As the New Year begins and you reflect on all you have to be grateful for and make your list of to-do’s, why not make the resolution to learn more, see more, and experience more of what makes New Jersey great?
New Jersey played a key role in this nation’s history, and the state – particularly Monmouth County – has some of the oldest historic destinations in the country, 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.
This month’s Historic Havens will suggest 12 locations to visit, one each month, to learn more. You can be sure there are 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) The Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County, 310 Mounts Corner Drive in Freehold, www.jhmomc.org
2) Sandy Hook Lighthouse and Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook, www.nps.gov/gate
3) The Museum of the Historical Society of Ocean Grove, 50 Pitman Avenue, Ocean Grove, www.oceangrovehistory.org
4) Monmouth Battlefield State Park
5) New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial and Vietnam Era Educational Center, 1 Memorial Lane, Holmdel, www.njvvmf.org
6) Christ Church, 380 Sycamore Avenue in Shrewsbury
7) The Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, 37 Christie Street, Edison, www.menloparkmuseum.org
9) Princeton University and the Princeton Cemetery of Nassau Presbyterian Church, www.nassauchurch.org
10) Wilson Hall, at Monmouth University
11) Taylor-Butler House, 127 Kings Highway, Middletown
12) National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey, Sea Girt Avenue and Camp Drive, Sea Girt
One of the great introductions to area history is the Monmouth County Park’s System’s “A Weekend in Old Monmouth.” Dates for 2017 have not been released, but the event is traditionally held on the last weekend of April/first weekend of May. During this weekend, nearly all the historic sites throughout Monmouth County open their doors – all at the same time – to visitors with an interest in local history. Admissions are waived during the event and most locations feature costumed volunteers who tell you all about the history of the location. Many also have 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 www.monmouthcountyparks.com often to see what’s happening.
If the winter’s chill is keeping you indoors, you can still visit many historic locations and learn by reading some great books. Here are some of the most well-researched and intriguing books on our area: History of Monmouth County by Franklin Ellis, A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties by Edwin Salter, The American Revolution in Monmouth County by Mike Adelberg, Steam Vessels Built in Old Monmouth by Leon Reussille, The Unique New York & Long Branch by Don Wood, Joel Rosenbaum, and Tom Gallo, Up and Down The Beach by June Methot, Those Innocent Years by George H. Moss Jr. and Karen L.Schnitzspahn and The Story of Shrewsbury Revisited 1965-2015 by Rick Geffken and Don Burden. That list should get you through the winter and you are sure to be amazed by what you learn.
Should you wish to really get involved in preserving history, there are a number of wonderful historical societies that you can join. 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, from becoming a costumed demonstrator, or a docent, to an archivist, there’s something for every personality. Visit www.monmouthhistory.org to learn more.
Shrewsbury has a particularly active and friendly historical society. Attend one or two meetings and you will meet many knowledgeable members full of very interesting tales of the area – some even star-studded. Visit www.shrewsburyboro.com/historical-society.
As profiled in a previous Historic Havens, the Monmouth County Archives is a treasure trove of historic records and photographs. Many are unfamiliar with the volumes of data available, including some of the oldest documents in the state, and they are always looking for volunteer archivists. Visit www.co.monmouth.nj.us and look under archives to learn more.
The next time you approach an old cemetery, stop for a quick visit and look at how old some of the tombstones are. Let your mind wander to what life was like in those days and what those earliest of residents would think of the New Jersey we know today. History is all around us; explore and enjoy.