The living history village is one of the most notable attractions in the area where several structures from the 1800s survive and aspects of pioneer life are exhibited and occasionally demonstrated by skilled and dedicated volunteers.
Millbrook got its start in 1832 when a local farmer named Abram Garris built a gristmill along the newly-finished Columbia-Walpack Turnpike where it crossed a stream known as Van Campens Mill Brook. Within no time, other area farmers were bringing their grain to Garris for processing.
Within a few short years, a small village began to grow around the mill which included a blacksmith shop and a general store. Soon, other tradesmen also opened businesses and the village of Millbrook was born. The village stretched out in a line along both sides of the turnpike.
Isolated by its location between the Delaware River and mountains, the village was fairly self-sufficient as residents grew or made much of what they needed and obtained other goods from the general store or from local tradesmen. The community continued to grow until just after the Civil War when it peaked with 19 major buildings, including a Methodist Church, a school, a hotel, and approximately 75 residents.
However, the latter half of the 19th century brought technological advances to much of the United States. The tiny village soon found that the old mill was not as efficient as newer ones and the small farmers couldn’t compete. When the railroad bypassed Millbrook, it was a death knell for the village. Soon, young people were moving to the cities for jobs and as the population declined, the businesses and tradesmen went elsewhere. Garis’ mill closed just after 1900.
Over the years, many of the town’s buildings deteriorated or were condemned to make way for the ill-fated Tocks Island Dam project in the 1960s. When the dam project failed, the land that had been acquired through eminent domain was then turned over to the National Park Service and became part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was officially established on September 1, 1965.
However, some of the buildings did survive and the Millbrook Village Society was formed to bring the village back to life. The National Park Service, with assistance from the Millbrook Village Society, moved some structures to Millbrook, which replaced original buildings that were long gone. In the 1970s, other structures were moved here as outbuildings for the village. A reproduction grist mill was reconstructed on the site of the original. Today, Millbrook Village has about the same number of buildings that it had around 1900. The roadbed of the old turnpike is now the “main street” running through the village.
Through the hard work of the volunteers, the Millbrook of today represents a late 19th-century rural community rather than an exact restoration of the original Millbrook.
On summer weekends, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, several buildings are open to the public and the Millbrook Village Society and other volunteers in period costume demonstrate the folkways of that era between 10 AM and 4 PM. The village comes alive each year on the first weekend in the month of September for Millbrook Days, when more than 150 volunteers of the Millbrook Village Society demonstrate crafts and skills of rural living in the young nation. The event is held rain or shine. Other events are also held throughout the year. Admission is free. Being a part of the National Park Service, the village can also be visited all year.
Millbrook village is 12.2 northeast of the Kittatinny Point Visitor Center in Columbia, New Jersey. From here, visitors should head north on the River Road and continue onto the Old Mine Road to the village.
Millbrook Village Facebook Page
Old Mine Road & Millbrook Rd
Hardwick, New Jersey
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, January 2019.