A History of Keansburg

Edited by Stephanie Faycik, ISGS

How We Came to Be

Monmouth County was organized into municipalities in 1693 when its three original townships, Shrewsbury, Middletown and Freehold, were formed. Middletown then embraced all of Monmouth County north of the Navesink River and east of Freehold Township.

In the 1600's the Keansburg area was called the Waackaack section of Middletown. The name was derived from the Lenni Lenape Indian "WAKIOAK" and means "Land of Plenty". The area is believed to have been the probable site where the first European, John Coleman of Henry Hudson's Half Moon crew, was killed by a native arrow and buried in NJ. This was said to have occurred at Coleman's Point, aka Point Comfort, the area of Carr Ave. and Beachway today.

In the late 1700's the Waackaack section of Middletown was re-named "Granville". One half of Middletown's Granville came to be known as Raritan Township, the dividing line being "Tanner's Road" (now Main Street). New Jersey's early townships were too large for administrative ease and were divided by the 1840s. click to enlargeMiddletown was split in 1848 by the formation of Raritan Township, a section that included the future Holmdel, Hazlet and Aberdeen townships and the boroughs of Matawan, Keyport, Union Beach and most of Keansburg. (see map right)

click to enlargeThe Granville section of Middletown & Raritan had its name changed to Keansburg in 1884, with the creation of a post office, obtained through the efforts of Congressman John Kean. The Rev. William Ramsay, spokesman for Granville, was the sole initiator. (see map left)

Keansburg stayed a part of Middletown & Raritan until 1917, at which time it became a Borough of it's own. So, the early ages of Keansburg and Raritan's (Hazlet) history is also Middletown's early history.

A small Resort with its own Navy

Keansburg, as an incorporated borough, is barely a century old. The area is rich in history and for years produce from area farms and fishermen was carted to the foot of what is now Main Street for shipment to Manhattan and other cities.

The United States Lighthouse Service located two beacons in the area. The first, known as the Point Comfort Light (shown right), was located by the bay near Beacon Blvd. on land acquired in 1853 from Mr. & Mrs. E. R. Thompson. It was a square cupola surmounting a frame house only 45 feet above the beach.

The second beacon (shown left), known as the Waackaack Rear Range Light, was a 106 foot iron structure with a circular staircase. It was first seen at the Chicago Exhibition.

The Waackaack light was an "over" light and the Point Comfort light was an "under" light.

In 1908 William A. Gelhaus created the New Point Comfort Beach Company. Roads were laid out leading to a strip along the shoreline known as Beachway. There a hotel, dance hall and the first section of boardwalk were built to attract vacationers.

Keansburg was now accessable by train and the increasingly popular automoblie. Leaving nothing to chance, in 1910 Mr. Gelhaus organized the Keansburg Steamboat Company to transport vacationers as well as supplies.

Keansburg quickly became a popular resort destination as the expanding railroad lines, passenger steamboats and early automobiles connected this bayshore community with New York, Jersey City and other population centers. Surviving even the depression, Keansburg became known as the "Poor Man's Riviera". Some locals took advantage of the bay by harvesting crustaceans, earning them the not very complimentary epithet, "clamdiggers".

Today a new water park and many new rides, games and restaurants are once again drawing family vacationers to Keansburg.

Keansburg Historical Society
Middletown Historical Society
Leonard, Thomas H.. From Indian trail to electric rail : history of the Atlantic Highlands, Sandy Hook, and original Portland Poynt, one of the first three settlements of New Jersey .... Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Atlantic Highlands Journal, 1923.

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