Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pursuing John Insley Blair's Spirit: Blairstown, Hope, and White Township, New Jersey

Today my wife, Patricia, and I followed the Blair Trail as written about very thorougly in New Jersey Skylands Visitor magazine, beginning in Blairstown, following through Hope, passing the White Township Museum on CR 519, ending up near Belvidere, and back tracking to find the museum only open on the second Sundays of each month, among other hours, I think. John Insley Blair, 1802-1899, began his career in boyhood trapping muskrats and selling pelts. At 11, he was a store clerk, and he rose through many mercantile endeavors, achieving wealth and becoming a great NJ railroad magnate, pivotal for the nation's 19th century industrialization. Blairstown originally existed in 1760 as Smith's Mill, named after the hamlet's central feature, a grist mill just downstream of what is now the dam of Blair Lake. When J. I. Blair arrived in his late teens, it was called Butt's Bridge, with four homes and the mill; soon the name changed to Gravel Hill. To make a very long and amazing story short, the town became a thriving trading center largely through Blair's influence, and was named after him 175 years ago in 1889.

Blair Lake is private, by the way, and although you can enjoy the walkway, you have to turn back and not enter the area of private residences. I imagine some bass exist in the rather shallow water of good quality, and thought I sighted a very small largemouth in the creek. I was motivated not to fish today, but familiarize myself more with someone who made an enormous productive and financial achievement, influencing America's history more directly than he is famous for. We've often been to Blairstown. I once had the privilege of spending time in a campus auditorium at Blair Academy for a poetry festival. And we enjoy Mohican Outdoor Center and the Paulinskill River. We've eaten many meals at the Blairstown Inn, and often go to Dale Market. But today was different. The purpose was about as singular as the rails of J. I. Blair railroads were straight steel: get a little first hand familiarity with the spirit Blair left behind, just a little, but enough to feel better connected than reading can do, so long as a fair amount has been read in preparation, and we both read the magazine article with Highlands history in our background. Patricia once complained that it was a Sunday and the farmers market wasn't opened, but I appreciated Blairstown and Hope as just like ghost towns today and with the weather chilly. It left us all alone with this spirit we pursued.   
 Overlooks entrance to Blair Academy, grave yard to the right.

 There is a monument which resembles the Washington Memorial in miniature overlooking John Insley Blair's simple gravestone. The simple stone is symbolic of the simple, frugal life he led, always on target with his projects and not extravagant besides.
 After I paid my respects to John Blair, I photographed Patricia leaving the graveyard. The gate is almost immediately beyond the Blair Memorial.
 First Presbyterian Church (1840) and Dr. John C. Johnson House
 Blair Lake
 Arches with Waterworks to the right, insdie.
 First Hope Bank, Hope NJ
 Hope NJ
John Blair worked as a clerk in this building in 1813. He was 11. Hope, NJ.

For a more in-depth story, "The Blair Trail," access NJ Skylands Visitor by this link to the article:


  1. His story is satisfying. I wonder if he married?

    1. Don't recall if he did or not, but maybe the Skylands story tells.


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