• Monmouth University students dig into daily lives of Continentals


    BARNEGAT, NJ – Old Halfway Road seems appropriately named, something built about three centuries ago that may one day lead to a melding of the old and new.




    Tabitha Hilliard, Samantha Gottlieb, and Katelyn Oakes, all of Monmouth University, clean off artifacts found at the site. A Monmouth University field archeology class conducts a dig at the site of Cedar Bridge Tavern which dates back to the 1700's. Barnegat, NJ Saturday, June 14, 2014 Doug Hood


    A cultural resources center is taking shape along the road, at Cedar Bridge Tavern, in part with help from Monmouth University archaeological students who spent the summer hip deep in dirt undisturbed for centuries. They are finding one treasure after another, if broken pottery and old clam shells are your kind of precious.

    The diggers have spent weekends learning about archaeological field methods in a course sponsored by the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission, under the supervision of Richard Veit, a Monmouth University anthropology professor, and adjunct professor Sean McHugh.

    The commission’s sister agency, the Ocean County Parks and Recreation Department, purchased the Cedar Bridge Tavern site in 2007 for $120,000 and officials estimate parts of the site date to the 1740s. Both graduate students and undergraduates qualified for the field methods course, which in other years has taken the archaeological students to historic sites all over the state. But none are as remote as the Cedar Bridge Tavern site, one mile off Route 72, deep into the woods over sandy paths in the Pinelands.

    “Our long-term goal is to (determine) whether a ‘Gateway to the Pines of Ocean County’ cultural center should be located there, said Veit of MU’s partners in Ocean County.

    “I do think it is a significant site,” said Veit, of the tavern, which also may be near the area where the last battle of the American Revolution in New Jersey was waged, known alternatively as the battle at Cedar Bridge.

    The students will try to verify that hypothesis with evidence unearthed from the tavern site, such as musket balls or military insignia buttons.

    Students also had to do classroom work to prepare for the digging portion of the course.

    “I had no idea what to expect except I was told we would be doing a lot of digging,” said Monmouth University anthropology major Emily Gill, 20, of Fanwood, of her first field methods course. “And who knew where?” she said, laughing about the remote location. She also said she was not prepared for the physical demands of the course, which often leaves students exhausted, sore and yearning for a dip in a hot tub.

    Students here dig the old-fashioned way. No backhoes are in sight but there are lots of shovels and tiny brushes.

    “I tried digging a hole and I couldn’t,” Gill said. “I had to stand on the shovel to make a dent.”

    The property had been owned since 1959 by Rudolph Koenig, a World War II Navy veteran and retired union electrician, who lived somewhat “off the grid,” and left most of it undisturbed, the professors said. Koenig sold the property to the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation, provided he could live there until he died. Koenig was 86 when he died in January 2012.

    In 1938, the tavern was the only Ocean County building included in the Historic American Buildings Survey, a New Deal program to keep architects and engineers working during the Depression. Experts say little has changed on the property since that 1938 survey.

    Veit refers to that combination of factors that brought him south for this dig to “a little bit of serendipity there.”

    “It is like an archaeological treasure trove,” said Veit of discoveries such as the Native American tools, Colonial-era nails, buttons, jewelry and ceramics. Bottles of every size and shape — many intact — have been unearthed, leaving historians to speculate that a physician may have seen patients and dispensed medications out of the tavern.

    “It allows us to get into the lives of folks who might not make it into Garden State history books, who may have been overlooked by history,” Veit said. “This gives us part of a picture of everyday life ... and the everyday artifacts they left behind.”

    The other fundamental question Veit and McHugh are asking students: Was John McPhee, author of 1968 classic “The Pine Barrens” correct when he concluded the area is unique culturally and in other ways?

    “I love it,” Veit said of McPhee’s work. But students must support their positions about McPhee’s conclusions, whatever side they choose. “Is this a really distinct and unique place with all this distinctive character or not?”

    Jennifer Varga of Lacey is a graduate student in history who has enjoyed other people’s impressions of the Pine Barrens.

    “We’re not that quiet anymore” said Varga, noting the area is growing in population and becoming more suburban. “It’s growing and the culture will change with it.”

    McHugh called some of the finds “fantastic. We’re trying to peel back the history.”

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