Stafford Township, Ocean County, New Jersey
Europeans lived in what is now Stafford Township before 1700. One of the first settled areas was along Barnegat Bay about where the Mallard Island Yacht Club now stands (where Margo’s once stood). Incorporated in 1749 from Shrewsbury Township in Monmouth County, Stafford Township is named after Staffordshire in England and was the first government to be formed in what would become Ocean County in 1850.
From about 1830, “Manahawkin” was identified as a Lenape word meaning “Land of Good Corn.” More recent scholarship suggests that “Manahawkin” may mean something more like “fertile land sloping into the water.” Other variations on the origin of this name range from a derivation of the Hawkins family to the sound of the honking of migrating geese. The spelling has gone through many variations including among others: Manahohacky,” “Manahoching” and “Manahawken.” In fact, one Toms River observer in the 1870’s criticized the people of our town for not even knowing how to spell the name of their own town.
Stafford Township has an interesting role in New Jersey and national history including a rich history of colonial industry, 19thcentury bog iron industry, the birth of the United States Lifesaving Service, the post-Civil War railroad boom, cranberry industry, tourism, and the military and cultural legacy of the New Jersey Civil War (1775-1783).
The first European settlers created saw mills and grist mills and developed the Cedar industry to build houses, boats and even ocean going vessels. The small farms and villages developed in relationship to the water and eventually established the charcoal and bog iron industries. The effective use of anthracite coal and iron ore elsewhere in the 1830’s doomed the local industries and led to long-term economic hardship. The glass and fishing industries were among the few prosperous sectors in the local economy
Manahawkin was the center of intense conflict during the New Jersey Civil War during the American War of Independence (1775-1783). Local loyalists battled the small patriot militia in a personal and bloody conflict. Under the leadership of Reuben Fitz Randolph, Company Five of the Second Monmouth militia battled the Loyalists under the leadership of notorious Captain John Bacon. This conflict included the Manahawkin Skirmish of December 3, 1781 that involved the death of one patriot and the wounding of another. New Stafford Township may be the site of the last recorded land encounter of the American War of Independence (December 27, 1782 at Cedar Bridge Tavern).
Dr. William Newell (NJ governor 1857-1860) is considered the father of the United States Life Saving Service (1872-1915) and thereby the United States Coast Guard. In 1839, Dr. Newell was living with his uncle (Dr. Hankins) in Manahawkin when he witnessed the death of unfortunate ship-wreck victims within sight of the beach. While still in Manahawkin, Newell experimented with life saving techniques involving getting a rope or line to the ship foundering on the sandbar and rescuing the victims. This technique became the Beach Apparatus Drill (B.A.D.) that is responsible for saving over 176,000 lives from 1871 to 1915. In 1848 as a freshman congressman with his friend Abraham Lincoln, Newell was able to pass the first appropriation to create the unmanned life saving stations along the Atlantic seaboard. The 1854 sinking of the Powhatten of Long Beach Island motivated the Federal government to create paid “keepers” at the houses of refuge along the coast. In 1871, the US Life Saving Service was formed that included staffing these stations from October to May of each year.
Stafford Township has one of the three New Jersey 1904 monuments to the “unknown from the sea” testifying to the many victims of ship wrecks along the Atlantic Coast. Our cemeteries in Manahawkin contain the unmarked graves of hundreds of unfortunate, often immigrant victims of ship wrecks within shouting distance of our beaches.
Stafford Township has a place in the history of the development of the cranberry industry. Nathaniel Holmes Bishop III (1837-1902) developed successful cranberry plantations in Stafford Township during the 19thCentury. Bishop is remembered as a world traveler and author who became the benefactor of the Ocean County Library System. His book Four Months in a Sneakbox contains the authoritative history of the Barnegat Bay Sneakbox, one of only three indigenous New Jersey boats. His cranberry bogs at Stafford Forge were featured in national magazines of the late 19thcentury. Oxycocus Road is named after his plantation that existed at the headwaters of the Manahawkin Lake.
In 1871, the Tuckerton Railroad connected Manahawkin to the post-Civil War railroad boom. Civil War and Indian War hero, Brigadier General William Grier came to Manahawkin as the spokesperson for the Stafford Land Company that developed much of what is now the old section of Manahawkin. On July 4, 1872, the Stafford Land Company actually chartered a special train to bring over 1,500 people to Manahawkin to participate in a land auction for over 500 acres.
Tourism has played an important role in the development of Stafford Township. The Pennsylvania Railroad connected to Long Beach Island through Manahawkin from 1886 to 1935. In 1914, the first automobile bridge to Long Beach Island was built through Stafford Township. The current bridge was constructed in 1957 and remains the only means of egress to Long Beach Island. In 1930, a more direct car highway (S-40 now NJ72) was built directly through Stafford Township to Long Beach Island. Starting in the 1930s, a few (less than 100) resort homes were constructed in Stafford to serve LBI. But in 1945, the Beach Haven West lagoon development began. Eventually, this would become the largest lagoon development in New Jersey with over 3,600 homes.
After the opening of the Garden State Parkway in the 1950’s, Stafford Township became a bedroom community serving both the Philadelphia and New York Metropolitan urban areas. Much of the suburban housing (5,500 units) has taken place in a subdivision west of the GSP called Ocean Acres. Up until the 1980s, this residential development tended to be moderately priced smaller homes, many of them ranch houses of less than 1,500 square feet. Starting in the 1990s to the present, the development has targeted larger homes, with many ranging from 3,500 square feet to over 5,000 square feet. In addition, the resort housing is rapidly being replaced with much more expensive homes.
The area west of Ocean Acres is home to a number of age restricted communities. In addition, a significant number of seniors live within the mixed housing areas of the township.
Stafford Township is the home of legendary baseball great Roger “Doc” Cramer who is arguably the best baseball player who is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In nearly 20 years of professional baseball, Doc Cramer set a standard of competitive excellence.
National issues such as temperance, Americanism, and suffrage played out in the history of this rural community. Many may be surprised to learn that Stafford Township once included African American slaves and indentured servants. Adele Johnson was the very first woman to vote in Stafford Township on September 28, 1920.
Echoing the historic position, Stafford Township has become the regional center for both commercial and cultural for Southern Ocean County.
Working with the local schools, township government, and the business community, the Stafford Township Historical Society is dedicated to collect, preserve, and interpret the history and culture of Stafford Township in order to make these resources available to the widest possible audience. STHS preserves and passes on the knowledge of local heritage for future generations and acts as bridge between the new and the established members of the community.
The Stafford Township Historical Society owns three historic cemeteries, the historic Old Manahawkin Baptist Church (1758-1867), the Manahawkin Railroad Station (1872), CNJ Passenger Car (1922), and leases the Cavalry Cottage (c. 1740) and the Old Stone Store (1750-1832-1979) from Stafford Township.
Stafford Township Walking Tour
The Stafford Township walking tour is the result of collaboration between the Stafford Township Historic Commission, the Stafford Township Historical Society, and the Stafford Township Schools. The signs have been designed by the Stafford Township Historic Commission and installed (usually 6 each year) by a succession of Eagle Scout projects. Eagle scouts to date include Lance Beuckman, Gerald S. Gambino, Craig Edward Smith, Jr. and Matthew Sicheri. The young men have come from troops 23, 26, and 65.
Begun in 2005, the signs are installed at the location of existing or former significant historical sites in Stafford Township primarily along the route of the annual walking tour conducted for the Stafford Township fifth grade by the Stafford Township Historical Society. The current goal is to continue to install about six signs a year for 12 years at which time the signs may need to be replaced for accuracy and damage. Copies of the signs are also located on the walls of the Stafford Township Municipal Building, the Stafford Township Museum and the where practical on the interior of the current occupants of the historic sites.