Uncovering NJ: Along the Maurice River Bluffs, grainy history sits in the sand

Maurice River Bluffs is a 535-acre park that offers rare, hilly terrains in southern New Jersey. Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

One preserve along the Maurice River in Cumberland County was once busy with barges and other freight-carrying vessels for a few operations, including support for a granary, which is now one of the ruins in this park.

Maurice River Bluffs Preserve is a 535-acre park that offers rare, hilly terrains in southern New Jersey. It is also an important habitat for migrating birds and native species. The trails are well-maintained and make for a beautiful hike throughout the park. The preserve offers separate trails for biking and hiking enthusiasts, but there are some trails that overlap. During the winter season, it is also sometimes used by some cross-country skiers.

The concrete base of the storage grain silos is apparent along with the large, concrete, skeletal remains of the Cargill Granary. Photo by Kathleen Butler

If you hike toward the west bank of the Maurice River, you’ll discover concrete remains of an old granary that lie next to the river, letting nature reclaim whatever is left of these ruins. The granary that had once existed there was known as Cargill Granary and was a global supplier that produced chicken feed; locals also came here often to buy the feed. Having a number of conveyor belts and holding bins throughout, its prized asset was the grain elevator, which had the capacity to lift a few tons of bushels.

Some longtime local residents recall seeing larger boats having difficulty navigating around the river dike to the Cargill Granary. This was most likely the reason why Cargill eventually abandoned the granary. A newspaper reported that “enormous barges experienced great difficulty getting up the river and turning around.”

Today, the concrete base of the storage grain silos is apparent along with the large, concrete, skeletal remains of the granary. Remnants of the dock also still exist.

The hilly topography of Maurice River Bluffs is thanks to sand mining operations in the 1900s. Photo by Jon Steward

The area was also known for sand mining. The sand mining operation occurred over a period of about 50 years. Throughout the park, there are large, sand depressions and mounds, which greatly altered the land topography — evidence of the past sand mining operations. Several small, railroad-type piers related to the sand mining operation also remain throughout the park. The sand mining ceased in 1950 when the plant closed.

Stone ruins of a late 1700s house can also be found on one of the trails. It was known as the Wheaton Mansion; it was a local favorite for World War II soldiers from the nearby airbase to stop at for hot, homecooked meals. It was inhabited until the 1980s and appeared to have caught fire at one point; the remaining wood is charred and brittle.

Stone ruins of a late 1700s house known as the Wheaton Mansion make for an intriguing site in the preserve. Photo by Kathleen Butler

Fun fact: A portion of the preserve was a farm from the mid-1930s until the late 1980s. It produced a variety of produce, including potatoes and beans.

The preserve is located on Silver Run Road, Millville, NJ 08332. The Blue Trail will take you to the Wheaton Mansion while the Yellow Trail will lead you to the railroad remnants.

Kathleen Butler writes about little-known local history so that others can venture out and explore these gems. She also has a YouTube channel, Rustic Ventures, as well as two published books: Abandoned Ruins on Public Lands in New Jersey and Abandoned Ruins of Eastern Pennsylvania.

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