Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chestnut Neck (Port Republic)

Blink and you might miss it. The Chestnut Neck Battle Monument is located right next to Route 9 before it merges with the Garden State Parkway north of Atlantic City. This tall column, surmounted by a statue of a Minute Man, commemorates the events of October 6, 1778.

Located at a bend in the Egg Harbor River, Chestnut Neck was an important trading center and base for privateers who disrupted the British supply lines up and down the Jersey coast. The British eventually sent a fleet of ships up the river and burned the entire town.

Chestnut Neck was never rebuilt. Today, there are a few contemporary houses and a marina sits on the approximate site of the original storehouses. The sight of the town’s fort is off-limits as part of a nature reserve. However, you can still walk around the area and picture the British ships across the flat salt marshes, making their way along the winding river. Imagine the terror of the residents as they watched the enemy’s slow arrival, knowing that General Pulaski’s reinforcements were still a day or two away.

After the town’s destruction, the survivors moved inland to settle Port Republic. A cemetery there contains the graves of many Revolutionary War soldiers. Each grave is marked with a flag, which - according to the staff at the nearby municipal building - the mayor organizes the Boy Scouts to replace periodically.

This is real small-town America. I took a walk along the two or three block main drag and drove through most of the rest of town. If you approach the town from the south, you’ll cross the Mill Pond and pass the 1750’s era Franklin Inn (a private residence today). From Port Republic, head east on Chestnut Neck Road to the monument. Continue up the side road past the monument to reach the site of the original settlement.

While there are no visitor sites or amenities in Port Republic or Chestnut Neck, it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour. If you want some local flavor, do what I did and pop into the cozy municipal building.

By the way, the British continued inland and eventually confronted and defeated Pulaski, killing most of his troops. There’s a park and marker just across the river in Little Egg Harbor. While it’s only worth a stop for die-hards, it’s interesting to note that all the local streets here are named after Polish contributors to American independence.

After a day at the roulette wheel, it’s worth taking the small detour to Chestnut Neck to get a flavor for one of the least known aspects of New Jersey’s contribution to American Independence – the privateer war. It’s also darn pretty countryside, too.

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