New Jersey man makes it his mission to preserve ‘piney’ culture

A New Jersey man has taken it upon himself to preserve the history and culture of the “piney.”
William Lewis says that he is the son and grandson of some of the last generation of true pineys – people who lived off the land in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, gathering pinecones and other products for New York and Philadelphia floral markets.
“My dad was a transitioning piney. Remembering the old things and the old ways you could go out and pull pinecones. We did that whenever he wasn't working,” Lewis says.
Lewis has written a book titled “Adventure with Piney Joe.” It features a cartoon version of a hand-sewn gnome that Lewis’s wife gave him for Christmas two years ago. The book guides readers to the best spots to visit across the Pine Barrens.
“I took [the gnome] out in the woods with me and everybody loved the pictures of him out in the woods, out in the Pines,” Lewis says.
The book idea came during the pandemic when he met many people visiting the Pine Barrens for the first time but had little idea of where to go.
Lewis's previous book titled “New Jersey's Lost Piney Culture” explores what it means to be a piney then and today, now that that culture is long gone.
“There were a lot of negative stereotypes floating around about what pineys were,” Lewis says.
The word “piney” was long considered a derogatory term after early 20th century eugenicists tried to use the area's backwoods residents as examples of their discredited pseudoscientific theories. The term came to be embraced by locals with their “Piney Pride” bumper stickers. Lewis describes 10 types of modern-day pineys, from the tree hugger piney - environmentalists whose work protected pines, to firefighter piney, to the patriotic piney.
“We all learn something from each other, no matter what kind of piney you are,” Lewis says.
Both books by Lewis are available on Amazon and at local bookstores.