Gordon Thomas Ward
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A BIT OF EARTH IN THE SOMERSET HILLS:
GROWING UP IN A SMALL NEW JERSEY TOWN

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.”

9 X 6 Softcover First Edition~ 92 Pages, Over 50 Images
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The hardcover Collector's Edition of A Bit of Earth is only available through the author or through this website!


9 X 6 Hardcover Collector's Edition~ 192 Pages, Photographs
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Independent Review

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

By SHERIE SCHMAUDER, Contributing writer
Published: Mar 19th, 2009, 6:27 AM
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.

 

Endorsements

            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

 

A Passage fromA Bit of Earth
© 2006 by Gordon T. Ward

        My childhood in Somersetin was a magical time and place to do the business of growing up.  Serenity and security hung thick in the air, and the surrounding woods, fields, streams and back yards beckoned with the promise of unending exploration, mysterious hiding places, treetop lookouts, an abundance of wildlife, and relics from bygone times.  These were the tools of the trade for a child’s imagination, and my friends and I were masters of our craft.
        There was a bountiful amount of space in which to perpetrate our daily, childhood explorations.  This was a time when fences seemed not to exist, and property lines were blurred, marked only by hedges, trees, or gravel driveways.  Nestled in the northeast corner of Somerset County, New Jersey, this bit of earth known as Somersetin is part of the Borough of Bernardsville, which is named after Francis Bernard, the royal governor of New Jersey from 1758-1760.  The town used to be called Vealtown until 1840, and both Vealtown and Bernardsville were actually subsections of neighboring Bernards Township until the spring of 1924.  Somersetin is bordered on the north by Washington Corner Road, Hardscrabble Road on the east, Lloyd Road on the south, and has Mendham Road marking the most western side of the parcel.  A hilly area offering a mixture of deciduous woods, ponds, streams, fields, and yards, the air had a clean, crisp quality, which my Great Aunt Ella from New York City used to compare to the smell of freshly sliced watermelons.
        Each season had its distinct and definite grasp on the region.  Winters were bitter cold with a perpetual snow cover that seemed to always reach up to frost the windows of our home.  Spring dripped with the scent of forsythia and lilac in a world awash in that new golden-green hue of emerging growth.  Summers, painted in goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, phlox, milkweed, and a spectrum of butterflies, were hot and humid and made the local brooks and streams even more inviting.  Late summer thunderstorms heralded the coming of autumn, which promised the brightest red, orange, and yellow leaves I can remember and chased everyone inside on chilly evenings, the smell of burning leaves still lingering in the air.  Oak, maple, and tulip trees towered above us, and a plethora of magical places lay at our feet amidst the nooks and crannies of our neighborhood.
        Neighbors were friends, people you saw every day in their yards and who waved and shouted hello when you passed.  Telephone callers always seemed to be people you knew.  As a child, one felt safe, protected, and free to explore and observe everything, and that is exactly what I did.  Within the fabric of our neighborhood, my friends and I moved freely in and out of yards, across fields, through woods, and down wooded lanes, immersed in life and soaking up every new and precious moment we could.  And when darkness fell and we found ourselves in bed, we nodded off under our blankets with the satisfaction of our daily adventures spinning in our heads, the lullabies of the night creatures and soft breezes reaching our ears through open windows, and the anticipation of continuing our seemingly endless saga held fast in our hearts.

 

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