Coastal Heritage Trail - Sandy Hook - New Jersey Scenic Byway
Industry and Trade
Fishing and boat building have been associated with the coast since the days of the Lenape. From Manasquan north to Sandy Hook and along the Raritan Bay to Perth Amboy, fishermen, clammers and oystermen thrived on the ocean's bounty. The Bayshore's modern fishing industry survives with Belford's Seafood CO-OP. Other commercial fishing fleets, such as Leonardo's, have dissolved and the docks have evolved into recreational marinas.
Sailboats and steamships, built in Keyport through the end of the nineteenth century, are remembered at Keyport's Steamboat Dock Museum. Trains and steamboats were a common sight along the shore, bringing visitors to summer homes and playgrounds. Fishing villages had become "resorts," and "tourism" was the new industry.
Aids to Navigation
Coastal trading and shipping routes were often hazardous, especially during winter storms. Lighthouses were constructed as early as the 1700s to warn ships of potential dangers. The Sandy Hook Light was built in 1764 by New York City merchants to ensure the safe arrival of their merchandise. It is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the United States. Two lights existed at Navesink Heights as early as 1828, and were upgraded in 1862 with the construction of Twin Lights.
In spite of the lighthouses, ships would often hit offshore sandbars, shoals, and other submerged hazards. In 1848, eight small huts were constructed from Sandy Hook to Long Beach to house small boats and rescue equipment. These were the nucleus of what would become the United States Life Saving Service (USLSS). Of the eight, the Spermaceti Cove Lifeboat Station survives and is on display at Twin Lights State Historic Site. By the 1890s, stations were located all along the Atlantic seaboard with one every 3 1/2 miles along the New Jersey coast. USLSS Station #2, at Spermaceti Cove on Sandy Hook, was built in 1894 and is now the park visitor center for the Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area.
Ships sailing the coastal waterways, carrying trade goods, troops, and provisions, sometimes entered New Jersey's ports to load and offload their cargo. Coastal defenses were built to protect port cities, harbors, and critically located bridges and rivers. During the American Revolution, the Sandy Hook Light was a military target for both the American and British forces due to its strategic location at the entrance to the British occupied New York Harbor. Enclosed masonry forts became obsolete after the Civil War, so the United States Army built new fortifications to defend the harbor entrance.
On Sandy Hook, guns were developed that could load, fire, and "disappear" behind the protection of a camouflaged concrete wall that blended into the landscape. Unsuspecting ships would never see the weapons firing upon them. Nike missiles replaced the disappearing guns in the 1950s as our nation's first line of defense. Advances in technology led to the introduction of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, making coastal defense fortifications and Nike missiles obsolete.
Sandy Hook Welcome Center at Cheesequake State Park
This interim, northern anchor for the Trail is located near Matawan and serves as the Sandy Hook Region Welcome Center. The Park offers a variety of outdoor experiences and facilities from swimming, camping, and picnicking to hiking trails and a nature center. During the busy summer months, the park suggests calling ahead to determine if it has reached its maximum carrying capacity. Welcome Center exhibits and Trail information are available, even though the remainder of the park may be inaccessible due to visitor capacity limitations.
Directions: Garden State Parkway travelers should take exit 120 (from the "local traffic'' lanes.) At the first traffic light, turn right onto Cliffwood Avenue and follow it to the "T" intersection with Gordon Road. Turn right onto Gordon road and follow the signs into the park (approximately 1/2 mile). Hours: Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, the park is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the office is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Hours vary during the remainder of the year. Telephone: (908) 566-2161.
Perth Amboy Harbor Walk
Waterfront resources under development as part of the Harbor Walk include the 1904 Ferry Slip to Tottenville, Municipal Marina, 1929 Armory, cat 1880 Raritan Yacht Club headquarters, 1880 Great Beds Light, and cat 1780 Kearny Cottage. Except for Great Beds Light, which sits in the waters of Raritan Bay, all are located near the waterfront on Smith Street, Front Street, Water Street, and Catalpa Avenue.
Directions: From Exit 10 of the New Jersey Turnpike, take state road 440 east to the State Street exit. Continue on State until you come to the intersection with Lewis Street. Turn right on Lewis for one block, then left on Catalpa and follow it to the waterfront. Hours: (a public park area, you may call the City of Perth Amboy for details). Telephone: (908) 442-6421.
Fort Monmouth, US Army Communications-Electronics Museum
The museum offers an assortment of displays from the early 1900s to the present, on products developed in Fort Monmouth laboratories and research centers. Many of these products have had wide application and technological spin-offs affecting the economy of the private sector, including: radar, transistors, night vision devices, communication and weather satellites, mass production of printed circuits, solar batteries, and walkie-talkie radios.
Directions: From exit 105 of the Garden State Parkway, take state road 36 east to Hope Road (county road 51). Follow Hope Road north to Tinton Avenue (county road 537). Follow Tinton Avenue east to the Forth Monmouth West Gate. A base information map is located inside the gate on the right side of the road. The museum is located in Kaplan Hall, Building 275. Hours: 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. (Closed on national holidays.) Group Tours are available. Telephone: (908) 532-2440.
Sandy Hook Unit, Gateway National Recreation Area - Fort Hancock, Sandy Hook Light & Dwelling, and the Spermaceti Cove Life Saving Service Station #2
This site includes multiple Trail destinations, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On busy summer days, the park advises visitors to arrive early in the day as it often reaches its maximum carrying capacity before noon. Visitors can expect to find the usual amenities of a National Park System unit.
Directions: Take state road 36 east from exit 117 of the Garden State Parkway to the community of Highlands and follow the signs to the park. Hours: The visitor center operates daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Telephone: (908) 872-0115.
Twin Lights State Historic Site
The Navesink Lighthouse station, known as Twin Lights State Historic Site, was an important maritime navigational aid for ships entering and leaving ports off the northern New Jersey coast and New York Harbor. On the site is one of the original life boat stations built by the US government to assist shipwrecked victims along the Jersey Shore. It was moved to its present location in 1954.
Directions: Take state road 36 east from exit 117 of the Garden State Parkway to the community of Highlands and follow signs to the park. Oversized vehicles and trailers are restricted from the access road. Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day, and Wednesday through Sunday from September through May. Telephone: (908) 872-1814.
Belford Seafood CO-OP
The Belford CO-OP is a cooperative commercial fishing operation located on the shores of Sandy Hook Bay. The community of Belford is more than 200 years and reported to be the oldest fishing port on the east coast. Many of its fishermen are third and fourth generation. It maintains a fleet of approximately 50 boats, including 18-20 lobster boats, 7-8 clamming boats, and three seining boats. A retail sales outlet for fresh seafood and a restaurant are maintained at the site.
Directions: To reach Belford, take exit 117 from the Garden State Parkway and follow state road 36 east to Main Street, Port Monmouth. Continue north on Main to Port Monmouth Road, then east to the co-op. Hours: The interpretive exhibit for this site is accessible only during daylight hours. The retail outlet is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. It is closed on Monday. Telephone: (908) 787-6509.
Leonardo State Marina
The marina remains one of the most popular and desirable state facilities, largely due to its proximity to Sandy Hook Inlet and the fruitful fishing grounds of Sandy Hook Bay. It includes 179 slips and is capable of accommodating boats up to 50 feet in length. On-site facilities include a luncheonette, bait and tackle facility, restrooms, and boat fueling station.
Directions: Take exit 117 from the Garden State Parkway east along state road 36 to the community of Leonardo. Take Leonard Avenue north toward Sandy Hook Bay, turn left on Center Avenue, and right onto Concord Avenue to the marina. Hours: The marina office is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Telephone: (908) 291-1333.
Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook
This high point (266 feet above sea level) provides visitors with a panoramic view of Sandy Hook Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, the New York City skyline, and historic Fort Hancock and the Sandy Hook Lighthouse at Gateway National Recreation Area. The overlook is part of the Monmouth County Park System and is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk.
Directions: To reach the Overlook, take state road 36 east from Garden State Parkway exit 117 to the community of Atlantic Highlands. Turn north on First Avenue to Highland Avenue then east following Highland to Ocean Boulevard, a narrow, twisting, and winding road, which ascends along a densely populated residential slope. Trailers and oversized vehicles should avoid this drive. Hours: The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk. Telephone: (908) 842-4000.
Steamboat Dock Museum
The Steamboat Dock Museum of the Keyport Historical Society interprets the history and maritime traditions of Keyport, which was first settled as a private plantation in 1714 by the Kearny family. By the 1830s, Keyport had become a major port for oystering and for produce on its way to New York City.
Directions: Keyport can be reached by following state road 36 east from exit 117 of the Garden State Parkway. County road 4 (Broad Street) connects SR 36 to the waterfront at the museum. Hours: open May through September, on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and on Monday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Guided tours are available by appointment. Telephone: (908) 739-6390.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication