Let’s make a new year’s resolution to learn more about and experience more of the glorious Garden State. Monmouth County has some of the oldest historic destinations in the nation, all within a short drive. The state’s rich culture celebrates the sea, the soil, religious and political freedoms, celebrities, science, and even some scandal; after all, this is New Jersey.
This Historic Havens offers 12 locations to visit, one each month, to learn more. Even if you only get to a few, you will be amazed at what New Jersey holds. Here they are, in no particular order:
1) The Monmouth County Historic Society Headquarters in Freehold, across from the courthouse has more than 35,000 artifacts from three centuries, plus rotating exhibits, live and virtual lectures and events. Visit MonmouthHistory.org.
2) The Museum of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove is located at 50 Pitman Ave. Visit OceanGroveHistory.org to learn more.
3) If you liked Ocean Grove, strolling by Keyport’s dozens of century-old homes will delight. The Historical Society headquarters has many of Keyport’s nautical artifacts, and the town’s revamped boardwalk has great skyline views of New York City. Visit KeyportHistoricalSociety.com.
4) Built in 1870 for State Senator Anthony Reckless, the Reckless Estate is now the home of the Red Bank Women’s Club, which offers numerous activities and events. Visit WomansClubOfRedBank.org.
5) The Historical Society of Princeton offers many tours, some even virtual. The two-mile, two-hour History Sunday Tour takes you through downtown Princeton and the university, including Bainbridge House, Nassau Hall, the University Chapel and Palmer Square as you learn Princeton’s early history and more about the American Revolution. Visit PrincetonHistory.org.
6) Minutes from Princeton, right near Trenton, is where General George Washington crossed the Delaware River. Tour the New Jersey sites then take a short ride onto the Pennsylvania side to visit the historic village and climb Bowman’s Hill Tower. Built at where Washington scouted his crossing point, the 125-foot structure offers a 14-mile view of both states. Visit WashingtonCrossingPark.org and WashingtonCrossingStatePark.com.
7) The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and Vietnam Era Educational Center is located at 1 Memorial Lane in Holmdel. Visit njvvmf.org.
8) Learn more about those gorgeous Rumson estates at RumsonNJ.gov/rhpc/welcome. This well-presented website shows you the dates and architectural features of several historic addresses.
9) St. James Memorial Church, at 69 Broad St. in Eatontown, was built in 1866 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
10) The Jewish Museum of New Jersey is located at 145 Broadway in Newark. The museum is housed at historic Congregation Ahavas Sholom, a state and national landmark and the oldest continually active synagogue in Newark. Visit JewishMuseumNJ.org.
11) The Walnford House in Upper Freehold showcases 200 years of social, technological and environmental history through the Waln family. You’ll see its progression as a mill village, working farm and manor estate. The Colonial-era Waln House will impress both casual and studied fans of architecture. There are demonstrations and events on many weekends from 1 to 4 pm. Call 609-259-6275.
12) The National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey is located on Sea Girt Avenue and Camp Drive in Sea Girt.
One of the great introductions to area history is the Monmouth County Park System’s “A Weekend in Old Monmouth.” Dates for 2022 have not been released, but the event is traditionally held the last weekend of April. During this weekend, nearly all the historic sites throughout Monmouth County waive their admissions and open their doors – all at the same time – to visitors with an interest in local history. Most locations feature costumed interpreters who tell you all about the history of the location and demonstrations and activities, making it a great way to sample lots of historic places in just a few days.
The park system has many historic-themed events throughout the year, so visit MonmouthCountyParks.com often to see what’s happening.
Should you wish to really get involved in preserving history, there are a number of wonderful historical societies you can join. One of the friendliest is the Shrewsbury Historical Society. This group has been getting a lot of attention statewide since the installation of their vintage wedding gown exhibit. This gorgeous exhibit continues to expand with more dresses being donated and restored. At the time of this writing, there are 39 gowns on display along with original photos, jewelry, bridal party and children’s wedding wear, and more. These knowledgeable members are full of interesting tales of the brides and stories of the area. Visit ShrewsburyBoro.com/historical-society to learn more.
The Monmouth County Historical Association collects, preserves and interprets its extensive museum, library, and archival collections that relate to Monmouth County’s history and culture and makes these resources available to the widest possible audience. They are always looking for volunteers and the ways to lend a hand are diverse, so there’s something for every personality. Visit MonmouthHistory.org to learn more.
The Atlantic Highlands Historical Society is located at the Strauss Mansion Museum at 27 Prospect Circle. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 pm, and for those of you looking for a little thrill and chill, the mansion is considered to be an actively haunted location.
Another gold mine of historic records and photographs is the Monmouth County Archives. Among the volumes of data, you’ll discover some of the oldest documents in the state, and they are always looking for volunteer archivists. Visit co.monmouth.nj.us to learn more.
New Jersey’s rich history includes Native Americans, settlers, nautical history, revolutionary war tales, rum running in the prohibition era, World War I and II history, and so much more. History is all around us; explore and enjoy.