LAKEHURST – Clang, clang, clang went the trolley, ring, ring, ring went the bell and with it riders went on a tour of the town and a trip into the past.
While the trolley provided by the Borough of Lakehurst Historical Society, Inc. wasn’t a time machine, member Robert Morris did his best to capture an era gone by during his narration of two tours recently.
“Robert Morris is a lifelong resident of the borough and he did our tour back in 2003. He is very knowledgeable,” Society treasurer Janet Heller said.
The 45-minute tours set off from the borough’s Community Center on Center Street. “We haven’t had one (a trolley tour) since 2003 or 2004, Heller said. It was time to do it again. The community really enjoys them.”
“A man named William Tory acquired property down here along with his wife and he was in this area from 1843 to a little after the Civil War. He started the Delaware and Raritan Bay Railroad,” Morris said.
Morris continued, “Lakehurst was really Manchester and it started back before the revolution. It started around the lake where cannon balls were made for Washington’s Army. Between the late 18th century and the middle of the 19th century Lakehurst died off and all life down by the lake ceased and then Tory showed up and then the portion of Lakehurst where the railroad was, came to fruition. By the 1850s until about the 1930s Lakehurst was known as a railroading town. If you have lived here a long time, pretty much everyone in your family worked for the railroad.”
“There was also a rope factory where people made rope. There was a waterline that ran from the lake under the ground to run a water wheel. The water wheel was horizontal, different from the vertical wheels we are used to seeing. There was a woman who lived here who was about 105 and she remembered when in 1910 her sister got her long hair caught in the water wheel and was killed,” Morris added.
Morris noted that the first Post Office in Lakehurst came into service in 1897 and that in 1928 the community was shocked over a scandalous murder involving prominent woman who had been having an affair and had killed her husband.
“The military showed up around 1915 to 1919 and if you are familiar with Rova Farms in Jackson, the White Russians during the Russian revolution came over here. We have pictures of sheep being herded off the trains and down Union Avenue to the proving ground where chemical warfare testing was done on these sheep,” Morris said.
Morris said right before the Depression era, “the military was up here on the base with an air ship program and then the blimp program then the first helicopter squadron of the U.S. Navy was here.”
The tour included the various streets and lake of the borough and made a stop at the Cathedral of the Air by the Joint Base Lakehurst. The Cathedral is maintained by the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society.
Navy Lakehurst Historical Society President Carl Jablonski conducted the Cathedral tour and said the church began construction in 1932.
“The formal dedication due to the years of the war being fought overseas was in 1947. It was used for mass for Catholics military and civilians who lived in the area and for Protestant services as well,” Jablonski said.
Mae Pfeiffer of Crestwood Village II in Whiting said she enjoyed the tour but wanted to learn more about the railroad. “I wish we had a tour of the tracks. I loved the Cathedral the ceilings and the door are beautiful.”
Morris said, “this is not the first time that there has been trolley tours in Lakehurst. In 1928 the Gray Lines got permission to run a tourist bus through Lakehurst. They ran it similar to what we are doing today.”
“I’ve been here for 62 years and my family has been here since 1760 at least. It is a cool little town. There have been a lot of changes,” Morris said.
Heller said the historical organization has 32 members and their activities include an annual car show, and our chili cook off on the last weekend of January.”