About Our Location, Sussex County New Jersey

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Sussex County is situated at the extreme top of New Jersey and has always been off the beaten path due to the rural nature. In addition, the rugged Kittatinny Mountains cut across its entire northwestern edge and the heavily-wooded New Jersey Highlands rise upward from the Kittatinny Valley in the eastern part of the county.

Population of Sussex County is 130,943, Land Area: 529 sq. mile, County Seat is Newton and is Bounded by New York State, Delaware River, Warren, Morris and Passaic Counties.

This very hilly aspect is what keeps Sussex rural. For one thing, the rock-strewn hills make usual farming difficult - thus explaining dairy cattle. For another thing, pockets in the slopes have led to lakes, both natural and man-made which encourage vacationing rather than permanent settlement. Finally, the county has thousands acres being used in State parks.

New Jersey's highest point, 1,803 feet above sea level, is at High Point near the New York border. The Kittatinny Mountains average 1,600 feet above sea level. The Sussex Highlands range upwards to 1,496 feet above sea level near Vernon. All of this lake land and mountain land makes for fine scenery. Many observers agree that New Jersey's scenic best is in Sussex County.

But it was neither cows nor scenery that brought the first Europeans to Sussex. They were Dutchmen from what is now Kingston, New York, who found copper on the rocky mountain slope just north of the Delaware Water Gap, sometime in the 1650's. As they took the ore back along the mountains, they developed a 140-mile thoroughfare linking the copper mine with Esopus (Kingston, New York).

English, Irish, and Scotch immigrants came overland soon after 1700 to the Kittatinny slopes, which they called the "Blue" mountains. Germans came up from Philadelphia in the 1740's, led by John Peter Bernhardt, and Caspar Shafer, and settled along the Tockhokkonetkong River, now called by the more easily pronounceable name of Paulins Kill.

Scarcely 600 people lived in the whole Sussex region in 1750 when settlers began to grumble about going all the way to Morristown for court business. There were no towns, no major plantations, and little economic value in the vast area when the colonial legislature created Sussex County on June 8, 1753.

Leaders of the new county met on November 20, 1753, to grant tavern licenses and to fix fees for liquor and provender. This reflected a major interest of the day, since for many decades the tavern keeper was an important man in Sussex county economic and political circles.

In the spring of 1754, county fathers levied taxes of 100 pounds annually; most of it to pay bounties for the killing of wolves and panthers. The rest went to build a log jail so flimsy the sheriff complained he couldn't keep the prisoners in. The prisoners, in turn said they wouldn't stay in the jail if the sheriff couldn't keep the sheep out.

Sussex courts returned temporarily to Morristown in 1757, driven there by savage Indian uprisings along the Delaware valley. Long bitter over the loss of their territory, the Indians struck back at white settlers in 1755. Colonial officials appropriated 10,000 pounds in December of that year to build stone forts along the river.

Most noted of the killings by Indians took place near Swartswood Lake, where in May 1756, Anthony Swartwout, his wife, and a daughter were slain by the savages, and two younger children became Indian captives.

In 1758 the Indians were persuaded to relinquish their territorial claims peacefully, but another conflict already was raging in the not-so-peaceful Sussex hills. That was the New York-New Jersey border conflict that involved many beatings and shootings in the 50 years after it first broke out in 1719. Bi-state action fixed the border at its present line in 1769.

On the eve of the Revolution, in 1775, the freeholders boldly announced that Sussex County would no longer pay the salaries of Royal judges. The war itself passed Sussex by except for supplies which came from both the fields and forges of the northern county. The county also contributed Bonnell Moody, a well-known Loyalist spy who hid out in a cave near Springdale.

In May 1780, Moody led six men into Newton to free the prisoners in the jail. Tradition holds that Moody's foray frightened all the local people out of town and history indicates that Moody was never caught.

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Bird Watching in Sussex County

 

As you journey through Sussex County, you may notice a larger than normal number of birdwatchers in and around the county's fields, waterways, fields, and woods on Christmas Day. This can only mean two things -- either a rare bird has made its appearance (such as the Snowy Owl from years past), or the National Audubon's Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is on!

What exactly is a bird count anyway? In the late 1800's a bird count was an event where hunters would choose sides, go out with guns, shoot anything they saw with feathers, and at days end count the bodies to determine a winner. With conservation coming into favor at the turn of the century, Frank Chapman, a prominent ornotholigist and early officer of the National Audubon Society, established Christmas Day 1900 as the first day that birds would be counted alive instead of shot dead.

The first Christmas Bird Count event held that year resulted in 27 participants counting 90 individual species totaling over 18,500 individual birds. The tradition continued, with volunteers participating in these counts over the years to produce an unbroken string of 99 years worth of data regarding early-winter bird population trends. Last year 49,122 volunteers were part of the 99th count, resulting in 650 species, millions of birds, and a number of new species spotted.

So how might one get involved in this year's event? The best way to get started is to contact a representative from the Audubon Society (see link below) or a member of the Sussex County Bird Club and find out the exact local details. Even if you would just like to sit at home that day, there is a birdfeeder watch program that you can participate in. So why not get involved in a little "citizen science in action" this year and start a new Christmas tradition at the same time !?!

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