muriel j smith 120There have been many wonderful exhibitions at the Monmouth County Historical Association on Court St. in Freehold, but for anyone from the Bayshore, especially Highlands and Atlantic Highlands, far and away the very finest of them is the one on the first floor exhibition area now through the next several months. It’s Hartshorne: Eight Generations and Their Highlands Estate Called Portland   and it’s absolutely terrific!

   Curator Joseph Hammond spent years compiling all of the information which spans more than 300 years of the Hartshorne family, most of it right here in Monmouth County and organizing the Hartshorne Papers, also part of the Association’s collection. But, in addition to the history of Middletown, Highlands and Atlantic Highlands depicted in the current exhibition, there are also exhibits recording the era when Benjamin Minturn Hartshorne, a 19th century Hartshorne, had a highly successful career on the West Coast. Like anyone who lives in Highlands, he eventually came back home, this time with the fortune he made, to transform what had been a working farm into a country gentleman’s estate.

     The Hartshorne family, it can be seen as you go through the exhibition, was not only meticulous in saving family records, but also generous in preserving everything from clothing and walking canes to a nearly complete set of bedroom hangings; when some of these pieces appeared in galleries or at estate auctions, other Hartshornes purchased them back…then donated them to the Historical Association.

     All in all, the exhibition covers the Hartshornes from the first Richard, born in 1641, through William and Robert, the second Richard in 1752, the second Robert in 1798, Benjamin, a third Robert in 1866 and a third Richard in 1900. The wonderful objects on display, besides that magnificent bed with its highly unique woolen crewel embroidery, and those walking canes, each of which has a fascinating story of its own, also include a dress purchased by Julia but most likely never worn because of her early death,(and that’s an interesting story in itself!) many daguerreotypes and photographs of family members and local scenes, silver, textiles, paintings, furniture, hundreds of years old documents and too many other fascinating artifacts, large and small, significant or simply fascinating, to list. It also 20th century history, with photos and explanations of the Air Force base in the 1960s that was located on what is now Hartshorne Woods, and some information on Battery Louis which the Monmouth County Parks System is currently renovating and which includes the massive gun from the USS New Jersey. Here are endless other stories of the growth, decrease and transfer of parcels of the more than 2,400 acres between the Navesink River and Sandy Hook Bay that at some time or other, including Sandy Hook itself, were part of Portland, or Portland Point, the Hartshorne estate.

   Hammond has outdone himself in his meticulous attention to the smallest detail surrounding every Hartshorne recognized in the exhibition, and has included fascinating details about every artifact that is on display. It’s the very best piece of local history depicting a family whose first generation arrived in 1669, was an original signer on the Monmouth Patent, and gathered land to himself that now encompasses pieces of three different towns, making it possible for future generations to know so much about this very special part of the Bayshore.

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   The Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Admission is free to Association members, or $5.00 for adults, $2.50 for senior citizens, and no charge for children under 6. Membership, which includes not only the museum but free admittance to each of the Association’s five historic houses in Monmouth County, is available at any visitation. For further information, call the Museum at 732- 462-1466, or visit their website at



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Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, in...