and photos by Donna Traylor
As historic sites go, Lusscroft Farm is one of
a kind. Located in the northwest corner of Sussex County, these
578 acres have a rich and diverse past. Between 1914 and 1930,
James Turner, a Montclair stockbroker, invested the considerable
fortune of $500,000 to make Lusscroft a perfect model of dairy
farming, employing the most innovative practices of the time based
on scientific research. The property is located on Neilson Road
in Wantage Township and contains 23 buildings including the Turner
Mansion, the Manager's Dwelling, the spectacular Outlook Lodge
and the dairy barn and farm structures. The land includes fields
and pastures, ponds, woodland and various barnyards.
one time in its history, Lusscroft housed the finest purebred Guernsey
herd in the region. Cows were the single most important factor
in making dairy farming profitable, and Turner invested his money
wisely, while using the latest machinery, seed and rural electrification.
Ultra-modern, electrically lighted barns with automatic water troughs
and artificial ventilation housed the herd. The Sussex Independent
wrote in 1916 of "a fine Jersey dairy upon the Turner farm,
each sire being worthy to adorn the pages of the most expensive
printed catalogue issued by the most exclusive publishing houses
in the country. A specialty is also made of poultry, prime Leghorn
fowls having the preference. These aristocratic fowls are so comfortably
housed that the fierce mountain gales bring to them no terror.
There are also turkeys, proud gobblers and fine hens, and well
To promote agricultural research and education, Turner donated
his original 1,050 acres and three separate farm units to the State
of New Jersey in 1931, the only stipulation being that the land
be used "in every expedient way toward promoting social progress
and welfare." Along with the land went the Guernsey and Holstein
herds, horses, tractors, modern dairy buildings, employee cottages
and a complete line of farm machinery. Lusscroft became one of
the first farms devoted to dairy research in the United States,
serving from 1931 until 1970 as the North Jersey Dairy Branch of
the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station of Rutgers University.
The farm gained national prominence as the site where artificial
insemination of dairy cows was developed. In addition to developing
breeds of cows that were healthier and produced higher content
of butter fat in milk, artificial insemination provided a safety
mechanism to farmers who no longer had to accommodate ornery bulls
on their premises. For the duration that the research facility
was open, New Jersey was at the forefront in the development of
grassland farming, artificial livestock breeding and production
testing for a safe and healthful milk supply.
Lusscroft's next chapter was to serve as a 4-H Youth Center for
Outdoor Education, although only 578 acres of the original 1,050
were used. The center opened in 1973 to just under 1,000 campers
and closed in 1996 due to declining enrollments and increases in
maintenance expense. In 2002, the State of New Jersey transferred
administrative control of Lusscroft over to the New Jersey Department
of Environmental Protection, Division of Parks and Forestry. It
now comes under the management of High Point State Park with a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the State Agriculture Development
Committee who administer the State's Farmland Preservation program.
The MOU states that the land still in agriculture use will remain
|Natural growth overtakes both the fields
at Lusscroft and the farm’s complex of buildings. With
immediate stabilization, the buildings at Lusscroft can still
The General Management Plan that was presented to the public during
a July 2004 meeting outlined three possible alternatives for this
property. Approximately 400 people attended this meeting to learn
of the project and give their views. Afterward, 63 written responses
were received. 97% of the responses favored the first two alternatives,
or a combination of both.
The first alternative envisions the adaptation of the property as an agricultural
and environmental facility for educational and public use. The second alternative
proposes a new state park that would accommodate horseback riding, hiking,
and other passive environmental uses of the property. The DEP’s Division
of Parks and Forestry supports the first alternative with additional uses of
the property for horseback riding and other equestrian activities.
Agritourism and ecotourism can be a vital component of Lusscroft's
Farms in Vermont is a good example of what can be done at Lusscroft.
Like Lusscroft, Shelburne is protected through easements to remain
in agricultural and environmental use. It has an agricultural component,
utilizing its land to pasture a dairy herd, and producing a value-added
product: the farm's own cheese for public sale. Shelburne opens
its many facilities to school children for agricultural and environmental
education programs and uses its mansion for public dining and overnight
accommodations. With state and public support, similar uses can
occur on the Lusscroft property; here is an opportunity for the
best type of public/private partnership.
The mechanisms for stabilizing the property and buildings on Lusscroft
Farm are in place. The site's tremendous historic value for the
state and national dairy and agricultural industry is well established.
Limited funds are available to NJDEP for rehabilitation of buildings
on state-owned property. Finally, a non-profit "Friends" group,
the Heritage and Agriculture Association, Inc. has begun a grassroots
campaign to promote the adaptive re-use of Lusscroft's assets.
Preparing the farm for public "consumer" use requires
a long-range plan, a well-organized effort to raise private donations,
and a heavy dose of "sweat equity" from the group's members.
But it is not unrealistic to hope for Lusscroft's gates to be fully
open in three to six years. In the meantime, the property will
begin hosting birding and nature walks, horseback riding as trails
are opened and perhaps various fundraising events.
Anyone who would like to join the Heritage and
Agriculture Association, Inc. should contact their president, Sue
Gerber, at 973-875-2764. The Lusscroft General Management Plan
is available through the NJDEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry.
Lusscroft events and continuing information will be available at www.sussexfarmvisits.com.
With its rich agricultural history, unique buildings, and breathtaking
scenery, Lusscroft Farm will become a vital Sussex County destination