Marilyn Schmidt is the owner of Buzby's Chatsworth General Store, which is home to "The Cheshire Cat", a gift shop loaded with Pinelands-related information. This wonderful lady graciously granted an interview with me in December of 2000.
Piney: Marilyn, when did you come to the Pine Barrens and where are you from originally?
Marilyn: Two years ago, I came to the Pines to live; I was in Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island and before that, Cranberry, and before that, East Brunswick.
Piney: How did you get involved with the Chatsworth House?
Marilyn, Well, it was falling apart and I was interested in renovating old homes. It was up for a tax sale. I didn't get to the tax sale, but to get clear title you have to foreclose, so I foreclosed on four owners who were on the deed and two banks who had major leins against the property, and then it was fine.
Piney: What brought you to the area?
Marilyn: I began selling my books at the Cranberry Festival, but I had begun exploring the Pine Barrens well before I moved here. It was longer back than that that I got interested; I forget the date on the book, but when I wrote it ("Exploring the Pine Barrens of New Jersey") I realized there was no map of the Pine Barrens. I called the State Division of Tourism and asked them for a map. They told me to call Pine Barrens Press and gave me my own phone number! I said "Oh, thank you" and hung up. So I figured nobody had a map, so we did a map. It designates all the sites that are in "Exploring the Pine Barrens of New Jersey" and today is the only map of the Pine Barrens. It's a vast area, too - 22% of the State of New Jersey.
Piney: And Chatsworth is literally the heart of the Pine Barrens?
Marilyn: The capital of the Pine Barrens.
Piney: How big is Chatsworth today?
Marilyn: I think it's at about 4,000 but It's part of Woodland Township. Chatsworth isn't an incorporated town, just part of the Township, and there's about 400 people here in the village, I think.
Piney: When you bought the Chatsworth House, was it your initial idea to open a shop here?
Marilyn: I wanted a retail outlet. I also needed more storage room than I had in Barnegat Light, so that was the main reason.
Piney: Do you miss living in Barnegat Light?
Marilyn: I miss the fresh seafood, and it's quite a long drive to get there now!
Piney: What are the benefits of living here in Chatsworth?
Marilyn: The people are wonderful! It's a nice farm community and I like that atmosphere. People are gracious, they're helpful, and they're just nice folks.
Piney: Tell us about some of the people you've met that stand out.
Marilyn: My favorite of course, Albert Morrison, is fantastic. For a young man; I think he's just forty, he put this building back together. He knows the construction of old buildings and it's very difficult to find this. He's totally reliable. I can't speak highly enough of him.
Piney: Does he live right here in Chatsworth?
Marilyn: He's just a block away, and his parents are my next door neighbors.
Piney: He did a beautiful job here.
Marilyn: He did a grand job. He had lots of carpenters working; I think at one time there were five in here, and of course plumbers, electricians, heating people. We had lots of others - floor installers - I was the general contractor. He helped me but I did everything. I got all my subs here for the most part.
Piney: It had to be pretty stressful at times.
Marilyn: It wasn't at all! The electricians held us up a bit, but that was it. I built three houses and this was a piece of cake in comparison because I had such good people.
Piney: You have quite a diversified background, don't you?
Marilyn: I had my real estate license, I'm a certified tax assessor, professionally I am a pharmacologist with a certification in toxocology, and I've always written. My first book was a pharmacology textbook. They came to me; I didn't come to them. I thought it was a joke.
Piney: What's your first love?
Marilyn: Writing. Eventually, once the business builds up, I would like to rent the store out and devote my time to writing.
Piney: What are some of the books you've written?
Marilyn: "Exploring the Pine Barrens of New Jersey" of course, and "Cranberry Cooking Complete" which is out of print at the moment. We sold out because The National Seashore at Cape Cod buys lots from us. "Cooking the Shore Catch" is a fun book which is going out of print, but I'm getting ready to do a new addition. There are a lot more.
Piney: What's your newest work?
Marilyn: "Churches and graveyards of the Pine Barrens", which is a fun book, but I haven't had much time to go researching. I did meet a wonderful lady by phone from Warren Grove, Mrs. Cramer, who is with the old Methodist Church there. Her husband's great-great grandaddy physically built it. Interestingly, she told me that on the Sunday before hunting season the church has a special service for hunters. Now this congregation that supports the church is twelve people, but they had 43 attend for the hunting season service so they were thrilled. It was wonderful talking to her; she's in her 80's.
Marilyn: Have you been to Lucille's? It's one of the highlights of the Pine Barrens! Lucille's is a landmark; I wrote her up in "Exploring the Pine Barrens", saying that when you go to Warren Grove, stop at Lucille's for her chile and wonderful homemade pies. Now, whenever I go there she introduces me to everybody in the restaurant! That's how Mrs. Cramer and I met.
Piney: Who else is memorable that's been in here?
Marilyn: One of my friends is Albertus Pepper, who is in his late eighties. Albertus is the last living member of the crew that rescued Carranza's body from the Pines. They brought it here and put it in Buzby's garage. He told me very descriptively how they transported the body here, then to Mount Holly then on to New York and then back to Mexico City. Albertus tells me lots of stories of the old days.
Piney: What about the Lee family?
Marilyn: Wonderful, gracious people!
Piney: We passed their cranberry farm coming here along Route 563. Is that one of the largest farms in the area?
Marilyn: Technologically, they're probably the most advanced, but not the largest by any means. The largest farm is Haines and Haines. Their farm is the fourth largest in the United States. It's over 11,000 acres. I think they have about 1,000 acres of bogs; I don't know exactly. For each acre of bogs, you need eight to ten acres of uplands for water supply and that's why they have such a massive holding.
Piney: Where are they located?
Marilyn: Just south of here. When you see barn red pump houses, that's them. They barricade some of Oswego Lake; their property goes up to it.
Rob: Do you know the Leek family?
Marilyn: Freddy Leek, yes. And last night I was with Possum Sooy and his wife Jean. They were at the Historical Society that we just formed. Sooy is a very old name in this area, and I don't know how Possum is related, but a friend recently came up to me and said, "do you know Ellison Sooy?" and I said, "No, no one by that name around here! Are you sure he lives around here?" I only know him by "Possum! Everybody uses their nickname; no one uses their real name. I didn't know him by that!
Piney: Where are all the beautiful items in your shop from?
Marilyn: All the artwork is by Pinelands artists; my baskets are made in the pines; my birdhouses and feeders are too. Some of the other things aren't, though. It's very difficult to find crafts made in the pines. I keep trying, but I just end up getting materials related to the pines. The jams and jellies aren't made in New Jersey; I had to go out of state for them. It was very hard to find things with cranberries and blueberries on them, which is our main theme. Some things we have had made ourselves, like our Jersey Devil Mugs and our Buzby Mugs.
Piney: What kind of community events do you take part in?
Marilyn: Well, we just formed the Historical Society, and of course there's the Cranberry Festival, which this year drew 65,000 people. It's strictly for making money to restore the White Horse Inn, which is one of the last inns in good condition in the pines. There are very few of the old inns left. The Franklin Inn is in Port Republic is a private home; that's a magnificent place. Of course the Smithville was an inn originally. The people that restored that live at the Franklin Inn.
Piney: Was the Historical Society formed to further the restoration?
Marilyn: To further the history of Woodland Township, including the inn.
Piney: When the inn is restored, what will it be used for?
Marilyn: A community center and probably a museum. It's a magnificent building. I think there's twenty-three rooms in it. Each has a fireplace, except the kitchen. It's wonderful! It's huge - it goes way back.
I actually thought this place was small until I got inside and saw how big it is.
Piney: What was your biggest obstacle when you were renovating?
Marilyn: A major concern was the gas tanks that used to be out front, since there used to be a gas station here, and kerosene used to be sold in what is the cafe now. Kerosene was used for heat, light - everything. I just found out last night that this road past here was paved with oil and gravel in 1923. Up to that time it was a sand road. Electricity came here in 1932. I don't know what year the phone came, but there was a phone in this store, and it was the only one around. The Haines and the Lee's farm had phones, but you see, the Lee's farm really is in Tabernacle and the Haines' farm is in Hog Wallow, which is Washington Township, and their phone service was from Pemberton. Of course it was a party line. But the Buzby's, with the phone here, were very progressive.
Rob: Could you tell us more about the Historical Society?
Marilyn: We've had two meetings. At these meetings I've been showing tapes I have of an interview with Katie Buzby who was the last living Buzby who owned the store. I have four hours of tapes. Garfield DeMarco, who owns DeMarco Enterprises, a cranberry firm, has taped all the old-timers and has an extensive collection. Through Katie's cousin, I was allowed to get a copy of this tape. It's the best history of Chatsworth you can get. She has the most fantastic memory you would ever want. She's a magnificent lady. It's interesting and it goes with my collection of old photographs. People kept giving me old photographs of this place when I took over and I really didn't know what to do with them. They'll go to the historical society eventually. Katie was a fantastic person with a memory that was unbelievable and she tells her story of growing up here. She was a Ritzendahler and they lived in the house next door that's now owned by the Morrisons, the parents of my builder. She married Jack Buzby who lived here and as a wedding present their parents gave them the house across the street and that's where Jack and Katie lived, and Jack's parents lived upstairs. I have pictures of Willard, the older Buzby, when he died, in his casket that someone gave me. At the time it was quite typical to photograph that. I have all this "stuff" stored away. The former owners of the store sent me lots of old documents. There's one framed over on the wall, a chit - a form Mr. Buzby signed - he was the tax collector - for payment to the school teacher for $35 a month. That's from 1898 and I have them back from 1897. I have a lot of good things that should be where the public can enjoy them too. One of the members of the society and I sent up a system here where we copied some old things and the owners then took them back home so they don't have to part with them. We'll do it again as more people become interested.
Piney: So the people of Chatsworth are interested in the history?
Marilyn: Oh yes, they're really interested. It's a small group so far, but growing.
I hope to eventually restore the icehouse and the outhouse here.
Piney: In your spare time!
Rob: It sounds like you don't have a whole lot of spare time!
Marilyn: No, not a lot!
Piney: I see a lot of gardening's been done here in your back yard.
Marilyn: I'm putting native gardens in the front, too so people can see what plants to landscape with in the pines. I'm a Master Gardener with the Ocean County Extension Service, so this sort of falls in line. I've already put in a lot of native plants and people are bringing me more plants all the time. It's working out well. I'm going to put in a small cranberry bog, but I'm not sure where. There are some cranberry plants that can be grown as a ground cover, so I'm going to try that first - that would be beautiful. I just have to be sure they get water in the dry season, but they don't need water all the time. The Lees have already offered me cuttings. Everyone wants to see a cranberry bog. The bog tours at the Cranberry Festival are always sold out. A few of the farms cooperate and put a person on the bus and they go out to the dykes to see the bogs close-up.
Piney: The harvest here is a wet-harvest here, as opposed to a dry harvest?
Marilyn: I'd say 90% of the harvest in New Jersey is wet-harvest. The American Cranberry Growers Association from Pemberton are dry-harvesters but the majority of the rest are members of Ocean Spray; there are some independent wet-harvesters too. But I'm not an expert on this; you'd have to talk to the growers.
Piney: Did you publish a book on wineries in New Jersey?
Marilyn: Yes, I did that last year. I forgot about that one! There are seventeen wineries in New Jersey and I think it's wonderful that people can go and sample the wines.
Piney: Where is the winery that has the cranberry wine?
Marilyn: In Shamong, down Route 206. Valenzano Winery. There's also another one, Cream Ridge Winery, that specialize in fruit wines. Maybe when the barn get set up, we can have a wine tasting here. We have people lined up for that already.
Piney: What about the story of that mansion that used to be near the lake on Route 532 just west of here?
Marilyn: An Italian prince built that mansion. His wife inherited property in this town, which was called Shamong then. He named the mansion after her, Aruylla, and called it "The Princess' House". After they were here a while, he and investors built what was called the Chatsworth Country Club, which was also by the lake, which was called Shamong Lake, but now it's called Chatsworth Lake. If you drive out by the lake, you'll see a sandy spot on the west side of the lake; that's where the buildings were, but they were all eventually destroyed by fire. When he was reassigned back to Italy, the club deteriorated, and eventually burned, but when he was there it attracted people like the Astors and the Vanderbilts, because of his status. It was a very palatial place, as was his home. In later years his son came back, but it had deteriorated. It was built in the late 1800's. I'm not sure of the exact time frame.
There was a railroad coming right through here at one time. It went all the way to New York. "The Trail of the Blue Comet" is the best history you can ever read on the development of the pine barrens. It's far more than just railroads; it's the development of the towns. For years I looked for the source of the name "Four Mile Colony" and "Four Mile Circle" and couldn't find it; it was in "The Trail of the Blue Comet". It was called four-mile square for the area owned from Manchester down. Of course the circle wasn't there then but when Route 70 was built, and met with Route 72, they called it Four Mile Circle.
Piney: What's the best book for someone to read for an overview of the pines?
Marilyn: I always recommend McPhee's book, "The Pine Barrens", the classic. Everyone must read that. And then go on to Father Beck's books, "Forgotten Towns" and "More Forgotten Towns". Also McMann's book too, "Iron in the Pines", and "Patriots, Pineys and Privateers" which is a wonderful group of vignettes on people who were significant to the development of the pines. We usually have those books here, although they're so popular it's hard to keep them in stock. We also sometimes have Mike Hogan's photographs here.
Piney: What kind of customers come into the shop?
Marilyn: We get a lot of pass-through tourists going to Long Beach Island, but we also get a lot of academic people who want books and have found out this is the place to buy them. I get a lot of people from North Jersey who come down to visit the pines, too. I get people calling from all over the world for "Gardening on the Eastern Seashore". The last one was from Gibraltar at 6:30 in the morning! I thought it was a friend calling as a joke! I got a call from Saudi Arabia, too.
Piney: Do you do your own binding?
Marilyn: Yes, sprial binding, for economy. Sometimes it gets a little hairy, timewise. You work long days and nights, but it gets done.
Piney: What are the hours of your shop?
Marilyn: We're open Thursday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., or by appointment, so give me a call if you're going to be in the area and would like to stop in!
Piney: Do you mind people calling you with questions about books or other items you stock?
Marilyn: Not at all! They can call me at 609-894-1405. If I'm not here, I have an answering machine. I do have gift certificates available, which make great gifts!
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