The Ringling Circus elephant building

Alfred T. Ringling, he of circus fame, discovered the picturesque Berkshire Valley in the early 20th Century. Declaring it the most beautiful place he had ever seen, he purchased 100 acres and a pond in Petersburg (now the Milton section of Oak Ridge) and set about building a winter HQ for his circus. A 26-room mansion was built between 1917 and 1918, along with a series of outbuildings for his circus menagerie. Most of them survive today, in private hands.

A sketch map from 1966 locating (with some errors) the Ringling outbuildings.

The “No, 7 building” in the sketch map denotes the elephant building. Like the others, it was concrete with area fieldstone decorating the walls. It’s gone to ruin — the glass-roofed ceiling collapsed about 1996, according to the locals — but what’s left has been incorporated into the Berkshire Valley Golf Course.

I took the following photos in the spring of 2004 when the property was being transformed into the golf course.

A view of the Ringling elephant house ruins. In the distance, to the right, is another Ringling building, now occupied by Jefferson Medical Imaging.(Photo by Paul Havemann)
View of the Ringling elephant house ruins. The floor sloped down beneath the sloped ceiling. (Photo by Paul Havemann)

These close-up photos give an idea of the size of the place.

My favorite view of the Ringling elephant house from 2004, back when the Berkshire Valley Golf course was under construction. (Photo by Paul Havemann)
The inlaid stones on the pillar (at right) spell out the year the elephant house was built — 1917 — and ‘RTR’ for Robert T. Ringling, who took over the circus after Alfred Ringling died. (Photo by Paul Havemann, 2004)

Today, the Berkshire Valley Golf Course plays host to thousands of golfers every year. As a county golf course, it’s open to the public. Food and drink are available in the clubhouse, even if you don’t golf. And you’re able to borrow a golf cart and head over to the ruins yourself, if you wish.


More about the ‘Ghost Bridge’ of Oak Ridge Reservoir

(This is a continuation of the original post that you can find here.)

I found this line drawing in an 1891 journal titled Engineering Record, in an article titled CONSTRUCTION OF THE EAST JERSEY WATER COMPANY’S AQUEDUCT AND RESERVOIRS. It’s a lengthy piece about the massive undertaking of building five reservoirs in north Jersey for the benefit of Newark. (Another of my interests. You may yawn, if you like.)

So this line drawing is described thus: “Figure 3 is a view of the three-arch bridge carrying the new highway across an arm of the Oak Ridge reservoir. At full stages of the water these arches will be completely submerged.”  

Which, of course, they are, as per this blog post. If you’re lucky to be there during a drought, you too can see it… even walk on it, if you dare.

Ghost Bridge illustration (1891)
Ghost Bridge illustration (1891)

The “new highway” wasn’t all that new; it was the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike. At the time the Oak Ridge reservoir was under construction, the roadway ran along the shore of the river. But clearly, the roadway would have to be moved to higher ground, which it was, reportedly around 1927.

Looking north on the east shore of the Oak Ridge Reservoir, late 1890s. On the right is the railroad. (Click image for full-sized view.)

In this photo we see the original route of the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike (Route 8) which followed the eastern shore of the reservoir. The ridge supporting the railroad is visible on the right, well above the roadway.

And if you examine the photo closely (or click on it to open it up full size), at lower left is the old bridge that led to the village of Oak Ridge.

Where the original roadway was not far above the water line, today’s highway is elevated several yards higher — almost level with those railroad tracks — to prevent any flooding issues. The highway was also straightened, such that it proceeds nearly north (to the left) of the roadway here, and very close to the bridge. Today, if you park on Route 23 South near the bridge, you look down on it, over a very steep incline, and from a much closer vantage than shown here.

The ‘Ghost Bridge’ of Oak Ridge Reservoir

The Oak Ridge Reservoir was constructed in the 1890s to help supply Newark’s burgeoning populace with a supply of fresh water.  It was one of several reservoirs in north NJ built at about the same time. (The others are Canistear, Charlotteburg, Clinton, and Echo Lake.)

A really good photo by Ron DuPont (c 2014)
Ghost Bridge of Oak Ridge Reservoir (2014)
Click for full-sized article

The village of Oak Ridge was, unfortunately, right where the reservoir would go — so the village of Oak Ridge, and a smaller one known as Wallace Corner, had to go. Today, their locations are underwater. (If anyone knows of a map of the original villages, please let me know.)

But, as the article notes, an old stone bridge that once connected Oak Ridge to the main road — known then as the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike — was spared, because it was useful in the construction of the dam. So, when they were finished, they just let it be; there was no point in wasting manpower to tear down a bridge that would soon be submerged forevermore.

But every so often, when a drought hits the area, the water level  will drop enough for passers-by to see the bridge.

According to the article,

“You can locate this bridge (or at least, the spot of water it’s under) by travelling on Route 23 about a mile south of its intersection with Canistear Road. At this spot, southwest and right next to the highway, a narrow tongue of Oak Ridge Reservoir snakes its way up along the base of the mountain. This follows the original route of the Pequannock River.”

 I’ve been there, and seen, the “ghost bridge” a couple of times. If you think you can find it, refer to the aerial photo.

Aerial view of Oak Ridge Reservoir showing the bridge.

Local historian Beth Willis has been there as well, and has more interesting details to share on her Facebook page.

I’ve recently uncovered even more cool stuff about the ghost bridge — see here.

The George Chamberlain house

Geo Chamberlain house
The George Chamberlain house once served as the town’s library. Today it’s the township museum.

This was originally known as the George Chamberlain house. In the 1870s, Amos Chamberlain, a resident of Milton Village, built a house for his son, George and his bride Ruth Elizabeth Speaker. The family enjoyed life in Milton Village until the 1890s. For many years afterwards, the house was home to various families who rented from the Chamberlain family.

In 1960, the Chamberlain house was purchased by the Friends of the Library, which turned the building into the township’s library. For the next 19 years it functioned as the Violet Riker Library.  (For more history of the library, see here.)

The house, while charming, is really rather small, and the library’s needs outgrew the building’s capacity. A new and much larger library was built in 1980, and the township acquired the Chamberlain house for use as the Jefferson Township Museum and home of the historical society.