Welcome to a new year and a new “By the Exits” series! Each year this column takes you around New Jersey looking for family events, historic sites, and off-the-main-road attractions you can get to “by the exits”: usually the Garden State Parkway or New Jersey Turnpike. This year it’s time to branch out and move west (and, in some cases, a little east) along other key highways.
We begin with this issue’s look at a road that’s near and dear (or not-so-dear) to anyone living in the Warren-Watchung area: Interstate 78, which runs from the Holland Tunnel to the Delaware River before continuing through Pennsylvania to its terminus at the I-81 interchange near Harrisburg. From Exit 142 off the Parkway, head west toward picturesque Watchung Mountain cut-throughs and more of what truly makes this “the Garden State!”
Exit 48, Springfield/Route 24. Nature lovers can find a wealth of trails, presentations, and educational programs at New Vernon’s Great Swamp and Morristown’s Frelinghuysen Arboretum. There is of course no shortage of fine shopping options at the Short Hills Mall, and just one exit west from that landmark you’ll find Summit’s Broadway Diner (“home of New Jersey’s best pancakes!”) and Route 124, which runs through the heart of Chatham and Madison. As beautiful as Chatham is, the “college town” feel of Madison makes it a fantastic spot to spend a spring weekend afternoon. The campuses of Drew University, Farleigh Dickinson University, and St. Elizabeth’s College all reside along 124, and Madison was also recently named one of the best towns in New Jersey in which to raise a family.
Exit 20A, Lebanon. The 2,000-acre Round Valley Reservation boasts our state’s deepest lake. The real treasure, though, is the legend of what’s beneath that lake: rumor has it a “ghost town” washed out when the reservoir was flooded in the first half of the 20th century still rests at the bottom. This is only slightly true; while there are believed to be the foundations of a few homes at the bottom, most of the homeowners were bought out and given the chance to move their homes before the reservoir was created. The government tore down most of the homes that were left behind. Makes for a great story, though, and local SCUBA companies even offer excursions for experienced divers.
Exit 15, Clinton. Chances are you’ve seen this charming hamlet’s iconic Red Mill on magazine covers or in photo collages spotlighting “the best of New Jersey.” Visit theredmill.org to learn more about the history of this beautifully maintained site, now a museum. The mill, situated on the south branch of the Raritan River, dates to 1810 and is just a short drive from Spruce Run Reservoir.
Exit 13, Clinton. Have breakfast in a vintage train car from the legendary Blue Comet at the Clinton Station Diner! Check out clintonstationdiner.com and then make a stop at this Bank Street landmark for something truly unique. The diner and its “dining car” are fully visible from Route 78 – you can’t miss it!