Actually, it should be celebrated on Monday, March 22. That’s the day you officially become 121 years old!
It was a Friday, 121 years ago, when Governor Foster Voorhees signed the official papers, making you a separate and legal borough on your own, separate from Middletown, now your own community, just like Atlantic Highlands had done 13 years earlier.
This was all because of action that was started by Atlantic Highlands Mayor Charles Snyder, who, acting in his capacity as a state Assemblyman, had introduced the bill the month before, on Friday the 13th, making it possible for this approximate square mile of waterfront in Middletown to elect its own leaders, make its own laws, provide its own water and sewer as well as other utilities and establish its own police department.
It was a group of men who had petitioned Assemblyman Snyder to separate Highlands from Middletown, and many of the family names of those leaders of a century ago are still very much alive in the borough today. Officially on the petition were Charles Maison, David Miller, Fred Johnson, James Taylor, John Taylor, Samuel Wilson, John Foster, John Johnson, Lewis Parker, Mahlen Burdge, John W. Foster, Bennet Rosenblum, Samuel Burdge, Thomas Hennessey, Joseph Brown and Ivy Brown. Five of these gentleman were soon after elected to the first Borough Council, with David Miller the first Mayor.
But that didn’t happen for another month or so later because Circuit Court Judge Gilbert Collins had to order the Middletown township clerk of elections to turn over the ballot box “from the old fourth district,” to make it official. There were 248 registered voters in that district. One hundred eighty-six of them, or 70 per cent of the voters, turned out to elect their first official leaders.
Mr. Miller received 170 of those votes, and had no challengers. John Johnson and Mahlon Burdge were elected to three year terms, and won those seats by wide margins over Benjamin Baldwin and Charles Rogers. Thomas Hennessey and Lewis Parker won the first two year terms, polling 178 and 123 votes respectively to win over John Burdge who polled 58 votes. John Riker and Richard Mount won the one year terms.
All but one of the 186 voters cast their ballots for Abram Parker as tax assessor, and all but three voted for Charles Maison for tax collector. John Foster was elected Justice of the Peace and every one of the voters approved the first budget for the borough, a grand $800.
With the elections completed, the first official town meeting was held April 30 and it was held at Fireman’s Hall on Bay Avenue. Mayor Snyder came over from the neighboring community to administer the oaths of office….as well as to become the borough’s first borough attorney.
Although Frederick Johnson was named the first borough clerk, one of two applicants for the position, he resigned it five days later and Jesse Sculthorp became the clerk.
The first action the new governing body took was to set salaries for their new employees. The tax collector and treasurer had a $40 a year salary, the assessors, $25, and the borough clerk received $20 a year. The attorney was paid $50 a year. Only the assessor’s salary was changed soon after. Instead of his $25 a year, he would be paid at the rate of 12 centers per person assessed.
The road department laborers, once the department was established, were paid $1.50 a day, and the driver and team received $3 a day. A day was defined as nine and a half hours Mondays through Fridays and another nine hours on Saturday.
It is interesting to see how the Assembly bill spelled out the original boundaries of the new town. It started “from a point in the west channel of the Shrewsbury River opposite the Andrew and Thompson tract, along the side of that tract across Navesink Ave. to the west side of N. Peak ave., along that west side to a stone planted for a monument in the line of lands of Hartshorne, then along the Hartshorne line to a monument on the Joseph Wheelock land, next along the lands formerly known as the Robert Proudfoot property; back to the river channel, following the meanderings of the channel to the beginning point.” The boundaries excluded the property owned by the United States “where on the famous Twin Lighthouses are located.”
Happy Birthday, Highlands. You’ve had 121 years of growth, excitement, woe and sadness, as well as joy and community. You’ve built up, torn down, re-built, changed, and dug in your roots as a proud and happy community able to govern yourself and be separate and independent from the township of which you were once a part.