200 Plus

Digging for the (Arti)Facts

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Aug 07, 2019

Surf City — In December 2007, Ocean County purchased the Cedar Bridge Tavern and its 5 acres of land for $120,000 with the stipulation that Rudy Koening, the former owner, could remain there until his death. Those who didn’t see the tavern in 2007 would find it hard to believe the enormity of the project the county had begun. A committee was formed by the county freeholders to oversee the project; a look at the minutes of an October 2008 meeting can give some insight.

“The trees lined near the tavern will be removed as they present a fire hazard. The bamboo thicket will also be removed. Marco Nappi remarked that the foundation was stable and it did not appear that the structure had settled. However, the main concerns are the roof, and the electrical and heating systems. The roof needs to be replaced or patched up. According to Tim Hart, the current metal roof is dated approximately 1930. The shingles need to be replaced, but finding the specific material for the shingles could prove difficult. Parts of the electrical wiring in the house need to be removed and/or updated. There is some concern over the fire safety of the wiring setup. Smoke detectors, carbon dioxide detectors, and an alarm system need to be put in. There is some concern whether the phone system will be able to handle the extra devices. The old cars and school bus need to be removed. One pesticide Dieldrin was successfully removed. Large amounts of lead seeped into the grounds due to the improper storage of car batteries. The firm removed 55 drums of soil; however, there is still a large amount of lead present. Unfortunately, these actions have disturbed possible archeological sites.”

As work to stabilize the tavern was underway, on another front, steps were being taken to have the tavern placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Monmouth University became involved by using the tavern as part of its archaeological field study program. Its 2011 report explains.

“Archaeological fieldwork conducted on May 29-June 26, 2010 included a visual inspection of the project site and the excavation of 31 shovel test pits (STPs). … Shovel test pits were plotted on a 25-foot interval grid that was established around the Cedar Bridge Tavern, which used the building as a reference point. In addition, a limited metal detector survey was conducted in the northeast side yard of the Cedar Bridge Tavern property to help determine if military-related, Revolutionary War artifacts were present on the project site.”

Looking for evidence of the skirmish that lasted only a few minutes over 200 years ago was not going to be easy.

“A limited metal detector survey was conducted in the west, side yard of the project as an attempt to determine if artifacts associated with the Revolutionary War Cedar Bridge skirmish were present. A total of six metal detector test pits were excavated to recover metallic artifacts identified by the metal detectorists. A total of 26 artifacts were recovered. These consisted of wire drawn and machine cut nails, an asphalt roofing shingle, electrical wire and solenoids, a carriage bolt, brackets, clam and oyster shells, glass bottle and jar fragments, and ceramic whiteware and white granite vessel fragments. The density of metal architectural material in the yard surrounding Cedar Bridge Tavern limited the ability of the metal detector survey to identify Revolutionary War military-related artifacts.”

With almost 1,000 artifacts dated from pre-Columbus to the present day, it was clear the university dig had just scratched the surface, and its team would have to return.

In early 2012, Koening passed away and the county took full control. By this time word of the project, being overseen by Hart, began to be noticed. In August of that year he received a letter.

“I am an Associate Producer on National Geographic Channel’s new television series, Diggers. Our series features two metal detectorists who are passionate about history, and travel the country helping museums, historical societies and everyday people find artifacts buried in their own backyards.

“We are very interested in coming to Ocean County, New Jersey, and assisting the Cedar Bridge preservation team in locating artifacts related to the Tavern, and possibly to the last skirmish of the Revolutionary War, which may have taken place on the grounds of the Tavern or on adjacent state land. Should Ocean County grant us permission to film and metal detect on the grounds, we would propose to film at the Tavern sometime during the last week of September, 2012.

“The filming will involve metal detecting and spot digging of small holes, which will be diligently refilled and fitted with their original grass plugs, leaving the grounds as we found them. Our Production Archaeologist, Kate Culpepper, will follow the hosts as they dig, cataloguing each artifact with a reference number, depth measurement, GPS coordinates, and photographs. … We are eager to do whatever is necessary to include the Cedar Bridge Tavern in our series.”

Hart would later write, “The crew filmed on October 8, 9 & 10 of 2012. The artifacts from Ocean County land were provided to Ocean County and the artifacts recovered from the NJ Parks lands were provided to NJ Parks Department. We hope that both sets can be turned over to Dr. Veit and his crew at Monmouth University for examination and then returned to their owners for safe keeping. … As you will recall, Monmouth University did a summer dig at Cedar Bridge in 2010 while Mr. Koenig was still living in the tavern so not all potential sites were accessible to the study. Never the less, over 900 items were recovered, cataloged and packed for storage.”

Phil Stilton wrote of the visit of the “Diggers” for the Ocean County Signal.

“This past fall, George Wyant and Tim Saylor, hosts of the National Geographic television show Diggers, visited the Barnegat site equipped with shovels and metal detectors in search of evidence to once and for all resolve the matter for local historians. While Tim Hart, director of the Heritage Commission, believes the Barnegat site is the actual location of the skirmish, he admitted in the program that in 30 to 40 years of research, no items from the colonial period had been recovered on the site. Initially, Mr. Wyant and Mr. Saylor began their search in the vicinity of the tavern, but found nothing but junk. The pair uncovered rusted old license plates, auto parts and other common refuse from the mid-20th century.

“After retracing the alleged steps of the participants in the battle, which had supposedly taken place at the nearby bridge, the pair then expanded their search based on possible trajectory paths. Mr. Saylor began searching an old chestnut tree east of the tavern and unearthed two colonial era musket balls, both of which had been fired. Mr. Wyant’s search of an area where Capt. Shreve’s men had been ambushed from the north also yielded two musket balls. After digging up his find, Mr. Saylor speculated that ‘this could be the final musket ball fired of the Revolutionary War.’ ‘We know something went down here,’ his associate added.

“In all the pair found four musket balls, each weighing approximately 3.39 ounces, matching those used of the period by British muskets. ‘We’ve been doing lots of studies here for the last 30 to 40 years,’ Mr. Hart said. ‘This is the first thing that would have come up from here that actually could have been from that time period.’

“While the evidence is inconclusive in providing a definitive location of the incident at Cedar Bridge Tavern, or whether Barnegat tavern is even the correct tavern, the find concludes that British era muskets had been fired in that location sometime in the past.”

Hart explained one key detail.

“The Brown Bess slugs are intriguing. Apparently, there is no way to tell the age of these lead shots. The Brown Bess was used after the Revolutionary War. … I do not know if farmers or hunters used this weapon for hunting deer or bear or whatever. But even if they did hunt with this weapon, why would they do so that close to the building? The shots were not found by Dr. Veit’s crew in 2010 because the spot is where the port-a-john was located.”

In January 2013, the National Geographic channel aired the episode, and for the first time thousands of Americans learned about a forgotten tavern in a little-known part of New Jersey called the Pine Barrens, and that something important might have happened there. When you visit the tavern today, be sure to take a few minutes and watch the segment that ran on the National Geographic Channel.

While being on TV may be the goal of most Americans, being listed as a national historic site was the objective Hart and his team had for the Cedar Bridge Tavern.

Next Week: Recognition and more digging.


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