In Oceanport, New Historian Researching Old History

December 3, 2018
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Oceanport Borough historian Frank Barricelli at the Old Wharf House which the borough has used as municipal offices since Super Storm Sandy destroyed its town hall in 2012. Photo by Rick Geffken

By Rick Geffken |

OCEANPORT – When Frank Barricelli attended his hometown Borough Council meeting this month, he merely wanted to ask the assembled officials to consider appointing a borough historian. He figured his request would be taken under advisement, debated at future meetings, maybe put aside for more urgent matters, and eventually a historian would be named.

Two years ago when Barricelli restarted the moribund historical committee, he approached the council about the south Shrewsbury River town’s imminent 100th anniversary. He reminded them that “the centennial’s coming up, we really should do something about our town history book, published 50 years ago. A lot has happened since,” he said.

Oceanport was still recovering from Super Storm Sandy and, as Barricelli remembers, “Everyone’s priorities were elsewhere with more important things to do.”

In the meantime, Barricelli was reading everything about Oceanport he could. He found old photos, had them enlarged at his own expense, and suggested the council might put them up in the new town hall being planned. One of Barricelli’s motivations, besides loving where he lives, was that “new people moving in didn’t know what had occurred here in the last hundred years.”

While Frank was assiduously researching, he made a trip to the Monmouth County Archives in Manalapan. “As a result of that visit,” he said, “and meeting Brielle’s historian John Belding, I got an email from him saying that all Monmouth County towns are ‘encouraged’ to have a historian.”

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In a be-careful-what-you-wish-for moment, Frank brought the email to the Oceanport Council at their November meeting. No sooner had he finished, when Mayor John “Jay” Coffey said, “Congratulations, you’re our historian,” which left Frank flabbergasted.

His immersions into the past hundred years of local history will result in the publication of an updated version of “Oceanport in Retrospect.” The borough put out the original 224-page-plus volume in 1970. That one is chock-full of pictures, old maps and charts and the reminiscences of local citizens about the town that built up around what was called the Eatontown Dock.

In the nineteenth century, around 1830, James P. Allaire built the dock on the South Shrewsbury River because of its relatively easy access to the ocean – through the now-closed Shrewsbury Inlet – and New York. Allaire’s furnace was cranking out hundreds of manufactured products like teapots and kettles from his factory in the Marsh’s Bog area (today’s Howell and Farmingdale). The inlet eventually sanded over and the new railroad routes throughout the shore mitigated the need for the town dock. The “Ocean Port” was effectively abandoned by the time the Civil War started.

Frank loves pouring through documents like the old donated scrapbooks which revealed long-forgotten events affecting the town. He was surprised to learn, for instance, that when the old Pleasure Bay Swing Bridge, which connected the town to Long Branch, was torn down in the early 1960s “Long Branch fought rebuilding the bridge. They felt that a new elevated bridge with approach ramps would make them lose valuable housing lots.” Without a new bridge, the Oceanport peninsula would have become more isolated. “Our neighboring town was not exactly helping us keep our town viable.”

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Defining his new role as borough historian is keeping Barricelli plenty busy. “The only requirement, apparently, is that we file a report (to the county) once a year outlining our accomplishments.” But Frank Barricelli is not a man to accept a title with minimal responsibilities. He’s deeply involved in getting all the town’s organizations ready for the centennial celebrations, including procuring a proclamation of congratulations from, he hopes, Gov. Murphy in Trenton.

He foresees an “Oceanport Day” at Monmouth Park racetrack. He’s still committed to decorating the new town hall with antique photos and maps highlighting the rich history of Oceanport. He wants to restock the library with local history books that he’s been buying himself. He’d love to see signs with photographs all over town indicating historical events and landmarks at places like Wharf Park, Red Men’s Hall, Wolf Hill and Fort Monmouth.

Frank Barricelli’s challenge, like that of all historians, is assembling all he’s compiled and finding the time to begin writing his updated history of the town. He keeps finding interesting and little-known facts.

“I just read that Aaron Burr’s in-laws, the Bartow’s, lived on nearby Horse Neck.” He’s on a mission to verify it before “that fact” winds up as an interesting tidbit in the book.

“It’s one of those things,” he grins, “It’s hard to get started, but once you do, it’s all going to tumble out.”


This article was first published in the Nov. 29 – Dec. 5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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