Gordon Thomas Ward

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‘A Bit Of Earth In The Somerset Hills’ tells history and haunts

By Sherie Schmauder, Recorder Community Newspapers

March 19, 2009

 

Gordon Thomas Ward, who lives in Bedminster, has written a memoir of his life on the Bernardsville Mountain in a small house on the Lloyd Estate, where he lived from 1959 to 1983, “A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills: Growing Up in a Small New Jersey Town.”

 

But this book isn’t just a memoir. It contains little-known local history, wildlife information, ghosts, folklore, and an inspiring admonishment to record our own memories of places. Ward’s writing contains richly evocative images, though some of it is a more factual rendition of the history of Bernardsville’s Lloyd Road area, sometimes known as Somersetin. Black and white photos anchor the scenes.

 

Ward says, “This is a love story, one of another time and place.” He laments the pace today of children’s lives. “Children need the unstructured time and space in their lives to explore, to investigate, to pretend and observe, to wallow in nature…”

 

He deplores people’s lack of connection with their land, and their lack of knowledge about it. He gives us the history of Lloyd Road homes, and mentions earlier places in that micro-region I had never heard of. Did you know a settlement called Logtown, complete with the Somerset Inn School, was in that vicinity? Three giant trees that grace the Lloyd estate area lead Ward into this history. Logtown existed from 1723 through the mid-1800s, he says, with sawmills, sheep farms, a mill, general store, blacksmith, and other business. Iron ore was mined. One area on the north and east side of Hardscrabble Road was a sacred Lenape burial ground.

 

“…Tradition and historical character help to shape who we are and provide us with roots,” Ward says. He wants to furnish readers with a “template map for a treasure hunt” into their own bonds with history and location. He lists ways to research, and suggests that we also use intuition about the impressions gained from different locations. If we do this historical/intuitive research, Ward says, we will “…create a foundation from which we can address the future with increased vitality and strength.”

 

Other writers as well as Gordon Ward have believed that memory and energy are stored in places. He calls this “residual time,” which exists everywhere on earth. “It is the aura in the atmosphere that gives each area its unique ‘feel.’”

 

Much of “A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills” is an evocative memory of his childhood days and the activities, fields, woods, streams and ponds that furnished him and his friends with never-ending play ideas.

 

Altogether, the Lloyd estate area was a glorious place to be a child growing up years ago. Some of the intriguing areas were remnants of the Lloyd estate. Francis Lloyd had a huge kennel with over 100 Scottish Terriers that he showed. When the estate was dissolved, Ward says, the kennels were destroyed, leaving only the brick foundations of the kennel. These remains were a treasure site where Ward and his young friends could find animal bones. A chicken coop was still inhabited in his childhood, and an old tree house in a swamp willow tree beckoned.

 

Ward branches out from his immediate home on Lloyd Road to the surrounding area, with a mention of the excitement involved in going into Jerolaman’s store for candy.

 

Other near-by fascinations for Ward and his friends were trails he discovered as a child, which are mostly victims of development. One actually led from Lloyd Road to Seney Road and Bedwell Elementary School, and as a child he walked it with his mother many times. “If roads and trails act as arteries of travel and transportation, then the herd paths and footpaths were the capillaries of our neighborhood,” Ward comments. This kind of illuminating comment lifts Ward’s writing to a higher level.

 

There was fishing in the old Lloyd Pond, a cow in his front yard one morning, a couple of unusual pets, flashlight tag and catching fireflies, pellet guns to shoot down wasp nests. These topics become a glossary for a child’s garden of outdoor delights.

 

Winter sports included Flexible Flyer sleds, not today’s plebian plastic saucers and sleds that have absolutely no class. And snowball fights, of course, not to mention skating on the pond, and listening for the first Spring Peepers. Ward also lists the glorious flowers of the Somerset Hills, but for some reason never seems to have run afoul of poison ivy.

 

Summertime brought the Fourth of July, the iconic celebration every child and adult remembers; yard sports like baseball and touch football, and harvesting apples, cherries, and wild berries. Ward’s mother, Mildred Ward, was a renown baking expert, creating architectural cakes that looked like Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown and other area buildings. Gordon Ward even gives us her recipe for Somersetin Apple Coffeecake.

 

Ward has had some unusual experiences that transcend the ordinary. He talks about these paranormal occurrences in “A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills,” and suggests that we can’t “know everything there is to know about the workings of this universe.” His connection with nature is strong, and this book is well worth a read, even if you don’t know his immediate area of the Bernardsville Mountain.

 

Gordon Ward divides his time between writing, lecturing, and serving as Director of Youth and Family Activities at an area church.

 

His first book, reviewed in these papers in 2005, was “Life on the Shoulder: Rediscovery and Inspiration Along the Lewis and Clark Trail.” His most recent book is “Ghosts of Central Jersey.” His website is available at www.gtwservices.com.