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The Journal magazines are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Nov 28, 2021

Learn the Fascinating Histories of Monmouth County Towns

By Lori Draz

Monmouth County has a lot of new faces. The recent months have seen floods of newcomers from New York and North Jersey. Welcome one and all! And whether you are a new neighbor or a lifelong resident who has never learned all the rich history of this area, it’s time to get to know more. In the coming new year, give your brain a workout with these books on local history. You will be impressed at what you’ll learn. 

Rumson has seen an influx of new families. Rumson also has a storied history. The definitive book is “Legendary Locals of Rumson” by local author Roberta H. Van Anda. The book boasts more than 160 vintage images, many of which have never been published, and showcases memories of days gone by. 

The sprawling estates of this stunning town were once the farms and country estates of the elite of New York City and the leading business owners. Along with the “Baking Powder King” and “the Calico King,” another of Rumson’s notable residents was a U.S. Secretary of the Interior who was asked to run for vice president, refused the honor, and left the position open for the second choice, Theodore Roosevelt. Today, one of the world’s most famous and enduring singing stars as well as one of America’s most famous chefs have ties to the town. Rumson has been the home of entertainers, sports stars, financiers, entrepreneurs, scientists, brewers, legislators, philanthropists and jurists. It is a community that brings together people of varied interests, ages, and walks of life yet remains a warm and comfortable small town.

Van Anda’s book is available around Rumson in the pharmacy, Le Papillon, Cups and Cakes, and in the Fair Haven Book Store and Barnes and Noble.

The equally impressive homes and horse farms of Colts Neck have deep historic roots. You can learn about the 13 historic sites designated by Colts Neck Township in “A Tour of Historic Colts Neck” written by county commissioner and former Colts Neck mayor Lillian Burry. The book was written to be a glove box companion for a drive along the winding roads of Colts Neck, and it includes a map showing the location of each of the sites.

Burry said, “The book traces the history of the township together with the village itself, which was settled in the 1700s. The book is available at the historic General Store which is located on the historic Burlington Path and Minnisink Indian Trail, once a stagecoach route.” 

“A Tour of Historic Colts Neck” is just $10, and all proceeds benefit the committee’s historical fund.

One of the most remarkable stories is detailed in “Sandy Hook’s Lost Highland Beach Resort” by Susan Sandlass Gardiner. There, in what is now a national park-run nature sanctuary, once stood the lost resort of Highland Beach which attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to Sandy Hook. The story is stupefying and true. In its heyday, the resort featured numerous amusements and one of the first roller coasters in the country. It was so popular it had its own rail station and ferry dock. The resort included the Sandlass Surf House and Basket Pavillion. Nightlife lovers danced the night away at the Bamboo Room which featured real palm trees, a rare sight in those days. This iconic landmark flourished for seven decades, then vanished completely.

Author Susan Sandlass Gardiner is a member of the Highland Beach founding family, making her the perfect person to share this fascinating, true tale of one of the nation’s and the Jersey Shore’s most popular resorts. She goes into how time, technology and politics erased it from the coastline, but not from the memories of the many who enjoyed it.

Just to the north of Sandy Hook is Highlands, a town known for its many restaurants and watering holes, but there is much history there which you will discover in “The ABCs of Highlands” by local historian and author Muriel J. Smith. Smith serves with the Twin Lights Historical Society Board, is a member of the Highlands Historical Society, works with the Monmouth County Historical Commission and is involved with several other local historical societies. Each of the 26 chapters tells the story of a Highlands resident from the 18th through the 21st centuries. Some chapters are about well-known Highlands people; others are about more little known people who have made a difference in the community, with some surprises tossed in for good measure. 

All of the books aforementioned are available in local booksellers, historic sites and museums, and on Amazon.