New Jerseyans pride themselves on where they're from. Everyone knows about the beaches, our pizza, the miles of boardwalk, diners on every corner and rock stars whose songs are known by millions of people around the world.
But what about the fact that the first organized baseball game took place in Hoboken? Or that Millville was not only known for glass but was nationally known for its holly trees? Or that just one year after the Boston Tea Party, colonists in Greenwich in Cumberland County were carrying out their own rebellious act against the British?
New Jersey is full of little-known facts about people, places and things relevant to its history and culture, and writer Russell Roberts wants to make sure people get to know them. He shares details about the obscure and forgotten heritage of the Garden State in his new book, "Rediscover the Hidden New Jersey," available March 20. Roberts will speak about his book at Cold Spring Village in Lower Township, Cape May County, on March 18.
The book details the story of the first Boardwalk, dedicated on June 26, 1870 in Atlantic City.
The idea came from Alexander Boardman, who wanted a way to stop visitors from tracking sand from the beach into hotels and trains.
"I've lived here all my life," Roberts said. "I've known some things, run into other things, and I get stuff in the back of my mind that I remember later. There's lots of interesting things on the Internet, but you have to know what you're looking for. The book is nice because all the stuff is there in one place."
A number of stories in the book focus on the historical findings we take for granted in South Jersey, including the tea burners of Greenwich, Cumberland County.
According to Roberts, a ship called the Greyhound carrying a cargo of British tea made its way along the Cohansey Creek in 1774. Between tensions between the colonies and Britain were so high, the ship had trouble finding a place to unload the imported tea.
The captain finally found a local British loyalist who agreed to store the tea in his basement until it was safe to once again sell it. However, the tea was spotted by local patriots who, on Dec. 22, raided the basement and celebrated as they burned the tea in the market square. Today, a monument is dedicated to the Greenwich Tea Party of 1774 on Greate Street.
Roberts, of Bordentown, is no novice to writing about the secrets and hidden places in New Jersey. He wrote the original "Discover the Hidden New Jersey" ten years ago, after traveling all over the state and researching facts through library archives.
Roberts isn't the only New Jersey native fascinated with obscure tales of his home state.
Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman published the first Weird N.J. magazine in 1989. This led to a "Weird N.J." book about strange, odd and unique places in the state.
Moran and Sceurman have written about the Light of Asia, a wooden elephant designed by James V. Lafferty, who also designed Lucy the Elephant, which still stands in Margate. Light of Asia was built in 1884 with the intention of bringing tourists to the Cape May area, but it was never a financial success. The roadside attraction deteriorated so much that by 1900, the city tore it down. A third Lafferty elephant, Elephantine Colossus, once attracted tourists to Coney Island, N.Y., burned down in 1896.
Other tales include the story of the S.S. Atlantus concrete ship in Cape May Point, and the square blocks in Tuckerton that once served as the anchors for the Tuckerton wireless tower in World War I and II. The German government built the 820-foot wireless tower in 1912. The U.S. government took over the tower during World War I. The tower was later operated by the Radio Corporation of America, but was torn down in 1955.
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Russel Roberts speaks about "Rediscover the Hidden New Jersey" on March 18 at Cold Spring Village, 720 Route 9 in Lower Township. The free talk begins at 7 p.m. in the welcome center, and book signings will follow. For more information, visit hcsv.org or call 609-898-2300.