LAKEHURST – Lakehurst’s history is intertwined closely with that of Manchester Township. That isn’t too surprising because Lakehurst and the township were all the same place once upon a time.
During a recent meeting of the Borough of Lakehurst Historical Society, members were regaled with stories of some of the more colorful historical figures of both communities’ past and some interesting facts about the area by Mike Mahoney, an information services librarian at the Manchester branch of the Ocean County Library.
Mahoney showed a PowerPoint presentation to the audience and noted that Lakehurst became an official municipality in 1921. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the borough but due to the ever-changing conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, plans to celebrate that milestone birthday were postponed by Borough officials earlier in the year.
The LHS maintains a museum across the street from where they meet at the borough community center. Their museum at 300 Center Street is based in the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Ocean County.
The Old St. John’s Church was built in 1874 by Irish railroad workers and it is filled with various items on display. An old cemetery surrounds the building which opened as a museum in 1993.
Mahoney divided up his presentation between Manchester, Lakehurst and the Whiting section of Manchester.
Mahoney noted that while a lot of Dutch settlers came into areas of New Jersey, the English took over the area in 1664. He showed a map revealing an area of the Pine Barrens “which was pretty sparse but sawmills started coming here around 1760.”
“Lakehurst was known as Manchester Village at the time. Ocean County broke away from Monmouth (County) in 1850. On April 6,1865, Manchester was founded. In 1897 Manchester Village was changed to Lakehurst but in 1921 became its own town,” Mahoney said.
William Torrey, who passed way in 1891, was an important figure in Lakehurst history. “He married a miss Whitmore who was the daughter of a wealthy British banker. Apparently, her father didn’t approve of the marriage. He gifted them land in Lakehurst but it was put in her name which was odd at the time. Usually it would be put in the husband’s name,” Mahoney added.
Mahoney said, Torrey “didn’t come down to the area until 1841 and then purchased an additional 25,000 acres.” Torrey founded the Village of Manchester in 1850 which became an early industrial center.
Torrey’s “main project that he became famous for was the Raritan-Delaware Bay Railroad which started in 1856. In 1861 it got finished all the way to Manchester.”
Mahoney noted that the area was rich in bog iron. A grist mill which made flour operated in the area. “This area was also rich in cedar timber for ship building. Charcoal was very important in the 1800s,” Mahoney said, asking the audience if they knew what a person working the charcoal pits was called.
A member of the audience called out, “hurriers.” They were employed to pull and push tubs full of coal along roadways from the coal face to the pit-bottom.
Other historical notes included the construction in 1884 of Rogers Hotel built on Union Avenue and owned by Charles Rogers. The hotel was said to be the site of much political activity in the Lakehurst/Manchester area.
The LHS will host speaker Jeff Schenker who will appear in costume portraying Captain Joshua Huddy. Schenker is a member of the Ocean County Historical Society. The program will take place at 7 p.m. on October 20 at the Lakehurst Community Center.
Captain Huddy was a commander of a New Jersey Patriot Militia Unit during the American Revolution. He was captured and hung by the British in 1782, having given his life for American independence.
The LHS took part in Ocean County History Day held on September 12 on the grounds of the Ocean County Historical Society headquarters in Toms River.
LHS members George and Dot Oglesby, Barbara Cummings and Bill Schmidt manned an information table there.
Looking ahead to next year, member Kathy Abrahamsen is surveying participants of the last Soup-R-Bowl fundraiser to see how many might wish to return for the event in 2022. The popular fundraiser was canceled last year due to the pandemic. This year’s annual children’s Halloween Bash has also been cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.
For information about the LHS, its museum and its programs call 732-657-0751.