Keansburg Celebrates 100 Years This Weekend

October 4, 2017
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A vintage postcard shows Keansburg’s famed amusement park, which has drawn people to the Bayshore town for generations. The borough will celebrate its centennial Friday, Oct. 6 through Sunday, Oct. 8. Courtesy Randall Gabrielan

By Rick Geffken |

KEANSBURG – The borough will celebrate its centennial Oct. 6 to 8, with dozens of events at four different venues, culminating in a fireworks display on the beach Sunday night.

Keansburg will be commemorating its past, as well as its spirit and resilience after the devastation of Super Storm Sandy in 2012.

“The most important part of Keansburg is our community spirit, especially during emergencies,” said Edward Balyk, president of the Keansburg Historical Society, who moved to town 23 years ago from Matawan. “No matter what is thrown at us, we bounce back and rebuild.”

Super Storm Sandy was just the latest in a long list of other natural disasters to hit Keansburg and the Bayshore. Once part of Middletown and Raritan Townships, Keansburg’s early residents were fishermen and farmers who endured too many storms and hurricanes to name.

As it prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of what an old Monmouth County history book calls “the little village lying on the Bay Coast,” it’s interesting to note it has not always been known as Keansburg.

The Lenape natives called it “Waackaack.” They were forced to give way to Dutch, English, and Scottish settlers starting in the 17th century. Europeans heard that place name as Waycake. Their descendants rechristened the location Point Comfort, Tanner’s Landing, Granville, and finally Keansburg when a post office was established there in 1884. The modern designation is a nod to New Jersey Rep. and Sen. John Kean, one of the founders. He was also the great uncle of former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean.

Sea Bright Council Holds First Reorganization Meeting at New Beachfront Pavilion

John Swartz, vice president of the Historical Society, is working with the Centennial Parade Committee for the big weekend. He moved to town in 1947. “Growing up in the 1950s here it was such a small, quaint town. Seventy percent of the homes were summer bungalows.”

According to Swartz, the town was open all the time, with “lots of bars and nightlife,” he recalled. “The City of Keansburg steamboat would dock three times a day at the Keansburg pier, each trip bringing 3,000 people. They’d come for its beaches and the amusement park,” he said. “They had a band on the boat. People got off and went to a big dance hall on the waterfront. And the rides, of course.”

The famed City of Keansburg steamship made three roundtrips from New York to the bayside town every day for many years. Courtesy Borough of Keansburg

Swartz is referring to the still-operating New Point Comfort Beach Company organized by William A. Gehlhaus in 1908. Gehlhaus bought steamboats and bayfront land, built streets, and opened the amusement park. A third generation descendent, Hank Gehlhaus, still operates the amusement park along the beachfront.

Swartz is nostalgic about the late Doug Foulks who died recently at age 94. “He was one of our most respected citizens born in town. I used to sit with him in the Historical Museum for hours, listening to all his old stories about the town,” Swartz said. “I realize now that he was grooming me to pass on the history of Keansburg.”


All parking, rides, activities and attractions are free all weekend. The event is open to the public and all nonresidents of Keansburg are welcome.

Open Space Grants Will Fund Improvements

Friday, Oct. 6

Craft beer garden and food trucks from 5 to 9 p.m. with a concert from 6 to 9 p.m. featuring Jimmy Shoez & The Magooz at Baywalk East, Main Street and Beachway.

Saturday, Oct. 7

Father Time Free Family Fishing Derby from 8 to 11 a.m. at Keansburg Beach at Baywalk East.

Old Truax Burial Ground Ecumenical Memorial Service at 9 a.m. at Leroy and Frederick Place. Forest Park Mini Carnival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Forest Avenue, featuring a petting zoo, pony rides, carnival games, a watermelon eating contest and music.

Photos, arts and craft pop-ups from 1 to 8 p.m. at Friendship Park, located at Main Street and Frances Place.

Keansburg Fire Department beer garden and concert at 5 p.m. featuring RB Express. Food will be available from local restaurants.

Historical Museum Gifts and Souvenirs open from 1 to 7 p.m. at 59 Carr Ave.

Michele DeRoche, Keansburg recreation coordinator, and Cliff Moore, the town’s economic community development coordinator, are overseeing the upcoming Keansburg Centennial Weekend celebrations.

Sunday, Oct. 8

St. John’s Field activities at St John’s Place will be from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with an Old Timers Baseball Game Show, activities in the outfield and a hot dog eating contest hosted by Kazia Rae’s Restaurant.

A parade will take place at 3 p.m. starting at the Municipal Building where paraders will march across Church Street and down Main Street, ending at the 9/11 Memorial.

Another mini carnival from 4 to 8 p.m. at Baywalk East located at Main Street and Beachway, along with a concert featuring the White Wedding Band and beer garden starting at 5 p.m.

A Super 50/50 raffle drawing will be held at 6 p.m. Food will be available from local restaurants, and the Historical Museum Gift and Souvenirs will be open from 1 to 5 p.m.

The weekend events will conclude Sunday evening with fireworks on the beach, sponsored by BCB Bank.

Get updates on social media @centennialkeansburg, #keansburg100 #hbdkeansburg

This article was first published in Sept. 28 – Oct. 5, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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