Ocean County to develop Cedar Bridge Tavern in BarnegatFebruary 24, 2016 2:31pm

Feb. 24--Ocean County plans to spend $2.2 million to develop a historic site in Barnegat where one of the last skirmishes of the American Revolution is said to have taken place in 1782.

Under the plan, introduced before the county Board of Freeholders, about $2 million would be bonded for various construction projects to restore and enhance the Cedar Bridge Tavern, which is now part of the Ocean County Parks System.

On Dec. 27, 1782, it was there where New Jersey militiamen were ambushed by British Loyalist Capt. John Bacon and his band of lawless "Pine Robbers." The Burlington-based soldiers had stopped at the tavern to refresh and rest while looking for Bacon, who was wanted for his role in the Long Beach Island Massacre.

One person was killed, and Bacon himself was wounded at the tavern, though he managed to escape into the Pine Barrens with his men. Bacon would later be killed by militiamen the following spring and his body dragged through the streets of Manahawkin Village in Stafford.

A caretaker's cottage and outdoor classroom facility would be built with the funds, in addition to the purchase of furniture, fixtures and equipment for the site.

The county government acquired the Cedar Bridge Tavern and its surrounding property in 2007 for $120,000; officials estimate that the property was first settled by European colonists in the 1740s.

"We've done a preservation plan, and this will be to actually fund the restoration and preservation plan," said Timothy G. Hart, director of the Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission. "We've received a couple grants toward the project. Some work has been happening in-house."

The property had been owned since 1959 by Rudolph Koenig, a World War II Navy veteran and retired union electrician who became a recluse in his later years. Koenig agreed to sell the property to the county on the condition he could live there until his death. Koenig was 86 when he died in 2012.

In 1938, the tavern was the only Ocean County building included in the Historic American Buildings Survey, a New Deal program to keep architects and engineers working during the Great Depression. Experts say little has changed on the property since that 1938 survey. However, not much is known about what happened on the site between the American Revolution and the 1930s.

Since the county assumed ownership of the site a decade ago, the Cedar Bridge Tavern has attracted historians and history buffs alike. Every December, Revolutionary War re-enactors gather at the county park to recreate the skirmish.

"We do about 350 kids on student tours each year, and we're looking for more schools to go out there," Hart said. "When you go there, even though you are a half-mile from Route 72, it's as if you've cut yourself off from the rest of the world. When we bring the kids in, we stop the bus a quarter-mile away and the kids walk up to the site to sort of give them that (18th-century) impression."

While it remains unclear whether the current building is the original tavern, the age of the structure has been established as being about 200 years. It is now on the national and state registers of historic places.

Hart said that although he is hopeful restoration work can get started later this year, the state Pinelands Commission first needs to sign off on the project.

Erik Larsen: 732-682-9359; elarsen@gannettnj.com

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