The early English settlers found plenty of ways to make a living in this area in the 1700s - there were abundant woodlands for lumber and charcoal, the sea yielded fish and whales and there was bog ore to process into iron. At the head of navigation on the Goose Creek River, a small village formed here. It was “Tom’s River” by the time of the American Revolution and the village had fifteen houses.
Toms River, behind a long barrier island, was a haven for privateers feasting on British shipping in the War for Independence, but it gained prominence by an incident that occurred just after the cessation of hostilities. A band of Tories, seeking saltworks, surprised Captain Joshua Huddy on March 24, 1782 as he defended a protective blockhouse. The blockhouse and the entire town were burned to the ground and Huddy hanged on April 12, apparently in retribution for his having killed a Tory leader.
Angry patriots were incensed at what they considered an illegal execution and demanded the surrender of Loyalist captain Richard Lippincott, the leader of the hanging party. When the band refused to produce him another British captain was selected by lot by the Americans to die. The sacrifice was 20-year old Sir Charles Asgill. Back in England, Lady Asgill sailed to France to plead for the life of her only son, and indeed Congress finally ordered him released. While America was embroiled in its first International imbroglio that was mucking up peace talks to end the Revolution, the good folks in Toms River were left to figure out how to rebuild their town from ashes.
But rebuild they did and Toms River was for awhile known as an important port until a major storm in the early 1800s sealed off the Cranberry Inlet and blocked access to the ocean. By the middle of the 1800s the town could boast of no more than 50 houses. In 1850 Toms River was selected as the county seat for newly created Ocean County and the government set up shop about the same time as the railroads began bringing wealthy vacationers to town.
Toms River began serving as a retirement center and resort and bedroom community as its economy became retail and professional-based. In the 1950s, with the completion of the Garden State Parkway, Toms River went on steroids. The new commuters swelled the population from 7,000 in 1950 to 90,000 in the year 2000. One thing the new homesteaders brought with them were good young baseball players. In the 1990s Toms River East Little League went to the Little League World Series three times and in 1998 captured the title with a 12-9 win over Japan, carrying the Toms River name around the world.
Our walking tour will begin by the water near where Captain Huddy gave his life to protect some salt so many years ago...
Main Street and Water Street
Joshua Huddy was an unlikely character to live in on as a martyred hero. He spent much of his life brushing up with the law and at the age of 21 he was booted out of the Friends Society in Salem by Quakers who could no longer abide his “disorderly” conduct. During the Revolutionary War he was given a commission to captain The Black Snake to harass British shipping vessels. He was captured by Loyalists and was able to escape the hangman’s noose only by executing a daring escape. On February 1, 1782 Huddy was given command of the blockhouse in Toms River that was built to protect the local salt works. On March 24, a large force of Loyalists overwhelmed Huddy’s small band of defenders, capturing and burning the fort, salt works, wharves and all but two houses in the village. Area commander Major John Cook, six militiamen, and two loyalist officers were killed. Captain Huddy and thirteen men were taken prisoner. He was taken prisoner and accused of murdering a Loyalist refugee. This time he was hanged. Ironically, after a lifetime of assaults and thefts and, most likely, the murder of British Loyalists, Huddy was almost certainly not guilty of this crime. His execution ignited outrage among the Americans and derailed ongoing peace talks in Paris in what is considered the first “international incident” in American history. A re-enactment of the fight at Toms River takes place every year in the park where the small fort was located. The pedestrian bridge in Huddy Park is named after Thomas Luker, an early European settler and whom it is believed by many to be the “Tom” of Toms River. Others credit Captain William Toms or Old Indian Tom. No one really knows but when the bridge was dedicated in 1992 Luker got the official endorsement.
WALK TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HUDDY PARK CAR LOT.
John Stoutenburgh was commodore of the Toms River Yacht Club for 23 years. The anchor in the small greenspace named for him is from the USS Randolph, one of 24 “long-hull” aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy. Named for Peyton Randolph, president of the First Continental Congress, she was commissioned in October 1944, and served in several campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations, earning three battle stars. During the 1960s the Randolph was a recovery ship for two Mercury space missions and plucked John Glenn out of the ocean after he became the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. She was decommissioned in 1969 and in 1975 she was towed to Kearny and broken up for scrap.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK DOWN TO THE WATER.
Toms River at foot of Robbins Parkway
The River Lady is an 85-foot authentic reproduction of a stern-wheeler riverboat, the only one in New Jersey. The interior of the cruise boat is mahogany and brass in the Victorian style of a 19th century Mississippi River paddle boat.
Toms River Yacht Club/Lobster Shanty
4 Robbins Parkway
On July 1, 1871 the Toms River Yacht Club organized and within a month was racing its first regatta from Long Point to Forked River and back. The winner scored a handsome silver trophy designed by club member Joseph Chattellier and crafted by Tiffany’s in New York City for a cost of $175. The competition has been staged on Barnegat By every year since and the Toms River Challenge Cup is the oldest racing trophy in the United States. In 1911 a new clubhouse was built on this site and served until the club moved out to Money Island in 1968.
LEAVE THE PARK AND WALK UP TO WATER STREET. TURN RIGHT.
44 East Water Street
This is the oldest house in Toms River, the core of which was constructed in 1824 with two stories and two rooms on each floor.
46 East Water Street
Look closely into the trim, modern materials and you can see the original three-bay Federal-style house built by Richard Crawford in 1827. At various times it has been enlarged to serve as a rooming house for visiting yachtsmen.
57 East Water Street
Captain Samuel C. Dunham, the Toms River dockmaster, built this house in 1849; Charles Stewart enlarged it into a boarding house a decade later. On July 6, 1871 the Toms River Yacht Club adjourned its first meeting here.
TURN LEFT ON HOOPER AVENUE.
Toms River Seaport Society
78 East Water Street at Hooper Avenue
Joseph Francis was building award-winning boats by the time he was 18 years old, when he copped a prize for a rowboat from the Massachusetts Mechanical Institute. The promise he showed as a precocious boat designer in 1819 was realized when he improved wooden life boats by including self righting and self bailing. By 1841 all government vessels and nearly all merchant ships sailing from New York City had been provided with his life boats. In 1843 he invented the Francis Life-car, a ten-foot long corrugated metal boat with an enclosed chamber that rescued shipwreck victims by setting up a life line over the surf from the distressed ship to the shore. In the next dozen years his life-cars would be credited with saving some 2,500 lives. The first life-car ever used rescued 200 of 201 people from the wreck of the Ayrshire in 1850 and is today on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The Boston-born Francis set up his business in Long Branch and lived in an estate here. In 1890 the United States Congress conveyed a gold medal, designed by the famous American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and the largest medal ever granted by Congress, to Francis in gratitude for his inventions. He died three year later at age 92 while summering at Otsego Lake in New York. The Seaport Society was founded in 1976 to preserve the sailing heritage of the Jersey coast, especially those watercraft designed for the shallow estuaries and bays. The museum is housed in the 1868 carriage house of the Francis estate. Outdoor storage sheds were added to the property and now contain part of the collection of wooden boats.
Old Burying Ground
southeast corner of Washington Street and Hooper Avenue
There are not many towns in New Jersey where you can stand on the steps of the court house and see gravestones. But this cemetery remains on prime real estate near the center of Toms River at what was traditionally the main crossroads of town. It was established in 1828 when the Methodists built the first church building in Toms River on this site. The congregation would later move across the street and across to the street again before moving out of downtown in the 1970s but the burying ground has not moved in over 180 years. Beneath the marble and limestone headstones lie prominent sea captains and also Revolutionary War veterans.
TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Captain Amos Birdsall House
226 Washington Street
Amos Birdsall enjoyed a thriving business building four and six-masted schooners on the Jersey before moving to Camden, Maine. Upon returning to New Jersey in the 1870s he settled in Toms River and built this Georgian Revival manor house. Birdsall was said to have amassed one of the largest fortunes in Ocean County and was elected President of the First National Bank at Toms River in 1897. he died on the final day of 1909 at the age of 80.
TURN LEFT ON HADLEY AVENUE.
Ocean County Historical Society
26 Hadley Avenue
This house began life a block away on Hooper Avenue in 1820 a single room with an upstairs sleeping loft. In the 1840s later owners were able to add a large room to each floor and in 1867 when the house was purchased by Samuel V. Pierson, a ship captain of means, it received a fashionable Victorian make-over. In 1971 when Ocean County decided to build a new administration building three houses, including this one, stood in its way. The house was sold at auction and the Ocean County Historical Society was the high bidder at $1.00. Presumably, it was the only bid. The house was then moved to this location and restored as the county museum.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO WASHINGTON STREET. TURN RIGHT AND CONTINUE ACROSS HOOPER AVENUE.
Ocean County Courthouse
118 Washington Street
After the southern half of Monmouth County was lopped off in 1850 to form Ocean County in 1850, Toms River was selected as the new seat of government over Lakehurst by a single vote. It has remained so ever since. The Greek Revival courthouse, fronted by a picket of fluted Doric columns, was ready by 1851 as was the Sheriff’s House, with ten attached jail cells, built behind the Courthouse by Robert Aitken for $4250. The Sheriffs and their families occupied this building for over 75 years. In 1950 the first of two additions were made to the west wing of the original Courthouse and as the county continued to grow the original building now anchors an entire mid-town complex.
Bishop Memorial Library
39 Washington Street
Nathaniel H. Bishop, a tall, slight man with red hair and beard, was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1837 and became one of the 19th century’s greatest adventurers and writers of his experiences. He began by hiking across South America at the age of 17 that spawned the book The Pampas and Andes: A Thousand Miles’ Walk Across South America. Canoe trips of 2,500 miles from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico and 2,600 miles down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers also became books. When he wasn’t galavanting across the Western Hemisphere he was growing cranberries in some 60 properties he owned in Ocean County, where he moved in 1872. Bishop would own homes on Water Street in Toms River, Lake George, new York, Lake Worth, Florida and Montovia, California. When he died in 1902 his will funded this public library, which was finally dedicated in 1941. With construction of a new library in the 1857 Presbyterian church next door this Colonial Revival building became a reading room.
33 Washington Street
This was the location of the Toms River blockhouse that was overrun by Loyalist troops seeking prized saltworks in the waning days of the American Revolution. Later Captain John Holmes built a Greek Revival brick home here that became Town Hall. The Town Hall, like several locations around Toms River took a star turn in the movies in 1979 when a house at 18 Brooks Drive was selected to stand-in for the Long Island, New York house in the Amityville Horror.
TURN LEFT ON ROBBINS STREET.
Toms River Volunteer Fire Company Number One
24 Robbins Street
The Toms River Volunteer Fire Company Number One was forged from tragic circumstances in 1896 following a deadly Christmastime blaze the previous year. To get started the company purchased 200 galvanized iron buckets and later that year raised $600 to purchase a Howe hook-and-ladder truck that was proudly painted red, white and blue. The first fire house was a two-story frame building on Horner Street; the current building was constructed in 1913 and remodeled in 1959.
CONTINUE DOWN TO WATER STREET AND COSS OVER INTO HUDDY PARK TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.