Thursday, July 8, 2021

Cemetery in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey

What’s a Jersey shore vacation without a trip to a local graveyard? As my family frequents the area around Long Beach Island, I’ve visited most of the local cemeteries. On this trip, I thought I’d see what’s up with the “closed” pet cemetery, noted on my iPhone’s Google Maps. Looked to be in Manahawkin between the on ramp to the Garden State Parkway and Whispering Oak Circle. So I left Beach Haven about 7:30 a.m. on an overcast Saturday morning, drove the seven miles north up the island, over the causeway and onto the mainland. About five miles west on Route 72 is where the Garden State Parkway crosses it. I cut off 72 toward Whispering Oak Circle. 

Try as I might, back and forth on this small residential street, and I just could not find the place. It was woods on one side, residences on the other. The woods just looked like they butted up to the parkway. Maybe Google Maps was in error. Ah well, good fail, as the skateboarders say.

Even though it was a further drive than I wanted to make on this early Saturday morning, I thought I might finally check out Reevestown cemetery, about an eight-mile drive north on Route 72. 

For several years, I had known about this remnant of the Pinelands, but had never visited. One reason being the inherent spookiness of the pine barrens. People living off the grid, down sand roads deep in the forest. Makes you feel a bit like Hansel and Gretel with the Jersey Devil playing the part of the wicked old witch. Especially after seeing mailboxes like this one along the road.

The pineys, as they are called, rather cultivate this mystique, in order to maintain their isolation from the masses, and probably especially from tourists. 

"WARNING..."
Google maps showed me where the Reevestown Cem was supposed to be. Passes a crumbled roadside memorial at the intersection of 72 and Warren Grove Road, where I made a left. I got to where Google Maps said the cemetery was, but …. Damn. Just a patch of woods. Oh well, maybe there’s something in there. So I pulled over, got out of my SUV, sprayed my shoes, socks (damn! Forgot to wear socks!), and pant legs with tick spray, and took one last look at Google Maps before venturing into the thicket. What? Now it shows the cemetery off an access road up ahead! Jump into the vehicle and head up the road a piece. And there it was off to the right, a sand road leading into the woods, with a rain puddle at the entrance to greet me. A very weathered “Warning” sign was nailed to a tree where the road led into the trees.

Sand road entrance to Reevestown Cemetery

As I write this, I’m sittin’ on the dock o’ the bay, cappuccino and raspberry scone in hand. Yesterday at this time, however, I was in full explorer mode. And truth be told, I was a bit uncomfortable there, having recently read the book, “The Pine Barrens,” by John McPhee (1978). All the legends, all the history, all the fables of the pine barrens – including the pineys, are covered in the book.

Reevestown Cemetery


I drove into the woods. The road took a few twists and then opened up onto a perfectly maintained small cemetery with old graves (starting around 1862) on the left, newer graves on the right. I imagine people continue to be buried here, even though there is no town for miles. Reevestown itself is no more – not even a ghost town. 

Reevestown Cemetery in Stafford Township, New Jersey, is deep in the heart of the pine barrens – just a few miles from the Pinelands unofficial “capital city,” Chatsworth. Reevestown is not exactly a ghost town - it’s actually no longer there. Destroyed by a massive forest fire in 1936, this small sawmill settlement (which I assume was called Reevestown, there really is no evidence of this that I could find) consisted of the mill, some houses, and a schoolhouse. The fire was the worst forest fire up to that point in the history of the Pinelands - it left five firefighters dead and 20,000 acres of forest, dwellings, and businesses burned (ref.). Reevestown was destroyed but the cemetery remained, and continues to be used, by locals I assume. There have been burials here in the past decade.


See the clipping below from “Union Township,” a report written by the Barnegat Historical Committee: (https://www.state.nj.us/dep/hpo/hrrcn_sandy_OCE_GB_147_148_PDF/OCE_GB_148_v34.pdf)

"A small sawmill settlement once was located near Reevestown Cemetery [which I assume was called Reevestown]. Today only cellar holes mark where buildings once stood. Only the cemetery remains intact. Saw mill, dwellings, and a schoolhouse were located here prior to a fire in 1936." 

Lone sentinel at sand road exit of cemetery

Somewhere online I read that if you live in the general area, you can be buried here. The cemetery has maybe a hundred plots, with many more people than that residing below. It seems to be kept up, but then, there is no grass or weeds to cut. Its all sand. The rules posted on the sign at the entrance to the property suggest a governing body of some sort, mentioning a Cemetery committee with officers and trustees, but there is no contact information. 

Grave decor


Note tree stand at top left.
Some graves here are recent, with lots of kitschy mementos. One even had deer antlers nailed to a nearby tree, with a hunter’s tree stand attached to the tree next to it! Deer hunting for food has long been a standard activity of the people who live in the pine barrens. They are for the most part isolated and self-reliant. Many of them work in the local cranberry bog and blueberry farms, and have for decades since the region’s main industries, glass making, lumber, and iron forging went bust.

Reevestown Cemetery is a serene place, that is, if you can get over your fear. Its just a little too quiet. That guy’s shotgun shell mailbox made me think of the scene from the Sopranos where they take the guy out to the pine barrens to kill him, where they try to get him to dig his own grave first. Out here, no trace would ever be found of you. But that’s Hollywood; whereas the pine barrens – and its inhabitants - are real.

Entrance to Reevestown Cemetery



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