Friday, July 10, 2020

Mr. Wilkie's Cabin

In the Before Times, the array of abandoned and urban exploration pages I follow online would sometimes provide a blueprint for future trips. At some point, I saw a gratuitously tagged cabin and I had to do a double take when I read its location as familiar. Never before had I heard about or seen pictures of this cabin, nestled away somewhere in South Jersey. It had such a unique personality and I was shocked that I had not seen it previously. It just so turned out that my discovery of it and my subsequent trips to see it in person occurred just before most of the country entered lockdown a few months ago due to the pandemic. I had accidentally spent the last afternoon before the shutdown, oblivious of the coming health crisis, ducking through the woods to find Mr. Wilkie's cabin.

Usually, when writing these sort of blurbs, there are solidified theories behind the history of even the most mysterious abandoned locations. Picturesque places that tend to attract travelers like myself tend to have stories that are easy to discover, through well-known and objective reporting (in the cases of hospital properties like Letchworth Village or the New York Farm Colony) or their popularity exploding online (and potentially leading to their demise; rest in peace, Centralia and Lambertville High School). But sometimes you find a location whose story isn't exactly well-known or easy to parse, even when it is relatively close to civilization. Sometimes this lends itself to building the aura of place up in the minds of the would-be researchers. In this age of information, finding a blank space in our universal canvas is a mystery worthy of its own discussion. A property cannot practically delete itself off of social media. How does the origin of a building get lost with so much documentation constantly being generated? 

Perhaps my research skills are simply rusty and future dips into the story of this cabin will yield its conclusive history. As of right now, my understanding of this cabin in South Jersey is as follows: the State obtained the land that would become Rancocas State Park in the 1960s. There were various improvements needed for the park to become safe and accessible, and certain needs were met while others were abandoned due to costs. At some point, multiple cabins existed along the creek and they were either built up as a part of these accommodations, or had been previously standing and were absorbed into the State's purchase. Today, I believe only the one remains standing. A story I found stated that a "Mr. Wilkie" lived in this property and was employed as a caretaker. The reading becomes even more apocryphal from here. One anonymous comment I found stated that their grandparents had lived in this house when they were a kid (similar to our beloved Baldpate Mountain and its now-destroyed homesteads and the former residents that I have had the pleasure to talk to after writing my article about the mountain) -- another string of commentary states that this Mr. Wilkie was a dedicated caretaker, but something of a hoarding mess himself, and was eventually relieved of his duties as he was not maintaining the park or the house to any sort of standard. Other stories delve into the land having previously belonged to Native Americans and what groups used the lands and properties for later on in the seventies. 

Whether or not Mr. Wilkie was a decorated (or flawed) public servant, someone's grandfather, or an amalgamation of stories that accumulated as the complicated ownership of park lands transferred hands over the years, a house now stands vacant in the woods of South Jersey, decaying and bearing the art and graffiti of countless passers-by. It stands as a very accessible and, in its own right, gorgeous piece of abandoned lore in the realm of Weird NJ and their ongoing folklore. The fact that it is still standing makes me wonder if there are any long-shot plans for its rehabilitation. If that is one day in the works, and the powers that be are, in fact, looking for a caretaker to dwell in this charming structure overlooking the creek, please be in touch -- at least once Mr. Wilkie's cabin has electricity again. Or glass in its windows.

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