As we make our resolutions and focus on health and fitness, January is the time to make the commitment to learn and see more of the history of the great Garden State.
New Jersey’s role in this nation’s history is undeniable and, thanks to many dedicated historians, is well-chronicled. The state – and specifically Monmouth County – has some of the oldest historic destinations in the nation, all within a short drive. Preserving these historic jewels requires dedication, funding, volunteerism and hours of work, all to prepare for your visit. 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 will suggest 12 locations to visit, one each month, to learn more. You can be sure there are many, many 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) Twin Lights Lighthouse, Lighthouse Road in Highlands. TwinLighstLighthouse.com
2) The Museum of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove, 50 Pitman Ave. in Ocean Grove OceanGroveHistory.org
3) Monmouth Battlefield State Park, 16 Business Route 33 in Manalapan Township.
4) Battleship New Jersey, America’s most decorated battleship. 62 Battleship Place in Camden. Become one with the exhibits and artifacts. Sit in Admiral Halsey’s chair, lie down on the sailor’s bunks, climb into the 16” gun turret where the projectiles were loaded. BattleshipNewJersey.org.
5) NJ Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and Vietnam Era Educational Center. 1 Memorial Lane in Holmdel. njvvmf.org
6) Historic Longstreet Farm. 44 Longstreet Rd. in Holmdel. MonmouthCountyParks.com
7) Chhange (Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide Education). 765 Newman Springs Rd. in Lincroft, on the Brookdale Community College Campus. chhange.org.
8) T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center. 94 Drs. James Parker Blvd. in Red Bank. TThomasFortuneCulturalCenter.org.
9) Barnegat Lighthouse or “Old Barney”, in the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. 208 Broadway in Barnegat Light.
10) Historic Walnford. 62 Walnford Rd. in Allentown. See more than 200 years of social, technological and environmental history as you walk through the site’s progression as a mill village, working farm and manor estate. The Colonial-era Waln House will impress both casual and studied fans of architecture. MonmouthCountyParks.org.
11) Info Age Science and History Center. 2201 Marconi Rd. in Wall. InfoAge.com.
12) Steamboat Dock Museum and the Keyport Historical Society. 34 Main St. in Keyport. KeyportHistoricalSociety.com.
One of the great introductions to area history is the Monmouth County Parks System’s A Weekend in Old Monmouth. Dates for 2020 have not been released, but the event is traditionally held on the last weekend of April. During this weekend, nearly all the historic sites throughout Monmouth County offer free admission along with lectures and numerous costumed docents who conduct demonstrations and explain the details of life and the history of the location. Many also have activities, music and speakers, 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.
If you succumb to a big bite from the history bug, there are many wonderful historical societies that would really appreciate you joining. 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. The association is always looking for volunteers. Ways to lend a hand are diverse, from becoming a costumed docent, an archivist, gift shop operator and much more. Visit MonmouthHistory.org to learn more.
Keyport has a rich waterfront history along with many homes at least a century old. The Keyport Historical Society formed in the mid-1970s to preserve that history. The original waterfront building, the Steamboat Dock Museum, was filled with artifacts, documents and photos. Sadly that building was destroyed during Superstorm Sandy, and much of the collection was lost or damaged. The artifacts now reside in a historic building at 34 Main St. The society would love your help in continuing efforts to secure the collections and re-catalogue the thousands of items that remain.
Shrewsbury’s active and friendly historical society is part history and part social club. Visit ShrewsburyBoro.com/historical-society.
The Atlantic Highlands Historical Society is another active group. It is located at 27 Prospect Circle in Atlantic Highlands, in the Strauss Mansion which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2018. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 pm. For those of you looking for a little thrill and chill, the mansion is considered to be an actively haunted location.
Another must-visit for history hunters is the Monmouth County Archives. This is a gold mine of historic records and photographs. You will be overwhelmed by the extraordinary quantity and quality of materials there, including some of the oldest documents in the state. The staff is always looking for volunteer archivists to help catalogue historic photos and documents. Visit co.monmouth.nj.us and look under archives to learn more.
Treat yourself to learning more. History is all around us; explore and enjoy.