muriel j smith 120With hundreds sitting in awe, wonder, respect, and contemplation during Sunday’s very moving 9-11 ceremony on Mount Mitchill, it seems proper to note the site itself has some fascinating history and geology.

While 15 years ago it was the site that attracted hundreds of local residents who didn’t want to witness, but somehow had to see, the devastation across the water and the collapse of the Twin Towers, it was a contemplative crowd that gathered there Sunday for the Monmouth County Park System’s annual commemoration of that historic day. Freeholder Lillian Burry led a contingent of county representatives ranging from Freeholder Director Tom Arnone and all the freeholders to all the volunteers with the park system who put in time long before the start of the program to ensure it would all run smoothly. State Senator Joe Kyrillos was there, as were the mayors of both Atlantic Highlands and Middletown, at least three former mayors of Atlantic Highlands, Fred Rast, Mike Harmon and Dick Stryker, and plenty of representatives of county government, including administrator Teri O’Connor and Parks head Jim Truncer whose superb leadership and foresight have resulted in so many wonderful parks in Monmouth County. Each of the remembrances given, from Freeholder Burry’s moving talk to Middletown Police Chief Craig Weber’s personal memories moved the crowd to silence and reverence.

But back to Mount Mitchill. Undisputedly, in spite of comments from our dear friends from Maine, this is the highest land along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to the Yucatan…if you don’t count that island off Maine. Standing 266 feet proud, the amazing height can best be attributed to the effects of glacial rebound. Ages old ironstone conglomerate creates a caprock along the crest, overlying marine mud rocks. When the sea level was lower many moons ago, the Highlands hills were actually a high valley wall on the south side of the Hudson and Raritan rivers. The river system was later buried by younger sediments including deposits from the Sandy Hook Spit.

But there’s more than just height that makes Mount Mitchill stand out. Look at the history and natural beauty, and even the addition of a recreation area for kids once it became a county park.

Oh there was that time in the 20th century when the land was going to be the site of a second 10-story apartment house, one to equal the Top of the East already approved for the Highlands side of the crest. Stories of slump blocks, the hill falling, and most importantly the will of the people kept that from happening. And the park service would later acquire the land for a park for all to enjoy.

Back to earlier history.

Mount Mitchill was named for Samuel Latham Mitchill, a 18th and 19th century physician, naturalist, and politician who earned his medical degree in Scotland, taught chemistry and natural history at Columbia College, as the present day university was known in the 1790s. He also collected, identified and classified plants, animals, and aquatic organisms for his studies, was an organizer of the Medical College at Rutgers in the 1820s, and was an early advocate in personal hygiene and sanitation as a powerful means to prevent disease.

But he was even more than that, this New Yorker who had the good sense to visit our Bayshore. He served as both a Congressman and Senator, and was a strong supporter and advocate of building the Erie Canal. It’s not surprising that he was an ardent fan of Thomas Jefferson, who apparently admired him as well, since the third President referred to him as the “Congressional Dictionary.”

Our Mount Mitchill should never be mistaken either for Mount Kahadin in Maine, the highest peak in the Pine Tree State, or the other Mount Mitchell, the one spelled with an “E.” That one is in North Carolina and while it stands 6,089 feet above sea level, making it not only the highest peak in the Tar Heel state, and the highest peak west of the Mississippi, it’s not on the shoreline.

Visit Mount Mitchill. See the magnificent memorial to 9-11 and all who grieve because of that day. Admire the beauty. Search out a view of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse on Sandy Hook, and contemplate the New York skyline. Than thank Monmouth County for saving that precious piece of land from being yet a second high rise changing the skyline of the very best part of New Jersey.