Gordon Thomas Ward

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A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills: Growing Up in a Small New Jersey Town

Synopsis: A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills is a heart-felt memoir of growing up in a mid-century New Jersey town. What do you hold sacred from youth? For Gordon Ward, the rural landscape of Somersetin was a truly magical place. Combining the enchantment of youth with nostalgic memories of the landscape of Somerset, New Jersey, author Gordon Ward recalls in brilliant detail the Bernardsville neighborhood in which he grew up. While the world beyond grappled with Woodstock, Vietnam, Watergate, and the era’s other great dramas, Ward went to school, played, explored the surrounding area, developed friendships, celebrated holidays, found a niche for himself within his family, and much more. In A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills, he recounts a neighborhood tale that will resonate with all whose growing-up years were filled by a sense of place. With echoes of Wordsworth and Thoreau, A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills is a timeless meditation on a special time and the special place that makes a “hometown.”

Book stats: 192 pages, 50+ photographs

Published: October 2007

Publisher: The History Press

ISBN-13: 9781596293823

Where to buy: Autographed and inscribed copies of A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills are available directly from the author. This title is also available from independent bookstores and national book sellers. The collector's edition is only available from the author at this time.
 

List price: $19.99 Softcover, $28.00 Collector's Edition
Author price: $18.00 Softcover, $24.00 Collector's Edition
 

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Reviews & Endorsements

Independent Review 

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

By Sherie Schmauder

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.  Read more >

“I just wanted to thank you for writing A Bit of Earth. I feel so fortunate that you so eloquently described some memories of my childhood…allowing me to relive some wonderful experiences…I could not put the book down. I was flooded with memories that you wrote about and some that were a bit different for me but were evoked by what you wrote. In addition to being a wonderful read, your book inspired me to write down my own memories.”
~ Peggy Doherty DeLong
 

“Gordon Ward’s A Bit of Earth tells the rich human and natural history of a particular place over time, but it is much more than that. It is a touching memoir of—and a gentle plea to recapture—a rapidly vanishing type of unstructured, but profoundly rewarding, childhood. A Bit of Earth is also something of a primer and call to arms for all who want to develop a deeper and more subtle understanding of the often surprisingly complex history of their own local places and their links to the land and the past.”
~ W. Barry Thomson, co-author of New Jersey Country Houses: The Somerset Hills, Volumes 1 and 2
 

“‘...[S]omewhere in there,’ Gordon writes of his father's music-making, ‘somewhere in between the notes lay a message that reached out to me....’ That is what this book is like. It recreates a place, a time, and a young man growing through painstaking accretion of detail. And from somewhere between those carefully scribed explorations a truth emerges: there is a certain serenity and sense of wholeness that comes only with paying careful attention. Gordon Ward's gift to us, in this book is a recalling of a truth easily overlooked, that every life is a voyage of discovery and that it is careful attention to details - small and great alike - that will bring us to our own serene center.”
~ George Ward (no known relation to the author), folklorist/teacher/musician
 

“Rather than supply another clinically dry collection of local facts, Gordon Ward’s A Bit of Earth is a touching reading experience that is built on a foundation of Bernardsville history.  Flavored with legend, lore, and humor, A Bit of Earth provides a lesser-seen glimpse of life in the estate section of the Somerset Hills. For anyone who has ever felt a strong attachment to the place of his or her formative years, A Bit of Earth provides a reassuring and nostalgic reading experience. Those of a more historical inclination will not be disappointed either. Wherever one’s interests may lie, this book is sure to please.”
~ W. James Kurzenberger, Curator of the Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage State Historic Sites, Somerville, NJ
 

“This book awoke many of my personal, childhood memories. I was always bored with history in school, but this book shows that history doesn’t have to be about events that happened a long time ago in places far away but in your back yard. Mr. Ward brings history home with sights, sounds, and stories around Somersetin from the son of a Presbyterian minister who built a house there in 1796 to the influx of the landed gentry in the mid-nineteenth century and through his own childhood. It is micro history rather than macro history and, as such, is more personal. Gordon weaves people, history, geology, architecture, and wildlife into a story of personal memories that stirs thoughts of one’s own formative years. This tale reminds me of my own childhood where we didn’t need organized leagues, hockey rinks complete with Zambonis, and lighted fields with paved parking lots to play baseball, but a local pond and a field with trees and rocks as bases worked just fine for pickup games with neighbors. We spent most of our spare time outdoors enjoying the nature around us rather than being stuck in traffic in a SUV trying to get to soccer practice. Gordon describes a time of tree forts, exploring and fishing the local streams, chasing loose farm animals, apple fights, making paths in tall grass, and living in harmony with the wildlife and the environment. A Bit of Earth is about exploring and enjoying the land around us, so we can feel more connected, which is part of the Sierra Club’s mission.  I hope this book motivates you to find out more about the history of your own back yards.”
~ Don McBride, Chairman of the Sierra Club Raritan Valley Group in the New Jersey Chapter
 

“The author’s skill in combining his extensive historical research, along with his childhood and teenage experiences while residing in a house on a former estate in Somersetin, a small section of the Borough of Bernardsville in Somerset County, NJ, makes for extremely interesting reading. Gordon’s precise and accurate accounts of the physical and biological landscape also capture the attention and imagination of the reader and help one feel a part of his story. From the description of the changing seasons to the native fauna, such as owls, snakes, lizards, frogs, butterflies, and other insects, to the flora, ranging from mosses and lichens to delicate Queen Anne’s Lace and from lilacs and forsythias to large majestic trees such as oaks, maples, beeches and willows, the reader gains a good feeling and appreciation for the natural beauty of the area. In writing this book, the author encourages us all to become more aware of our physical space and to carefully explore its history and ecology. He also reminds us that we each have our own stories and experiences that add character and another chapter to the history of our own place.”
~ R. Gordon Perry, Ph.D., Department of Biological Sciences, Fairleigh Dickinson University
 

“Part memoir, part local history, A Bit of Earth offers a view into an idyllic  New Jersey childhood most of us would envy. These pages are filled with adventures and discoveries in the natural world, a sense of place, and a strong awareness of the continuity linking the past to the present.”
~ Lily Hodge, Education Department, New Jersey Historical Society
 

“Your book is INCREDIBLE. You tell such beautiful stories. I read your poem 'Acre' a few minutes after leaving the bookstore... I feel like Keats when I say that describing beauty is impossible because words that are needed to capture it are not available.Your poem is one of my favorite works I have ever read. Thank you for that.”
~ Lauren Cordes
 

"I have read A Bit of Earth - it is wonderful, poinant and sweet. I bought it for my husband's siblings, since they undoubtably can really relate, having played in the same woods all their growing up, yet I found it to be a book that is universally wonderful for anyone who had a childhood! A great, quick, charming read for sure, and even children would get a kick out of it.  I thought it would be a good one to read with a child each night.”
~ Helen Walton