No. 50  August 2005
The authoritative source on early churches in New Jersey

ISSN 1543-3250



   
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Feature of the month

Walnford Plantation, Millbrook & Waterloo Villages

As a vacation break from the large format black-and-white, traditional photochemistry-based images of churches that normally occupy this site, I have developed this month's feature around (1) color images, (2) made with a digital SLR of (3) other aspects of the state's history. If you are going to break a tradition, you might as well do it boldly. Let's start with the history. Those of you not interested in photography will find only half an essay this month, as after a couple of paragraphs of about these delightful historical parks I discuss fairly advanced issues about making images that may completely mystify anyone not really, really serious about photography.

There are at least a dozen eighteenth and nineteenth century villages, manufacturing and mining complexes, farms, and plantations that have been preserved by county and state governments. A few of these include authentic old churches, like Millbrook Village in Warren County, operated by the National Park Service's Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area staff, Allaire State Park in Monmouth County, Batsto Village in Burlington, and Morris County's Waterloo Village. None are overrun with visitors even on weekends, and admission fees are modest or non-existent. Some have artisans in period costumes demonstrating weaving, blacksmithing, and carpentry, and the guides are frequently knowledgeable and engaging. For a photographer, or just a day trip with the family, these villages offer a most pleasant way to engage our past. I visited two of these parks in recent weeks, partly as a respite from religious structures, but mostly to shoot pictures for a book I'm working on for an educational publisher. My interest was in domestic and industrial artifacts of previous centuries, but especially on subjects that might be of interest to kids in middle school.

Waterloo Village is the best-known of these parks, probably because of the many festivals, art shows and concerts it has hosted over the years. The town flourished with the completion of the Morris Canal in 1831, and boasts a number of authentic nineteenth century buildings, a lock of the canal and a few remnants of the inclined plane. Fittingly, an early building hosts the headquarters of the Canal Society of New Jersey, and there is a display of many fascinating cultural and engineering aspects related to the canal. Visitors can see the gristmill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, general store and tavern. Also at the site is a reconstructed Minisink Indian village—pretty authentic as far as I can tell. No tipis or feathered warbonnets here. There is also an 1807 cabin that was moved here from elsewhere and anchors a good representation of what a subsistence farm might have been like in the first half of the nineteenth century.
For a schedule of activities and directions, go to http://www.waterloovillage.org/ and to http://www.canalsocietynj.org

Walnford Plantation is a 36 acre mill village and country estate listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. Founded in 1734 around a grist mill, the site was purchased in 1772 by the prominent Philadelphia Quaker merchant Richard Waln, who named it Walnford. Five successive generations of the Waln family owned Walnford for 200 years. The site was donated to Monmouth County in 1979. Waln's Mill, built in 1873 on the foundations of an 1822 mill, closed its doors in 1917. Unlike most 19th century water-powered mills, the mill building was never converted to a new use and the mill machinery was never scavenged; the entire mill remained intact for a remarkable seventy years after ceasing operation. The late millwright Charles Howell called Waln's Mill "one of the best surviving examples of a complete millstone flour mill in the eastern U.S." There are several residences and service buildings as well that were erected over a period of almost 200 years, so represent a variety of architectural styles.

Millbrook Village arose about the same time as Waterloo (1830s) but traces its origins to the erection of a gristmill on the Columbia-Walpack Turnpike (an early toll road). By 1840 the Methodists had built a small church, which still exists although it has been converted into a replica of the original schoolhouse. The Park Service then erected a replica of the 1860s church. You figure that out. The population of the village reached a maximum of 75 people in the 1870s, when there were 19 buildings. Changes in farming, transportation, and life style siphoned off any of the village's vitality, and it had become home to a few summer residents and retired people by the 1960s. It is a historic site although it is not an exact replica of an 1830s village. In the summer there are usually guides in period costumes and a number of artisans plying their crafts and explaining all to visitors.
http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/allamuch.html


Digital photography issues
Now let's get to some observations on digital color photography. For readers unacquainted with my working mode, a quick background: I have previously shot almost exclusively in black-and-white using a 4x5 view camera. I process my own film and make my own prints. I have been scanning my 4x5 negatives for some time, rather than making a print and then scanning that, as I did when I began this site four years ago. Once I got the scanning process down reasonably well I found there was more information in the negative than I could get from a enlargement on paper. Much of the subtlety of a good silver or platinum print is lost, of course, when displayed on the web at 72 pixels per inch. I usually scan a negative at 1440 or 2880 pixels per inch—enough resolution that I occasionally have to be concerned about the silver grains in the film more than about the sharpness of my image—which is entirely adequate for an 11x14 inkjet print.

After experimenting with a relatively inexpensive digital camera for a couple of months, I purchased an excellent digital SLR and a couple of very good lenses (10-20mm and 18-70mm). I haven't picked up my older 35mm cameras since, although I do use a couple of the lenses which are compatible with both cameras. My motivation was the incredible convenience of digital, and my reservations had mainly to do with the small negative size and the absence of the swings and tilts available on the large view camera. Given the settings and capacity of the memory card, I have the equivalent of at least four rolls of 36 exposure film with me at all times, which is about ten times more exposures I would make in a day with the view camera. That capacity as much as the convenience of a 35mm camera encourages a thorough exploration of a subject. The view camera requires about 20 minutes to set up, read the light, compose, focus, adjust, and make a single exposure, and that just isn't going to happen 144 times in a day. Probably not even 14 times in a day. An additional convenience is the ability to see my images right away, including a histogram which gives me invaluable information about my exposure. I often took Polaroids with the view camera, but Polaroid film is expensive and has a short shelf-life unless refrigerated. So for the kinds of images that appear on this website, a digital SLR has many advantages. If I were making large prints for exhibition, I am not yet sure I would endorse the 35mm format, film or digital, quite so strongly, but to my eye, there is no detectable difference between film and digital prints when using a 35mm camera.

Now let me take up the matter of color versus black-and-white. Color is relatively new to me; I am more than a little color-blind and so could not develop the mastery in the darkroom that I insist on when doing serious work. With a color inkjet printer, it is much easier to get a good color print right the first time, and the controls are (a bit) easier to use than the filters of the color darkroom. I still have problems, however, as my color sense is not always in synch with the monitor and the printer, and the two of them don't usually agree either. Printers and plug-ins now enable the black-and-white photographer to print with 4-to-7 shades of black/gray ink/pigment, which offers at least the promise of the wonderful midtone gradations of a fine platinum print. But it is still an idiosnyncratic process, and my missteps are many. I find I need about the same amount of time to make the first exhibition-quality print regardless of the process, but all subsequent inkjet prints take only a few minutes and are identical; the vagaries of time, temperature, dilution, and the dodging-burning-retouching operations makes the chemical darkroom subject to considerably greater variation. Obviously, images made for the web are considerably less demanding, so that process goes much faster.

So I now find I am increasingly shooting in digital color, which I (usually) convert to black-and-white, frequently with greater control over the subtle tonalities than I had in my darkroom.

Other considerations: (1) Some corrections can be done in the computer, but perspective control, like control of exposure and depth-of-field, is always done better in the camera than in the computer (or the darkroom). (2) I have not been able in spite of much effort to replicate the dark yellow or orange filters that I like to use with film when there is sky (and especially clouds) in the image. Ansel Adams printed many of his best-known images of Yosemite with skies that are absolutely black. That sounds strange but we got used to it; some of his early prints when he printed the sky more normal now look washed out and certainly less dramatic. He used a red filter (I think) and did much burning in in the printing. Some selective darkening of the sky is possible in the computer (but not easy), but the use of a graded density or polarizing filter just doesn't do the job. (Yes, I realize there are plug-ins available that claim to replicate the effect of yellow, orange, and red filters—I've tried many of them and they don't measure up; of course, it may be that my Photoshop skills are deficient.) In any case, I have never liked black skies for my own work. Because we don't have the sandstone cliffs streaked with brownish-purplish desert varnish stains that gives so much character to images made in the southwest, I have not yet sounded a lament for the loss of the dark green and red filters that are effective in bringing out those dramatic markings. (3) There is no less need for a solid understanding of the craft of photography—metering and exposure, control of depth-of-field, and so on—if one attempts to make an image of unusual grace and subtlety. It is just that some of the necessary crafts have changed more dramatically than the shift to film from the wet plate-collodion images a hundred and thirty years ago, and the photographer will have to update his or her mastery of that craft.

For those whose visit to this site is not complete without at least one image of a religious structure, as a reward for your patience in wading through the technical stuff I offer this interior view of St. Mary's Church in Burlington made with my digital camera.


If the website looks a bit different on your screen it is because it has been optimized for Mozilla's Firefox browser instead of Internet Explorer. Firefox is superior in compliance to web standards, usability, performance, and is not nearly as susceptible to security problems. I have urged all my friends and family to make the switch. Firefox is an open source program, which means it is free. You can download it at www.mozilla.com. EWeek Magazine calls it "the best standalone browser available today and generations ahead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer."

 
 

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