The Mystery of Honey Hollow / Richard Hunter

Honey Hollow study, Hunter Research

On Sunday, June 9, 2019, Richard Hunter of Hunter Research presented a talk on “The Mystery of Honey Hollow,” sponsored by the Pennington Public Library, Hopewell Museum, and Hopewell Valley Historical Society.

Of course, to understand the mystery, you need to know a bit about the storied area of Honey Hollow, and its part of the larger densely wooded landscape of Baldpate Mountain.

Baldpate Mountain, along the Delaware River and north of Washington Crossing State Park near Titusville, New Jersey, has Hopewell Township’s largest contiguous forest and contains the highest point in Mercer County. Most of the land was preserved as open space in 1998 by a consortium of Mercer County, the State of New Jersey, Hopewell Township, and Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space.

The Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain now stretches approximately 1,200 acres on a ridge running roughly east-west. It offers some of the most challenging hikes in Mercer County, with 12 miles of hiking trails up to a 400 foot elevation (with view of the Philadelphia skyline on a clear day).

However, the history  of  the  Honey  Hollow  vicinity  remained  shrouded  in  mystery, particualrly due to the colorful  and  mischievous writings of New Jersey folklorist Henry Charlton  Beck, in his book Fare to Midlands: Forgotten Towns of Central New Jersey (1939; reprinted as The Jersey Midlands).

To clarify this situation, Hunter Research performed a year-long study for Mercer County exploring historical, geographical and archaeological aspects of Honey Hollow through research into primary documents, field survey and oral history. It covers the history of Honey Hollow from colonial to current times, and explores the visible and hidden elements in the current landscape.

A particular interest of the study was the extent of historic black settlement in the Honey Hollow area, since the mid-20th-century myth was that it was a major focus of free black settlement in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Instead, the study concluded that, contrary to the writings of Beck, while a few black families can be documented living in or near to Honey Hollow for brief periods in the mid-19th century, there was no particular focus of African-African settlement in there.

The 226-page study report is available to read and enjoy. It also contains a plethora of helpfully annotated maps (new and historical), photographs exploring the current terrain, extensive extracts from Beck’s writing (with additional photos from other editions), plus data-packed appendices tracking land ownership, farmsteads, slave ownership, and census records.

Thanks to Richard Hunter, we now know the precisely where Honey Hollow was situated, and who lived there and when. The study also identifies archaeological elements for possible preservation, ranging from ruins of farmsteads, sawmill and blacksmith shops, and church and cemetery, to abandoned roadways, roads, and “a crazy quilt of lanes, trails and field boundaries.”

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