The tiny cluster of structures on Main Street near Walpack Flatbrook road is no larger than a quarter of a mile, but seems to invoke visions of forgotten towns and ghost stories in visitors when they come upon it . Walpack became part of Sussex County when Sussex County was formed on June 8, 1753. Walpack Center was never a big town and mostly served the needs of the farms that surrounded it. When the automobile reached new heights in popularity, some thought the town would expand, but instead it took a completely opposite turn. The farmers could then drive to the stores in the areas further out to meet their needs. After 1910, no new structures were built. One by one the the people of the tiny town began to move elsewhere.
In 1962, the Tocks Island Dam was authorized by Congress. The project was to construct a huge dam about 160 feet above the river and between 400 and 900 feet wide, to create a 12,100-acre reservoir that would extend 37 miles in order for flood control and water and hydroelectric power. This decision further vacated the town by condemning the properties of Walpack Center. In the end, the federal government acquired 72,000 acres on both sides of the river displacing about 8,000 people.
Due to strong public protest resulting from local media coverage, the project was eventually de-authorized. This left Walpack an empty ghost town.
The towns luck turned around in 1965, when Walpack Center became part of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Attention has been given by The National Park Service who have taken an interest in preserving Walpack Center for all to enjoy by utilizing the buildings as employee residences to prevent further vandalism. Walpack Historical Society is also using one building as their museum and headquarters.
In the beginning of town is the Walpack General Store, which is also known as the post office. The post office in Walpack Center was established on Jan. 21, 1854, with Jasper Rundle as its first postmaster. In 1893, the post office was officially re-designated "Walpack Center." In 1915, the general store burned down and a new general store was built at the same site. This post office closed in May 1988 and mail is now handled in Layton.
Built in 1840, this is the first Robbins House.
One of the oldest buildings in Walpack Center is the Rosenkrans House. It was built in 1850 by Jasper Rundle.
The white Victorian Walpack Methodist Church was built in 1871, replacing an 1837 stone structure.
Next door to the church is the Christie House, which was built in 1910.
The two-story gable facade structure built in 1910 is the Hendershot House.
Second Rosenkrans House is shown below.
The Walpack Center Schoolhouse, which is located at the end of the block, was built in 1856
Thirty years have passed since the Walpack Historical Society was organized and Walpack Center now serves as a walk through museum to a era passed with historical society members acting as tour guides to help the memory of the area's rich history live on.
If we go back to the 1950s, western and cowboy culture had completely taken over. By 1959, 26 cowboy themed shows aired during prime-time and eight of the top ten shows were westerns. Howdy Doody was every child’s hero as the merchandise flew off the shelves. Americans were hooked.
In Post war America, tourist culture blossomed and Wild West City stands as testimony to that era. It was once rated by the American Cowboy Magazine as one of the top five “must see” western theme parks in the United States. It is oftened compared to Buffalo Bills’ Wild West Show.
It was around this time that (1956 to be exact) that the American Foundation for the Preservation of the Old West purchased a tract of land in Byram Township, New Jersey. An architect was flown out to Kansas to research actual towns and shortly thereafter construction began on a replica western town.
Operated by Justus Neinaber, the site opened in the spring of 1957 and lasted until 1962. The town was leased unsuccessfully for a season and then closed until 1963. The Stabile, Rospond and Maitalasso families purchased the theme park in the fall of 1963 planning a short term real estate investment. Michael and Mary Stabile of Nutley, New Jersey were the operators of the park and eventually bought out their partners in 1966.
The Stabile’s continued to run the site . Micheal Stabile passed in 1993 and his wife, Mary in 2002. Members of the family still operate the park.
Stepping into the park, children run around with plastic pistols and cowboy hats.
There is a slight creepiness factor looking over the display of a western town with antique dolls.
The tiny shops each house artifacts from the past giving also a educational experience as well as a morbid one.
Of course, I wouldn't be telling this story without a little darkness involved.
In 2006, controversy struck the park when a actor was accidentally shot in the head with a real bullet. During the “Sundance Kid “ skit after the smoke cleared and the applause died down, the actor was still lying on the ground, blood trickling down his face. The happy city of a era long gone turned to scene out of a horror movie as a afternoon of fun turned to memories not to be forgotten.
Coworkers thought he had fallen, and rushed him to the hospital. After he underwent CT scanning that doctors realized he had been shot with a real bullet. Another actor, who fired at Mr. Harris, had inadvertently loaded his gun with .22 caliber bullets instead of blanks. He had been late to work and grabbed a coworkers bullets not realizing he now had a loaded weapon for the show. The actor remains partially paralyzed and has won a 2 million dollar lawsuit against the business.
All their performers must now receive safety training before working at the park.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.