Category Archives: History and Happenings

History and Happenings by Muriel J. Smith

Christmas and Ice on the Shrewsbury

sandlass on the icePHOTO: Henry Sandlass with three of his five children, Ann, Sheila and Hank, on a cold day in the 1950s

muriel j smith 120It was an old upright piano and her grandmother playing her old favorites songs that inspired a teenager from Sea Bright to learn to play the piano.  She took piano lessons for two years as a teenager because she loved the strains of “Smoke gets in your Eyes” or “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” when she and her siblings arrived home from school as their Grandma serenaded them with music.

Or maybe it was the Christmases in the 1940s and 50s when the Shrewsbury River was almost frozen all the way from Sandlass Beach to Bahrs Restaurant in Highlands; it was too dangerous to ice skate there,  so families chose the safety of nearby McCarter’s Pond in Rumson, or the edge of the river just off Wardell Avenue in Rumson.

Or maybe it was the old Victrola, with Bing Crosby crooning out White Christmas from those 78 rpm records, or Perry Como’s Christmas medley that could melt the hardest of ices or hearts. They were the favorites of the other grandmother who also filled an entire family with love and happy memories; Helen Sandlass was the matriarch who with her husband William began the summer resort late in the 19th century. It was their home on the beach where family and friends gathered, always knowing there would be laughter, music..and love.

Whatever it was, the winter season, especially the Christmas season, was a most happy event around the Sandlass home at the north end of Sea Bright.

Usually weeks before the holiday, the children all gathered for their traditional hunt for the gifts they knew they could expect.  Their parents always hid the presents around the house and the five siblings would go on a surreptitious hunt to find them.  It was a big part of the excitement.

sandlass children fireplace

Susan Gardiner of Maryland remembers it well. She’s one of the five Sandlass children brought up in the big house amid a loving three generations of family who loved the clamor, noise and excitement of summers filled with visitors and vacationers, but cherished the warmth of the big fireplace in the living room and the magic of family celebrating the holiday together during the wintertime. 

The piano stood in the foyer and it was Grandma Sheehan who especially brought it to life and gave Susan the yearning to play just like her.   And it was Grandma Sheehan’s sister, Susan’s Grand Aunt Ella, who was the star of the show at Christmas Dinner. Aunt Ella was the baker in the family and the entire family waited all year for her dessert buffet filled with pies and cakes she spent hours and days making. There were always four choices of pie: mince, apple, pecan, and lemon meringue, plus another two traditional cakes, chocolate and coconut. The kids began getting hungry for them as soon as all the aromas emanating from the ovens in the kitchen wafted through the air.

But desserts had to wait. First there was the grand Christmas dinner. That was always prepared by Mae Heineck, a cook extraordinaire, who arrived from her home in Highlands early in the morning to prepare the family’s huge feast, before heading back home to enjoy the day with her own family.

The kids never did learn where their Christmas tree came from. It just seemed to appear, magically, on Christmas Eve, brought in by their dad, Henry Sandlass, to be decorated with homemade and family-saved ornaments. It had its own place of honor in the big house….right in the corner of the living room next to the porch door. It always had to be tall enough to brush the ceiling with its highest branches and was filled with silver tinsel. Grandma Sandlass would have her favorite carols on the Victrola as everyone joined in decorating the tree before the young ones were whisked off to bed in anticipation of an exciting tomorrow.

And Christmas meant the Sandlass House would be filled with relatives and friends, all sitting around a roaring fire in the large fieldstone fireplace in the living room.  The dining room table for the festive dinner was always set with a  large snowman as the centerpiece, and four smaller snowmen on the table.

But first, the Sandlass siblings gathered in Grandma Sandlass’s room first thing upon wakening. The Senior Mrs. Sandlass always had a small tree under her bay window upstairs, and the first gifts were always the ones from her, found under that tree. Then it was downstairs for more,  their gifts beneath the family tree in the living room, a bedlam of laughter and excitement that only increased as cousins, aunts and uncles began arriving for the daylong celebration.

They had their own gifts to give as well. The children saved money during the year, so they could go out together a few days before Christmas to buy their own presents for their parents and grandparents.

sandlass and family

The years the river was partially frozen are the ones the kids remember the best. It would be filled with huge chunks of ice, chunks that moved very slowly down the river, under the bridge, and continued on their way to the Navesink, or, returning on the outward tide to head towards the tip of Sandy Hook. There were always the warnings, in spite of yearnings to hop scotch on ice floes across the river to Highlands, to stay off the chunks, which to youngsters looked like magnificent ice floes.

Today, that upright piano is still in the Sandlass House at the eastern edge of Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook. The house is boarded up, shabby looking, but wrapped up in a bit of anticipation now that a non-profit group, the New Jersey Coast Heritage Museum at Sandlass House, Inc., is making strides towards preserving it. The Park Service recently reported there are no immediate plans or funds for the building’s demolition; Congressman Frank Pallone has met with the organization’s leaders and dashed off a letter to the Parks Service in support of saving the building.

And the piano?  It’s still in the Big House, but now it’s in the corner of the family room, the only piece of furniture left from the Sandlass era.  If you listen carefully, it’s probably got some stories of its own to tell.

A Medal of Honor Denied

uss raleighPHOTO: Seaman Blume earned the honor of being nominated for a second Medal of Honor. He was stationed aboard the USS Raleigh

muriel j smith 120Everyone in Highlands should take special pride in the fact it was once the home of a Medal of Honor recipient. Everyone in the Bayshore should be proud of each Medal of Honor recipient we have honored in every war since it was first awarded during the Revolution. But Blume stands out for several reasons.

Highlands’ recipient, Robert Blume, has a few singular honors. In addition to that medal for heroism during the Spanish American War, he made headlines in the next two centuries as well. But he could have made more headlines had he received the second Medal of Honor he earned, which would have made him one of only 13 American military members who have earned two Medals of Honor.

Blame it on Seaman Blume’s penchant for alcohol.

The Pennsylvania native held the position of third lighthouse keeper at the Twin Lights from 1906 to 1910, serving under that well known and respected lighthouse keeper, Ole Anderson, who was principal keeper from 1906 to 1928 and had been at the lighthouse as assistant for three years previous.

It was just before coming to Highlands as a civilian that Seaman Blume earned the honor of being nominated for a second Medal of Honor. He was stationed aboard the USS Raleigh, a Cincinnati class protected cruiser built in the latter part of the 19th century. One of his shipmates Robert Klein, had also served in the 1898 war, and was chief carpenter’s mate on the Raleigh. The two of them, Chief Klein and Seaman Blume, crawled into what was described as inaccessible compartments in the double bottom compartment of the ship to rescue two other sailors who had become overcome from turpentine fumes and lack of air when a fuse burned out and the safety blower shut down. A big man, and strong, Blume “with the utmost fearlessness” succeeded in getting into the compartment and attaching a line to the unconscious seamen, enabling them to be pulled to safety by Chief Klein and others.

LT. W.J. Terhune, executive officer of the Raleigh, recommended both men for Medals of Honor because of their heroism. Klein received his on Jan. 25, 1904.

But Blume was a seaman, the lowest rank in the Navy. He had been a Chief, the highest enlisted rank. But his records through all his years in the Navy were pretty dismal other than his heroism and clear thinking in times of danger. His records from all ships on which he served showed he spent time in the brig, received demotions, was the subject of courts martial, and was restricted, all for violations of alcohol regulations…either he smuggled alcohol on board ship, was caught drinking on ship, was later returning from liberty, was involved in fights while under the influence, and more. It certainly wasn’t a pretty picture.

But Blume’s records were cleared after he served his time or when he earned that first Medal. Still, he’d be found guilty of the same infractions in later years, one resulting in his being demoted from Chief to the Seaman status he was in at the time of the heroic actions aboard the Raleigh.

And that is why, instead of earning that second Medal of Honor in 1904, Seaman Blume was restored in rank to Chief Master at Arms just before arriving in Highlands. Chief Klein earned the Medal for the actions he and Blume had taken. His medal reads “for heroism in rescuing shipmates overcome in double bottoms by fumes of turpentine, 25 January 1904.

Whether he yearned to once more be on the sea or whether he had more to prove to himself about ship board life, Chief Blume decided to leave lighthouse work towards the end of 1909 and applied to the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation to grant him permission to reenlist in the US Navy saying in his letter of request, what he had said man y times before, “I would like very much to reenter the service and promise faithfully to live up to rules and regulations.” This time he added, “I am a medal of honor man and have a few lives to my credit.”

His request was granted..


The Ipsy Wispy Institute

ipsy house vince mendesPHOTO: The Ipsy Wispy Institute from Vincent Mendes collection

muriel j smith 120You don’t hear so much about it in Highlands any more, but in the early and mid 20th century, a fascinating group of writers, science fiction aficionados, creative thinkers and yes, eccentric men,  used to gather on a regular basis in a gorgeous old house on Portland Road, trade stories, smoke their pipes and have elaborate dinners and unique weekends. Many of these men were international prize winners, intellectuals in their own fields, and just downright fascinating.

    The meeting place was on Portland Rd., the name of the group was the Ipsy Wispy Institute. Names long associated with the “Goat Hill” section of Highlands were part of the institute, names like Laurence Manning and Fletcher Pratt; And there were other locals as well, the Del Reys, George and Dona Smith of Rumson, the Kornbluths of Long Branch, the Budryses and,  Fred Pohl, who lived in Middletown. Isaac Asimov visited Ipsy Wispy at least once, as did many other science fiction writers of the day.

    Let me tell you about the Ipsy-Wispy Institute, which is the name that Fletcher and Inga Pratt gave to their enormous old house on the water side of Portland Road, just up the road from where some famous actresses who also called Highlands home, lived.  The Mannings didn’t live next door when the Institute started; but Manning and Pratt had collaborated on a number of books and when they visited, fell in love with the town and the location on the hill. Pratt pointed out the large expanse of his property and invited the Mannings to subdivide and purchase part of it. Which they did.

     Pohl, a highly regarded science fiction writer whose career spanned nearly eight decades, told the story of Fletcher Pratt and Ipsy Wipsy best in his many stories about the English country home where weekend guests were frequent, but had to follow a strict set of rules.

    For instance, they would arrive on a Friday evening, these intellectual men of science and fiction and their wives, and have a few drinks before dinner prepared by Fletcher and Inga’s cook, Grace. Then it was off to the billiard room…a room without a billiard table but so named because apparently there had been a time where there was one there…. for a few more cocktails and conversation.

   Then everyone retired to their respective rooms in the very large house overlooking the Shrewsbury and started Saturday morning with a sumptuous breakfast buffet that Grace had prepared, regardless of the time each of the guests arose.

   Then it was clear the table to enable Fletcher to set up his portable typewriter and perhaps type a few sentences of a proposed story. He’d chat with his guests, occasionally turning back to write more on the typewriter or glancing at the morning paper. Afternoons, there might be sails on the river, walks around the large estate grounds, simple conversation in a quiet room.

   Saturday evening dinner was a festive affair and included the Pratt’s ritual with the wine, which was always served with dinner. At the conclusion of the meal, Fletcher would bring out a bottle of port, and as host, sitting at the head of the table, traditionally poured, then passed the bottle, always clockwise, around the table.

  The men retired to another room, where they frequently got down on the floor and played war games and sea battles. Pratt, who wrote in numerous genres, was probably best known as a naval historian and scholar who could write with precise accuracy and style as well about a 14th century ruler in Denmark or the Second World War.

   Fletcher Pratt, historian, scholar, writer or more than 50 books, eccentric, died in 1956 just short of his 60th birthday. His wife, Inga, no longer could find happiness at Ipsy Wipsy, and sold the house to a dentist… Shortly after the new owner took possession, the house burned down and the property remained vacant for some time.


Portland Pointe in Freehold

muriel j smith 120There have been many wonderful exhibitions at the Monmouth County Historical Association on Court St. in Freehold, but for anyone from the Bayshore, especially Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, far and away the very finest of them is the one on the first floor exhibition area now through the next several months. It’s Hartshorne: Eight Generations and Their Highlands Estate Called Portland   and it’s absolutely terrific!

   Curator Joseph Hammond spent years compiling all of the information which spans more than 300 years of the Hartshorne family, most of it right here in Monmouth County and organizing the Hartshorne Papers, also part of the Association’s collection. But, in addition to the history of Middletown, Highlands and Atlantic Highlands depicted in the current exhibition, there are also exhibits recording the era when Benjamin Minturn Hartshorne, a 19th century Hartshorne, had a highly successful career on the West Coast. Like anyone who lives in Highlands, he eventually came back home, this time with the fortune he made, to transform what had been a working farm into a country gentleman’s estate.

     The Hartshorne family, it can be seen as you go through the exhibition, was not only meticulous in saving family records, but also generous in preserving everything from clothing and walking canes to a nearly complete set of bedroom hangings; when some of these pieces appeared in galleries or at estate auctions, other Hartshornes purchased them back…then donated them to the Historical Association.

     All in all, the exhibition covers the Hartshornes from the first Richard, born in 1641, through William and Robert, the second Richard in 1752, the second Robert in 1798, Benjamin, a third Robert in 1866 and a third Richard in 1900. The wonderful objects on display, besides that magnificent bed with its highly unique woolen crewel embroidery, and those walking canes, each of which has a fascinating story of its own, also include a dress purchased by Julia but most likely never worn because of her early death,(and that’s an interesting story in itself!) many daguerreotypes and photographs of family members and local scenes, silver, textiles, paintings, furniture, hundreds of years old documents and too many other fascinating artifacts, large and small, significant or simply fascinating, to list. It also 20th century history, with photos and explanations of the Air Force base in the 1960s that was located on what is now Hartshorne Woods, and some information on Battery Louis which the Monmouth County Parks System is currently renovating and which includes the massive gun from the USS New Jersey. Here are endless other stories of the growth, decrease and transfer of parcels of the more than 2,400 acres between the Navesink River and Sandy Hook Bay that at some time or other, including Sandy Hook itself, were part of Portland, or Portland Point, the Hartshorne estate.

   Hammond has outdone himself in his meticulous attention to the smallest detail surrounding every Hartshorne recognized in the exhibition, and has included fascinating details about every artifact that is on display. It’s the very best piece of local history depicting a family whose first generation arrived in 1669, was an original signer on the Monmouth Patent, and gathered land to himself that now encompasses pieces of three different towns, making it possible for future generations to know so much about this very special part of the Bayshore.

   The Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Admission is free to Association members, or $5.00 for adults, $2.50 for senior citizens, and no charge for children under 6. Membership, which includes not only the museum but free admittance to each of the Association’s five historic houses in Monmouth County, is available at any visitation. For further information, call the Museum at 732- 462-1466, or visit their website at



Atlantic’s First Library…and School

muriel j smith 120Today, with the Atlantic Highlands branch of the Monmouth County Library such a vital, inviting and busy place at Borough Hall on First Avenue, it’s fun to look back 75 years or so when the new Atlantic Highlands High School opened just up the street and students boasted about the “new spacious library with its better lighting and modern fixtures” which all the residents of the borough were invited to enjoy.

In fact, the Class  of 1942, the first “to derive the benefits” of the new building, dedicated their yearbook to  Annie A. Woodward, the school librarian who had already been with the school for 15 years and earned “the since respect and ardent devotion of all those who have passed from our halls of learning.” Mrs. Woodward was described as an earnest and untiring librarian with quiet charm and “a beacon light which exudes grace, friendliness and efficiency.” She was a woman with “excellent literary ability and complete understanding of the world’s best literature,” the students wrote, adding she “has improved the selection of books not only for our students but also for the people of our community.”

Showing equal regard for the importance of athletics and the leadership of a great coach and teacher, the class of 1942 also dedicated the book to Jimmy Egidio, not only for his excellence as a patrolman, first aid squad captain, first aid instructor and volunteer fireman, but also for his assistance to all the varsity teams. For anyone who knew Jimmy, later the well beloved police chief, the students’ description of his
unceasing enthusiasm, his dedication to all things scholastic and athletic, his genuine love for his community and all its people, is quite apt.                      

Actually, the high school, the library and the grammar school were all in the same building.  During the 19th century, borough youngsters went to District School #69 on Leonardville Rd in Leonardo. Until November 5, 1883. That was the very important day when Miss Sarah R. Everett, the district school principal, herded the youngsters all together then marched them in a body to Avenue C, between Highland and Washington avenues, when the new school was built. The town elders had decided the year before that the Navesink and Leonardville schools were entirely too far for the youngsters to walk so a school house had to be built closer to home.

ah grammar high school 1910
PHOTO: Postcard of the Atlantic Highlands Grammar and High School, circa 1910, then located on Avenue C.

That was the first public school in the borough and it opened with great fanfare and pomp headed by the Board of Education and teacher Miss Sarah R. Everett, who assembled with the children in the upper room of the school waiting to greet all their parents and friends who came in to see the borough’s addition.  Students presented a program, beginning with a song, Miss Josie Leonard at the organ, the Rev. Mr. Lake offering a prayer and then more singing and recitations by the children. The county school superintendent came, as did the Rev. Mr. Lavelle from Navesink and at the end, a shade tree was planted on each side of the playground. About 150 local folks came for the big occasion.

But 13 years later, Atlantic Highlands was now officially a borough and the community had outgrown their first school. The second…the building still standing and in use on First Avenue, was formally opened Jan. 2, 1896 with many of the same names in attendance, names still held by local families today. There were the Mounts, the Swans, former Mayor Thomas Leonard and Mayor Jacob Stout. This time, there were about 400 local residents there for the celebrations.

ah high school 1960

photo: Atlantic Highlands High School, circa 1960.

It was another 15 years or so, with the town growing in leaps and bounds, when it was time for an addition to the ‘new’ school. And it was that 1920’s addition that lasted until the high school graduating class of 1942 bragged about their new school with “better lighting, modern fixtures, a comfortable teacher’s room to enjoy, work space for the work needed in the war emergency, a Red Cross Work Room, and a large, well-lighted and ventilated Study Hall complete with reference books and equipped with a projection room. Their pride and joy, the students wrote, represents “our realization of ambitions and our good times as we, the Class of 1942, are the first to derive its benefits.”

So many of those names from the Class of ’42 are still revered families today in both Atlantic Highlands and Highlands. Highlands did not have a high school so those teens had the option of Leonardo High or Atlantic Highlands High. Among those who went to Atlantic are names still well known and loved today….names like Dalton Carhart and Duke Black, Gloria Joy, Helen Cowden, Gloria Mendes, Ida Kadenbach, Anna Marchetti, Stu King, Sam Vasto, Brother Tracy and so many more. A mixture of Highlands and Atlantic highlands kids. A blend of both communities. And the class advisor was another name that also remained popular, revered, and involved through the decades, Everett C. Curry, later the town’s Mayor.

Don’t you just love being in a community that’s so beloved that decades, even a century later, the descendants of those families still want to live here and be a part of it?

Highlands’ Medal of Honor Recipient

muriel j smith 120The Highlands Historical Society voted unanimously last week to take the first steps in bringing a Congressional Medal of Honor to its museum at the Twin Lights so proper honor can be paid to the borough’s only recipient of Congress’ highest award for military valor, Chief Robert Blume.

Society President Russell Card…who was the first one to bring attention and urge more research on this Spanish-American War figure, will be meeting with representatives of the Friends of the Twin Lights to keep them informed and invite them to join in the effort to establish a fitting setting for this most prestigious award.

As was reported in History and Happenings back in May, Robert Blume was a third lighthouse keeper at the Twin Lights in the early years of the 20th century, some six to eight years after he had proven his mettle as a true hero at Cienfuegos, Cuba. While serving aboard the USS Nashville as a seaman, Blume was one of the 26 Sailors and Marines from that ship who joined another 26 volunteers from the USS Marblehead and sailed into the Cienfuegos harbor under intense fire from both friendly and enemy weapons during the Spanish American War. Their mission, which they accomplished successfully, was to cut the underwater cable and end the Spanish ability to keep in contact with their own military leaders and allies and keep control of the Cuban island against the will of the Cuban people.

It was for this brave action that Blume earned the honor.

But there is so much to the story of this former Highlands resident who was married and had three daughters while living here and working at the lighthouse.

Admittedly, he was a bit of a tippler and loved a good time. More than once, actually, many times more than once, he was busted in rank for smuggling booze aboard ship, drinking on duty, overstaying his leave, and occasionally fighting while under the influence. He had attained the rank of Chief over the years, and lost it because of his other than perfect conduct. But he was ever the hero.

It happened that a couple of years after Cienfuegos, and a couple of years before coming to Highlands, Blume proved his valor once again. He was on another ship when two sailors were working in the depths of the ship, electronics broke down, and they were smothered and knocked unconscious by the poisonous fumes. Our Highlands hero and another sailor went down into that gas-filled hold, wrapped ropes around the unconscious men, and pulled them to safety. The other seaman was put up for the Medal because of his role in the rescue; our Seaman Blume was recommended for return to his rightful rank of Chief. Think of that! Had it not been for his penchant for partying, Chief Blume would be one of only 20 men in the entire world who earned not one, but TWO Congressional Medals.

And still the story doesn’t end. Though Chief Blume died in 1937, his Medal was up for sale on E-Bay in 2003, a strict violation of federal law. Our sensational FBI, working together with Canada’s fine police, investigated, worked hard, set up a sting, recovered the Medal and saw the seller serve time in prison. Then they sought living relatives of Blume, and finding none, ceremoniously brought that Medal back to the MOH Museum in South Carolina.

It’s that medal, with all its history, with all the valor it represents, with its connection to Highlands, that should come back to the Twin Lights Museum for New Jersey to rightfully recognize a Highlands hero in the true sense of the word!

Russell will be at the County’s Archives Day on Oct. 8 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Monmouth County Library in Manalapan. Stop in and see his pride in Highlands and hear his stories about Chief Blume!


Mount Mitchill – Fascinating History and Geology

muriel j smith 120With hundreds sitting in awe, wonder, respect, and contemplation during Sunday’s very moving 9-11 ceremony on Mount Mitchill, it seems proper to note the site itself has some fascinating history and geology.

While 15 years ago it was the site that attracted hundreds of local residents who didn’t want to witness, but somehow had to see, the devastation across the water and the collapse of the Twin Towers, it was a contemplative crowd that gathered there Sunday for the Monmouth County Park System’s annual commemoration of that historic day. Freeholder Lillian Burry led a contingent of county representatives ranging from Freeholder Director Tom Arnone and all the freeholders to all the volunteers with the park system who put in time long before the start of the program to ensure it would all run smoothly. State Senator Joe Kyrillos was there, as were the mayors of both Atlantic Highlands and Middletown, at least three former mayors of Atlantic Highlands, Fred Rast, Mike Harmon and Dick Stryker, and plenty of representatives of county government, including administrator Teri O’Connor and Parks head Jim Truncer whose superb leadership and foresight have resulted in so many wonderful parks in Monmouth County. Each of the remembrances given, from Freeholder Burry’s moving talk to Middletown Police Chief Craig Weber’s personal memories moved the crowd to silence and reverence.

But back to Mount Mitchill. Undisputedly, in spite of comments from our dear friends from Maine, this is the highest land along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to the Yucatan…if you don’t count that island off Maine. Standing 266 feet proud, the amazing height can best be attributed to the effects of glacial rebound. Ages old ironstone conglomerate creates a caprock along the crest, overlying marine mud rocks. When the sea level was lower many moons ago, the Highlands hills were actually a high valley wall on the south side of the Hudson and Raritan rivers. The river system was later buried by younger sediments including deposits from the Sandy Hook Spit.

But there’s more than just height that makes Mount Mitchill stand out. Look at the history and natural beauty, and even the addition of a recreation area for kids once it became a county park.

Oh there was that time in the 20th century when the land was going to be the site of a second 10-story apartment house, one to equal the Top of the East already approved for the Highlands side of the crest. Stories of slump blocks, the hill falling, and most importantly the will of the people kept that from happening. And the park service would later acquire the land for a park for all to enjoy.

Back to earlier history.

Mount Mitchill was named for Samuel Latham Mitchill, a 18th and 19th century physician, naturalist, and politician who earned his medical degree in Scotland, taught chemistry and natural history at Columbia College, as the present day university was known in the 1790s. He also collected, identified and classified plants, animals, and aquatic organisms for his studies, was an organizer of the Medical College at Rutgers in the 1820s, and was an early advocate in personal hygiene and sanitation as a powerful means to prevent disease.

But he was even more than that, this New Yorker who had the good sense to visit our Bayshore. He served as both a Congressman and Senator, and was a strong supporter and advocate of building the Erie Canal. It’s not surprising that he was an ardent fan of Thomas Jefferson, who apparently admired him as well, since the third President referred to him as the “Congressional Dictionary.”

Our Mount Mitchill should never be mistaken either for Mount Kahadin in Maine, the highest peak in the Pine Tree State, or the other Mount Mitchell, the one spelled with an “E.” That one is in North Carolina and while it stands 6,089 feet above sea level, making it not only the highest peak in the Tar Heel state, and the highest peak west of the Mississippi, it’s not on the shoreline.

Visit Mount Mitchill. See the magnificent memorial to 9-11 and all who grieve because of that day. Admire the beauty. Search out a view of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse on Sandy Hook, and contemplate the New York skyline. Than thank Monmouth County for saving that precious piece of land from being yet a second high rise changing the skyline of the very best part of New Jersey.


Father Delzell a Part of OLPH history

rev david delzellThere was a memorial mass for the Rev. David Delzell at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Highlands last week, and it brought together families, teachers, and a couple of generations of students who all have their own special memory of the priest who served as pastor there longer than any other priest in the church’s 133 year history.

     Father Delzell died in Pennsylvania Aug. 7 at 93 years of age, and though it’s been 22 years since his pastorate ended, the folks at Tuesday evening’s mass enjoyed reminiscing over their many memories of his 26 years here and certainly let those in attendance who didn’t know the priest realize he was a force to be reckoned with, a memorable friend, and a devoted leader.

   The ‘60s through 80’s of the 20th century aren’t exactly history, but there are many who do not know the leadership qualities of Father Dave, as he was affectionately known, so for newcomers, even recent history is interesting.

   The welcoming mass when Father Dave first came to Highlands was proof he was a beloved priest; the church was filled with not only the Highlands folks wondering what their new pastor would be like, but busloads of parishioners from St. Cecelia’s in Iselin, who were sorry to see him go and wanted to wish him well in his new pastorate.

   And Father got right to work building and improving the parish. The school building was only about five years old when Father Dave came, but he immediately enmeshed himself in the lives of the youngsters, and did a lot of work himself to save the parish money…things like mowing the lawn, fixing plumbing,…he even was a caller at BINGO! He brought in the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Infant Jesus to teach, and three of them who were here in the 70s and 80s, Sisters Gloria Louise, Angela Pia and Jerrilynn were here for the mass last week and to share their own memories of teaching in Highlands.

That shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help along the back wall inside church was also Father Dave’s idea, and to the delight of all, he even installed air-conditioning in the school and in the basement of the church, where he has started a kindergarten.

   It was in the early 1980s that the pastor began planning for the parish’s centennial in 1983, and decided some major renovations were in order. In addition a good scrubbing, painting, and new carpeting, Father also moved the pews around, allowing for the wider space that is at the front of the nave now. Those beautifully etched glass doors going into church were also Father’s idea, and new lighting and sound completed renovations that are still in use today.  

   These were some of the material things Father Dave accomplished. But people who knew him loved his piety, loved his spectacular tenor voice…nobody could sing O Holy Night or Ave Maria like Father Dave…. People complained about his conservative ways, but they did come dressed up for mass because he insisted on it. People complained about his not liking women wearing slacks to mass, or not allowing shorts or bathing suits for mass….but all felt a little better for looking better.

   The folks there Tuesday night remember all the fine things about Father Dave…the teachers, from Joan Wicklund in the ‘70s to Barbara Hardeman in the ‘90s,the former students, like Mari Campanella Kovich, the families, like the Pentas, the Dziedziecs, the Davis’, the newly ordained priest from St. Agnes, Father Quinn and the nun, Sister Diana Higgins, who felt mentored by Father and were in the OLPH Youth Group in the ;80s..all have their own memories. Marie Veling, a long time teacher at the school, sent special wishes for the ceremony from her home in St. Augustine, Fla.   There is no doubt Father Delzell had an impact, a positive impact, on them all.

   Today, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church and St. Agnes Church, are joined as one parish…Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes, and there’s another strong, enthusiastic, vibrant priest pouring new life and faith into this new community. Father Fernando Lopez was named pastor a year ago and together with associate pastor, Father Carlo Calisin, has made more friends and filled the pews with more people through his own piety and love for the people.

     It’s true, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church is very much a part of the history of Highlands. And Father Delzell is very much a leading player in that history. But with Father Fernando at the helm, Father Carlo assisting, and Msgr. Cajetan Salemi a weekend associate, the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help – St. Agnes is also very much a part of the future of the Bayshore.


The Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge

old highlands bridge

The old Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge was built in 1933.

muriel j smith 120The Captain Joseph Azzolina Bridge was a welcome improvement to the boroughs of Highlands and Sea Bright in 2012, to say nothing of cutting back drastically on the lines of cars trying to get into Sandy Hook on a hot summer’s day. It is actually the fourth bridge that has crossed the Shrewsbury River at that point, not including the railroad bridge which was also located there.

There was much excitement when this newest bridge was built and then dedicated. While the old bridge was being taken down, Bahrs Restaurant was even more popular than ever, and everyone had a story to tell about walking to the beach, or jumping from the bridge, or even sailing under it. Others told stories about getting stuck in traffic when the bridge was raised. Jay Cosgrove introduced a unique drink at Bahrs which was a favorite throughout the construction period….the Bridgetini at Bahrs even had ‘rust’ rimming the glasses, and Bahrs sold gift-wrapped and mounted pieces of concrete from the old bridge which folks treasured for the secrets, memories and dreams they held.

Senator Jennifer Beck, who had worked with Capt Azzolina for many years, and whom she still today regards as her mentor and first teacher in dedicated service to the public, was one of many speakers at this dedication, along with LT. Governor Kim Guadagno, Congressman Frank Pallone, all the freeholders, and the Azzolina offspring who only knew from family stories of all the connections the Azzolinas had with Highlands from the days their grandparents operated a grocery store on Miller Street before the Bay Avenue Food Basket and ultimately the FoodTown Super Markets.

Back in 1933, when the third bridge, the first concrete and steel structure spanning the Shrewsbury River between the two communities was dedicated, there was a two mile long parade and much fanfare at the dedication.

That bridge replaced what army engineers described an “an obsolete wooden structure which has been a death trap and the worst bridge of its kind in history,” at the time.

It took 14 months to build that new bridge in 1933; it was 1,241 feet long, 44 feet wide, had two eight foot wide sidewalks, a height of 35 feet, and cost $650,000, officially becoming the third bridge over the Shrewsbury River.

The first bridge was built in 1872, ten years after the Twin Lights. It cost $35,000 to build and was 18 feet wide. Jacob Swan was the toll taker there for 15 years. Twenty years later, the bridge, owned by Monmouth County, which had also acquired the adjacent railroad, tore down the railroad drawbridge and designed a rail and roadway in a single bridge crossing the river. But with increased vehicular traffic, that bridge became too dangerous, and hence the third bridge was planned, designed, and dedicated in 1933.

So, no wonder there was much celebration!

Fred Bedle, he who also owned Bedle’s drug store, was Mayor of Highlands in 1933….his daughter, the late Catherine James Bedle, became a councilwoman I the late 20th century, and William Fowler was Sea Bright’s Mayor. Acting Governor Emerson Richards, US Senators W. Warren Barbour and Hamilton Kean, along with Congressman William Sutphin, and a host of other state, county and local dignitaries, all came for the grand ceremony when the two mayors met in the middle of the bridge. There were a lot of speeches, moistly about the great beauty of Sandy hook, the view of the New York skyline, and the recent talk s about converting Sandy hook into a state Park, with the Governor strongly in favor of it, saying he could make it as great as Jones Beach. He called on the federal government to fund his ideas, arguing if the government could pay for “wheat fields and irrigation in the west and cotton fields in the South, then it can provide adequate shoreline protection.”

Following the meeting-in-the-middle-of-the-bridge ceremonies, there was a two mile long parade in Highlands, complete with 31 fire companies, five bands, including the 175 member continent from Fort Hancock, plenty of civic organizations from scout troops to garden clubs, to fraternal organizations and veterans groups. Then there was a big party at the Hotel Martin, later known as the Alpine Manor, now the townhouses on Highland Avenue at the Portland Road intersection. The Highlands firemen hosted their fellow volunteers from other communities at their own party at the firehouse which stood at the corner of Bay and Valley avenues until the 1960s. And it was all topped off with a grand ball at Kruse’s Pavilion on Bay Avenue, just west of the bridge on Bay Avenue.

Jacob S. Hoffmann was councilman under Mayor Bedle, and headed up the Dedication Committee. The total cost for the day’s events in 1933? $700.


Conners Hotel…and How it Started

conners homesteadPHOTO:  “homestead” of the William and Mary Conners, later Jack and Sis Black’s house.

muriel j smith 120     One doesn’t have to live in Highlands or even the Bayshore very long before hearing a story about Conners Hotel, or the Brothers Black, or the swimming pool where many romances blossomed and old friends met. Or even the snack bar at the pool where Sis Black did the honors at the counter and Edna Black flipped the hamburgers and dropped the French fries into the hot oil. Everyone remembers Billy and Sal’s lobster dinners in the hotel dining room…a delicacy still presented at Wind ‘n Sea on Shrewsbury Avenue where the owners have their own great memories of summers at Conners.

   It’s gone now, the pool, the hotel, the family homestead, even the bungalows and beach. The family built condos and apartments on part of what was once a piece of the heartland that stretched from the Shrewsbury River to the red clay hills, and sold the rest to Sea Streak, the relaxing, enjoyable commuter boat trip from the Bayshore to New York, for its docks and parking. Shore Drive takes the place of the railroad tracks that brought so many visitors from Jersey City, Union City, Hoboken, New York, Staten Island and Brooklyn.

   But there’s so much more to know about the patriarch and matriarch of this Highlands landmark, William H and Mary Conners.

         This was the site William fell in love with in the late 19th century when he came here from his native Pennsylvania. He purchased the 10 acre or so tract next to the O’Neil property and filled in the land himself, drawing buckets of soil from the red clay hills to fill in the swamp land that ran to the water. He hauled all that clay by horse drawn wagon, using a trip lever to create buildable ground. Once he established new land, William then leased out portions of it, bringing folks from the city to enjoy the shores of the Shrewsbury in their tents. When that venture secured enough money, William then set out to build the hotel, which he named the Cedar Grove House, keeping the tents for the regulars who wanted to come back every summer. Hardworking and energetic, William and Mary worked the land themselves, growing vegetables for the table, and becoming more popular and sought after as the years went on.

   By the 1920s, the couple added bungalows to their summer offerings, and the place blossomed. They also built their own home, the “big white house” that later in the 20th century became the home to son Jack and his wife Sis, and their four children.

   William died in 1938, but not without leaving a legacy to his daughter, Marie. She was married to Herman “Blackie” Black, and the charm and growth of Conners continued. The Blacks renamed the hotel Conners, and from an early age taught their four sons the benefits of hard work and the necessity to give back to the community. Each of the sons, Bill, Jack, Herman, better known as Duke, and Bobby, knew and did every facet of running the business their grandparents had started. They moved with the times as well, adding the pool; the bungalows gave way to spanking new condos, the carriage house which at one time had been home to the nearly two dozen gardeners, groundskeepers, plumbers, band members and other employees who lived on the grounds, became a memory as the Carriage House Apartments were built. Still, the Conners Charm continued.

   The restaurant at the hotel became a series of dining rooms, as the popularity of Bill and Sal in the kitchen drew crowds every night. In the early years, the family was happy when the dining room capable of holding 60 diners had 19 or 20 on a Friday night; by the 1980s, the added rooms could accommodate 225 diners at one time, and the overflow didn’t seem to mind a bit sitting on the hotel’s front porch, cocktail in hand, waiting to be seated.

   Generations enjoyed the Cedar Grove turned Conners Hotel over the centuries. The four brothers Black have all passed on, as have all their wives except Edna, Duke’s wife, the last matriarch of the third generation connected with the hotel. There are numerous great-great grandchildren with unforgettable memories of their special times at Conners, a plethora of great-great-great grandchildren who hear the stories of their ancestors, and now a sixth generation being born and welcomed into a family that has been as much a part of the growth, love, and uniqueness of Highlands as the river and Twin Lights themselves.