England? No, New Jersey!

Rolling farmland, white steeples, charming inns—no need to spin the odometer when we have it all in our own pumpkin-picking, cider-pressing backyard.

Autumn awakens the Yankee fan in all of us. We’re not talking baseball, of course, but geography. While Plymouth Rock belongs to every American, an affinity with the land of Paul Revere comes as naturally to we descendants of the original Thirteen Colonies as throwing tea off a British ship in the middle of the night. In the nineteenth century, Currier & Ives made a bundle selling a pastoral vision of America. New England was their poster child of red-white-and-blue values.

BLAIRSTOWN: The Paulinskill River rushes under a cast-iron footbridge on its way to an old stone mill, no longer grinding but still standing.

Just remember, folks, in earliest colonial times many New Englanders relocated to our region to escape religious persecution by the Puritans. Lizzie Borden, you’ll recall, did her chopping in Fall River, Massachusetts—not that we have an ax to grind.

Fact is, you don’t have to leave the Garden State to enjoy fall’s bucolic bounty. You could do a double take in so many places here that look like  there that you’d be dizzy from blinking.

Let’s turn things around. It really does look like New Jersey up there. That’s why people come back from a weekend in, say, central Massachusetts, shaking their heads, saying, “It’s so pretty you’d never guess you’re in New England.” Well, quantity is no substitute for quality. Sure, Vermont has more than 100 covered bridges. How many can you name off the top of your head? We have one. Green Sergeants’ Bridge. As every red-blooded New Jerseyan learns on the first day of school—or maybe you were dropping Legos in the goldfish bowl that day—Green Sergeants’ Bridge crosses Wickecheokee Creek in Sergeantsville in Hunterdon County. Driving through, your tires rumble satisfyingly on the wooden roadway, but the bridge is not as rickety as it sounds. Its Queenpost truss design (an improvement on the Kingpost, the most basic type of structural truss, but you knew that) has held up well since it was built in 1872. 

N.E. vs. N.J.

Yes, New Hampshire’s 72-square-mile Lake Winnipesaukee dwarfs our biggest, Lake Hopatcong (four square miles). But we’ve got Greenwood Lake, Wanaque Reservoir, Lake Mohawk, Spruce Run Reservoir, the MacNamara Wildlife Area, and hundreds of lakes and ponds in between—blessedly sans tourists.

Autumn builds more slowly here, the leaves often not peaking until late October. In New England, if you don’t catch autumn hues in late September or early October, you’re outta luck.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine claim 734 miles of the Appalachian Trail, but New Jersey’s 72 miles are some of the prettiest, and include the Delaware Water Gap and High Point State Park.

The Covered Bridge Artisans Tour is perhaps your best introduction to the abundant arts and crafts of Hunterdon County. Each year over Thanksgiving weekend, you can visit several area studios, enjoying wine and snacks, and perhaps picking up an example of the fine handiwork, ranging from jewelry to forged iron coat hooks to handmade sweaters (609-397-1535 or coveredbridgeartisans.com).

New England self-reliance has nothing on Sergeantsville’s WDVR, 89.7 FM, staffed by about 50 volunteers who never saw a straitjacketed playlist they couldn’t improve on. WDVR claims to be the only station in the Northeast to air a weekly two-hour traditional country music show. Heartlands Hayride is broadcast in front of a live audience in nearby Baptistown every Saturday from 6 to 8 pm ([email protected], 609-397-1620). In the eighteenth century, Sergeantsville was known as Skunktown due to its heavy trade in black-and-white pelts. Times have changed. The Sergeantsville General Store (Rt 523 at Rt 604; 609-397-3214) has been around in one form or another since Skunktown days, but now shares its space with a Chinese restaurant.

The Bridge of Hunterdon County

New Jersey’s only remaining historic covered bridge, Green Sergeants’, is as authentically bumpy as any in New England.

A few facts:

Built: 1872, on abutments that date to 1750.

Designer and Carpenter: Charles O. Holcombe

Style: Modified Queenpost Truss

Size: 84 feet long, 17.5 feet wide, vertical clearance 11 feet

Capacity: 8 tons (after 1961 steel reinforcement)

Waterway: Wickecheokee Creek

Roadway: Route 604 (westbound traffic only)

Namesake: The surrounding land once belonged to Revolutionary War soldier Charles Sergeant. His descendant, Green, built the bridge.

The early twentieth century was not too shabby in these parts. The Stockton Inn was a haven for writers, artists, and actors—including songwriters Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, whose 1936 Broadway show, On Your Toes, included a song saluting the inn, “The Little Hotel With The Wishing Well.” Innkeepers Fred and Janet Strackhouse are proud of their 300-year-old structure—as well as the recent renovations—with its 11 bedrooms. (1 Main St, Stockton; 609-397-1250; stocktoninn.com). For the big picture, ride a hot air balloon over the Delaware River Valley (hunterdonballooning.com  or Balloons Aloft; 866-800-4386; njballoon.com).

The way things used to be is the way they still (mostly) are at Sunflower Glass Studio in Stockton. Geoff and Karen Caldwell bought an 1872 stone house more or less on its 100th birthday. “Except for [putting in] electricity,” says Karen, “with this glassmaking we’re doing something the same way it was done in medieval times.”

Geoff engineers Karen’s  designs, such as miniature skyscrapers and gazebos, or full-size napkin holders. “She’s the artist and I’m the craftsman,” he says. (Rt 523, Stockton; 609-397-1535; sunflowerglassstudio.com). There’s something elemental about bowling, which would have gone over big in medieval times. Try it at West Hunterdon Lanes (1252 State Rt 12, Frenchtown; 908-996-2248).

THE PLAY’S THE THING

In 1963, Paul Barry and Philip Dorian established The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Cape May. In 1972, Dr. Robert Fisher Oxnam, then president of Drew University, invited the company to make the Madison campus its permanent home.

What’s in a name? In 2003, the group changed its moniker from New Jersey Shakespeare Festival to The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

The grass and stone amphitheatre at Morris Township’s College of Saint Elizabeth was inspired by the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens. Debuting in 2002, the venue accommodates approximately 400 guests and is one of the only theatres of its kind in the U.S.

Since inception, the troupe has had but two artistic directors, Paul Barry and Bonnie J. Monte.

The company has played to more than two million patrons since opening 44 years ago.

Lili Taylor—from HBO’s Six Feet Under—performed in the 2001 production of Hamlet as Ophelia. The late Richard Harris, who was English Bob in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies, also appeared in the production as the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father.

Visit njshakespeare.org for information on this season’s schedule.

When the air turns crisp, a bowl of butternut squash soup at the Bridge Café in Frenchtown enhances the view across the Delaware River into Bucks County. Owners Ken and Lisa Miller turned a former railroad station, dating to 1863, into a homey spot (8 Bridge St; 609-996-6040; bridgecafe.net). Former New Yorkers Martin Pilard and Jay Greif run Beasley’s Bookbindery at 106 Harrison Street (908-996 9993; beasleysbookbindery.com). They will tell you that the lord of the shop is Beasley, their pug, who usually hangs out under a chair. Since they opened in 2004, Pilard and Greif have restored 450 books. “Most of our business is cookbooks and Bibles,” says Pilard.  “They’re the most used books in the house, and the most treasured.”

There’s no shortage of fine bed and breakfasts in Hunterdon County, but if you want to stay in Frenchtown, grab a room at the Widow McCrea House (53 Kingwood Ave; 908-996-4999; widowmccrea.com). The Delaware & Raritan Canal towpath can be walked, run, and in winter even skied, but the best way to experience it is by bicycle.  In Frenchtown you can rent one at Cycle Corner (52 Bridge St; 908-996-7712; thecyclecorner.com).

One mile off Route 80, exit 12, the village of Hope retains the architecture of its original Moravian settlers—limestone houses with herringbone doors and sharply pitched roofs, all organized around a millstream. The 1986 conversion of Hope’s gristmill into the Inn at Millrace Pond (313 Hope Johnsonburg Rd; 908-459-4884; innatmillracepond.com) reinvigorated the historic district.

As a retirement project, Charlie and Cordie Puttkammer almost took over an inn in Dorset, Vermont. Instead, in 1994, they bought the Inn at Millrace Pond, figuring that Hope “could have been anywhere in New England, anyway.” Last month, the Puttkammers retired for good and sold the place to Jonathan Teed, who plans to revamp the menu but “maintain the place’s romantic allure.”

With its lush forest trails, Jenny Jump State Park is a hidden gem, just a mile south of I-80. The glacial debris is a geologist’s dream. On the southeast side of the ridge, in the main section of the park, you will find Greenwood Observatory, established by the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey in 1992. Here, far from light pollution, prepare to be stunned by the brilliance of the night sky (908-459-4366; uacnj.org ).

  • DREW UNIVERSITY, MADISON: In his two years as president of the 140-year-old institution, below, Robert Weisbuch has increased selectivity by putting a new emphasis on the quality of undergraduate education. Drew made Princeton Review’s new list of top colleges.

The Lakota Wolf Preserve in Warren County brings you breathtakingly close to several types of northern wolves. During the 60 to 90-minute viewing sessions (appointment only), you will learn about wolf behavior, social structure, and survival  (89 Mt. Pleasant Rd; 877-733-9653; lakotawolf.com).

Returning to civilization, you enter Blair Academy, complete with a traditionalist Latin motto: Venite, Studete, Discite (Come, Study, Learn). The 435-acre Blairstown campus was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.

You don’t have to be a scholar to enjoy Blair Academy’s public golf course and Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts, which hosts music, dance, and theater performances in its 500-seat auditorium (2 Park St; 908-362-6121; blair.edu). 

Almost cheek by jowl on the south side of Blairstown’s Main Street, two independent bookstores occupy historic buildings with wooden porches. Bebe’s is at 31 Main (908-362-8899); Book Nest at 17 Main (908-362-8200).

In the Kittatinny Valley outside Blairstown, Genesis Farms—an ecological learning center and community-supported organic garden—lets you wander its 140 unspoiled acres, including a pond, ecological library, and even an “art meditation trail.” (41A Silver Lake Rd; 908-362-6735; genesisfarm.org.)

In winter, enjoy cross-country skiing at High Point State Park (rts 521 and 519), a scenic 30-mile drive from Blairstown. At 1803 feet above sea level, the park is usually 5 to 10 degrees colder than the surrounding area, which makes for better snow and a longer ski season (908-558-1359).

Contrary to popular opinion, New England has no monopoly on revolutionary tea parties. Following the more famous Boston event in 1773, local patriots dressed as Native Americans dumped loads of British leaf into Greenwich Harbor to protest heavy taxation. The beautifully preserved town of Greenwich, tucked away near Delaware Bay in Cumberland County, is worth a detour. Its 1675 founding makes it older than Philadelphia, which dates to 1682.

Pre-revolutionary buildings still line “Ye Greate Street,” as Greenwich’s Main Street is nicknamed. There is little in the way of tourist accommodations. But a stroll through town invites you to succumb to the atmosphere of an earlier time.


Outdoors

CIDER AND pie
Hop on a hay wagon, tour Wightman’s Farm, pick pumpkins and apples, quaff cider, eat pie. $11 family “membership” required for picking, includes $8 in coupons. (1111 Mt. Kemble Rd, Morristown; 973-425-0840; wightmansfarms.com).

MAIZE Maze
Get lost in one of the state’s biggest cornfield mazes at Doyle’s Farm (771 Mill Lane, Hillsborough; 908-369-3187; Doyles-farm.com).

Sunset Hayride
Tour cranberry bogs, gather ‘round a bonfire for tall tales and Pineland ditties. Meet at the General Store; wagons leave 5:30 pm (Whitesbog Village, 120-34B Whitesbog Rd, Browns Mills; 609-893-4646; state.nj.us/pinelands).

South Jersey Pumpkin Show
Grab a slice o’ pie as local bands belt out bluegrass and jazz. Browse arts and crafts, take a haunted hayride. Don’t miss the pumpkin weigh off—winner receives $1,000. Oct 13, 9 am–9 pm; call for tickets (3001 Carmel Rd, Millville; 856-765-0118; sjpumpkinshow.com).

Blues and Pumpkin Festival
Taste Alba Winery products. Carriage rides, music. Oct 27–28, noon–5 pm; free admission; wine tasting, $5 (269 Rte 627, Milford; 908-995-7800; albavineyard.com).

BATSTO Country Living Fair
Rafts, music, antique cars, pony rides, quilting, farm equipment, and chainsaw art. Oct 21, 10 am –4 pm; $3–$6 (Historic Batsto Village, Rt 542; Wharton State Forest, Washington Twp; 609-561-0024).

Mum Madness and Pumpkin Parade
Take the whole family to this autumn event at Camden Children’s Garden. Oct 13, 10 am –5 pm; $4–$6 (3 Riverside Dr, Camden; 856-365-8733; camdenchildrensgarden.org).

Mischief Night 
Enjoy miniature golf with your little boys and ghouls. Wear a costume, get a free goodie bag. The night includes free cider and donuts as well as moonlight hayrides, spooky tales around a witch’s cauldron, and a guided night hike. Oct 26, 4–9 pm; $10 per family; $8 for two golfers (Colonial Park Putting Course, Franklin; 908 722-1200, ext 226).

Jersey Devil Hunt
Bask in a campfire (Don’t forget your hot dogs and marshmallows!) and listen to the legend of the Jersey Devil before venturing into the moonlit woods to catch a glimpse of the hoofed creature. Oct 19 and 26, 7 pm; $15 (17 Pemberton Rd, Southampton; 609-859-8860; pinelandsalliance.org).

Leaming’s Run Gardens
Relax within the largest annual garden in the United States. Each of the 22 sections has its own theme, including colonial and English styles. Through Oct 10; 9:30 am–5 pm; $8; $4 children 7–14 (1845 Rt 9, North Cape May Court House; 609-465-5871; leamingsrungardens.com).

Boonton Falls Trail
Boonton is home to a beautiful and spectacular waterfall. Hike the trail, or just listen to the turbid tumult of  “Little Niagara Falls.” (Start at Grace Lord Park, Boonton; mtnlakes.org).

High Point State Park
Check out the monument at the state’s highest point. (Rt 23, Sussex; 973-875-4800).

Coastal Heritage Trail 
This auto trail runs along the coastline allowing hikers a place to stretch their legs in each of four main regions: Sandy Hook, Barnegat Bay, Absecon and Cape May, and Delsea. The flat, sandy coastal terrain offers hikers pleasant paths. (nps.gov/neje).

Bay Springs Alpaca Farm
Say hi to the alpacas,  stay warm with sweaters  made from their fleece.  10 am–4 pm (542 New England Rd, Cape May; 609-884-0563; bayspringsalpacas.com).

The Pinelands National Reserve
As crisp as an apple, the perfect autumn day here goes something like this:  Hike along sandy-soil trails, take out a boat or canoe for a jaunt down cedar-tinged river waters. Then there’s camping, picnicking, horseback riding, fishing, and (phew!) you have hardly scratched the surface of the wonders of these 1.1 million acres (609-894-7300; state.nj.us/pinelands).

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Canoe, cycle, fish, or hike through one of the state’s most gorgeous parks. (908-496-8598; njskylands.com).

Birding Hike
Join the New Jersey Audubon Society’s hike in the Hatfield Swamp to look for warblers, sparrows, early waterfowl, and any other critters that happen by. Oct 4, 8:30–11 am (621B Eagle Rock Ave, Roseland; 908-766-5787).

Indoors

The Cider Mill at Hacklebarney State Park
It’s everything apple at the Cider Mill—even hot dogs are boiled in cider and served with apple sauerkraut (104 State Park Rd, Chester; 908-879-6593).

WINEMAKING 101
Create quality table wines with your loved ones. Follow the winemaking process from start to finish at Grape Expectations. You’ll mechanically crush and press California grapes, then rack and bottle your oak-barreled choice of wine. You can even create your own labels (25 E. Kearney St, Bridgewater; 732-764-9463; grapeexpectationsnj.com).

toe jam
It’s a squishy, sensuous barefoot massage, not to mention a lesson in crushing grapes the old-fashioned way. The event at Matarazzo Farms includes a formal wine tasting, hot and cold buffet, and cellar tour. Reservations required. Oct 5–9, 7–9:30 pm; $55 per person (783 County Rt 519, Belvidere; 908-475-3671; matarazzo,com).

Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival
Nibble offerings by South Jersey chefs, and feast your senses on celebrity cooking demonstrations, beer and wine seminars, and cooking contests. Oct 12–14; Fri, 3–9 pm; Sat, 10 am–7 pm; Sun, 10 am–5 pm; $10–$27 (Atlantic City Convention Center, 1 Miss America Way; 609-298-8066; gourmetshows.com).

Morristown Craft Market
This juried show features crafters from around the country, plus a gourmet gallery selection. Oct 19–21; Fri, 6–9 pm; Sat, 10 am–6 pm; Sun, 10 am–5 pm; $8; $7 senior citizens; children under 12 free (Morristown Armory; Western Ave, Morristown; 973-328-1845; morristowncraftmarket.org).

Folk Project Festival
Three concerts, five dances, more than 30 workshops for musicians and music-lovers.  Artists include Aztec Two-Step, John Forster, Annie and the Hedonists. See one concert, or stay the weekend. Oct 5–7; $10–$45 day; $95–$180 weekend (includes food and lodging). (Fairview Lake YMCA Camp, Stillwater; 973-509-1014; festival.folkproject.org).

Atlantique City Fall Festival
Browse everything from Civil War medical devices to Tiffany lamps at what is billed as the world’s largest indoor antiques and collectibles show. Oct 20–21; Sat, 10 am–6 pm; Sun, 10 am–5 pm; call for tickets (1 Miss America Way, Atlantic City; 800-526-2724
atlantiquecity.com).

Astronomy Exhibition
“Blast Off! A Space Journey” includes a tour and walk through the hall of astronomy history, with interactive presentations on the sun, planets, and Milky Way. Opens Oct 14; Tues–Fri, 2–4:30 pm; Sat, 10 am–4:30 pm; Sun, 1–5 pm; $6 (Monmouth Museum, Newman Springs Rd, Lincroft; 732-528-9211; algonquinarts.org).

Halloween Superhero Extravaganza
Dress up for a costume parade, view Disney’s The Incredibles and dig into art projects such as mask- and cape-making. Oct 27; call for times and tickets (Montclair Art Museum, 3 S Mountain Ave, Montclair; 973-746-5555, ext 237; montclairartmuseum.org).

Spooktacular
Test-run your costumes, participate in games with ghosts and visit the witch’s kitchen at this family event. Oct 27, 6:30–8:30 pm; $9.95; senior citizens $8.95 (Garden State Discovery Museum, 2040 Springdale Rd, Cherry Hill; 856-424-1233, ext 305; discoverymuseum.com).

Ninth Annual Halloween Extravaganza
Costume contests, pumpkin painting, a scavenger hunt, face painting, arts and crafts, and juggling will be in full swing. Oct 27–28, 11 am–4 pm; $7–$8 (Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Rd, Morristown; 973-931-3718; morrismuseum.org).

Halloween Family Fun Day
Join in the crafts, games, and spooky storytelling. Advanced registration recommended.
Oct 27, noon–3 pm; $3–$5 (Museum of Early Trades and Crafts, 9 Main St, Madison; 973-377-2982; metc.org).

Spa Week
Try something new, or indulge in your favorite feel-good as participating day spas around the state offer two or three treatments for $50 each. Oct 15–21 (212-352-8098; spaweek.org).

Victorian Cape May
Take in ten days of exciting and entertaining activities: tours of historic houses, evening ghost tours, vintage styles of dancing, lectures and mystery dinners, brass band concerts, and more. Oct 5–14 (capemaymac.org).

the Trial of the Century (not oj)
The fully restored Flemington Courthouse puts on a re-enactment of the trial of Bruno Hauptmann for the 1932 murder of the infant son of Charles Lindbergh. Will the verdict be different this time? Uh, no, but it should be a fascinating evidentiary journey. Oct 6–28 (800-595-4849; Famoustrials.com).

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