Monday, July 23, 2012

Get a Taste of Local History in the Parks

"If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday." - Pearl Buck

If you frequent the Monmouth County Park System parks you surely have enjoyed the trails, playgrounds, nature, and programs we have to offer. But did you know how much history lies within our parks? Take some time to learn about local history by visiting the following sites:

Bayshore Waterfront Park, Port Monmouth: Located along the Sandy Hook Bay, many visitors come to stroll the beach, enjoy the free Summer Seining, or fish off the pier. But this picturesque location is also home to the Bayshore Waterfront Park Activity Center (aka Seabrook-Wilson House), which is the oldest standing house in the region. The building dates back to the early 1700s. The Activity Center has limited hours, but is scheduled to be open to the public on August 4 & August 18 from 11am-5pm for visitors to view exhibits about the ecology of the Sandy Hook Bay, the history of the house, and the connection between the two of them.

Hartshorne Woods Park, Highlands & Locust: This 787-acre site is popular to hikers, bicyclists, and nature enthusiasts due to over 14 miles of trails. But did you know that a large section of the sites was a military installation in the 1940s? During WWII, batteries for heavy artillery were built on the site to modernize coastal defense efforts. These concrete and earth encasements or bunkers protected both personnel and equipment. These structures can still be viewed at the site today in the Rocky Point section (1402 Portland Road, Highlands).

Historic Longstreet Farm, Holmdel: The sights, sounds, and smells of rural Monmouth County in the 1890s were recreated on this 9 acre living history site. Interpreters dress in period clothing and show both daily and seasonal agricultural and domestic activities that would have been done on a local farm in the 19th century (i.e., milking the cows, plowing the fields, blacksmithing, and more). The site is open daily, year round, from 10am-4pm (during the summer hours are extended to 9am-5pm). Upcoming demonstrations include: 19th Century Woodworking Demonstration on Saturday, August 4 from 1-3pm; Penny Rug Demonstration on Sunday, August 12 from 1-3pm; and Harvest Home Festival on Sunday, September 30 from 11am-5pm.

Tatum Park, Middletown: Many visitors to this 366-acre park come for the trails or for programs at one of its two activity centers. But a visit to the Red Hill Activity Center located off of Red Hill Road offers a bit of local history. The Heath Wing was built in 1981 to honor Mary and Clinton Heath. In 1885, Clinton Heath, a freed slave from North Carolina, became the first black farmer to settle in Middletown. The Heath Wing features a permanent display of memorabilia from the county's early black community.

Thompson Park, Lincroft: Known for being the location for Park System Headquarters, this park was established with a donation of 215 acres from the estate of Geraldine Thompson. Once the home of "Brookdale Farm", the site was a premier thoroughbred racing horse breeding/training facility. Today, the park remembers Mrs. Thompson's belief that "children have to feel the ground beneath them and go out into the woods and see the trees and birds." The Thompson family residence, a grand colonial revival mansion, had been used as the Visitor Center until it was destroyed by a fire in 2006. The Visitor Center has since been rebuilt and allows visitors to learn more about Mrs. Thompson and Brookdale Farm in an exhibit on the first floor which is open to the public Monday-Friday from 8am-4:30pm and Saturday-Sunday, 10am-4pm.

Historic Walnford, Upper Freehold: This gorgeous park seems to be a hidden gem in the western most section of Monmouth County. Visitors can learn more about the Waln family and the evolution of Walnford over two centuries - from an 18th century industrial village and family farm to an elegant country estate. Take a leisurely stroll through the picturesque locale and view the large, elegant home built in 1774, the 19th century gristmill, and the farm buildings. The gristmill opens its doors on weekends April-November from 1-4pm as knowledgeable staff describe the workings of the mill. Weekend drop-in programs are also available; upcoming free programs include Ice Cream, Edible History on Sunday, August 5 from 3-4pm.

Don't miss out on all the Park System has to offer. There's something new to find each and every day!

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