When we came here in fifteen or so years ago, Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden was a magical oasis tucked in the middle of a block in Key West, a small forest said to be the last undeveloped acre in the city’s Old Town neighborhood. Full of winding paths and trees it was the rarest of spaces: loved, carefully tended, and shared with the public as a gift of beauty. But even then it felt besieged. In 2012 taxes and expenses became too much and Nancy sold off parcels to developers. From an article in Key News:
The tucked-away entrance to Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden off Free School Lane in the 500 block of Simonton Street will be closed to the public after today, as finances and property taxes have forced Forrester to sell the land parcels that have housed an artist’s cottage and gallery, parrots, orchids, rare palms, meandering pathways and a meditative garden for more than four decades.
These days the garden has been reduced to a small backyard on Elizabeth Street which Nancy uses as a rescue parrot refuge. In the mornings she gives educational lectures on the birds, full of facts about their brilliant behavior, the destruction of their native habitats, and gentle lectures about how we can all protect native parrot habitats by living more lightly on the land (hint: no red palm oil or beef). From behind the fence came the sounds of a swimming pool being installed in the cutdown middle of the former garden. Nancy has life tenancy on the ill-repaired house where she lives with the parrots.
I don’t know the details of the real estate transactions or Forrester’s finances but I find it incredible that Key West couldn’t rally around one of its living treasures. I’m glad that Nancy remains along with her parrots and I’m grateful my kids got a chance to meet her.
We’ve gotten into the habit of visiting Howell’s Living History Farm up in Mercer County, N.J., a few times a year as part of homeschooler group trips. In the past, we’ve cut ice, tapped trees for maple syrup, and seen the sheep shearing and carding. Today we saw the various stages of wheat – from planting, to harvesting, threshing, winnowing, grinding, and baking. I love that there’s such a wide vocabulary of specific language for all this – words I barely know outside of biblical parables (“Oh wheat from chaff!”) and that there’s great vintage machinery (Howell’s operations are set around the turn of the twentieth century).
The three-fort tour from Ft Mott near Salem, New Jersey, to Ft Delaware on Pea Patch Island (de facto Delaware), to Delaware City, Delaware and adjacent Ft DuPont.
A few weeks ago Yummygal at Southjerseyexplorer.com wrote up a trip report on The Three Forts Ferry Tour. It didn’t take more than two minutes of texts before my wife and I decided we would recreate this.
It’s wasn’t so easy at first. I spent way too long on the park system’s website trying to figure out how to board the ferry at Ft Mott on the New Jersey side. Every option I tried had me board in nearby Salem, N.J. It wasn’t till I was home that I read that the Ft Mott stop had been out of commission until early this summer because of Sandy and that Salem had been the alternate boarding location. The website hadn’t been updated.
Once we got to the dock we saw there was no ticket kiosk. Once the ferry came in we found they couldn’t swipe a credit card onboard (really? can’t any modern smartphone handle that?, but I digress…). The only place they could handle a credit card was the far end, in Delaware City. We’d have to dock on Fort Delaware/Pea Patch Island but stay in the boat and continue to this city. We’d hadn’t even really planned to necessarily go to Delaware City but we ended up spending much of our day there.
Delaware City was a small port town whose claim to fame was its location as the eastern terminus of the original nineteenth century Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The modern canal bypasses it a few miles to the south, so Delaware City is a bit frozen in time.
First stop: Crabby Dick’s, one of three eateries recommended to us (the others being a pub and an Italian restaurant). Being a vegetarian I don’t get into this sort of a restaurant very often but they had veggie burgers and creative sweet fries (cinnamon-covered with an apple butter dip – yum!). Luckily it was nearly empty around noon in a Sunday so our troublemaking kids didn’t cause too much commotion.
Next door was a small ice cream shop. The temperatures were in the 90s so this was an obvious stop.
What we should have done next is wander the town until the next ferry to Pea Patch Island and its fort. One of our party was determined to see all three forts so we set out for Ft DuPont. It’s adjacent to Delaware City’s dock and downtown as the crow flies. But we aren’t crows, or fish. DuPont’s on the other side of the old canal. You have to walk about a mile to the first bridge that crosses it, a rickety one at that, then make a sharp left to travel in the same direction you had just come from, only on the canal’s south side.
There’s no signs for the fort. Even Yummygirl had gotten lost on her trip so I knew to rely on my phone’s maps. Most of Ft DuPont’s acreage is a large campus dotted with an odd assortment of run-down early twentieth century military buildings surrounding an old parade field. The camp had been a major deployment center during WW II and had also served as a POW camp for Germans. The state’s been trying to repurpose it in recent years but it’s an odd assortment of halfway house services and national guard associations, stuck in between crumbling buildings that will never find a new role.
At the far end of all this a nature trail going through what remains of the nineteenth century Ft DuPont. Walking it is a bit like touring a jungle-covered Aztec city: every so often a ruin sticks out of the trees and tangled vines. It’s an interesting-enough trail but not worth a four mile round-trip hike with four kids in 90 degree heat. We were able to beg a ride back from a park ranger finishing her shift thank goodness but much of our day was sitting under trees drinking the last of our water.
Back at the Delaware City ferry office, we bought a small fortune of water from the vending machine till the next (and final) boat to Pea Patch Island. This is typically the destination of the tourists but by this time we only had about 45 minutes before the last boat from the island to Jersey. We had an extra half hour as the boat waited in dock for a spectacular storm to pass over the river.
We’ll definitely return but probably skip Delaware City except for possibly a meal.
Last night a huge thunderstorm front with a phenomenon called a derecho swept across South Jersey. Where I live in Hammonton the strangest part of it was a strobe-light effect caused by dozens of cloud-to-cloud lightning flashes per minute, punctuated by lightning strikes. Further east into Atlantic County winds took down incredible amounts of trees.
This morning traveled to Mays Landing, which was scheduled to host a street festival today. A few brave merchants like Brownies Squared opened without power and made the best of it, selling refrigerated goods at half-price. But most of the town was dealing with trees across downed power lines. According to NBC40 Weather 162,000 households are without power – considerably more than were out in last year’s hurricane.