The forests, plants and animals of Estell Manor Park have been slowly reclaiming their land, but haven’t managed to completely obscure the fact that this 1700-acre tract of land has served as the site of a glassworks in the 1800s and later became the site of a munitions plant during World War I.
Estell Manor Park is Atlantic County’s most popular park, and also contains the Warren E. Fox Nature Center. After the Native Americans, the Estell family owned the land that is now the park. The glass factory was built for this family around 1825, and glass production began in 1826. The glass factory had many different parts, including the furnace, pot house, flattening house, cutting house, lime kiln house, and worker housing. The remains of all of these sites are preserved and you can visit them.
The melting furnace is the best preserved of the above ground sites. It was originally a rectangular structure with three sections. The main room held the furnace, and the rooms on either side were used to store wood and sand for the glass making process, and then the newly formed pots so they could stay warm. The building was mostly made up of sandstone and mortar, with a sloped roof and brick arches in all four walls.
The pot house was used for making and storing the pots in which the raw materials were melted down so that they could produce glass. The materials were sand, limestone, soda and salt. This was built of the same sandstone as the melting house and had the same brick arched openings. The roof is speculated to have been wood. The part of the structure still standing is the southwest corner of the house that contains two window openings.
The flattening house was used in the production of window panes. To make window panes, glass cylinders, about 8 to 10 inches in diameter, were rocked back and forth with wooden rods until they were flat, and then heated and cooled to relieve stress. For this structure, there is only the foundation left, with a dry brick well also present.
The cutting house and the lime kiln house sites are both underground, but were uncovered in 1975 when the park was taking stock of what remains were left. The cutting house was used to cut the window panes and prepare them for shipping out, and the lime kiln house was used to store raw materials needed to make glass.
There are portions of eight different foundations above the ground that were worker dwellings--homes belonging to the workers and families of the Glassworks, but it is estimated that, originally, there were more like 10 to 12 houses.
The decision to save these ruins was made in 1996. The sites were stabilized, and walkways and interpretive signs were added, because without help,. acid rain, vandalism and erosion would have completely erased their presence and turned everything back to nature.
Estell Manor Park also holds the remains of the Bethlehem Loading company munitions plant. In 1917 when America declared war on Germany, there was a demand for more munitions factories to meet the needs of the war. Bethlehem Loading Company was created to meet these needs.
A tract of land that stretched from below Mays Landing to Petersburg was selected for the factory; the 10,000-acre property mostly consisting of swamp lands. Railroads had to be built to bring in the materials needed for the factory, and in March of 1918 when they were built, a town also was created. It was called Belcoville. The name was derived from a compact form of Bethlehem Loading Company. The town sprang into existence to house the workers needed for the factory, and by August of the same year a complete town for 400 families and 3,000 single people was completed, along with a town hall, school, bank, bowling alley, and all types of stores was finished.
By November of 1918, 56,000mm shells were loaded and delivered from the 155mm shell plant; the 8-inch shell plant was started up; and the 75mm shell plant was almost complete and ready to operate. The armistice ending World War I was signed in November of 1918, but the company and factory remained operational until 1919.
The end of the Bethlehem Loading Company factories was complete when all the usable steel and iron, from the railroad tracks and the buildings was removed for use during World War II. The concrete foundations and the rail beds are all that are left to remind visitors about the local patriotic response to the country’s crisis. Most of the plant and administration buildings remains can be viewed.
The Warren E. Fox Nature center contains artifacts from the Native Americans that held the land first, as well as Glassworks and Bethlehem Loading Company relics. There are also live animals displayed that are local animals indigenous to the area, and pamphlets maps and brochures that can be helpful to glean all the information and history possible when visiting the park.
If You Go Estell Manor Park 109 State Highway 50 Mays Landing, NJ 08330 609-645-5960; 609-625-1897 Park Hours: 7:30am to dusk. Fox Nature Center Hours: 8am-4pm Weekdays, Weekends & Holidays For more information, click here.