Cedar Bridge Tavern: County’s Newest Historic Site Park

Special Opening for Visitors March 2 and 3
By PAT JOHNSON | Feb 27, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson The Cedar Bridge Tavern has been restored as a Historic Site by Ocean County.

A trip into the past in modern comfort, that’s Ocean County’s newest renovated historic site, the Cedar Bridge Tavern.

The Cedar Bridge Tavern is one of the oldest buildings in Ocean County, dating from before the Revolutionary War. It is the site of the last skirmish of the Revolutionary War (December 1782) between the Burlington Militia patriots and British loyalists led by Capt. John Bacon. Only one fatality on the patriots’ side was recorded, though there were injuries on both sides, and both sides claimed they won the fight.

Every year on the Sunday closest to December 27, the county Cultural and Historic Commission holds a reenactment of that skirmish. The accommodations for spectators were minimal, and some years the tavern was closed to the public.

But three years ago, former Ocean County Parks and Recreation director, the late Freeholder John Bartlett, decided the site could be more fully utilized by the county’s school children. To that end, the freeholders appropriated $2.2 million to complete the preservation, restoration and development of the Cedar Bridge Tavern Revolutionary War site.

The plans called for construction of a caretaker’s cottage, an outdoor pavilion for classroom activities, and the addition of handicapped accessible bathrooms, electrical upgrades, lighting, heating and air-conditioning inside the tavern, all the while keeping the historic experience authentic to the 18th century. Bartlett said, “We want the old tavern to look like an old tavern when finished. We want to keep it in very rustic condition, but it has to be safe and have the modern mechanicals.”

Today that dream has been realized.

The Cedar Bridge Tavern, located in the far reaches of Barnegat Township off county Route 610 (south of state Route 72), it was an original stagecoach route from the west to the shore. In the 1920s-30s, the state built Route 72, bypassing the site by a short distance.

The late Rudolf Koenig owned the tavern and kept it as his home from 1959 until 2007 when, after Koenig passed away, the county purchased it. Although he had a hot tub on the second floor and two or three stills in outbuildings, Koenig is credited with keeping the historic integrity of the structure.

On a recent Saturday, site interpreter Lucas DiMartini gave a tour of the tavern and a short walk to view the boundary sandstone marked 1743 to a small group of visitors.

The tavern building that stands today was built around 1816, to the north of the original tavern. But the bar is the original, taken from the first tavern. “It’s the oldest bar in New Jersey,” said DiMartini. He showed the pottery and glass tumblers that were used to serve grog, beer or flip. The tumblers are recreations from the artifacts that were found on the site. Flip was a concoction of rum, beer, sugar and a raw egg that was heated with a hot poker.

Plates of the day were small and dinner would be butter, sausage, hotcakes, pickles, and if they were lucky, beef or venison. DiMartini is looking forward to planting the extensive raised beds and hosting a “foodways” program at the site. A large pickle barrel in the kitchen could be filled with cucumbers come harvest time, he hopes.

A wall in the kitchen has been preserved and a professional archivist, Christa Burris, found eight layers of wallpaper that she archived for the site. The county has also added video programming on the wallpaper and what it tells about each age. Three other programs Creating Tavern Glass, The Diggers at Cedar Bridge and the Toms River Blockhouse Fight can be watched.

The diggers at Cedar Bridge were the student crew from Monmouth University’s Archeology Field School, directed by Richard Veit, PhD. They found 20,000 artifacts, some of which are on display in the tavern. Carefully climb the warped treads to the second floor and see how the tavern keeper lived. His room was the biggest and had a fireplace and table, and also a door that locked. He would have had a proper rope bed and straw mattress. In those days, a wooden key was used to keep the ropes taunt; that’s the source of the phrase, “sleep tight,” said DiMartini.

In a second room, two straw mattresses are on the floor near a small iron stove. “Travelers would pay about 9 cents for a spot on a mattress, and usually two or more would share a mattress,” said DiMartini.

A tavern had to have two extra beds and room for two extra horses on site for it to get a tavern license, he said. “And twelve good and sober people had to sign the license and vouch for you to be able to open a tavern.”

On a 1778 map of East and West New Jersey, Cedar Bridge was known as Petit’s. It is prominently marked in the expanse of pinewoods.

Due in part to the tavern’s history as an important community hub, the tavern is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. Ocean County received three grants to help restore the tavern through the New Jersey Historic Trust. Historic Buildings Architects of Trenton completed construction documents for renovation of the structure.

Although the site is not officially opened, it is opened Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3; on Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Special events at Cedar Bridge are in the Ocean County Parks and Recreation Spring program guide and newsletter.  Follow it on social media and at www.ocean countyparks.org.

 

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