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History Lives in Cedar Bridge Tavern

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jun 26, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill Cedar Bridge Tavern in 2016.

Located on Route 72 in Barnegat Township is a historic marker next to a dirt road. If you leave the highway and enter, it’s like traveling back in time until you come to the Cedar Bridge Tavern. Now open to the public after almost a decade of research, archaeological digs and even a TV show, it is one of the finest restorations to be found anywhere in the state. But the Cedar Bridge restoration tells more than the story of one building or event; it tells the story of the land called the Pine Barrens.

Long before the American Revolution, a road connected Burlington County with its seaport, today called Tuckerton. Over time several settlements sprang up along this road; one was owned by John Monrow from Burlington County. In October 1745, surveyors were inspecting the line that separated East from West New Jersey, and on Oct. 26 one of them wrote, “Set out at nine in the morning, bailed (changed?) horses at N. Pettit’s, Cedar Bridge on Wading River; reached Mount Comfort, remained at Monrow’s over night; good entertainment.”

It would appear Cedar Bridge never made Monrow rich. The July 20, 1752, Philadelphia Gazette carried a notice.

“Whereas Margaret, the wife of John Monrow, of New Hanover in Burlington county, in New Jersey, hath not only contracted divers debts against her said husband, contrary to his will and knowledge, but hath also, for several years past, behav’d herself in a very imprudent and abusive manner to her said husband and family, and her base way of behaving daily increasing: These are therefore to forewarn all persons from trusting her on my account, for I will pay no debts of her contracting from the date hereof.”

But Cedar Bridge was located on one of the only roads leading west from the shore, and in 1774 citizens from Manahawkin wanted access to the interior of the colony.

“Freeholders of the Township of Stafford and the major part of the Freeholders and Inhabitants of said township have partision’d for a four rod rode to be laid from the Province line to Sedar Bridge and from thence to the Shore Rode in said Town. Therefore, we the Undersubscribers Surveyors of the Highways of said Town of Stafford, Dover and Freeholder have met the 27 day of September 1774 and laid out a road four rods broad.”

During the Revolution the Pine Barrens became the hiding place for Loyalists and deserters from the British Army, but peace brought change. By the early 19th century, the Pines became something people passed through to get to the shore for “sea bathing.”

According to the National Park Service, “A stage was operating as early as 1820 through Cedar Bridge, underscoring the need for a tavern ideally sited at the junction of two roads to the shore. In 1820, an advertisement in the Mt. Holly (Burlington County) newspaper announced the start of the ‘Philadelphia, Manahawkin & Elberson’s Ferry stage’ that would convey travelers from the Arch Street Ferry to three ‘complete Boarding Houses on the Beach’ on Long Beach Island in what is now Ocean County. The stage left Camden on Monday and Friday afternoons, traveled to Moorestown, Mount Holly, New Mills (Pemberton), Cedar Bridge, and Manahawkin, and then arrived at Elberson’s Ferry in Manahawkin at 3 o’clock on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons. Travelers were then ferried to Long Beach Island.”

Cedar Bridge Tavern was now in the hands of Stafford Township resident John Wildermuth, who in July 1829 applied for a license “to keep an inn and tavern in the house called and known by the name of Cedar Bridge which has long been kept and licensed as an inn and tavern, situate in the township of Stafford.”

Five years later the Gazetteer of New Jersey described “Cedar Bridge, hamlet, Stafford t-ship, Monmouth co., upon the Oswego, or E. branch of Wading river, 33 miles S. of Freehold, contains a saw mill, 2 taverns, and several dwellings, surrounded by pine forest.”

The forest surrounding Cedar Bridge was still a wild place, and in 1833 one of the world’s leading naturalists, Constantine Rafinesque, a Frenchman, came to explore North America.

“In July I took an excursion of 15 days thro’ New Jersey to the sea shore and sea islands, to study them better still. I went by Burlington, Mount Holly, Vincenton and Budeltown to the Pine Barrens, which extend here about 30 miles to near the sea, intermingled with Cedar swamps of Cupressus thyoides. I passed thro’ the Grouse plains, without trees. … I stopped at Cedarbridge to botanize and found many plants. This spot is 9 miles from Barnegat and 10 from Manahawkin, villages near the sea. I went to the last, who has 60 houses and a fine pond of clear water 3 miles around, but colored like all the water here. I remained 5 days in the neighborhood to explore the woods, swamps, salt marshes, meadows, &c., and 6 days on the great Id. of Long beach.”

It’s hard to imagine how isolated Cedar Bridge was in 1843. Missionaries ventured into the Pines, and one of them reported, “We therefore on Saturday P.M. started for Cedar Bridge about 13 miles North East in Monmouth Co. We were invited to hold a meeting there on Sabbath, which we did – holding service thrice – at two places. … The following day we renewed our labors. The same day Bro. White having gone to Tuckerton for our books &c. was joined by Bro. Doremus. … This Christian Brother we were truly rejoiced to make one of our company.

“The strip of country from 3 to 4 miles wide lying on Barnegat Bay and called ‘the Shore’ is much superior in the nature of its soil and in the wealth of intelligence and advantages of its inhabitants, to the ‘Pines’ farther inland.

“Still we have found much ignorance both in religion and in human learning. No religious meeting is held nearer than three miles of Cedar Bridge. The landlady, there, said she had not been to a religious meeting for seven years, for the same time had not heard a prayer nor the reading of the Bible. One lad of fifteen on the shore, acting as guide for a short distance being asked, who made the world? answered ‘Well, there was a School Master, who once kept school there, who did tell the boys who it was, but I really forget.’”

The only people from the outside world who spent time in the Pines were hunters. Joshua Burr, a Burlington County judge, remembered. “Nov. 20th 1850, arrived at cedar bridge in the evening with three horses and five dogs. Sent Jim Wildermouth on my Indian pony to engage Samuel Taylor for a three days hunt.”

After the Civil War, trains replaced stagecoaches, and Cedar Bridge became even more isolated. The Philadelphia Inquirer of Sept. 22, 1874, noted, “A boy named Frank Lear, living near Cedar Bridge, Burlington county, fell into a well, a few days ago, while endeavoring to draw up the bucket. No one was home but his mother, who tried in vain to rescue the boy, and before other assistance arrived he was drowned.”

By 1920, the same paper reported an incident that seemed to belong in the Wild West of yesteryear.

“Oct. 22. – One poacher is said to have been shot in the shoulder and a score of shots exchanged in a running battle shortly before midnight between law-breaking deer hunters and State game wardens on a farm near Cedar Bridge.

“Killing of at least 40 deer during the last three weeks by lawless gangs has aroused sportsmen and farmers in two counties, and the state authorities have sent a force of wardens and secret service men into the deer woods to watch for the culprits. Caught red-handed as they were loading a freshly killed deer in an automobile, the poachers opened fire on the wardens with heavy caliber rifles and escaped, but not until one of the gang, said to be a resident of Barnegat, was wounded. … Searching the fields in the vicinity the wardens this morning discovered the carcasses of six deer, wantonly killed and left to the buzzards. Most of the deer had been killed by rifle shots. The deer season does not open until late in December and hunting with rifles is prohibited at all times in this State.”

A visit to the tavern site today is safe from gangs and worth the adventure of driving on a dirt road. If you visit this, you might be lucky enough to witness Monmouth University students conducting a dig!

Next Week: Telling a story of Cedar Bridge Tavern.


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