muriel j smith 120 2018The former convent, the white two story building on Route 36 across Miller St. from our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, is gone now, with the last bits of rubble still being cleared as the Borough of Highlands makes way for construction of a new borough hall and police station. But it leaves behind a fascinating history as the former home of a famous actor of the Roarin ‘20s, , the town’s most beloved librarian, the scene of a wedding by a Methodist minister in the living room, and the residence of Mae and Alexander Bahrs before being sold to the Catholic Diocese of Trenton to become a home for the teaching sisters of St. Francis. The Church purchased the land in the 1960s when Mother Benecita was principal and maintained it until the 21st  century when Our Lady of Perpetual Help School closed, and the sisters moved on to other locales.

Wallace Reid, born William Wallace Reid, the son of actors, was the much adored movie star who lived in the house, at that time half hidden from the road by huge trees, as a youngster. Born in April 1893, Reid also had an uncle living in the house, a dashing older man the locals called “Old Sweetheart,” and a man known to enjoy the company of ladies and often seen wearing his custom-made black and white checkered suit. As a youngster, Reid himself worked at Dr. Clark’s drug store, and also toured with his parents as a child vaudeville star. As an adult, he became the handsome idol of the 1920s, and starred in more than 150 films.  Reid married Dorothy Davennport in 1913 and had a son and a daughter. The family sold the Navesink Avenue house and moved to Portland Rd.

Adverse to both drugs and alcohol since his parents were heavy drinkers, Reid was seriously injured in a railroad accident, and became addicted to painkillers. He died Jan. 18, 1923 at age 30, from side effects of drug addiction.

When the Reids moved from Navesink Avenue, they sold the house to Mr. and Mrs. Steven Murray, he being the first wireless operator at the Marconi Tower just beneath the Twin Lights. Their two daughters, Violet Murray and Pearl Masciale, became famous in their own rights. Violet never married, was always esteemed as  “Miss Murray”  and was the much beloved town library for more than 60 years. She was librarian when the little Highlands library that had begun in Mayor Hardy’s living room became part of the Monmouth County system and was also librarian in Atlantic Highlands and a teacher at Fort Hancock. Pearl and her husband Manuel, became keepers of the wireless tower building and maintained the building for many years.

The Murrays sold the house to Evelyn Foster, and it was in the living room that Evelyn married Robert Burn with the ceremony officiated by a Methodist minister.

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Al and Mae Bahrs, he one of the three sons of the founders of Bahrs Restaurant, she, one of the first women realtors in the Bayshore, purchased the house from the Burns, and in the 60s, when the Catholic diocese opened a school in the basement of the church and needed a house for the teaching sisters, sold it to become a convent. It remained in that status  until last week when the building was demolished.                                          

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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...