200 Plus

Digging Deeper in the Pines

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Aug 21, 2019

Surf City — The story of what it took to save the historic site known as Cedar Bridge Tavern is one of luck and dedication. It was purchased by Ocean County in 2007, and preliminary archaeological digs and building surveys were conducted to secure its nomination to the national list of historic sites.

According to the county’s publication “Out and About,” “The Ocean County Parks and Recreation Department handles all maintenance and care, doing the physical hands-on-work. Paid for largely by a New Jersey Historic Trust grant, Historic Building Architects of Trenton was contracted to investigate, analyze, date and guide the vision for the site by way of the formal Preservation Plan. Architectural historian Joan Berkey acted as a researcher and consultant.

“Cedar Bridge Tavern was built about 1816 on what was then a state route between Mt. Holly and Little Egg Harbor. Significantly, the original section of Cedar Bridge Tavern retains its early 19th century bar, a character-defining feature not known to survive in any extant Early American New Jersey tavern. It also retains most of its original interior floor plan, including bar room, dining room and bedrooms along with most of its original doors, trim, windows, and fireplaces.”

In August 2013, the tavern earned its rightful place as a national historic site, which came with benefits and strict regulations dealing with its restoration. The county barred the public from metal detecting activities on the property as it began to work on preparing the tavern for its new role.

The Asbury Park Press of Feb. 24, 2016, reported, “Ocean County plans to spend $2.2 million to develop a historic site in Barnegat where one of the last skirmishes of the American Revolution is said to have taken place in 1782. Under the plan, introduced before the county Board of Freeholders, about $2 million would be bonded for various construction projects to restore and enhance the Cedar Bridge Tavern, which is now part of the Ocean County Parks System. … A caretaker’s cottage and outdoor classroom facility would be built with the funds, in addition to the purchase of furniture, fixtures and equipment for the site.”

Not all would be from taxpayers.

“We’ve done a preservation plan, and this will be to actually fund the restoration and preservation,’ said Timothy G. Hart, director of the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission. “We’ve received a couple grants toward the project. Some work has been happening in-house.”

The tavern was already being used.

“‘We do about 350 kids on student tours each year, and we’re looking for more schools to go out there. … When you go there, even though you are a half-mile from Route 72, it’s as if you’ve cut yourself off from the rest of the world. When we bring the kids in, we stop the bus a quarter-mile away and the kids walk up to the site to sort of give them that (18th-century) impression.’ … Hart said that although he is hopeful restoration work can get started later this year, the state Pinelands Commission first needs to sign off on the project.”

While plans for restoring the tavern and putting it to use were being prepared, Dr. Richard Veit and his Monmouth University students returned for another dig in 2014, and Cultural Resource Consultants did further studies on the building itself. Like so much about the Cedar Bridge story, the more you look. the more you find. There had been other buildings on the site.

Michael J. Gall, the senior archaeologist, explained, “Among the earliest buildings identified on the property are the remains of what appear to be an earlier earthfast dwelling east of the existing tavern building. Earthfast construction refers to buildings that lack a masonry foundation, in which a building’s wooden structural members are directly secured to the ground. … The second early building was identified 62 feet south of the tavern. This building appears to represent the former post-in-ground out kitchen suspected to have existed on the property based on the presence of Rumsford-style chimney in the tavern building and the need for a proper cooking hearth. Seldom identified archaeologically in New Jersey, partly due to their small size, documentary evidence does indicate that by the third quarter of the eighteenth century, out kitchens like the one found at the Cedar Bridge Tavern had become a ubiquitous and integral element on farmsteads. … Excavation of the crawlspace and pit revealed the presence of a dense artifact deposit. Artifacts found include a decorative glass faux gem, pipe stems, a utensil fragment, metal disks, a thimble, a bone domino, a possible fireplace poker, a glass bowl, mirror glass, bottle glass, redware dishes used in baking and serving foods, and decorated whiteware.”

There was a discovery that the tavern might be older than was first estimated.

“A date inscribed in the parge coating on the west gable chimney stack in the attic reads, ‘Dec.24=07’. The inscription could refer to 1907 or more likely, 1807, the suspected building date. The earliest stage of the existing building consisted of a two-story frame dwelling with a front room and two rear rooms.”

Nothing is ever simple.

“Despite the dated chimney and the hearth style, one dendrochronology sample taken by Richard Veit from a beam in the cellar of the house yielded a 1760’s date. Obviously, the wood sample date is much earlier than the dates suggested by the chimney and hearth. The early dendrochronology date may indicate one of two things; either the existing building contains an earlier and significantly modified core, or elements of an earlier structure were reused to construct the present-day building.”

Of course, while digging into the past there always must be a mystery treasure. Remember taverns “were places where men could drink, eat, and most importantly congregate to gather information on local events and hear travelers’ stories, news and tales from distant places. Indeed, an 1809 French silver dollar found below the tavern porch and a French pipe stem found behind the tavern during recent excavations indicates that overseas travelers stopped at the property.”

This of course led to speculation.

“Another noteworthy artifact found is an 1809 Spanish Silver Dollar coin. … The coin depicts the face of Joseph Bonaparte, who was King of Naples and Sicily from 1806 to 1808 and King of Spain from 1808 to 1813. There also appears to be a small square impression stamped into the coin’s face. It is likely that Europeans traveling between Philadelphia and the New Jersey coast, stopped at the Cedar Bridge Tavern during their travels. The coin may have been exchanged for services, board, or food by a patron or accidentally lost. In July of 1833, a prominent French naturalist, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque took a 15-day tour through New Jersey to the sea. At some point during his journey he visited Cedar Bridge ‘to botanize and found many plants.’ There is a possibility that the Spanish coin was dropped or used by Rafinesque or another European traveler while visiting Cedar Bridge.”

Gall would finally conclude, “Archaeological and historical data reveals that the Cedar Bridge Tavern property was much different during the late 18th century than it appears today. In the 18th century the parcel contained an earlier home with an out kitchen, both of earthfast construction, fronted by a dirt road, beyond which stood a barn and stable. All were surrounded by a working farm. Nearby was a mill. The older home appears to have been replaced with the current dwelling, by 1807 reusing older timbers. … The archaeology also reveals that the site occupants were connected to consumer markets in Philadelphia and were frequented by oversees travelers. Despite the tavern building’s isolated nature today, such was not the case 105 to 250 years ago. The same likely holds true for other archaeologically understudied portions of the Pinelands.”

Ocean County had in fact purchased an entire lost village. Now came the work of preserving part of it and telling the story of 250 years of life in the Jersey Pines.

Next Week: Cedar Bridge today.


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