•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Comes to Peters Valley

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Yes, live people! That would not be the case further down the valley as I began my explorations. The valley runs north-south. I followed the road south. The main street of Walpack crosses the valley at its midpoint. My road was elevated, so I saw Walpack on the valley floor before I reached it. It was gleaming in what was left of morning light, a steeple and a bell cupola at the end of a tree-lined row of tidy buildings. The setting was beautiful. To the north and south of the town there are fields and swampland, and with the rolling eastern slope of the valley as a background and everything dressed in early spring color, I tried several times to make a picture, but the town never quite showed up in the images.

The post office was at the intersection of the valley road and Main Street, and I turned to explore Walpack. Main Street is lined with old trees and houses. Many have big front porches that mediate private and public space. Lawns are all mowed as if the the whole town shared a common lawn, and there are curtains and shades on many windows but no cars in front of the houses or furniture on the porches. Walpack is a ghost town. A historical marker in front of the old meeting house tells me that the township was formed in 1731. It tells me that once there were ferries operating between "Walpack Bend" and Pennsylvania. It also tells me that Anna Symmes, the mother-in-law of President William Henry Harrison, "is buried in the old Shapanack Cemetery."

I found that cemetery later on. It was not so much a cemetery as a spot in the woods with three surviving, readable stones and the stumps of perhaps twenty others buried under leaves, the markers long gone. The amazing thing is that although the residents of Walpack had been gone for decades, the town cemetery remains fully manicured and tended. I came on it a minute or two after leaving Walpack Center where Main Street dives back into the woods, zigs, zags, and crosses a one-lane iron bridge. There, in the middle of nowhere is a crossroad, and the town cemetery is on one corner. It's residents once filled the seats at the empty town meeting house I'd just passed. The cemetery has easily several hundred graves with the names of families who lived in Walpack from 1700's on to the present, only nobody lives in Walpack now.

...to be continued