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Saving the Cedar Bridge Tavern

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jul 24, 2019

If you had been with Henry Carlton Beck in 1934, when he first visited the Cedar Bridge Tavern in Barnegat, there is no way you could imagine that 85 years later it would be restored, open to the public and listed as a National Historic Site. During the time of Beck’s visit the tavern was being used as a dwelling by the Penn Producing Co., which operated nearby cranberry bogs. Over the next decade Beck kept his readers informed about the tavern and its importance to local history, even organizing caravans from Burlington County and North Jersey to venture into the wilds of the Pine Barrens to see it for themselves.

In January 1965, as talk of turning the Pines into an urban jetport filled the papers, he wrote a Newark Star-Ledger article telling of the tavern’s importance.

“I would not doubt … that the barroom of the Cedar Bridge Inn is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in this area of New Jersey and I have seen Nat Ewan’s picture of it. … If I could tell you with more certainty of detail that the tavern (or one of the taverns) at Cedar Bridge were being ‘restored’ or ‘rebuilt’ I know I could whip much more enthusiasm, no matter how much in the way of other projects were under way.”

He concluded with “That, up to here, is the Cedar Bridge story. There ought to be more. When there is, you will hear from me.”

Unfortunately, this was his last article on Cedar Bridge. He suffered a heart attack and died shortly after it was published.

By the 1960s, the tavern was in private hands, and in 1969 it was transferred to Rudolph Koening along with almost 200 acres of land. When he passed away in 2012, the Asbury Park Press told his story.

“He was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 30, 1925. … He grew up and went to school in Brooklyn. At the age of eighteen he joined the Navy. It was 1943, a year after Pearl Harbor. After training in Melville, Rhode Island, he left to serve on PT Boat 114 in the Philippine Islands. He served there until his discharge from service in May of 1946. For his service he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Victory Medal.”

After the war he moved to Tuckerton.

“He became employed at that time by Atlantic Electric Company and worked as a lineman gradually working up to electrician on some of their largest projects. He retired from his electrical career in 1980. … he purchased property in Barnegat, New Jersey in the Pinelands area. He restored the home that had been built in the 1700’s, and preserved its historical significance, in so doing. Today it is known as Cedarbridge Tavern.”

While restoring the tavern, there was time for celebration. According to the Asbury Park Press of Aug. 23, 1971, “The historic Old Cedar Bridge Tavern – once the scene of bloodshed, from skirmishes between Loyalists and American militiamen during the Revolution and a refreshment and amusement stop for weary travelers – was the setting for a much different event yesterday.

“The wedding of Miss Holly Adelaide Hackbarth and James De Grosa took place in the apple orchard of the former tavern; once a bustling stagecoach stop for passengers riding the stage between Philadelphia and Clamtown (Tuckerton).”

The Bicentennial of the American Revolution brought a renewed interest in Colonial America, and in 1977 Miriam Bush visited the tavern for the Asbury Park paper.

“Quiet now, except for the bark of a bounding dog named Schatzie and the occasional squeak of a grosbeak or the rat-a-tat of a woodpecker. … Gone, the many small houses that dotted the area in Colonial times, the school, stables, sawmill, barns. Sole remaining memento of the days when this was a bustling stagecoach stop is the old Cedar Bridge Tavern, a sturdy wooden building about 240 years old, now a private residence.”

Rudy Koening told his story.

“I moved here because it was getting too crowded there (Tuckerton). … The pine floors were so bad you could fall through them. … I took them up and put in new flooring, then new random width planks. I kept the windows, but had to refinish all of them.”

He explained the importance of its location.

“The road came here from Mount Holly. … Then there were branches from this town to Barnegat, Tuckerton and Manahawkin.”

Besides the floor, there were other problems.

“The tavern’s exterior of cedar shingles, riddled by termites, was in such poor condition that Koenig ripped all of the wood off and then installed cedar clapboard. … ‘It’s stained with fish oil, like they did in the old days,’ he explained. ‘When the weather hits it, it turns that dark color.’”

He also preserved some of the interior.

“The bar in the taproom of the tavern is still in use. So are the three corner fireplaces and the narrow winding staircase leading to six rooms on the second floor.”

The 1980s and ’90s were quiet times for the tavern. Then there was a renewal of interest as the 225th anniversary of the American Revolution approached. Reenactments of the skirmish sent the Asbury Park Press back in July 2003.

“Nestled in the pines, along a one-lane dirt road once traveled by oxen-pulled carts carrying clams and oysters west from the shore, sits an 18th century tavern where one of the last skirmishes of the Revolutionary War took place. … But the Cedar Bridge Tavern is no longer used as a watering hole for oxen drivers or local Piney’s. …  ‘I like it,’ Koenig says of his home, which is filled with write-ups about the tavern. ‘It’s quiet. It’s getting so crowded that I don’t even like to go to town anymore.’”

The bar was still a center of interest.

“The bar, which is more similar in size to a modern breakfast nook than a local watering hole, still looks like it did in the 18th Century. … Tim Hart, president of the Stafford Historical Society, said bars were small back then because people drank at tables and only went to the bar to fetch their drinks.”

Then came the offer.

“Koenig would like (to) sell the site to Ocean County, which would preserve it as a park or museum after he dies. … ‘They should have it’, Koenig said. ‘It belongs to the people, and you have so few of them left.’”

And the response.

“Ocean County Freeholder Director John C. Bartlett, Jr. said the County’s Cultural and Heritage Commission is looking at how the building would best be preserved; Whether through a public ownership or a historic nonprofit organization. … The Freeholders are waiting for a report from the commission before deciding how to proceed. ‘The county is very interested in preserving this important part of our history,’ he said. ‘We’ll do what we can to accomplish it.’”

Purchasing a 200-year-old wooden building is like buying a lottery ticket. Sometimes you win … most times you lose.

Next Week: Jackpot!

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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