By Henry M. Holden
While there are various definitions of a landmark, most people can agree the definition is a building or an object that helps identify a location with a boundary. Landmarks also indicate that a location may have historical importance.
Dating back to at least 1720, the Liberty Tree, located at the corner of Quaker Church Road, and Center Grove Road, in Randolph, was the last tree left living in Randolph since the Revolutionary War. The 298-year old tree is one of 26 designated historic landmarks in Randolph, but unfortunately, Friday, August 31, 2018, became its last day standing.
In recent years, a claim was made that the tree was slowly dying. In 2017, an evaluation determined the tree had deteriorated to the point to where “it could easily be knocked down in a storm.” The recommendation was that it should be removed to protect health and safety of anyone passing it.
Dr. Tom Ombrello, a professor at Union County College, specializing in propagating old trees volunteered to assist the township with an effort to grow a new tree from an acorn of the original tree. A seedling was planted in a greenhouse and overseen by Dr. Ombrello.
According to Dr. Ombrello, “The White Oak is one of the slowest growing species of trees, and White Oaks are very hard to propagate.” Dr. Ombrello had recommended that the Liberty Tree seedling be given a protected environment for several years before it is placed outdoors. Unfortunately, the seedling did not survive its indoor environment.
The Township planned to save any of the healthy wood from the original Liberty Tree for the creation of a memorial to celebrate the tree. To date, four proposals have been made on the type of memorial to the tree.
Landmarks come in other forms also. According to the 1830 census, there were 53 legal cider distilleries in Morris County, with four of them located in Randolph.
Apple brandy can be distilled from hard apple cider making this activity an important part of the central New Jersey agricultural economy in the early 19th century.
The first cider mill was built in 1809, at Sussex and Morris Turnpike. It was owned and operated by Samuel Barber Garrison.
By 1869, the old distillery had been remodeled by Dorastus Logan Bryant, and became the home of “Bryant’s Pure Old Cider Brandy.” The distillery closed in 1934, after being in operation for 110 years. When in full operation, the D.L. Bryant Distillery produced more than 800 gallons of applejack a year. This “Jersey Lightening” was 100-150 proof.
The earliest grist mills in America were built in the early 1600s. A grist mill can grind dill seeds, peppercorns, wheat etc., and can bring history to life and tell you something about the folks that live there.
The first grist Mill was built in 1713 at Mill Brook. Its main purpose was to grind apples (which was a major crop at one time) into cider for Apple Jack or Jersey Lightning for the Bryant Distillery.
Is it a graveyard or cemetery? Well, there is a small distinction. Graveyards are generally associated with a religious denomination. Cemeteries are non-sectarian and open to all regardless of any religious affiliation.
Grave markers can also tell a story. Visiting your local cemetery is probably not on anyone’s bucket list but it can reveal the families who lent their names to the streets and neighborhoods. There are clues to what kind of environment, weather and climate they experienced. Looking at the age groupings and ages can bring history to life, but they are susceptible to the weather which can wear away the inscriptions on the gravestone.
The graveyard of the Dover Randolph’s Friends Meeting House on Quaker Church Road, and Quaker Avenue, is the oldest (1758) religious structure in Morris County. Its cemetery divulged a way of life for the early settlers that was both harsh and revealing. Grave markers show octogenarians, but also many infant deaths.
The Randolph Friends Meeting House graveyard contains grave markers showing burials of revolutionary war soldiers and soldiers of all the wars the U.S. fought in.
What is surprising is a large area within the graveyard among the grave markers which has nothing on it except healthy grass. In 1992, the curiosity of what the vacant ground meant resulted in folks taking a look using ground penetrating radar. What the radar revealed appears to be 18th century burials without markers. The outcome was “nothing definitive, but graves that were not identified. The question remains, who is buried there and why no grave markers?”