tours of the inn on Sundays during the summer. The building, which never served as an inn in the commercial sense, often housed travelers according to the colonial law, which dictated that houses along major roadways in isolated areas had to provide a rest stop for travelers. The inn also provided settlers with protection against American Indian attacks during the French and Indian War and often served as officers’ quarters during the American Revolution. 

Holdings of the Van Campen Inn’s size – large homes with 700 to 1,000 acres- required considerable labor, which enslaved African Americans often provided. Isaac Van Campen owned eight slaves, which he freed upon his death. Near Van Campen Inn is a small flat plot of land known as the “Slave” Cemetery. While no one knows for sure whose graves these are, archeologists and researchers speculate that the cemetery contains the remains of the slaves of Van Campen and the next property owner, John Dewitt; and of three free African Americans. While this is a likely assumption, additional research is necessary to substantiate the claim. The cemetery is in the woods near the inn and close to the Military Trail.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area also contains the remains of several once thriving rural villages from the 18th and 19th centuries such as Millbrook Village and Walpack Center. Around 1832, Abraham Garis built a gristmill along Van Campen Brook, which sparked the establishment of Millbrook Village. Farmers in the area brought their grain to Garis’ mill, which eventually attracted others to set up businesses nearby and form a community. By the 1870s, Millbrook had 75 inhabitants and 19 buildings including a general store, a church, a school, a blacksmith, a cooper, a post office, and a boarding house that served “spirits.” Prompted by the industrial revolution and competition from western farms that sparked an economic depression and population decrease in the village, the mill in Millbrook closed by 1900; soon after other businesses in the town closed as well.

Today, Millbrook Village contains a few of its original buildings and other historic buildings that were moved to the village from different locations throughout the valley. Together, these buildings depict village life in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Original buildings, including the Lester Spangenburg Cabin, the George Trauger House and Barn, the hotel, the Sylvester Hill House, the Elias Garis House and Barn, and the school, are open to visitors in the summer and on other special days of the year. Volunteer craftspeople in period costumes demonstrate skills from this time period.

Walpack Center flourished during the mid-19th century and supplied neighboring farmers with the goods and services they were unable to provide for themselves. Situated in a landscape that is almost unaltered since the 19th century, the single short street of the village is flanked by a church, an old schoolhouse, a country store, and six small plain white frame houses. The Walpack Historical Society maintains an office and a small museum in the post office. The village's Main Street intersects NPS Rt. 615, which is about four miles south of Peters Valley New Jersey. 

Villages that are nestled in the fertile Flat Brook Valley, such as Walpack Center, Peters Valley (or Bevans), and Flatbrookville, provided farmers with blacksmith shops, churches, schools, general stores, and post offices. During the industrial revolution, the population of the Delaware Valley dwindled as the residents moved to the cities to find jobs. By the late 1800s, the advent of the railroad and eventually the car further transformed the region into a tourist and recreation destination. Hotels and boarding houses opened to provide New York City and Philadelphia residents with a place to stay while they hunted, fished, and admired nature. Visitors can stop by the Delaware View House, which is now a general store, on the Old Mine Road about .6 miles from Flatbrookville, New Jersey. This building served as a boarding house during the early 1900s and later as the Flatbrookville Hotel. 

In the 1960’s, the proposed dam and reservoir at Tock’s Island threatened the preservation of the historic Delaware Valley. Before the abandonment of the project in 1978, the valley lost several thousand dwellings to demolition and thousands of people relocated. The proposed dam did stimulate interest and research into the history and archeology of the Delaware Valley, and prompted archeologists and historians to study the area and recover data that would have been lost by the construction of the dam and reservoir. Today, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area protects the majestic beauty of the mountains and valleys of the Delaware River Valley; the quiet roads and trails; and the sites that echo the stories of American Indians, Europeans, African Americans, and American settlers.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park System, is in Northwestern NJ and Northeastern PA, along 40 miles of the Delaware River. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places files: Old Mine Road Historic District: text and photos and Walpack Center Historic District text and photos. Park grounds, trails, roadways, and the Delaware River are open 24 hours a day year round. The Park Headquarters information desk in Bushkill, PA is open Monday to Friday from 8:00 am until 4:30pm. The other visitor centers, Kittatinny Point Visitor Center NJDingmans Falls and Visitor Center PA, and Millbrook Village NJ, have varied hours. For more information, visit the National Park Service Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area website or call 570-426-2451.

Places throughout the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Colonial National Historical Park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey; including those in New Jersey (see Sussex and Warren Counties), and in Pennsylvania (see Monroe and Pike Counties). The National Park Service’s Archeology Program has also documented sites throughout the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Last updated: August 7, 2017