A Starbuck or Panera Bread at nearly every corner, high rise condominiums and modern day architectural structures line the city of Middletown, New Jersey. This is the everyday picture of my hometown located north of the Navesink River in Monmouth County. Yes, I have noticed beautiful state parks, a lighthouse, and signs for tourist, but not being a tourist, I never realized or cared much for why Middletown even attracted tourists. I was looking forward to this research paper, because it gave me an opportunity to actually learn the historical significance of where I lived.
I put the proverbial “tourist hat” on and took to the streets. What I learned amazed and embarrassed me, Middletown was encased in history, landmarks and all I basically new was where to get my latte in the morning. Before seeing the “sights” that I passed by so many times without pause, I wanted to learn about the history of Middletown itself, the simple facts. The township was settled in l665 by the English who migrated from Long Island, New York and New England. They had to purchase the land from the local Indian tribes and initially established three villages; the Portland Point, Shrewsbury and Middletown.
The towns were organized as part of the Monmouth County in l693. Portland Point didn’t progress, but the two remaining villages prospered and were deemed as the “Two Towns of the Navesink” (Gabrielan, 2003). Middletown’s past included playing a part in the Revolutionary War. A vast number of residents stayed loyal to England and while others fount for their independence. According to Randall Barielan, “the conflict in New Jersey was a virtual civil war. Enemy participants in the major battle in New Jersey were headed toward Middletown. British forces hid in the Middletown hills during the battles.
I never imagined my hometown shared a piece of our nation’s history. It’s a small town of about 60,000 people, on the Navesink River. Unfortunately, we did have thirty-six residents die on September 11th, but with that aside our crime rate is 0. 6 per 1,000 people (epodunk. com, 2007). Until this paper I thought of Middletown as a quaint village with the most impressive feature being that Bruce Springsteen, Geraldo Riviera and Vince Lombardi were born. Since I did pass a few “old” churches on my way to a Starbucks, I thought I’d esearch the spirituality history of Middletown. There were several different denominations early on with the Baptist Church founded in 1688, the oldest church in New Jersey, with at least one half of the original settlers known to be of this faith.
The All Saints Memorial Church in Navesink, founded in l864 and officially becoming a National Historic Landmark in1988. Richard Upjohn, a visionary of this time period, with his English Gothic Revival architect, was chosen to construct the church laying the cornerstone in l863. According to there official website; www. allsaintsnavesink. rg, the church was awarded a “grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust to develop a long term preservation plan. ” The story behind the Episcopal Christ Church, built in l702 is interesting. It was not about England settlers getting together to worship; it was more of a “missionary venture. ” Colonial Governor, Lewis Morris, wrote to the Bishop of London of the people of Middletown: “There is no such thing as a church or religion among them. They are perhaps, the most ignorant and wicked people in the world…” The Bishop sent two Anglican priests to “save” Middletown.
That was over three hundred years ago and the Christ Church still remains an active congregation (christchurchmiddletown. org). Another area of Middletown I wasn’t aware of, is snuggled away high on a hill and called the Water Witch Club, founded in 1895. A 50 acre “historic paradise,” added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. It is known for its “exclusive club culture,” and architecture. The Witch Club enticed visits by famous architects such as Frank A. Wright and Yew York are rich and famous.
Presently there are forty-four homes at Water Witch Club that amazingly kept its “old-world charm,” throughout its history. A breathtaking site on top of a hill, which escaped me for so long (Van Develde, 2003). Before I introduce you and myself, to the several other historic landmarks in Middletown, there is one fact I was surprised to unveil. Middletown’s daily newspaper, the Times Herald-Record, often called simply, “The Record,” was the first cold offset press in the country, published in 1851.
Subsequently, in 1956, the Middletown Daily Record, the first U. S. newspaper to use cold type, printed from a garage, ignited competition for the Record. In l969 the two papers merged into the Sunday Record, but reverted back to the Times Herald-Record in 2007. The form of this newspaper from cold type to a website, in 2008, shows a timeline of innovations (record online. com). Now, back to being a tourist, I set forth to view the historical landmarks my locale had preserved for generations. Marlpit Hall was built in several stages and completed in 1756. It was the home of loyalist Edward Taylor and his family.
Taylor was held under house arrest for his political views and lost most of his wealth and influence. In l936, the house was donated to the Monmouth County Historical Association. The Association restored it to become the first house museum in the region. Marlpit has five rooms all furnished to depict its setting from l756 through 1820. It is “key property” in the National Register of Historic Places in Middletown Village. A “spin-off” of the Marlpit Hall is the Taylor-Butler House, built in 1853 by descendents of the Marlpit’s Taylor family. Joseph Taylor and his wife, Mary originally called it the Orchard Home.
They were particular in furnishing the home with family heirlooms. Mary was the last to live in the house, which remained vacant for ten years after her death in 1930. Henry Ludwig Kramer, a famous architect, bought it for his home and office, restoring its historical venue. George and Alice Butler bought it from Kramer in the l950’s; in turn the Monmouth County Historical Association bought the estate in l999. Actually the Association itself has an historical place in Middletown, too. It was founded in l898 by a group of citizens committed to preserving the history of Monmouth County.
They built a three story Georgian building in l931 to house a museum and library (co. monmouth. nj). Middletown has two historic farmhouses; the Murray Farmhouse and the Moses D. Heath Farm. The Murray Farmhouse and barn was built in l770 and remains on its original foundation. Joseph Murray and his mother arrived from Ireland in l767 to Monmouth County where he met and married Rebecca Morris, and had four children. Joseph joined the “local militia,” when the Revolutionary War began. He acquired the nickname, “daring, notorious rebel,” because he was “openly defiant of British rule. ”
The farm remained in the family until l861, and had several owners until it was purchased in 1973 by the Middletown Township to “save the land from development. ” Today the house is not accessible to the public but there are continuous events and tours throughout the barn and farmland (poricypark. org). The Moses D. Heath Farm provides access to numerous exhibits to illustrate the historical importance of farming in Monmouth County. They include; 19th century farm “artifacts, Gertrude Neidlinger (1911-1998) Spy House collection, and a working honey bee colony and museum. ” The farm promotes the legacy of the Heath family, primarily
Bertha C. Heath. Heath’s father, Clinton was a former slave until the Civil War freed him, and he fled to Middletown with his brother Calvin; who later became the first preacher at the Clinton Chapel Zion Church, founded in 1870. After he was settled as a crop farmer he sent for his wife and thirteen children. Bertha being the “youngest of 6 girls. ” Born in the farm homestead on July 22, 1909, she ran two miles for a “trolley to take her to school,” each morning. Bertha was exceptionally graduating from Middletown Township High School in 1926 she moved to Upper Manhattan, New York City and lived there for forty-four years.
During this period she graduated from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, received a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health form New York University, in 1958, and a Master of Science degree from Columbia University. Bertha went beyond what a black women was allowed or able to do, and enjoyed working as a registered nurse until her retirement in 1974. Bertha with the help of her nephew, Walter Spradley and countless volunteers, organized the Heath Center Black History Committee, which still participates in Black History Month celebrations.
The property has remained in the Heath Family since the post Civil War years and converted into the center of New Jersey’s African-American agricultural history. Visiting the farm is the ultimate family experience. Along with exhibits already mentioned, there is a children’s educational garden, blacksmith shop, sugar can mill and “demonstrations on how farming was conducted in the l9th century,” (heahfarm. tripod. com). The last landmark I’ll review is the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. Built in l764 it is the oldest lighthouse in the nation and one of the twelve constructed before the Revolutionary War.
It is octagonal, and rises eight-five feet above the ground and eighty-eight feet above the water. New York originally financed Sand Hook because the merchants lost a lot of money and crew members from shipwrecks. American and English troops both wanted control of the lighthouse during the war, so New York congressmen gave the order to darkened it to deter British ships. This proved ineffective, the British sent a landing party to relight Sandy Hook. The Americans even tried to destroy the lighthouse with cannons, but did little damage to its structure.
The British controlled Sandy Hook throughout the Revolution. “The original tower of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse still stands. ” Another interesting note from the National Park Service is that the lighthouse originally stood five hundred feet from the northern end of Sandy Hook, and now, because of the current of the water, “the light is five-eighths of a mile from the point. ” Ironically the light continues to help mariners, as it has “faithfully done for the last l96 years,” and was designated a National Landmark on January 29, 1964 (nps. gov). Amazing how much a tourist learns about a place you call home?
I had to walk in they’re shoes to notice the national historic landmarks, hidden natural treasures and areas steeped in history, literally in my own backyard. What an indelible past laid behind my everyday sights of the Gothic designed church, the farmhouses, and restored l9th century homes. It is like seeing Middletown for the first time, through the eyes of an interested stranger. My walk to Starbucks takes on a totally different meaning for me now; I take it slower, observe the artistic landscape and take pride in knowing I’m walking down a path through history.
Courtney from Study Moose
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