Modern Times

In 1851 Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews founded Modern Times, a community based on Warren’s ideas of individual sovereignty and equitable commerce. Modern Times quickly grew into a stable and unique village within the Long Island town of Islip. Its marks can still be seen even as its founding principles have been gradually replaced by more conventional ideas.

Modern Times Dame House

Josiah Warren was born in Boston in 1798. By 1851, he was an experienced innovator and activist. He made several contributions to printing technology and invented a lard-burning lamp that provided good light using cheaper fuel than tallow. From 1824 to 1827, he lived with his family at Robert Owen’s utopian community, New Harmony, where Warren worked as a music director.


Warren soon realized that New Harmony, run on communitarian principles with Owen in charge, did not provide a solution to economic injustice. Warren did not leave as a reactionary but remained an innovator. He developed his philosophy of individual sovereignty, and advocated individually-held property with an economic program of “equity” or “equitable commerce.”

After leaving New Harmony, Warren opened a new store in Cincinnati. Prices were based on cost with compensation for the storeowner’s time, and labor notes were used as a medium of exchange. The storekeeper agreed to exchange his time for an equal amount of the customer’s time. The system was modified through experience, and began to allow for different valuations of different kinds of labor. Warren’s “Time Store” was very popular and had a major effect on local business. But Warren had his mind on broader changes.


In 1831 Warren established the first “equitable village” with four hundred acres and a few families. The experiment had to be abandoned due to disease, a major problem for new and old communities at the time, but Warren believed that he was onto something. He explained his ideas his publication The Peaceful Revolutionist. In 1847 he established Utopia, a village in Ohio. Individuals traded with each other using labor notes, and in doing so were able to acquire homes and small plots of land despite their previous poverty.

Warren returned to Boston in 1848 and met other reformers, then went to New York City in 1850, where he developed his relationship with the writer and reformer Stephen Pearl Andrews. It was time to demonstrate equity at a new location.

Warren and Andrews purchased land in the town of Islip, New York. They developed 90 acres of their purchase, laying out a grid of streets and dividing blocks into smaller lots that would be sold at cost.

Through labor capital and cooperation, Modern Times pioneers were able to afford homes, some for the first time. By 1854, 37 families were living in Modern Times. In 1857 the octagonal-shaped one-room schoolhouse was opened.


Reporting in the New York Tribune brought attention to the village, and didn’t always bring the expected crowd.

While Modern Times residents were generally non-conformists for their time, some pushed the envelope further than others, including a family of nudists, an advocate of polygamy, and followers of strange diet fads. Warren remarked that “A woman with an ungainly form displayed herself in public in men’s attire, which gave rise to the newspaper comment that ‘the women of Modern Times dressed in men’s clothes and looked hideous.’”

True to their principles of individual sovereignty, residents were largely tolerant of what they considered odd as long as their neighbors did not invade the rights of others.The community’s tolerance, and probably the money to be made in sensational reporting, led Modern Times to be widely viewed as a den of sin and dishonesty. The prevalence of a casual view toward marriage and non-interference in personal relationships contributed to outside disdain.

In 1864, Modern Times residents voted to change name of the town to Brentwood, which is the name of the area today. William Bailie contends that the pioneers continued to prosper but “often let the statement go forth that the experiment had come to an end in order to escape the interminable annoyance of sensational press reports and equally obnoxious visiting cranks.”

One goal of Modern Times was to demonstrate on a small scale what could be done if the principles of equity and individual sovereignty were applied on a large scale. In this sense, Modern Times was a failure as a public relations project, but it was not a failure as a community. It was an attractive place to escape the control of capital and conformity.

In 1857, a resident praised Modern Times in a letter to an English friend.

You have been here, Sir, and I ask you, considering the natural obstacles to overcome, if you ever saw greater material success attained in so short a time, by the same number of people without capital, and with only their hands and brains to operate with, under all the disadvantages of habits formed by a false education and training…. And as it regards individual and social happiness and the entire absence of vice and crime, I am confident this settlement cannot be equalled.

A visitor’s account of Modern Times reveals a strong combination of individualism and community spirit.

No two persons were expected to dress alike, think alike, or act alike; nothing was in such disrepute as sameness, nothing more applauded than variety, no fault more venial than eccentricity….
There was, too, an easy, cordial relation of one with another, a frankness and simplicity of intercourse, which gave assurance that they were held together by a genuine attraction and sustained by mutual sympathy.

Bailie writes that Modern Times moved away from Warren’s ideas mainly due to the scarcity of employment other than agriculture, and the reluctance of the outside community to adopt its economic principles.

Capital was needed to start factories for the manufacture of articles for which there was a demand in the outside world. The pioneers had but little resources, and the labor-note currency, while of great service amongst themselves, could not help them in transactions with those who neither understood the principle nor accepted the practice of Equitable Commerce.

The Panic of 1857 and the changes wrought by the Civil War contributed to the gradual dissolving of the community’s identity.

George Woodcock writes that Modern Times “maintained its mutualist character for at least two decades, eventually turning, like Utopia, into a more or less conventional village with cooperative tendencies.”

The schoolhouse closed in 1907 and became a private residence.


In 1989 the schoolhouse was moved to a spot on the school district property, and locals are making efforts to restore the structure.

Modern Times Schoolhouse

Back of Modern Times Schoolhouse

Exactly how equitable commerce could have worked on a regional or broader scale is a good question. Numerous time-based currencies have come, and many have gone, since the 1830s. Warren would certainly favor innovation and peaceful competition to find the best way, as he did when he ran the Time Store. The solution could not be imposed by force, but had to be freely adopted and adapted by individuals who recognized it to be in their interest.

Josiah Warren wrote about social and economic philosophy until his death in 1874. He was an innovator who learned through experience and put his ideas into practice for refinement and demonstration. The peaceful revolutionist influenced a number of American reformers and rebels, and was considered a forefather of individualist anarchism.


Stephen Pearl Andrews continued his involvement in reform movements until his death in 1886. Promoting Warren’s ideas was one of his numerous contributions to nineteenth-century politics.


In a way Modern Times symbolizes an ideal of America as a somewhat wild land of opportunity where pioneers – innovators, people willing to build new lives for themselves and their neighbors – have the freedom to experiment. It is of course an ideal that was not fulfilled on a wide scale, an ideal that coexisted with slavery, speculation, sexism, cronyism, and conquest. But it is a promise that can bring hope to a land enclosed and foreclosed upon, a promise that Warren, Andrews, and many Modern Times residents worked to fulfill, a promise that today’s innovators may deliver to more people.

It is an ideal that shines through stories found along the road.

modern times schoolhouse sign


Accounts of Modern Times are quoted from Bailie, Josiah Warren, Chapter 8.

The Josiah Warren Project at Crispin Sartwell’s website is an excellent place to begin research on Josiah Warren.


“A Message From the Brentwood Historical Society.” Brentwood Historical Society.

“Andrews Biographical Information.” Anarchy Archives.

Bailie, William. Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1906. Online at Anarchy Archives.
Modern Times history from Chapter 8, “Modern Times”; Background info from Chapters 1, 2, and 10.

Berger, Jay. “Brentwood History Trail Guide,” Brentwood Public Library.

Brentwood Public Library, history room, Visited February 18, 2013.

Maloney, Cory, Discussion with author, February 18, 2013.

Projects, Brentwood Historical Society.

Sartwell, Crispin. “Timeline of Josiah Warren’s Life.” The Josiah Warren Project.

“Today in History: August 24, The Panic of 1857.” American Memory. The Library of Congress.

Warren, Josiah. “Modern Education,” 1861. Josiah Warren Project.

Woodcock, George. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Ontario: Broadview Press, 2004. Pages 391-394; quoted from 393.

Image Credits:
Anarchy Archives (first Josiah Warren image)
Brentwood Historical Society (old photos of school building)
Helen Nayfeld (photos of current Brentwood)
Josiah Warren Project (Labor Note, Josiah Warren)
Molinari Institute (Stephen Pearl Andrews)

Lightning Tower

In 1901, construction started on a tower intended to be the first piece in Nikola Tesla’s plan for wireless energy transmission. The 187 foot tower at Wardenclyffe was to be a working prototype for wireless communication as well as electricity distribution.


The tower is long gone, the laboratory is boarded, up, and the grounds are full of weeds.

Tesla Wardenclyffe Laboratory

Nikola Tesla was born in 1856 in Smiljan, a Balkan town now in Croatia. By the 1880s he was working in the emerging field of electrical engineering and making innovations of his own. He came to New York in 1884 and worked for Thomas Edison for a year. After a period of working on his own while doing physical labor for money, Tesla began a fruitful working relationship with George Westinghouse.

Westinghouse was a major proponent of transmitting electricity through alternating current, as opposed to Edison’s advocacy of direct current. Tesla and Westinghouse illuminated the 1891 World’s Fair in Chicago and partnered with General Electric to install massive AC generators at Niagara Falls. With royalty money and name recognition, Tesla soon struck out on his own.

Around 1900 a number of innovators were working on wireless communication. Tesla himself piloted a remote control boat around a pool in Madison Square Garden in 1898. He proposed a “world system” of wireless telephone communications, which would broadcast news, music, and even pictures around the world. He got the attention of financier J.P. Morgan and set up what he intended as the first installation and testing ground for his world system in Shoreham on Long Island. It was called Wardenclyffe for a landowner and patron of the installation.

Tesla Street

Morgan invested $150,000 into the project, which was a substantial sum but nowhere near what the project would require. Tesla then revealed his broader vision: the world system would also transmit electricity wirelessly. Morgan was unmoved and did not invest further. Tesla’s position was not improved by Guglielmo Marconi’s successful wireless transmission of a Morse code S across the Atlantic Ocean in late 1901.

Tesla pressed on. A 187-foot tower topped by a 55-ton steel sphere was built. In 1903 it was activated. Lightning streaks flashed through the night sky, startling nearby residents. But it was not enough to be a successful commercial venture, and Tesla abandoned the project in 1905. He soon sold the land to settle debts with the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The new owners demolished the transmission tower in 1917, possibly at the urging of federal officials concerned about it being used as a landmark or observation point for German spies.

Wardenclyffe Lab

Tesla’s dream was defeated, and Marconi’s achievements in radio were celebrated more than the pioneering radio work of Tesla and others. But Tesla continued to innovate boldly even as his behavior became more eccentric. In 1928 he received his last patent, “Apparatus For Aerial Transportation,” essentially a tilt-rotor aircraft. Hoping to make it impossible to invade a country by air or land, Tesla worked on a particle beam weapon until his death in 1943.

Wardenclyffe changed hands many times until it was bought by Agfa, a company specializing in imaging equipment. Agfa used the grounds from 1969 to 1992, and later spent about 5 million dollars cleaning up silver and cadmium contamination at the site. It has been on the market since 2009, and funds have been raised to purchase the property for a science center and museum. It is not a convenient place to get to from outside of Long Island, but it certainly has potential to be a great community place.

Wardenclyffe For Sale

It is a large tract, and several buildings besides the Tesla laboratory stand on it.

Wardenclyffe Grounds

Building at Wardenclyffe

Today Nikola Tesla is widely admired, sometimes with cult hero status, for his ingenuity and his vision. His eccentricity has only fed the legend. It is satisfying to think of him as the mad scientist, or as the man who stared too long into the abyss and went wild with the wisdom he found. And his rivalry with Thomas Edison, often exaggerated, makes for an appealing story of handsome folk hero against the powerful rich man. These characteristics have fueled many fantastic stories and conspiracy theories, many centered around Wardenclyffe.


Tesla’s work was profoundly important to the development of alternating current motors and power distribution, as well as wireless signal transmission. He was one of many pioneers bringing the dawn of an electric age, and perhaps his bold vision made him more aware than anyone that a new world was at hand.

While Tesla certainly could have broadcast radio signals from Wardenclyffe, wireless transmission of electricity has been shown to be impractical on a large scale. Even geniuses get it wrong sometimes.

At a time when lightbulbs and phonographs were amazing innovations, Tesla envisioned a world system of electronic communication. A century later, the moving pictures we see from the other side of the world are mostly going through wires, but they are often sent through the air before getting to our computers. Tesla’s tower can be appreciated as a bold effort to explore a new frontier of energy and harness its power for humanity.

Wardenclyffe Complex


Amaral, Brian. “Was Thomas Edison a hack? Historians take on claims in The Oatmeal.”, February 10, 2013.

Broad, William J. “A Battle to Preserve a Visionary’s Bold Failure.” New York Times, May 4, 2009.

“Life and Legacy.” Tesla – Master of Lightning. PBS.

“Nikola Tesla.”


You don’t need much to start exploring: comfortable clothes and decent shoes (unless you’re one of those barefoot people) are the only equipment you really need. If you’re going far then water, food, raingear, an extra layer of clothing, and something to carry your stuff with will help.

But if you are serious about trekking out and reaching a specific place, a few things can help you do that – and help you get home. I have decided that a checklist will help things go smoothly when I set out to explore, and I’ve posted it as a simple, two-page .pdf document. Your needs may differ from mine, and every journey has different requirements. But this is something you will adjust as you gain experience and awareness of options.

Here it is: The Head First Day Trip Checklist

Silvermine Lake

Head First Video: The Modern School of Stelton

The Head First crew explored the grounds of the Stelton Ferrer Colony with a former resident and discovered one of the most significant radical communities that existed in New Jersey.

The Modern School, based on the ideas of Spanish anarchist Francisco Ferrer, was a radical program of freedom in education. After Ferrer was executed in 1909, anarchists and social reformers founded Modern Schools in many countries, and the movement took root in the United States. From 1915 to 1953, a community anchored by a Modern School existed in Piscataway Township, New Jersey.

Head First took a tour of the old Ferrer grounds with Bob Vinik, who grew up in Stelton and attended the Modern School. He gave us a fascinating picture of community life and how students grew into successful adults. We also got a chance to see how the land of the old colony has changed as Piscataway Township grew around it. It was a pleasure meeting Bob and discovering the unique history around the corner.

Rocks on Mountains

On Sunday afternoon I went looking for some abandoned mines in the Ramapo Mountains. Ore from northern New Jersey’s highlands, especially iron, fed the state’s manufacturing centers and inspired the development of roads, canals, and railways to move metal and to bring Pennsylvania coal to foundries after local forests were too depleted to fuel them. Most of the mines were abandoned by the early twentieth century and some of them make worthy destinations for a history adventure.

Ramapo Nickel Mine and Mountains

I considered exploring the Peter’s Mine complex. I noticed that the trail near the Peter’s mine was closed, but I wasn’t all that concerned since I wanted to get off the trail anyway.


But then I vaguely remembered something that did concern me. It turns out the Peter’s mine complex was used as a dumping area for industrial waste, including paint sludge from a Ford plant in Mahwah. It’s now a Superfund environmental cleanup site. Local residents complain of health problems linked to contamination and it is still unknown how much waste remains in the area.

I chose to explore a different area, the Ramapo Valley County Reservation. Quite a few people were there in the mild weather, but the crowds dissipated the farther I got from the parking lot. I set out to find a couple of mines on my map, and hoped that by exploring deeper I could find something not on the map.

Skyline From Ramapo Valley County Reservation

Downhill from the Ridge Trail, just south of its junction with the blue-and-white trail, is a location identified as Nickel Mine. If you look carefully, you can see the outline of a hole with a horseshoe-shaped pile of waste rock – called tailings – around it.

Ramapo Nickel Mine Tailings

There were a few openings and a trench nearby.

Ramapo Nickel Mine

Just down the hill is a rock face.

Ramapo Mountain Icicles

I got back on the trail and set out for the Pierson Exploration. I explored the area the Pierson Exploration looked to be on the map, but I don’t think I found it. As it turns out, the mines in this area are well-cataloged and described in the book Iron Mine Trails by Edward J. Lenik. According to Lenik, the Pierson Exploration is an opening on the hillside to the west of the woods road about 1100 feet from its junction with the green trail. It appears on an 1862 map of the Pierson estate, so it was dug sometime before then.

By the time I got to the Pierson area I was approaching the time I set to head back to the parking lot. But I decided to go up a nearby ridge.

Ridge in Ramapo

I did not find evidence of a mine up there, but did find evidence of much earlier activity: a boulder that must have been left on the ridge by a glacier. Since it was the highest thing around I obviously climbed on top of it.


Embarrassingly I had trouble finding the woods road after coming down from the ridge, and had to do more compass work and pushing through thorn bushes than I should have needed.

With that detour, I was actually concerned about getting a ticket for parking in the county lot after it closed. So I sped down the trail, and got to my car just as a truck with flashing lights pulled into the lot. They didn’t look like they were giving tickets, but I left the parking lot feeling like an action hero anyway.

All in all it was a good afternoon. You never know what you might find when you take the time to look. Just watch where you’re going and know how to navigate back if you miss something. This trip would not bring me to mines as impressive as those we explored in Harriman State Park, but it did give me a much-appreciated opportunity to experience the outdoors and see what’s out there.

Ramapo Mountains Sunset


Layton, Mary Jo. “No end in sight for Ford cleanup in Ringwood.” The Record, December 12, 2010.

Lenik, Edward J. Iron Mine Trails: A History and Hiker’s Guide to the Historic Iron Mines of the New Jersey and New York Highlands. New York: New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, 1996. Pages 66-69.

Map Archive of New Jersey’s Abandoned Mines. State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water Supply and Geoscience.

Trail Map 115 – North Jersey Trails. New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, Inc. 9th Edition, 2009.

Background on mining’s impact on transportation networks:
Lane, Wheaton J. From Indian Trail to Iron Horse: Travel and Transportation in New Jersey, 1620-1860. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1939.

Old Time Traffic

Central New Jersey has long been an important travel corridor. Native Americans, Dutch and English settlers, and the Continental Army all passed through on routes not much different from today’s Route 27. By getting off the highway, we can get a taste of what it was like to travel between Philadelphia and New York going overland from the Delaware to the Raritan River.

The most important Lenape pathway from the Delaware River northeast to the Raritan and Hudson Rivers was known as the Assunpink Trail. Between the Raritan and Delaware Rivers it split into the “Upper Trail” and “Lower Trail.” European settlers expanded and slightly straightened the Upper Trail into a throughway that became known as the Old Dutch Road. By 1765 it was the favorite route for travel between Philadelphia and New York because of its directness and the accommodations for travelers along the route.

George Washington’s troops burned a bridge along the road in January 1777. A stone bridge was built in 1793 to replace it.

Kingston Mill and Bridge

But the energy of the new republic could not be satisfied with repairing old roads – new ones were desired. In the first third of the nineteenth century, numerous turnpikes were built to connect markets, manufacturing centers, and raw materials.

In late 1804 the Trenton and New Brunswick Straight Turnpike Company was formed, and their route between the two cities would eventually become part of US Route 1.

Turnpike companies were each created by a specific act of the state legislature, and they received a number of favors. Competing with chartered routes was prohibited for a fixed number of years, if not permanently. Travelers who dodged tollgates by taking byways known as “shun pikes” could be fined three times the legal toll. Turnpike companies could also use the power of eminent domain to take private property in some circumstances.

Turnpike companies often took over existing roads, straightening them where previous concern for property boundaries led them to be circuitous. But others, including the Trenton and New Brunswick, were laid out in entirely new, straight routes.


New turnpikes were required to be as direct as the ground would allow. Those leading through relatively level areas were permitted a deviation of three degrees from the plane of the horizon.

The Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike soon opened to travelers. The Kingston Branch, established in 1807, extended service to Princeton and Kingston over part of the Old Dutch Road.

Increased traffic during the War of 1812 took its toll on the roadway. Heavily loaded wagons turned road surfaces into a maze of “hopeless ruts and quagmires.”

Wheaton Lane shows us that road rage is an old tradition:

This part of the route through New Jersey was in such ill repute with drivers that when the going was bad they sometimes refused to take the short trip of twenty-five miles. When the roads were drier however, teamsters even fought among themselves with whips while struggling to have their wagons loaded first.

Conditions improved after peace relaxed freight transport. The turnpike became a popular route for stage lines to take passengers through the state between Trenton and New Brunswick, where ferries and steam boats took them on the Delaware, Raritan, and Hudson Rivers.

In the mid-nineteenth century, competition from canals and railroads hurt turnpike companies and the roads became mainly used for local travel. In 1897 the state passed a law where remaining turnpikes were bought and turned into public roads with a combination of funds from state and county treasuries and local landowners.

People who held stock in turnpike companies rarely made large financial profits from the pikes, but since they were usually local landowners, farmers, and businessmen, they gained from the improved transportation networks they helped create. Wheaton Lane estimates that toll roads reduced the costs of transportation by as much as 50% and boosted rural and urban development.

Automobile travel in the 1910s and 1920s brought old roads to new prominence. The New Jersey section of the transcontinental Lincoln Highway (now Route 27) largely followed the Old Dutch Road, and the section of US Route 1 between the Raritan and Delaware Rivers was built on the route of the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike.

Between the two highways, a wooded area offers the explorer an idea of what old roads might have looked like.

Cook Natural Area Trail

The Cook Natural area extends east from Ridge Road in South Brunswick. And there is mud.

Cook Natural Area Mud

The trail leads to an old stone bridge that was once used as a road crossing over the Heathcote Brook.

Cook Heathcote Bridge

The roadway across the bridge would hopefully have been better covered when it was in use. Now the structural stones are visible sticking out of the top.

cook bridge surface

A stone on the middle of the bridge appears to be engraved with “Heathcots Brook”.

Heathcots Brook

The traveler speeding through New Jersey or waiting behind a truck on Route 1 is part of a longer tradition than one might think. But when the luxury of time can be enjoyed, there are many places to discover along the road. Some of them are worth getting a little dirty for.

Bridge in Cook Natural Area


Backes, William J. A History of Trenton, 1679-1929. The Trenton Historical Society.

“Cook Natural Area,” Kingston Greenways Association.

Dawson, George, ed. Guide to Historic Sites in Central New Jersey, 4th
Edition. Somerset, NJ: The Raritan-Millstone Heritage Alliance, Inc,
2012. Page 126.

Kingston 1999 Committee. Kingston: Crossroads to History: 325th
Anniversary of the Village of Kingston, New Jersey, 75th Anniversary
of the Kingston Volunteer Fire Company. 1999. Pages 8-11. Accessed at South
Brunswick Public Library, 110 Kingston Lane, Monmouth Junction, NJ.

Lane, Wheaton J. From Indian Trail to Iron Horse: Travel and
Transportation in New Jersey, 1620-1860. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1939. Assunpink Trail, pages 17- 18, 51; Turnpikes, pages 143, 150-162, 168, 199-201. Quote on road condition, 159.

“Natural Areas.” Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park.

Exploring History.