While we had heard of the many features and attractions hosted by this park, our family had never made it a priority to visit until this Fall. In hindsight, we should have visited this park years ago since it was quite a pleasant surprise. Not only are the camping/hiking/biking facilities very well maintained, but the quality of the two local attractions were excellent for both teaching local history and for fun factor.
The park, as described at the NJ State Park web site:
Allaire State Park is probably best known for its historic 19th-century iron making town, Allaire Village, and its antique steam trains on the Pine Creek Railroad. The Manasquan River, which winds through the park, attracts canoeists and fishermen. The river’s floodplain provides habitat for over 200 species of wildflowers, trees and plants as well as habitat for birds and other wildlife. Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders enjoy the many trails in the park.
- The historic village was known as the Howell Works in the early 19th century. At that time it was a thriving industrial community which produced pig and cast iron. The buildings which remain today include a general store, blacksmith shop, carpenter’s shop, manager’s house, foreman’s house and a church. One of the workers’ row house buildings is now the Visitor Center and Museum.
- Established in 1953, the Pine Creek Railroad is an example of rail travel at the height of the steam era in the United States. The live-steam and diesel, narrow-gauge trains are operated by the NJ Museum of Transportation.
We arrived mid-afternoon and checked in with the park office. The staff were very friendly and helpful in providing an overview of the park’s amenities and details about trail heads, maps, directions and where to find supplies (if needed). The park office also sells firewood in convenient bundles.
We had rented a family site in the family campground which provides a mix of tent sites(ground only, no platforms), trailer sites, yurts and basic (rustic) cabins. There are full sun and full shade (wooded) sites. Each tent site is rated for two cars or a vehicle plus trailer. While the individual sites were generous with space, they are physically adjoin other sites (no privacy barrier afforded) so be prepared to be a courteous neighbor. A playground and modern shower house are also provided.
Six group sites are located in a different portion of the park and have clive-type composting toilets and not other amenities. We watched many boy scout laden minivans and pickups with troop trailers circle our loop road before heading in the right direction.
We kept our meals simple on this trip: hot dogs with chips and prepared salads for dinner, bagels with ‘schmear’ for breakfast and deli sandwiches made at home for lunch.
We broke camp mid-morning and headed over to the historic village and pine creek railroad to investigate their operations.
The railroad is a three-foot narrow gauge operations (three feet width between the operating rails of the track). This type of track and equipment was used for industrial railroads, feeder lines and situations where the operating company wanted to save on infrastructure costs by investing in less ground clearance work.
We only gave a cursory look at the operation since our primary objective was to explore the historic village.
The earliest history of the area shows a forge operation in the 1790’s, and it underwent a “bubble” of expansion and decline between 1814 (when the Monmouth Furnace was built) and 1846 (when the last furnace operations were suspended). In 1822, James P. Allaire purchased the property and renamed it the Howell Works. Mr. Allaire had a built a whole town to provide housing for employees (first tenements), local commerce/support (i.e. a church, communal bakery, general store, blacksmith, carpentry shop, etc.) and industrial operations that collectively created a tight-knit, self sustaining community. The Howell Works boasted the largest retail store in the largest building at the time of its opening, and the works primary function was to produce pig iron and cast items. Much of the pig iron was shipped to the Allaire Works in Jersey City where it was recast into steam engine parts to equip early steamboats. In fact, between 1822 and 1836, Allaire Works was building over 50 percent of all steam boat engines and boilers in the country.
This location was ideal since it provided all the needed raw materials in close proximity (timber for charcoal, bog iron and seashells for lime (a flux agent)), and afforded easy transportation to Jersey City by water.
Thirteen of the original twenty-six buildings remain and several of the foundations remain to show where other buildings had previously stood. Docents provide descriptions and demonstrations of the key functions of these buildings — helping us understand how people lived and worked in the 1830’s. The general store and bakery also provide opportunities to purchase souvenirs to take home with proceeds going to help fund the continued operation and preservation efforts.
On this Saturday, there was a Fall Harvest Festival scheduled from Noon to 4 PM and hosted by the historic village association. Activities include folklore storytelling, apple cider pressing, corn husking (and corn doll making), games from the 1830’s and militia demonstrations. All throughout the year, there are special activities scheduled based on the pertinent season. A full calendar of events is available at the historic village web site.
The Allaire State Park offers much to occupy family or group campers. Fishing, cycling, hunting, camping, hiking, and a nature center combined with the railroad museum and historic village present a wide range of options for people with a wide range of interests.