Cowboy Country in New Jersey

Salem County is where someone will help always help without asking, and a cowboy hat can always be worn with assured acceptance.

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Melissa DeCastro

Salem County is in the southwest corner of the state and is authentically country. There are no false fronts for tourists here, but a genuine place of working farms and fields and wooded lands. It is small towns and wildlife and bucolic in its simplicity. New Jersey is the Garden State and it is in this county where one understands why the name is apropos. The land is flat and the fields appear endless, and rows of crops only yield in their precise order to the rounded silos in the distance. The trees are often the highest points in the horizon and the miles of farms and country acres beckon to bikers and runners alike to escape for hours into peaceful solitude.

In warmer months we yearn for more time outdoors. We look forward to the certainty of early mornings with the sun rising behind the drawn curtains before the alarm is set to wake us. We enjoy late evenings when the moon illuminating and only the slightest breeze allow for the welcome change of outside dinners, and time for lingering over dessert and gently conversations. There is a place not far from the cities of the northeast where cowboys still ride as they always have and the arrival of lightening bugs against the darkness the delight of every child. Salem County, New Jersey is a perfect escape in the summer months and throughout the year.

The county itself is about 100 miles south of New York and 30 miles from Philadelphia, perfect for a day trip escape or a side excursion when a wedding or birthday weekend brings visitors close to its farm fields and wooded lands. During the summer months on Saturday evenings, there is a rodeo alive and well. Cowtown Rodeo proclaims itself to be the oldest weekly running rodeo in the country, and its fences separate the horses from the countryside with families gathered for an evening together in the comfortable warmth when dusk falls.

This is where the American Indians, and Revolutionaries, and Civil War soldiers of past centuries all called home, and where the past is still evident. It is a place where the Underground Railroad led to its doors and the buildings still exist with hidden doors and secret places where welcoming homes housed many on their way to freedom. Houses everywhere in this county still stand strong with origins from the start of this nation with plaques hung proudly besides doors stating the centuries they have stood. History lovers can explore the quaint and charming city of Salem where the Swedish flag can be found flying near historic sites to acknowledge those that helped found this city along the shores of the Delaware River. It is where the oldest courthouse in continuous use in New Jersey, lies quietly and respectfully on a corner block with benches carved along the wall in enduring brick and mortar. Nearby the Friends Meeting House house predates the Revolutionary War, and down the road where American Indians once lived, the vast Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge endures to welcome visitors to walk and learn more about the birds and other wildlife and terrain that are indigenous to this land. Our nations history carries forward at the site of Fort Mott, built in the period shortly after the Civil War along the banks of the Delaware, it now offers itself to exploring and picnics in the same grounds that once soldiers did the same.

This is place where people learn early in life to bake and preserve fruits and vegetables in large batches. These lessons are taught early and retained more as life skills than hobbies. This is a place where orchards seem to be as close as the nearest grocery store, and a barn as likely as to be seen as a garage. Where honor boxes are left at tomato and honey stands and there is a trust in one another. There are calm creeks for fishing and the sound of low motors or a small wake breaking against the shore, the only hint of those nearby. It is where the the sounds of turkeys and doves are readily recognizable, and where deer share the woods with the squirrels, venturing out to eat fallen apples or corn from the cob.

This is a part of New Jersey where the local college offers glass blowing and hones skilled artisans, and the local schools keep farming alive in clubs dedicated to the love and pursuit of preserving the land. It is where agriculture can be studied, and a place where everyone knows the color of the soil beneath the grass. The entire county has a gentleness within in. It is where a trip to the local hardware store means someone will help carry out heavy supplies without asking, and a cowboy hat can always be worn with assured acceptance. Salem County is a place where the door is held open for the next one to pass through, and there is always a warm welcome to those that come to enjoy this beautiful part of the Garden State.

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