Volcano in New Jersey? It’s old (and dormant), but it’s here
WANTAGE – On the west side of this township in Sussex County, in the section known as Beemerville, the already mountainous terrain suddenly rises 200 feet on a private residential road.
At the top of this formation, over 1,000 feet above sea level, is a flat rock over a quarter of a mile in diameter.
Believe it or not, this is the only known remnant of what was once an active volcano, its cone flattened during the Ice Age by a mile-deep patch of ice.
It is known as Mt. Rutan or Rutan Hill, after a family who settled in the area, or Volcanic Hill. Today there is at least one house installed on the hillside.
And while everyone’s definition of “ancient” differs depending on context, Rutan Hill’s description as an ancient volcano should be somewhat reassuring: it last erupted 360 million years ago, at best. guess by Wayne McCabe, Sussex County Historian.
The Assemblyman Parker Space, whose family also keeps much of the region’s history as the owner of the Space Farms Zoo & Museum, said it could have been even longer ago, perhaps 440 million years ago.
He said geologists still come to the zoo from time to time to ask for more information.
Likewise, McCabe said he receives a question about the history of the volcano about once every 10 years.
Space says even though the volcanic remains are surrounded by private land, if you make a pilgrimage to the northern tip of New Jersey and keep a close eye, you can get a good view.
“It’s kind of neat when you walk past it, you can see it pretty explicitly – if you know what you’re looking at, that’s the hardest thing,” he said.
Space also mentioned a smaller volcano-like hill in the general vicinity, and said farmers used to loot both sites for ash while the town was being built.
“Lots of stone walls, you can still see the volcanic rock inside, and that’s because the farmers didn’t really care what it was like when they built a wall, clearing the land,” says -he.
For McCabe, having a volcano – even a dormant one – in his area is a badge of honor and an indicator of the wide array of natural phenomena in New Jersey.
“It’s interesting that we still have an example of that here in our county, and to my knowledge we don’t have it anywhere else in the state,” McCabe said.