Plunging perspectives at Northlandz.
Plunging perspectives at Northlandz.

Northlandz

Field review by the editors.

Flemington, New Jersey

Northlandz revels in its excess. This self-proclaimed "world's largest miniature wonderland" appeared, fully formed, in 1996, "a culmination of 25 years of dedication to art and creativity," according to its brochure.

Railroads and waterways.

Another river gorge...

Northlandz presents a world of exreme landscapes, straight out of the head of designer/creator Bruce Williams Zaccagnino. The construction is impressive: Eight miles of track, hundreds of bridges (made of millions of tiny pieces of wood), over 4,000 buildings and a half-million lichen trees. Northlandz's massive substructure required enough lumber to build 42 large houses. Several hundred tons of plaster went into the construction of its multiple-story mountains.

Northlandz calls itself "The Great American Railway," though nowhere in America will you find these vistas. The topography reminded us of a Roger Dean Yes album cover more than anything you'd find in Kansas or California. Rocky cliffs, canyons, and gorges are everywhere; and villages teeter on pinnacles of rock, houses stand on spindly sticks clinging to thousand-foot precipices. Tiny plastic cows graze on 75-degree hillsides; horse paddocks are surrounded by sheer cliffs. Mortality among the tiny inhabitants of Northlandz must be tragically high.

Bruce Williams Zaccagnino on organ.
Bruce Williams Zaccagnino in the early days, playing his organ.

Plane crash. No one was hurt, kids!
Plane crash. No one was hurt, kids!

Tunnels and bridges -- absurdly enormous, intricate bridges -- are everywhere, crossing each other on multiple levels (often above or beneath you) like freeway interchanges, growing ever more outlandish as the tour progresses. Eventually you find yourself wondering: Why would people in a vertical world use the railroad for transportation, which can operate on a five percent grade, maximum?

Little paper signs taped along Northlandz's crisscrossing walkways constantly remind you of its vastness. Twenty minutes from the entrance one announces: "You are only two percent through Northlandz!" Old people shake their heads in disbelief; those who can increase their walking speed.

A central chamber contains a five theater organs, one with 2,000 pipes. In the early years of Northlandz, Bruce, an accomplished concert organist, would sit with his back to rows of seats and tootle on his mighty Wurlitzer. A sign warns that you will enter this chamber four more times before you complete your tour....

Model of a city.
Model of a city.

Some visitors have complained about the admission price at Northlandz, but it costs money to build a World's Largest miniature. There are little notations of comedy -- "World's Tallest Outhouse," "World's Only Toothpick Farm," and other things for the observant to discover. Unlike other American miniature worlds, where you can push buttons to light up buildings, Northlandz doesn't offer interactivity. Over 100 freight and passenger trains dutifully make their way along river beds and through tunnels, unaffected by whether anyone looks at them.

Towering over 2-stories tall.

We notice other modes of miniature transportation are occasionally portrayed in less adoring fashion -- a plane crashed into a mountain (though the passengers exit unharmed and climb down ladders), and dusty little cars in traffic jams or packed into parking lots.

Around one corner, a huge model of a city appears, its eight-foot-tall miniature skyscrapers incongruous and out of scale with the railroads (most of the trains are HO gauge, but there are also some O-gauge Lionels and the bulky G-gauge). Though no trains run in the metropolis, it can be glimpsed as distant backdrop from other parts of the tour.

Toward the end, visitors walk through the main control room, where mechanical consoles keep the trains running and the lights on.

Bruce claimed that he had never ridden in a real train, which perhaps explains the astounding sights in Northlandz, completely untethered from the dull real world of mass transit.

Maintaining Northlandz finally became too much work for Bruce, and he retired in 2018 and sold the property. The new owner, who bought it sight-unseen and wanted to bulldoze the building for a warehouse, was so impressed by what he found inside Northlandz that he completely changed his mind. He spent 10 months and a quarter-million dollars to reopen Northlandz in late 2019, after cleaning off the cobwebs, making repairs to damaged scenery, rewiring the trains, and adding LED lighting to make the landscapes even more eye-popping. The world's largest miniature wonderland has become a wonder once more.

Northlandz

Address:
495 US-202, Flemington, NJ
Directions:
On the north side of US Hwy 202, two miles east of Flemington.
Hours:
W-M 10-6, closed Tu (Call to verify)
Phone:
908-782-4022
Admission:
Adults $20.
RA Rates:
The Best
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November 18, 2019

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