The Deserted Village and Enchanted Forest of the Watchung Reservation
There is a place deep in the woods of the Watchung Reservation that is officially known as the Feltville Historic District. Here, down a narrow winding road that leads into the forest you will find a cluster of houses dating back to the mid-19th century, several of which are now long abandoned. The site is known locally as the “Deserted Village,” and he has a many–storied history of promise, failure and even hauntings.
There is a place deep in the woods of the Watchung Reservation area in Union County that is officially known as the Feltville Historic District. Here, down a narrow winding road that leads into the forest of the town of Berkeley Heights you will find a cluster of houses dating back to the mid-19th century, several of which are now long abandoned. The site is known locally as the “Deserted Village,” and he has a many–storied history of promise, failure and even hauntings.
The first settler of this area was a man named Peter Willcocks, an Englishman who moved here from Long Island about 1736, and operated a sawmill here. You can find his grave in a small, secluded graveyard in the woods atop a high bluff. The next person to try to make a go of the area was David Felt, a businessman originally from Boston, who relocated to New York City in 1825. He purchased the Union County land from the descendants of Peter Willocks in 1844, and built a mill on Blue Brook, two dams for the mill, and a little town, which he dubbed “Feltville,” for the workers in the mill to live in. Felt sold the property after fifteen years, and after several successive business ventures failed to revive the community, the place became known as the “Deserted Village.”
In 1882, the Deserted Village was bought by Warren Ackerman, who transformed it to a summer resort called Glenside Park. This business too soon failed though, and the place was once again abandoned. The Union Country Park Commission eventually purchased the property and included it as part of the Watchung Reservation, renting the houses to families in need. Today only three families remain as permanent residents at the Deserted Village, while the remainder of the site is open to visitors who wish to learn its history or to simply enjoy the natural surroundings. As with any spooky looking old abandoned houses, there are ghosts stories told of the former homes in Feltville. One tale tells of three ghosts living in the house located at the outer fringe of the enclave. The story is said to have originated around 1912, when three young sisters all went camping deep in the woods, but did not return. Locals were only able to find their bonnets, and the fears of the people caused almost half of the residents to move away from the village. Those that remained never let their children go deep in the woods again without supervision.
Other rumors about the area involve the stories of Satanists and witch covens that practice their rituals in the dark woods surrounding the Deserted Village. It is an area known locally as the “Enchanted Forest.” Weird NJ readers have shared many a story with us over the years about their personal experiences in these mysterious environs. “The Enchanted Forest was a constant theme of conversation when I was growing up,” a reader named David Gaut told us. “It was widely rumored that there was a coven of witches that would meet when the moon was full and they would do whatever it is that witches do.”
Others have told us about a certain sense of dread that comes over them while walking through the village and forests of Feltville. Brad Maloney, another Weird NJ reader, remembers, “I knew a family that lived there for a period and they said it was haunted as hell in that reservation. I have experienced bouts of ‘Get me the hell out of here,’ for lack of a better term. On separate occasions I have sensed strange temperature fluctuations that are almost always followed by an immediate urge to get away from that place. Sometimes five feet will do the trick, but other times the feeling doesn’t leave until I’m in my car and well on my way home. I have felt this sensation with others present, and it’s a collective consciousness kind of thing.”
Melanie Quintanilla, a local resident, recalls, “Over the years, growing up in Scotch Plains, which is a town at the foothills of the Watchung Mountains, many stories filtered down about Satanic rituals that occurred up in the mountains. You know, the usual story of crazy teenagers getting into black magic and stuff. But we’d ignore those stories and still cruised around the mountains at night to spook ourselves out. On one occasion I was driving around the mountains with my sister and a good friend. As we were leisurely cruising around, we saw flames in the distance as we were rounding about a curve in the road. The cops and fire department were streaming in, and as we rolled by the flames, we noticed that this wasn’t any ordinary fire. It was a perfectly designed circle with a Pagan star in the middle. It was the creepiest thing. I am not sure if any of this weird stuff still goes on in the mountains, but I would be curious to see if there are any other tales about this area.”
Remembering “King David” and the Deserted Village
Having grown up in Scotch Plains, I am familiar with a local spot known as the Deserted Village. I remember it being a neat place to explore in its deserted state – you got that cool feeling of “I’m not supposed to be here,” as you walked the overgrown streets and exploredthe old village. You could look through the windows of one cottage and see the Mexican murals painted in the 1920’s. There is a little family graveyard in the woods that contains the tombstone of the first white settler, John Willcocks, who died in 1776. When I was going up there in the seventies and eighties there were a lot of squatters in the cottages and, of course, teens went up there to party. There are lots of tales of Satanic cult rituals taking place and tales of witch covens practicing in the woods. I have seen some strange rock placements and old campfires on hikes that were disturbing and I never went up in the dark.
The Village was built by David Felt in 1845 to provide homes for the workers of his paper mill in the village. Also known as “King David,” he built thirteen double dwellings, two dormitories (one for women, one for men), a combination church and general store, a barn, and a blacksmith shop. David Felt also erected himself a large manor house to oversee his village.
King David was said to be a cold, reserved man who ruled with methodical strictness. All the people (the population of the village in 1850 was 174) had to trade and buy from his
village store. Work went on six days a week and on the seventh day all the villagers HAD to go to church. A bell at the manor house would ring at seven in the morning for work, at noon for lunch, at the end of the work day, and at nine at night when the people had to be in! I think that was a weird way to live––almost like a serf to a medieval ruler.
The village was kept in perfectly manicured condition by King David’s decree and village farms provided the food. Life went on like this from 1845 until 1860 when David Felt retired to New York and sold the village. He was overheard to say on his departure “Well, King David is dead, and the village will go to hell”––and it did, after several owners tried to make a go of it. By as early as 1882 it had fallen into a state of melancholy ruin, and had become known as the Deserted Village. The village was revived as a summer retreat for wealthy people at the turn of the century. It was at this time that the Adirondack style porches and copulas were added on to the original Spartan architecture envisioned by Felt.
In 1916 the Union County Parks Commission purchased the village and rented the homes to families that had lost their own due to the hard times. It is one of my best memories of NJ. –Karen Sykas
Throughout the rest of the Twentieth Century the Deserted Village would go through alternating periods of habitation and abandonment. In 1980 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though many of the main structures are no longer standing, such as the mill, the Felt Mansion, the dormitories, and the school, the County maintains an ongoing preservation effort aimed to show visitors how the inhabitants of Feltville-Glenside Park once lived. It is currently partially occupied by people who rent the houses from the County and promise to restore and maintain them. There is a very long waiting list of people who would still like to live in this failed Utopian community.
Deserted Village Creeped Me Out!
I got a pretty creepy feeling back there. First off, the people that live there don’t seem all that friendly. There was nothing to indicate that they were even alive in those houses––just your basic stuff hanging around and a car in the front yard. At one of the houses on the side street, the one with the big deck on the back, you could hear things scuffling across the floor and floorboards creaking inside. Could have just been the wind, but enough to send a chill down my spine. I swear I saw a shadow in one of the windows too. Might have been something inside causing it to look like it did though. Again, just enough to send chills and I booked outta there. –Jrzybabygurl
Rituals of the Witches’ Forest
Back in 1986 when I was in high school, three friends and I were hanging out at the Friendly’s in Mountainside. It was a Saturday night, and we were bored out of our minds. So my one friend Chris said, “Hey lets go to the (Watchung) Reservation,” so we said ok. All but one of the four of us had heard the rumors about the Reservation; you know the supposed Devil worshippers that hang out there, but none of us really believed it. Anyway we got up there and parked the cars next to what we called the Magic Forest. Beyond the Magic Forest was what was called the Witches’ Forest. I have no idea how these sections of the woods were given these titles. We got out of the car, and Chris, who knew his way very well around these woods, guided us towards the Magic Forest.
We walked a few feet into the woods (which were pitch black), when we noticed lights flickering between the trees deeper in the woods (the Witches’ Forest). At first we thought it was a bunch of kids partying, until we heard the wailing. We heard what sounded like the most unearthly moan or wail from a woman. We were so scared by this, that we all grabbed hands and ran very fast out of the woods to our cars. I will never forget how scared I was. I could literally feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We all believe that whatever that was up there was not a bunch of kids partying.
Another story I heard had come from a classmate of mine, who happened to be an Eagle Scout. He and some of the other scouts were hiking up in the reservations one day, when they came across a stone alter-like structure, which had what he believed to be bloodstains. –T2ee
The Leaper, the Ritual House, and the Flaming Pentagram
In the Watchung Reservation there are a series of trails which all lead in one way or another to Surprise Lake, which lies within the mountains. My sister, her dog, and a good friend of mine decided to take a nice stroll up in the woods in an area known as the “Magic Forest.” It was a pretty normal day in the early spring and everything was really muddy and slippery up there. We were taking our time to watch where we were walking so that we wouldn’t get our shoes stuck in the mud. As we were walking along, the dog’s ears perked up and he started barking like mad. Of course the three of us saw nothing and continued to walk on. The trail leads down to the lake where you have two steep inclines on either side of you. They are not good walking grounds. Out of nowhere we saw this man running along the steep incline and he proceeded to speed down the mountain at an incredible speed and leap across the path to the other side of the mountain. This was totally weird. The dog was still barking and we had all stopped in our paths because the distance this man jumped was impossible and the fact of the matter was, he never stopped running. He kept on going, leaping along the way.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, we continued with our walk and couldn’t get the dog to calm down or the image of the strange man leaping across the mountain out of our minds. Somehow we got to a trail which none of us had ever been down before. We decided to take it, because it is pretty difficult to get lost up there, since you usually end up back at Surprise Lake and from there you can get your bearings. As we walked on, the dog, which had calmed down again, went completely berserk. Ahead of us was an old red barn-like building, which was way past its prime and had scorch marks around its window frames. As we all got closer, we realized that squatters were probably living in it or had been living in it, because there were remains of garbage and clothes everywhere. The weirdest part about it was the animal pens, which were all empty, and were on both sides of the building. There were no animals, but there were what looked like blood trails all over the dried up grass. There were also burnt candles placed in a circular pattern in the animal pens.
We decided to high tail it out of there. We just had this very unwelcoming feeling. I have never been back there. Over the years though, from growing up in Scotch Plains, which is a town at the foothills of the Watchung Mountains, many stories filtered down about Satanic rituals that occurred up in the mountains. You know, the usual story of crazy teenagers getting into black magic and stuff. But we’d ignore those stories and still cruised around the mountains at night to spook ourselves out. On one occasion about 8 years ago, I was driving around the mountains with my sister and a good friend. As we were leisurely cruising around, we saw flames in the distance as we were rounding about a curve in the road. The cops and fire department were streaming in, and as we rolled by the flames, we noticed that this wasn’t any ordinary fire. It was a perfectly designed circle with a Pagan star in the middle. It was the creepiest thing. I am not sure if any of this weird stuff still goes on in the mountains, but I would be curious to see if there are any other tales about this area. –Melanie Quintanilla
The EnCHANTed Forest
The enchanted forest was a constant theme of conversation when I was growing up. It was widely rumored that there was a coven of witches that would meet when the moon was full and they would do whatever it is that witches do. I was never really bothered by the witches story because from what I understand they are just religious people who give praise to the earth and then boil some roots and toads, not really bothersome unless you are Catholic and it runs contrary to your religious beliefs. With this in mind there was one story that always kind of bothered me. It was a tale of Satanic worshippers. It is the human sacrifice that is involved with Satanism that I fear. Anytime one religion interferes with another religion, or the life of humans, I tend to take it a little more seriously, not because I believe in their beliefs, but because their beliefs can cause me death.
It is with this in mind that my ears perked up when I heard about the Satanic rituals that were taking place in the woods known as the Enchanted Forest. A couple of my friends and I had known where it generally was while we were in high school. We decided to explore a little and actually found it one day to see if it was as enchanted as everyone said. So one Saturday afternoon we headed into the woods of the Watchung Reservation where the Enchanted Forest is located. We walked about 1/4 mile down a path in the woods, and there in front of us was the spectacular sight of the Enchanted Forest. It really is awe-inspiring. You walk through regular scrub bushes and old growth trees into a wide open area where there are hundreds of trees planted in perfectly straight rows. They are all tall and straight, and there is very little foliage at the trunks. The sun beats down through the tops of the trees in an eerie way that causes streams of sunlight so that it seems to glow off the floor of the forest. It is truly a unique place to behold.
We roamed around the numerous well beaten trails that wind all around through it, looking up at this impressive oddity, when one of my friends said there was someone behind us. We had just reached an area that had been sort of cleared out and well worn logs were placed in a circle around where a fire had recently been. There were a lot of tiny pieces of broken glass and the charred remains of logs. At this point we were sort of spooked and we turned around to leave, only to find that there was no longer anyone behind us. There are a lot of places around the edge of the forest where people could hide, so we figured that was where this person was. It didn’t make us feel any less spooked thinking someone could be hiding and watching us, and it didn’t help to think about why they would want to do such a thing. Needless to say, we left pretty quickly.
A few months later, after hearing stories about the witches and the Satanic rituals, we decided to take another trip out there. This time we were going to go at night on a weekend with a full moon. So after needling each other and daring and triple dog daring each other, and more than a few beers each, we decided to go. I don’t remember exactly what time it was but it was pretty late, definitely after midnight. We got to the parking area and began to walk down the path towards the forest. As we got about two thirds of the way down the path we began to hear what sounded like singing, and not very good singing at that. We all kind of stopped and looked at each other as we could see pretty clearly. The singing continued and was very monotone and almost chant like, and it was definitely coming from the area of the Enchanted Forest.
Realizing that there was definitely more than one person at some place in or around the forest (who were singing) we decided to leave, and quickly. We were a bunch of tough guys running, or walking fast, out of the woods like pansies. While running I realized that I hadn’t seen if they were Wiccans or Satanists, but I didn’t have a copy of the Watchung ritual schedule and wasn’t going to check firsthand to find out. I didn’t want to chance that it was Satanists who didn’t yet have someone to sacrifice that night. I don’t care what anyone’s beliefs are, just don’t try to eat my heart out of my chest while I am still breathing. Once I am dead, of natural causes, do whatever you feel like. The area is an appropriately eerie place for such a thing and I suppose if I was Satanic I would want to kill something there. It has been seventeen years since then and I have been back to the Enchanted Forest numerous times. I enjoy walking through its trails and hills and its eerie calmness is kind of soothing, but I have only visited during the day. I will not go there at night. –David Gaut
Bad Vibes and Shadows All Around
I grew up in Summit on the edges of the reservation. If you follow the trail down past the old Watchung Stables and cross Rt. 78, you’ll get into the spookier parts of the reservation. I have experienced bouts of “Get me the hell out of here,” for lack of a better term. On separate occasions I have sensed strange temperature fluctuations that are almost always followed by an immediate urge to get away from that place. Sometimes five feet will do the trick, but other times the feeling doesn’t leaves until I’m in my car and well on my way home. I have felt this sensation with others present, and it’s a collective consciousness kind of thing.
To test this out I took a friend from another state (who didn’t know a thing about the odd feelings that can be felt in the reservation) on a walk to a particularly “off limits” kind of a place. It’s a ravine of rock fairly well hidden away. He suddenly had the urge to leave very strongly, and on the way out we had noticed strange shadows. The shadows were almost like TV fuzz. At this point I just wanted to get the hell out of there even quicker, and my friend had a full out anxiety attack that took him a few hours to get over. Not the scariest story to read, but it made me almost crap my pants at the time. Also there is an “abandoned village” in the reservation off of Glenside Ave. in Berkeley Heights. The houses are now owned and have been renovated and have occupants, but for years they stood empty. I guess that it was a city that just never took off, and all the people left for the surrounding cities. I knew a family that lived there for a period. They said it was haunted as hell in that reservation, but the houses seemed to be weird free. –Brad Maloney
Photos © Weird NJ / Mark Moran
The preceding article is an excerpt from Weird NJ magazine, “Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” which is available on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com. All contents ©Weird NJ and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.
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