Monday, June 10, 2019

Caught in the Crosshairs

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
These words, written by Thomas Jefferson, sent a shockwave around the world as Colonial America shrugged off their distant rulers for a leadership of their own control. The idea of an American democracy was in its infancy on July 4, 1776. The people of America had no idea of the uncharted wilderness they were embarking into. Now, 243 years later, the evidence of the conflict that created the United States of America can still be found all around us. However, in Monmouth County, the situation was less of a revolution and more of a civil war. Neighbors and families were split with their loyalties creating terrible conflicts. The base for those loyal to the British (Loyalists) was Sandy Hook and for those in favor of the revolution (Whigs) was Freehold. Caught in the crosshairs of this split was the Seabrook-Wilson House.
19th Century Painting of the Seabrook-Wilson House

At the time, this Bay Shore property was owned by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Seabrook, a staunch Whig. From using his boat as a privateering vessel on Sandy Hook Bay, to serving in the New Jersey General Assembly, Lt. Col. Seabrook focused his efforts on defeating the British. This made his house, right across the bay from Sandy Hook, the perfect target for Loyalist revenge. On multiple occasions throughout the war, Loyalists launched raids on his home, once shooting a cannonball at the roof and once stabbing Seabrook’s son, Stephen. Luckily, Stephen Seabrook survived the attack. Other times, Loyalists stole the Seabrook family’s livestock and food. The conflict would continue until the end of the war in 1783. However, like many Monmouth County residents at the time, the Seabrook family's life was turned upside-down.

For those that backed the Loyalists, the defeat of the British meant a troubling choice: return home or leave forever. A mass exodus ensued from the newly established nation. This included many former slaves that saw the British as an escape from bondage. In the end, many of these Loyalists went to Canada, Sierra Leone, and Britain to establish new lives. For those that chose to return, it would take a long time for the wounds of the Revolution to heal. Many homes had been confiscated and others destroyed. Even attacks of revenge occurred occasionally after the end of the Revolution.

Like for the nation, for the Seabrook family the American Revolution was merely the infancy of their story. To learn more about the history of one of the oldest houses in the region, visit Bayshore Waterfront Park on Sundays from 9-11 a.m. (now through October 20) for tours with a Park System Historian. The house is also open on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. for informal, self-guided tours (now through October 27).

Seabrook-Wilson House Today

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Top Spots for Tourists

It's National Tourism Week! Whether you're visiting the area or a Monmouth County native with friends and family coming in from out of town, make a point to head to a Monmouth County park. Many visitors to New Jersey are amazed when they visit our local county parks that provide such beauty and tranquility, among a vast amount of amenities.

The following are the top parks visitors to our area should check out...

Deep Cut Gardens, Middletown

Throughout the year, Deep Cut Gardens offers beauty through 54 acres of gardens and greenhouses. Through springtime, it's the perfect place to see the season come into bloom, often starting with tulips in April as well as the colors of daffodils, violets, primrose and so many others. Mid-June brings to bloom 52 varieties of roses with over 180 bushes in the Rose Parterre. The All American Garden displays an expert selection of flowers, vegetables and herbs. Year round, the greenhouse is home to a variety of tropical plants including hibiscus, bromeliads and orchids. It's a top spot for garden enthusiasts and local photographers, as well as those just looking to add some gorgeous scenery to their day.

Holmdel Park, Holmdel

Perfect for a relaxing day in the park with family and friends, Holmdel Park is one of Monmouth County's most popular locations for active recreation and nature appreciation. The park features a lake for fishing, picnic areas, four tennis courts, two playgrounds, and ten miles of trails. During the winter months, it's a hot spot for sledding and ice skating. It's also home to the David C. Shaw Arboretum, which features hundreds of species and varieties of ornamental trees and shrubs, and Historic Longstreet Farm, a living history site that transports visitors back to farm life in the 1890s. With so much to discover at Holmdel Park, you'll find yourself coming back again and again.

Manasquan Reservoir, Howell

With the highest yearly visitation out of all the Monmouth County Park System sites, the Manasquan Reservoir offers beauty, exercise, and nature education. The 1,208-acre park is the perfect spot for fishing and also features a 5-mile perimeter trail that's terrific for walking, hiking or bicycling; a 1-mile nature trail; a playground; and boating rentals. The Environmental Center provides visitors of all ages a chance to learn about wetlands ecology and wildlife as well as habitat protection (be sure to say hello to our informative staff of Naturalists!). Boat tours of the Reservoir are available to get a glimpse of nature from the water and are offered on weekends and holidays from May 4-September 2; Wednesdays from July 3-August 28; and Friday evenings on June 7, July 5 and August 2 (weather and water level dependent). Bicycles are available in the Visitor Center lot on weekends from May 10-19, daily from May 24-September 2, and weekends only again from September 7-October 27. Schedules and fee information for rentals and boat tours are available on our website.

Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park, Long Branch

Whether it's the perfect summer day at the beach or a stroll along the shore any time of the year, this Park System site is a definite local favorite. During the summer, it's a terrific place to swim, sun and surf offering a list of amenities that include a snack bar, sheltered eating areas, volleyball area, outdoor showers, changing areas, guarded swimming, and designated areas for surfing. A reservable picnic tent is also available for groups hosting small events (maximum of 50 people). Tony's Place, a universally accessible playground for all abilities, was designed with its shore location in mind and is a favorite for our younger visitors. And the Skateplex is loved by local skateboarders for its various ramps, stairs, planters and stainless steel grind rails. (Park access passes for Seven Presidents are required on weekends and holidays from May 25-June 9, and daily from June 15-September 2 - see pricing information.)

Your Monmouth County parks offer over 30 sites to visit throughout the year. If you have friends or family heading coming to visit or you want more information to keep on hand, call us at 732-842-4000, ext. 4312, to request a Parks Guide to help you navigate nearby parks that suit your needs.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

National Walking Day 2019

The first Wednesday of April is designated as National Walking Day, started in 2007 by the American Heart Association to remind people of the health benefits of walking. Adding a simple walk into your routine is an easy way to get active. "Research has shown that walking can have a significant impact on your health by lowering your chances of heart disease," informs the American Heart Association. Additional health benefits include:
  • maintaining a healthy weight;
  • preventing conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes; 
  • strengthening bones and muscles;
  • improving mood;
  • and improving balance and coordination. 
Adding a walk to your daily or weekly routine is easy to work into your schedule with so many Monmouth County parks with gorgeous trails. You can take a walk during your lunch break, or head out as a family or with friends after work or on weekends. If you're brining along your four-legged friend(s), please remember that dogs are required to remain leashed within your Monmouth County parks.

Easy rated trails are perfect for a walk as they are short and well-maintained. Here are just a few Monmouth County parks to check out that have trails marked as "easy":

Clayton Park, Upper Freehold

You'll feel miles away from the hustle and bustle in this rustic 450-acre park. The 0.7-mile Glen Trail loop runs through the heart of Clayton Forest. Access to this trail is from the Clayton Park Emley's Hill Road parking lot. 

Deep Cut Gardens, Middletown

A walk through Deep Cut, especially in spring and summer, is probably the most colorful walk you'll find in the county. For a shorter walk, head from the main parking lot down to the Display Garden, then head back toward the Display Greenhouse and walk through to see the orchids, succulents, bonsai and more. From there, walk through the Shard Garden and toward the Rose Parterre to check out the 54 varieties of rose bushes (at peak bloom in June) and the pergola at the end of the garden. Head back and be sure to go past the Lily Pond and check out the water lilies, bog plants, koi and goldfish. Looking for a longer walk? Check out the unpaved walkways throughout the park that will take you through other natural areas of Deep Cut Gardens including the Meadow Walk, a woodland meadow featuring four groves of trees: chestnut, oak, maple and ash.

Hartshorne Woods Park, Atlantic Highlands/Highlands

This 794-acre site overlooking the Navesink River is well-known by hikers and mountain bikers for having the most extensive and challenging trails in the Park System. But, there are a handful of terrific easy trails at Hartshorne Woods Park too! From the Buttermilk Valley entrance, off of Navesink Avenue, you'll find the King's Hollow Trail, a 0.7-mile trail through oak trees and wildflowers, and the Candlestick Trail, a 1.5-mile loop with abundant mountain laurels and wooded overlook. Up at the Rocky Point section, accessed from Portland Road, the Battery Lewis and Lewis Overlook trails offer the perfect opportunity to check out Historic Battery Lewis and see some magnificent views of the river.

Hominy Hill Golf Course, Colts Neck

Hominy Hill Golf Course Trail
Yes, this may be the site of one of New Jersey's #1 public golf courses, but did you know Hominy Hill Golf Course also has a trail accessed from a lot off of Matthews Road? Though rated as moderate due to the more rustic conditions, this 1-mile trail meanders through serene woods and is great if you're looking to catch a glimpse of wildlife. Please note that for safety reasons, trail users are not permitted on the golf course.

Manasquan Reservoir, Howell

Known for its gorgeous surroundings and 5-mile perimeter trail, the Manasquan Reservoir is also home to a short nature trail. The 0.5-mile Bracken Trail can be accessed from the Environmental Center parking lot and offers informational panels describing the plants and wildlife found along the water. After your walk, stop in at the Environmental Center to learn about the local wildlife as well as the importance of water in our world.

Weltz Park, Oakhurst

Another terrific, nature-filled walk awaits at beautiful Weltz Park. The 0.9-mile Sweetbriar Trail begins at the West Park Avenue parking lot and meanders through this undeveloped park filled with meadows. To make your walk a bit longer, you can add the 0.4-mile Eastern Loop that connects to Sweetbriar. Keep your eyes peeled for birds and butterflies at this serene park site.

These are just some of your Monmouth County parks to enjoy a relaxing walk that will add to your fitness routine. Other great parks with trails rated as easy are Big Brook Park, Marlboro; Henry Hudson Trail; Holmdel Park, Holmdel; Huber Woods Park, Middletown; Shark River Park, Wall; Sunnyside Recreation Area, Lincroft; Tatum Park, Middletown; Thompson Park, Lincroft; Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold; and the Union Transportation Trail, Upper Freehold. For a full list of our parks with trails, click here.

Always be sure to pick up a park brochure before you head out on your walk so you can follow the trail map. Or, download the ESRI mobile app that offers interactive trail maps to help guide your way.

"Walking". American Heart Association.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

From Horse Breeding Farm to County Park

“They’re off and running folks!”

While these iconic words can still be heard at Monmouth Park Racetrack, the role of horse racing in Monmouth County actually goes much deeper. Although the sounds of galloping hooves are no longer heard at Thompson Park (aside from a few recreational trail riders), for nearly 100 years the park was used to breed and train thoroughbred racehorses.

Within the park, three major periods of the farm’s history have been preserved. From its colonial beginnings, this land was used as a rural farm. The Lloyd family purchased the farm around the time of the American Revolution. Thomas Lloyd would go on to build the largest house in Middletown on this property in 1786. This house and two barns from the Lloyd period still stand in the park today and are excellent reminders of Monmouth County’s early agricultural history.

The property continued to be used as a rural farm
until just after the Civil War, when a new craze began to sweep the northeast: horse racing. The “sport of kings” was introduced to the region by the southern gentry. For many wealthy businessmen in the area, they did not wish to merely watch these races; they wanted a part of the action! Members of the affluent landowning class began to buy horses of well-bred lineage, to breed horses on stud farms, and to train them to race. These elites became known as “Turfmen” and New Jersey became an ideal place for them.

Not only was New Jersey close to New York City, there was also plenty of flat, open land and a number of racetracks nearby. One of the masterminds behind the American Turf was David D. Withers. He purchased the rural farm in Lincroft and transformed it into Brookdale Stud Farm. Across the grounds, Withers began building new, large barns for the breeding of his horses. These barns remain the heart of Thompson Park today, serving as the Theatre and Activity Barns. The impressive 40-stall barn at the center of the park highlights the extent of his operation. Following Withers, the farm was purchased by Colonel William Payne Thompson in 1893.

At the turn of the century, Brookdale Farm saw yet another transformation. The Thompsons
Regret, the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, was trained
at Brookdale Farm.
renovated Wither’s house into a magnificent Colonial Revival mansion. Despite an early involvement in horse racing, the Thompsons soon began leasing the stables to others, allowing the Colonel to enjoy Brookdale as a country estate. When his son, Lewis, and daughter-in-law, Geraldine Thompson, received the property, they chose to use it as their permanent residence. During these years, famed trainers like James Rowe and Harry Payne Whitney worked the Stud Farm, producing a slew of champions and bringing national acclaim to the establishment. The first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, Regret, was bred and trained right here at Brookdale Farm.

By 1940, the heart of horse racing had moved south to the warmer temperatures of Kentucky, where horses could be trained year round. Despite this change, the Thompsons continued to play an active role in New Jersey society as philanthropists and politicians. Geraldine sustained this generosity in her donation of 215 acres to the Monmouth County Park System in 1968. Today guests can experience the serene beauty of Thompson Park as they walk the one mile Track Loop, where the horses used to train. Even though the horses are gone, visitors can still get a sense of history from the site and the impressive restored buildings across the park. For more information visit the exhibit located inside the Thompson Park Visitor Center. The first floor of the Visitor Center is open to the public on weekdays from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Thompson Park