“Look at almost any photograph from Sussex and Wantage, you’ll see a horse and wagon with a milk can in the back,” said Bill Truran, author of the newly published Images of America: Sussex and Wantage. A farmer hitching up his horses and bringing his milk into town is a classic image that defines early Sussex and Wantage, where milk was a high dollar crop and in great demand in nearby cities. The farmers would drop their milk off at the creamery, then go into town to trade eggs and butter for molasses, flour, and sugar.
Even though this lifestyle seems worlds away from ours, Truran believes that we really haven’t changed much since the early 1900s, when some of the photos in the book were taken. “We all still have ten fingers and ten toes,” he said. “These were people just like us. They had the same interests and passions and raison d’etre.” Like ice cream. As Truran and I sat over sundaes at Friendly’s, he described a highlight of the summer circa late 1800s: strawberry ice cream festivals. These events were held at churches, and ice was chopped up to make ice cream when the ripe, red strawberries were harvested. Truran has published several other books on local history. He grew up in Franklin, and a love for the area and its history, as well as his family’s history, inspired him to delve deeper into discovering the region through old photographs, artifacts, and stories. One of the most interesting photographs Truran has happened upon was of a local blacksmith, Andrew Adrion, in Beemerville. The grainy and dimly lit photo shows a bearded Adrion hard at work at his forge and anvil, making a horseshoe. Another photograph on the book’s following page shows two long-skirted women on the main street in Beemerville, carrying two new barrels. The barrels are just about the same size as the women, but they are balanced on the women’s shoulders. The iron hoops on the barrels had probably just been made at the Adrion blacksmith shop. Though iron mining took place in areas like Hamburg, Franklin, and Vernon, every town had a blacksmith. Truran describes the area as a “treasure trove” of iron. At one point in the mid to late 1800s, New Jersey was the largest iron producer in the United States. In fact, George Washington came through the area during the Revolutionary War to acquire cannon balls and gun parts made from New Jersey’s iron. He might have had a couple scoops of strawberry ice cream, too, while he was in town. When Truran found the picture of the blacksmith shop, he was reminded that small towns like Beemerville made substantial contributions. “Sleepy Beemerville has a past that is bigger than it is now,” he said.
By Jenna Gersie