Whitesbog village, the birthplace of the cultivated blueberry, is found in Brendan T. Byrne State Forrest. For its time, Whitesbog was the largest cranberry farm in NJ and also one of the largest in the country.
It’s currently operated by the Whitesbog Preservation Trust, which aims to “restore, protect, and enhance” the village.
Having recently visited the historic village, the preservation trust does a great job of maintaining the legacy of Whitesbog’s founders. They currently offer tours to teach you the history of this company town, its individuals, and the culture that came from the farming operations.
The History of Whitesbog Village
In the 1850s, James A. Fenwick purchased 490 acres of land to start growing cranberries.
At first, the task was extremely difficult and Fenwick ran into his fair share of challenges, but he began having considerable success growing cranberries at a small bog called “Skunk’s Misery.” This bog is now home to Mount Misery Trail, which made it on our list of the best hiking trails in New Jersey.
With his newfound success, Fenwick knew this land would give rise to a great number of cranberries, so in 1857 he purchased another 108 acres of bog along Cranberry Run.
Joseph Josiah White
In 1882, Fenwick died and left the property to his widow. However, it was his son-in-law, Joseph Josiah White, also a cranberry farmer, who took over the operation and began to build Whitesbog Village into what we know today.
Construction started around 1890 and finished in 1925. It was a self-sufficient hub, with worker housing, a general store, pay office, processing and storage facilities, and a schoolhouse. In all, there were 36 buildings on the homestead.
During the construction, White also began acquiring land adjacent to Fenwick’s and farming them for cranberries as well. In a matter of years, White grew the initial operation substantially.
Elizabeth Coleman White
Much of Whitesbog’s survival is due to Joeseph’s daughter, Elizabeth Coleman White. Coleman White was a true agricultural pioneer, farmer, naturalist, and entrepreneur. She was also the first female member of the American Cranberry Association.
As Joseph White’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth began assisting her father as a child in 1893. At first, she worked the bogs helping to supervise cranberry pickers but before long she took an interest in growing blueberries in the land between the cranberry bogs.
Elizabeth wanted to grow blueberries in the summer months to avoid any conflict with the fall harvest of her father’s cranberries. Alongside botanist Frederick Coville, white found wild blueberries to cultivate based on taste, color, shape, and how long they took to ripen.
Both Elizabeth and Coville grew thousands of hybrid bushes and in 1916, they successfully cultivated the first blueberry crop – packaging and selling their berries in cellophane.
Child Labor Controversy
I won’t belabor the point because it was proven false, but in 1910 a controversy arose when an agent of the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) issued a report on child labor at Whitesbog and the cranberry industry at large.
It was argued that children under the age of 14 worked ten-hour shifts. The controversy continued for years until the NCLC printed a retraction in The Trenton Times.
Whitesbog Village Legacy
Today, the village and the surrounding area include 3,000 acres of cranberry bogs, blueberry fields, and reservoirs. Many of the village buildings still stand, including Sunigive, Elizabeth White’s home.
While most of the bogs have long been abandoned, Cranberries are still harvested in some sections of Brendan T. Byrne State Forest by farmers who lease the land from the state. Machines run through the bogs to shake the berries off the vines. The berries, which float, are scooped up and loaded, via conveyor belts, onto trucks that take them to processing plants.
Thanks in large part to Elizabeth White and Frederick Coville, blueberries, are the official state fruit and have become a massive business for New Jersey. According to the Department of Agriculture, 8,800 acres of blueberries were harvested in 2014 across 254 farms, with a value of $79.5 million. NJ is the fifth largest blueberry producer in the United States.
Cranberries, meanwhile, are still big business. New Jersey is the third-largest cranberry-producing state and nearly all the berries are produced in the Pine Barrens (where Whitesbog is located).
Whitesbog Village Events and Festivals
Whitesbog Village has become regionally well-known for its blueberry festivals. The blueberry season typically runs from the last week in June to early August and throughout the three months, Whitesbog hosts special events, including festivals, tastings, pie-eating contests, field trips, tours, and more.
Prior to COVID, my wife and I picked in the blueberry fields and had a blast doing so. It was a $5 donation per person and you could pick as many berries as fit in a container.
While I’ve never participated, they also offer cranberry tours where you can view farmers harvest the bogs from a distance.
When is Whitesbog Village Open?
Technically, the village is open daily from sunrise to sunset. However, the general store, located in the heart of the village is only open Friday from 10:00 AM- 2:00 PM and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM.
Have you been to the annual blueberry festival? Share your memories in the comments below.