Tthis is the latest edition in The Daily Beast’s twice-monthly series on Underrated Destinations.‘s Another big world.
My familiarity with dinosaurs probably started like others did, with library books and school trips to elementary school, then over time faded to maybe catch movies in the JUrassic park franchise.
Now in my forties, I’ve decided that a walk in southern New Jersey might re-energize that sense of childish wonder. And that’s how I ended up in Haddonfield, a borough in Camden County about 20 minutes from Philadelphia. For Haddonfield was once the source of an important 19th-century discovery which helped shape the course of much of modern paleontology.
It was at Haddonfield that the first almost complete skeleton of a dinosaur was discovered in North America. Its name: “Hadrosaurus foulkii”.
In fact, it has been discovered twice: once in the 19th century and again in the 20th.
I learned the story when I contacted Butch Brees, whose now grown son Christopher played a major role in the saga. In 1984, Christopher, then a teenager, was working on the creation of Eagle Scout, and it was his badge project that sparked renewed interest in this key piece of New Jersey history.
“No one really put a marker on where the dinosaur was found,” said Butch, who was a scoutmaster at the time.
The property in South Jersey, where fossils were first discovered in the 19th century, belonged to John Estaugh Hopkins. In 1858, Hopkins invited his friend William Parker Foulke, a Philadelphia lawyer and avid nature historian, to dinner at his house.
During their visit, Hopkins told Foulke about some bones he had found in a marl pit on his land around 20 years earlier (apparently some were given to friends as keepsakes or used as doorstops. ).
Foulke was also a member of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. Intrigued by what he heard, he asked Hopkins to take him to the site where the bones had been excavated. Then he asked for permission to return with a digging crew.
“About six to ten feet down, they started to find bone after bone,” Butch said.
After the bones were confirmed as fossilized dinosaur bones, paleontologist and Academy member Joseph Leidy came to the site. The bones were then transported to the Academy (now Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences), where they remain today.
Leidy coined the name “Hadrosaurus foulkii”, which means “Foulke’s bulky lizard”. Although a complete skull has never been found, excavations have provided enough physical evidence to assemble a skeletal structure – just 16 years after the term “dinosaur” was coined in 1842 by English paleontologist Richard Owen.
Ten years later, at the Academy, English sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins reassembled the skeleton and cast the missing parts in plaster. When the reassembled skeleton was on display in Philadelphia in 1868, crowds flocked to see the first reconstructed dinosaur in a museum.
“It was really Ground Zero in the study of modern paleontology,” Butch explained, “because now they knew what a dinosaur looked like. They were able to lay out the bones and sink pieces in between to really say, this is what a dinosaur looked like and how big it was.
“Hadrosaurus foulkii” was a hadrosaur, a herbivorous duck-billed dinosaur from the Cretaceous Period, living along coastal waterways where muddy sediment accumulated at that time. [its bones would become incorporated into them]. According to Ted Daeschler, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Academy of Natural Sciences, 19th-century South Jersey farmers saw that the ancient sediment had value.
“[They] understood that some of these ancient sediments were actually quite rich in organic matter and could serve as natural fertilizer for agricultural fields, ”said Daeschler. So the farmers dug up these layers of sandy clay. Farmer Hopkins’ marl pit was one such site.
During their research, Christopher and his father came across written records of Leidy’s presentation of bones to the Academy as well as a hand-drawn map of Hopkins’ farm.
“Over the years, people have kind of forgotten that this was a unique and important dinosaur.“
– Butch brees
After meeting with Academy officials and gaining their support, Christopher and his fellow Scouts set to work to create a park to commemorate the excavation site. The park is located at the end of Maple Street, a side road from Grove Street (the current site is approximately 150 feet past the park).
In 1984, a ceremony in the park with local and state officials celebrated its completion. A decade later, the site would be declared a national historic monument.
Two commemorative markers – one mounted on stone, the other set on a post – recognize the two milestones. There is also a wooden stand with a map and brochures.
Butch continues to run the site, and keeps track of visitors with a guestbook. “We had almost 7,000 visitors who visited the site,” he says.
Christopher Brees’ Eagle Scout Project inspired greater recognition for Hadrosaurus foulkii in 1991, when he was named the Official Dinosaur of the State of New Jersey, thanks to Joyce Berry, a teacher, and her third-grade class at Strawbridge Elementary School in Haddon Township.
In 2003, a Hadrosaurus Foulkii sculpture by artist and sculptor John Giannotti was placed in downtown Haddonfield on Hadrosaurus Lane. It turned into a fun photoshoot.
Butch Brees, who also looks after the statue and handles the merchandise sold through a related website, is uncertain why Hadrosaurus foulkii fell off Haddonfield’s radar for more than a century after its initial discovery.
“I think it got lost in time,” he says. “Over the years people have kind of forgotten that this was a unique and important dinosaur. What happened next was Chris made the site and got a lot of attention [back] to the dinosaur found at Haddonfield.
#dinosaurs #roamed #Jersey