Locust Historic District
Locust is a dispersed community that stretches along Locust Point Road and Navesink River Road. The Locust Historic District begins at Lakeside Avenue, runs northwest along Locust Point Road to its terminus with Navesink River Road, then continues east along Navesink River Road for 1.2 miles. The linear form of the community is the result of its close proximity to Clay Pit Creek and the Navesink River, two bodies of water which form the north and eastern boundaries of the district. Characterized by verdant, rolling terrain with framed views of the Navesink River, the Locust District is the site of numerous late nineteenth century, Shingle Style summer houses. Throughout the district, buildings are generally sited far off the road, and are hidden from passing view by mature tress and thick hedges.
The Locust District is significant in Middletown's history as an early 18th century farming and fishing village which evolved into an important summer estate area after the Civil War. Its history has been profoundly influenced by its productive and scenic lands which border Clay Pit Creek and the Navesink River. The convenience of water transportation influenced the early settlement of Locust and has continued to shape its economy and lifestyle.
The precise date of settlement of Locust is unknown; however, on January 25, 1664 the Navesink Sachem Popomora sold the Newesingh lands” to a group of Englishmen from Gravesend, Long Island, led by Captain John Bowne and James Grover. James Grover was one of the twelve men who were granted the historic Monmouth Patent in April 1665 by Governor Nicolls of New York, confirming their land purchases from the Native Americans. James Grover, who was one of the leaders of the Middletown settlement, was also one of the first owners of land bordering the Navesink River which today constitutes the Locust area.
The arrival of David Burdge from Hempstead, Long Island, marks one of the earliest permanent settlements in the area. In 1715, David and his wife Phoebe, their sons Jonathan, Uriah and David, left Hempstead and settled near the mouth of Clay Pit Creek on the south shore. His deed from Benjamin Borden clearly describes 357 acres of land which comprises all of modern day Locust, bounded by Clay Pit Creek and the Navesink River as far as Browns Dock Road. Burdge paid “two hundred eighty Pounds current money of New York” for this choice tract of land. The Burdges operated a grist mill adjacent to the creek near the Stone Church from the mid-18th to the early 19th century. Through the years members of the Burdge family have been active in the affairs of the community and their descendants still live in Locust today.
From earliest times, farming and fishing were Locust's principal occupations. In the early 19th century, the “Shrewsbury” or Navesink River oyster was considered a great delicacy. Clay Pit Creek became an active center of shellfishing, as well as an ideal harbor for the boat men who sailed to New York with clams and oysters for the restaurant trade. Locust still retains one original oyster house, which stands on the Captain Pitman property on Locust Point Road. In the 1850s, Joseph Mount built a large dock at Locust Point to employ the new, faster steamboats in sending Locust produce and oysters to the city.
Those same steamboats returned with the first summer visitors to the area, and by the 1860s Locust had begun it transformation from a farming/fishing community into a haven of season country residences for well-to-do New Yorkers. In 1869, Mrs. Sylvanus Reed of New York, a noted women's educator, bought the Captain William Johnson farm and subsequently the Benjamin Burdge farm. She built four summer cottages for herself and children and called the enclave “Reedmont.” In 1898, Mrs. Reed founded, in her home, the Monmouth County Historical Association, a key organization in preserving the county's rich heritage.
Mrs. Reed and the Reverend Haslett McKim of New York, another summer resident, were instrumental in the development of the original Oceanic Bridge at the turn of the century. They donated the land for the approach and contributed to the construction of the causeway. The bridge connected the two larger communities of Middletown and the Rumson-Red Bank peninsula, thereby enhancing the prosperity of the entire river area.
By the late 19th century, Locust had become a busy summer resort area capable of supporting three hotels. A special carriage met the “Sea Bird” at Mount's Dock and transported vacationers to the New Amsterdam Hotel, which still survives as a private home. The Willow Glen, built by Henry Wright in the 1880s on Clay Pit Creek, and the Locust Point Hotel, operated by Michael Despreaux, no longer stand.
Many homes were constructed in Locust during the growth period at the second half of the nineteenth century, and several bear the imprint of a remarkable local craftsman/builder named Nehemiah Brower. He worked in Locust for over fifty years and is known to have constructed eight houses within the historic district, as well as the General Barclay Parsons house on Locust Point Road. Working with his son, Brower also constructed “The Ivy” house.
Despite some encroachment, Locust still retains a significant amount of its original building stock and reflects the prosperity of a community whose fortunes have depended on the surrounding waterways. Very few of Locust's historic buildings have been destroyed, although former summer houses and outbuildings from the nineteenth and early twentieth century were converted into year-round residences. Following World War II numerous buildings fell victim to insensitive alterations and modernizations. Although their interiors may retain original fabric, many of the structures can no longer be readily identified from the exterior as historic.
In those cases where the original core of the building is no longer visible, a designation of “non-contributing” has been assigned. Several questionable properties have been heavily altered, for instance by the replacement of historic windows and siding. Those that retain an identifiable historic nucleus have been designated “Contributing.” Because Locust is most significant as a late nineteenth century summer community, and in large part retains the appearance of a well-to-do resort area, “Key” designations have been applied to properties that support or contribute to an understanding of that era. These include those Reedmont properties that have not been significantly altered, several Shingle Style summer homes along Clay Pit Creek, the New Amsterdam Hotel and the Locust General Store.
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