200 Plus

The Ride Down a Dirt Road

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Aug 28, 2019

In 2018, more than 200 years after its construction, the Cedar Bridge Tavern was about to again welcome the public – but this time not as a place to eat, drink or sleep, but to tell the story of a forgotten piece of American history. Victoria Ford explained for the Ocean County publication Out and About.

“The very long process began with a Historic Structure Report, which provides documentary, graphic and physical information about a property’s history and existing condition. … In 2013, thanks to the research, consulting and written nomination of architectural historian Joan Berkey, the Cedar Bridge Tavern was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and described as having ‘statewide significance … as a well-preserved example of an early 19th century tavern.’”

Preparing the building for the public wouldn’t be easy. Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. said, “Preserving our history is imperative to our future. When we let buildings like this deteriorate, we allow our past to be lost. Ocean County is rich in history and this project is important to preserving a piece of it. It’s important to leave a legacy to future generations. Our Parks Department and our Cultural and Heritage staff have paid close attention to every detail in bringing this project to completion. I know the public will enjoy this newest asset to our county park system.”

Annabelle Trenner, the architect who had worked on the project since 2012, described “the many and varied tasks and challenges associated with making the building structurally sound, code compliant, ADA-accessible (a back porch has been constructed in such a way as to allow access to a barrier-free bathroom), climate-controlled and equipped with exhibit-friendly lighting and a security system, all while carefully preserving the integrity and character of the original establishment and home that belonged to Koenig for 50 years. The ‘brain’ of the house is hidden in a closet in a second-floor bedroom. Still on the to-do-list, as of July, was emergency lighting and some other minor details.”

Some examples:

“Original lime-washed corner posts have been left exposed; a severely bowed support beam has been steamed and gently pulled back into alignment. Where wood looks ratty or floors are blemished, the marks remain. In places where restorative work was required, the work is visible. ‘We’ve tried to be very honest about the repairs,’ Trenner said – showing wherever possible the repair itself and how it was done, using traditional construction techniques throughout. ‘We try not to do anything that’s not necessary,’ Trenner said. ‘The team’s goal is to make it feel like it was, or as close as possible. … We’re not trying to over-restore.’”

Ford explained one of the surprises found that has become a major display for the public.

“Uncovered in the kitchen were nine layers of wallpaper, dating back to the Civil War. A section showing the layers of time will be glassed over for display. An exhibition kitchen is in store for visitors to show jamming/jarring techniques and cooking methods of the time period.”

The entire building will show tavern life from the food eaten to how the people lived.  On the second floor, according to Ford, “In the upstairs bedrooms, walls have been reconstructed, windows steam-stripped and totally refurbished, floors patched where necessary. … The largest of the bedrooms would have been the tavern keeper’s room. … In the attic, some graffiti has been found, over 100 years old, appearing to have a date of Dec. 24. It will also be a permanent display in the museum. … The old bar in the living room could have come from the older building or been brought on a wagon. Some shelving above the bar was built into the plaster, suggesting there may have been another bar in its place previously.”

Finally, in April 2019, the tavern was ready for a ribbon-cutting. Viewed by politicians and many of those responsible for the project, Trenner spoke.

“This has been a long journey with a very talented team. … A successful preservation project is about team collaboration, hard work, and understanding the heritage site to be preserved. We had archeologists, we had dendrochronologists, we had resistance drilling experts from Colorado, we had landscape assessments, civil engineering and environmental impact studies for the Pinelands, we had materials science tested … we had building conditions assessments including structural and architectural investigations.”

Today a visit to the tavern, located off Route 72 in Barnegat, requires that you travel a dirt road, which prepares you for the trip back in time, to a place where history and the science of archaeology are on display. Located on the second floor of the tavern is an object that predates the founding of Ocean County and was produced by the women of Tuckerton, which was then part of Burlington County. Ford described the treasure.

“The artifact measures 42 x 46 inches and is made primarily of silk. On the front, an oil painting depicts a 19th century sailing vessel, a frigate named New Jersey flying a 15-star American flag (which was customarily flown from US Navy ships during the War of 1812), and two smaller vessels in the distance. The marine scene is surrounded by a wreath of intricate and colorful floral needlework and the words ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship’ embroidered in gold in the perimeter. The Philadelphia-based painter’s last name, Cohill, is in red. The words are attributable to New Jersey native Capt. James Lawrence, who commanded the ship Chesapeake and whose dying command, ‘Don’t give up the ship,’ became a popular patriotic battle cry for generations of US Navy officers and sailors.

“On the back of the banner is a date and location, Aug. 20, 1840, Tuckerton, New Jersey, and the words ‘Our Country, Right or Wrong’ (a popular patriotic slogan that had been attributed to Naval Commodore Stephen Decatur, in an after-dinner toast in April 1816) with a star in each corner.”

The banner was designed to be carried in the inaugural parade for President William Henry Harrison, who died in office after serving less than two months.

“Nevertheless, sometime after the inauguration, the banner made its way back to Tuckerton and into the home of Tuckerton physician Thomas Page or one of his descendants, and in that family, it stayed for several decades until, in 1910, the banner came into the possession of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, i.e. the youth auxiliary of the anti-Catholic American Nativist adult organization that grew out of the resentment many native American workers felt toward foreigners during the depression of the mid 1840’s.”

The banner was donated to the Ocean County Historical Society in the 1960s, and is now preserved in a place of honor at Cedar Bridge. Cynthia Smith, former society president, is happy with its new home.

“I was concerned because I could see it would deteriorate. … We were not doing it justice by hanging it where it was not often viewed by the public. It’s in fantastic condition,” Smith said, or at least “pretty darn good, considering its 178 years.”

The story of Cedar Bridge Tavern isn’t over. Nature trails are planned, along with more archaeological study, and there is the annual reenactment of the skirmish each December. But for anyone who visited the tavern in the past, as I did for the first time in 1982, or if you’re someone who has never seen it, the ride on a dirt road is worth the adventure.

Next Week: Secrets of the Pines

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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