• Benji Sills

Deserted Village of Feltville

With the virus now deep underway in the States, pretty much every town feels deserted. A couple weeks ago however, before the steep upswing in quarantine, Paige and I previewed the current desolation by visiting a genuinely abandoned village: Feltville. We’d first tried to visit back in September, but arrived too close to dark. We only had enough time to help a confused man and his dog Roxy catch a Lyft before the sun had set, so we vowed to return at a later day.

For a deserted village, Feltville was hopping on our second visit. We went right at the start of the coronavirus upswing, in that brief window between things starting to close down and people actually starting to be concerned. It was a beautiful, warm afternoon and bored Jersey locals filled the town’s parking lot to the brim. We pulled to the back, into overflow parking, and walked over to the village’s entrance.

We knew what to expect from our previous visit, but back in September we had been surprised. After hearing about the deserted village, we assumed it was the sort of drive by attraction that barely qualifies for a landmarking on Google, but that isn’t so. The village appears to be a well-preserved historic landmark and it isn’t open for cars, so we parked in the nearby lot and began to wander the paved path into the woods.

A short walk lead to the Masker’s Barn - a standard issue suburban house that honestly still looked occupied. We briefly goofed off and snapped photos on the porch, but quickly ran out of things to do and continued our walk into the woods. A forked path lead us off the main track and we briefly explored a small family cemetery before continuing back to the main stretch.

At this point we’d seen several perfectly habitable buildings and were starting to doubt the validity of the “abandoned” claim. Many of the early properties feel less like a spooky abandoned village and more like they should have “For Sale” signs picketed out front. With hope in our hearts for a good fright though, we continued on into the woods. A quick dive into the background of Feltville explains our confusion. The area contains buildings dating back to the 18th century and encompasses eleven total structures. Of these, three families still remain in the town occupying homes; this explains the fully formed houses early on and gives us some retroactive guilt for dancing on their porches. Feltville has been a mill town, a farming community and a summer resort but now stands mostly abandoned. Of course, apart from the three families who enjoy all the pleasures of living in an isolated community with no roads or amenities, without having to deal with the pesky peace or solitude that would traditionally be included.

As we continued, a new cluster of homes appeared in a clearing and presented a more promising sight - these houses were all dilapidated and satisfyingly unkempt. The roofs sagged with rot and porches had caved into basements. Splintered beams and shattered windows lined the buildings - it had all the thrill of exploring a ruin without any of the trespassing summons. The abandoned buildings are not without their own strange details that do jar with the overall image. One crumbling wreck sat directly behind a bright blue hydrant, which has to make you wonder what the town was worried they’d lose to a fire.

Maybe the most alarming detail was the numerous bundles of sticks, each wrapped in pink twine and dangled from collapsing porticos. These unsettling ornaments looked like they’d just been strung up by the Blair Witch before she popped to the store for a goat to sacrifice. After wondering briefly what curse was now attached to us, we continued onwards.

The entire path had been lined with signs enthusiastically pointing us towards a barn further down the trail. The volume of signs made us feel like we were approaching some spectacular grand finale, as if we were only minutes away from the manger where Jesus was born. We were disappointed then to find that the trail ended in a perfectly average barn. The doors were closed but otherwise it looked like it might be opened up on weekends as a farmer’s market - there wasn’t so much as a flaky paint chip to craft a ghost story around.

Of course, only a few weeks later things are quite different. We are hunkered down in New York City, where all of the streets seem as ghostly and vacant as Feltville. But if our stroll through the abandoned village taught us anything, it’s that even in the loneliest and most desolate of places, it’s just a short walk longer until we’re back to the boring and familiar. Stay strong and stay healthy!

The Deserted Village is located in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. It can be found on Google Maps by looking for 'Feltville' or 'The Deserted Village'.

It is open to the public and free to visit.

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