The Ocean County Compendium of  History
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Cloverdale County Park

Fire Destroys Historic Cloverdale Farm
by Steven J. Baeli
March 2, 2010
(Originally published in the Riverside Signal)

Ocean County – Firefighters from three different Barnegat Township area fire companies responded last night to a call from a nearby resident who reported that the 100-year-old house, located on Cloverdale Farm County Park in Barnegat, was on fire.

“The structure was fully engulfed on arrival,” said Kevin Kadlubowski, Assistant Chief of the Barnegat Fire Company,” but we had it under control within a half-hour to forty-five minutes. There’s no water supply out there, so we had to bring in water tankers.”

The call came in around 6:30pm and within fifteen minutes firefighters from Barnegat, Stafford, and Pinewood Estates volunteer fire companies were on the scene and fighting the blaze.

The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Ocean County Sheriff’s Department Criminal Investigation Unit, K-9 Unit, Ocean County Fire Marshal’s Office, and Barnegat Township Police Detective Bureau are currently investigating the fire.

According to information provided to the Riverside Signal by Ocean County Public Information Director Donna Flynn, the county acquired Cloverdale Farm in 2004 and had recently brought it into the parks system. The property, owned for over 50 years by Katherine and William Collins, encompasses 80 acres and had been used as a cranberry farm since the early 1900s. Mrs. Collins passed away in 2000.

Prior to Monday night’s fire, the county had been acquiring permits from the state to upgrade the overall site and utilize it as an “an active cranberry demonstration farm.”

Cloverdale Farm also engaged in the sale of moss, which was collected, pressed and mixed into the soil for nutrient enrichment.

A moss press on loan from the Ocean County Historical Society was known to be in the house at the time of the fire, but in an area that did not appear to have been directly burned by the fire.

“Once completed, visitors will be allowed to observe the actual day-to-day operation of the farm from cultivation and growing to the harvesting and sorting of the native cranberries,” reported Ms. Flynn. “Along with a farmhouse, there is a cranberry shed where the cranberries had been sorted and stored before being shipped out for processing. Much of the original equipment and storage bins remain to this day."

The cranberry growing process was a business begun in Ocean County by John “Pegleg” Webb, who began cultivating the berry in the 1860s.

According to Mr. Webb’s 1895 obituary, he began by draining a swamp near his house in Jackson and used his wooden leg to drive a hole in the mud to plant the cranberry vines. Once planted, he refilled the bog, which would support the vines and allow them to thrive.

The account also noted that he died penniless at the age of 83 in bad land speculation deals he made during the Civil War.

Another important cranberry farmer was Ocean County Sheriff Charles L. Holman, who began cultivating cranberry bogs in Jackson about 1880. He was much more successful than Mr. Webb, bringing in an average of $70,000 for the growing season.

The full extent of the fire or its cause will not be known for some time, but it is clear from the obvious damage that most of the hard work done by county workers on the museum’s displays is now gone.

“It’s an historic landmark,” said Mr. Kadlubowski. “It’s definitely a loss.”

Ms. Flynn empathized that while the farmhouse was a loss, the park would live on.

“Cloverdale Farms is a unique county park, representing both the natural and historic characteristics of the region and will be another wonderful addition to the Ocean County Park system,” she reported, noting that the park would remain closed until cleanup of the farmhouse site was completed.

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