The February Escape to Montreal, Part 3: Northern Jersey Shore/NYC

Red Hook, Sandy Hook, NJ. NYC, NY (Map)

Winter 2013-14


Now that we were down in the Mid-Atlantic, I had obviously checked if there was a nearby Wawa and planned around breakfast there. My friend was a bit confused as to why I was excited about a "convenience store", but personalized, satisfying breakfast sandwiches, sugary iced tea and Tastykake mini pies quickly showed her.

After checking in on the internet to make my Michigan friends jealous, it was time to drive a few blocks over to this town's arena.

Knowing that I very much wanted to see this arena, I was happy to see that they also have a Wawa, allowing me to get two birds with one stone.

As the outside might look only a bit different than your average arena, you might not understand why I was so excited about the structure here in Red Bank.

This is the Red Bank Armory Ice Complex, where they repurposed their old armory into the local hockey rink. Whereas most armories - or at least the ones in Canada - tend to be more impressive from the outside, the charm and beauty was more on the inside in Red Bank.

Built in 1914 for Troop B of Red Bank's National Guard contingent - which explains the Troop B above the door - the main hall featured an equestrian riding hill and was later used to store tanks. It was beautifully converted into an arena in 1998.

If you would have asked me when they converted their armory into an ice rink, I would have never said 16 years ago. The place sparkles with cleanliness and shine.

Heading east from Red Bank along a road lined with sizable houses set upon giant lots, it wasn't long before we were back at the Atlantic shore and a change of scenery in beachside villages. Following the coastal road to the north, we left Seabreeze behind and passed over such a thin strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Sandy Hook Bay, that you knew it would be gone at the next hurricane if not for the breakwalls and roadway.

This is the Sandy Hook Peninsula, a 5 mile-long, 1/2 mile-wide beachy strip of land that forms the tiny, right-side hook of the famous outline of the State of New Jersey. It's here that this sandy bar extends outward into Sandy Hook Bay & Sandy Hook Channel, causing problems for those trying to navigate into the harbor of New York in passing between this peninsula and that of Coney Island.

At such an important location, it makes sense that this is both America's oldest and longest continuously operated lighthouse.

This lighthouse was first lit on June 11, 1764 - 251 years ago and 12 years before the Declaration of Independence. It stands as the only lighthouse that has survived from America's Colonial Period, even though its life was threatened multiple times.

Fearing that the invading British would find Sandy Hook Lighthouse useful for navigation, New York Congress ordered the lighthouse destroyed. With limited time though, the first message sent only ordered the keeper to remove the lens, lamps and casks of oil.

Even with the lighthouse unlit it still wasn't safe, because when the British finally made it to Sandy Hook, they set about trying to improvise and awaken the lighthouse with reflectors and lanterns. The Americans would threaten Sandy Hook once again, this time with cannonballs off of boats in the harbor, but thankfully they only managed to lightly damage the structure before being run off.

Surviving cannon fire and passing inspections with flying colours into the 1800s goes to show the quality in design and construction of this lighthouse by stonemason Isaac Conro.

There were some fort ruins across the street, but I ended up taking pictures backwards towards Sandy Hook Light.

Even the keeper's house that still stands behind the fort wall to the left is aged in that was built in 1883. It was during this time of construction that a rumour spread about a cellar beneath the old keeper's house with a skeleton and a fireplace, which may be the reason I'm seeing paranormal books as I research this lighthouse. Thankfully with the nearby military fort coming around that time and continuing until 1974, ghost hunting teenagers had a very short window to break into the lighthouse or the keeper's house.

Another thing which tends to threaten places like this is the shifting sands and the changing shape of the peninsula. Where Sandy Hook used to only be about 150 feet from the ocean, it is now about 4000 feet; requiring that two more beacons needed to be constructed here long ago.

These two beacons aren't here today because of WWI, where generals thought they could possibly be in the way of gunfire from the surrounding fort. One of them still stands today at the base of the George Washington Bridge, although I never managed to get up to W 177th St for a visit during my time in NYC with Clarkman.

Since we were all the way out on this peninsula, of course we had to drive through Fort Hancock out to the end and see about the view of New York City.

The distance from Sandy Hook Lighthouse from the actual shoreline, stressed just how much sand has accumulated here, narrowing the channel ever slightly.

There were some fort ruins that grabbed my interest more than the frigid, distant view of New York City; even as I didn't think to bring my tripod since time was limited and I've seen fort ruins before.

Of course the insides ended up being sort of neat (but not neat enough to go back to the car though).

Another thing was that even today it was quite a pain to break through the wintertime vines and picker bushes to get to anything. I have to imagine this place is a no-go, or at least no fun, in the summertime.

The numerous gun batteries aren't the major feature of Fort Hancock, as handsome buff-coloured brick buildings dot the property.

Slowly passing by Fort Hancock's Officers' Row, I couldn't help but compare the scene with Fort Wayne's Officers' Row in Detroit. Fort Hancock had a few crooked steps and damaged porch columns, but nothing in comparison to some of the really rundown Officers' Row buildings at the end in Detroit.

The difference between National Park Service money & City of Detroit Parks & Rec money was apparent.

You could literally camp out here and barely have enough time to see every piece of military ruin, so it was with that & in being rushed, that I decided we had to make one last stop. Onto a boardwalk over a marsh, here I hoped my friend would be happy with some bird sightings & I could check out a tiny portion of these endless batteries along the coast which we kept driving past.

The first bit of ruin out here was strangely flat, with large blocks protruding at intermittent distances, which struck me as odd for an old gun battery. Only upon getting home did I learn that this is because I was standing on an old hangar for fire control balloons! (I would be standing atop these Army Balloon Hangar Ruins in the above picture.)

The gun battery out here is Battery Arrowsmith, in use from 1909 to 1920, with three 8-inch coastal guns mounted on disappearing carriages, put in place to protect the Sandy Hook Bay side (instead of the Atlantic Side).

This Black-Backed Gull knew where the ruin getting was good.

These Brants were thinking what I was thinking, that it was time to get moving to somewhere that blocks this cold coastal wind. While it was a far cry from the temperatures and weather conditions back home, the wind coming off the bay made this snowless land frigid in our minds.

(Although, this is how far south these Brants will go, as they breed in the Arctic and then winter down here along the coast from Massachusetts to the Carolinas. They're tougher than I am.)

A mere 5.7 miles (9.1 km) away is yet another incredibly historic lighthouse site, the Navesink Twin Lights.

It was pretty funny to be driving up the Jersey Shore along the NJ-36, telling Shahlene that those things up on the hill weren't lighthouses; dismissing them with great alacrity. It was only on coming back and crossing the bridge into Highlands New Jersey that I had to admit my lie, as we rumbled past Twin Light Terrace at an angle that made me thankful the French didn't stick me with a manual transmission.

The need for a lighthouse here became apparent as New York grew and elevated itself beyond Boston & Philadelphia in importance. Immigrants and supply ships trying to make New York, the Hudson River or the newly constructed Erie Canal, only had Sandy Hook Light to guide them from 1764 until 1823. For the next four years they would have the Sandy Hook Lightship as well, but this still wasn't enough. The shipping industry called on congress to allot funds for the construction of a lighthouse on the highlands leading to Sandy Hook.

It was here that two twin lights were constructed at 248 feet above sea level, and once fitted with a Fresnel lens, were visible for a stated 22 miles, with some sailors saying they could see the lights from 70 miles out to sea. Seeing as the highlands of New Jersey are said to be the first thing an immigrant sees as they cross the ocean on this path, these visibility numbers aren't shocking.

The importance of these twin lights is apparent in the fact that they had the first installed Fresnel lens in America, they were the first lighthouse to use kerosene as a light source (1883) and this was the first lighthouse to be converted over to electricity (1898).

One last thing from the already lengthy & incredible resume of the Navesink Twin Lighthouses, involves the reason why there's two lantern rooms here. Navesink was built so long ago that the U.S. Lighthouse Board decided two lights were needed here to differentiate from the lighthouse at Sandy Hook. If a mariner were to see one light, they would know it was Sandy Hook. If they were to see a rotating light and a fixed light in close proximity, they'd know it was Navesink. The U.S. Lighthouse Board would do this for seven more twin lights & even one triple light (Nauset Beach, MA), before the cost made them come up with today's method of having lighthouses flash unique patterns, instead of building additional towers.

Leaving the highlands behind, it was now time to cut west along this large bay, stopping along the way for Taco Bell in Hazlet New Jersey as it had been on my mind since yesterday. Three historic lighthouses (Navesink counts as two) along the uncharted Jersey Shore with lunch at Taco Bell? I couldn't complain about how this day was going so far.

It would get a bit more stressful after delicious lunch though, with merging on to the ever fun Garden State Parkway, then connecting on to the equally busy West Shore Expressway. Thankfully the stop-and-go traffic of yesterday had shaken some of the rust from my now Newfoundland driving abilities, as we crossed the state line back into New York & into my first visit to Staten Island.

It was from here that we followed this expressway that reminded me of Ontario, to the crowded streets of Staten Island, where driving through a dozen residential blocks would bring us to our high-rise apartment accommodations overlooking the Hudson River for the next few days.

We used AirB&B to find a place in New York City, completely aware of the excessive hotel prices when you don't stay at the Harlem YMCA. I wasn't opposed to staying at the Harlem YMCA again, but I was annoyed with how long it took to get back & forth last time. In addition, part of the reason I was happy with a visit to NYC, was that I knew about 5050 Skatepark on Staten Island. Staying on Staten Island instead of out in Harlem would allow me to get to the skatepark and would also allow Shahlene to check off 'ride the Staten Island Ferry', something that she wanted to do one or twelve times during this visit.

And boy did I love these Staten Island accomodations à la apartment tower from 1929. The hallways were old and creaky, the lobby had those 1920s interlocking tiles and there wasn't carpet to be seen anywhere in the apartment. It was pretty incredible to shower and look out at the Statue of Liberty in the harbor, or sit in the bedroom chair and look out at the lights of Manhattan after a long day.

After dropping off our stuff, the lighthouses, Taco Bell & old armouries had already ate into most of this day, but it all worked out well with boarding the Staten Island Ferry for the first time at sunset.

For someone infatuated with America, it's overwhelming to float past the Statue of Liberty and onto the tip of the Isle of Manhattan at the golden hour. I had a bit of a smile, but I also had that dumb look on my face while I managed to be so lucky at this moment.

Bird themed subway station.

Of course I had just been to New York City for the first time in my life, a mere 6 months before this. This meant that I didn't have many things that I absolutely had to see and that I focused a lot of my research on the other places that this trip would bring us.

I had a few things that I would have liked to see, but between riding that ferry back to Staten Island to go to the skatepark and also checking out the interesting things Shahlene had to see on her first visit, time would run out on my low priority items.

This meant doing stuff that ended up being pretty cool, that I might not have thought to prioritize otherwise.

Like the New York Public Library Main Branch.

...and St. Patrick's Cathedral!

The next day, I suppose the Guggenheim was my idea, one that I rushed to go see before eating at a tight Greek spot and rushing back across on the Staten Island Ferry to get to 5050 Skatepark.

As for 5050 Skatepark, it was small, but that's to be expected with the New York real estate market. Thankfully I showed up early enough to beat the rush, but I never got in the groove and it was generally forgettable - except for the fact that our Soviet apartment host was interested in this indoor skatepark he didn't know about and asked to come along and see. So here I was hitting the handrail and flying around, making sure he was satisfied with the show. I wasn't annoyed at all though, as he was a harmless, cheery fellow that I sort of liked, the type who has a thirst to learn and understand the many interests people have in life.

Eventually cleaning myself up and going back on the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan, tonight it was a delicious meal of pasta in authentic Little Italy. We would then wander through grimy Chinatown to some bar that was decent, mostly because of the good variety of beers on tap. I'd get a can of beer at this Mexican supermarket afterwards, and this being our last night on Staten Island, this was when I laid awake in that chair and peered out at the lights of New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island & the sparkplug lighthouses out in the Hudson.

That was our last night staying in NYC, so with now only a morning and afternoon free, it was back to that ferry and eventually over to Brooklyn. I pointed us towards Long Island University, as they're housed in what used to be the Paramount Theatre Building that they converted into school space and a gym.

This place might have been on my must-see list if I had one for this trip - I mean, it's incredible - but I was foiled by the fact that when you first walk into the building, you're at a fork and there's a security guard sitting right there. While students were moving about casually and with purpose, I hesitated just the slightest at the decision of which way to go, which the security guard sniffed right out and told me that I wasn't going to the gym (former theatre) and that I was instead going back onto the streets of Brooklyn.

Son of a!

So even though we had only burned off about 30 calories since our mediocre diner breakfast, the last thing on the itinerary was to get some New York Cheesecake at Junior's.

Nothing like a heavy piece of cheesecake and splitting a large Reuben when you're not even hungry.

The cheesecake was pretty good & it was also interesting how they had different flavours, but the thing I'll remember most was the pickles. Oh my god were they heavenly. They were, good lord! I ate 4 out of the 6 that came in a small bowl as Shahlene was in the bathroom, then thankfully she hated them, so I scarfed down the other 1.5.

Those pickles would be in the conversation for last meal requests.

Running a bit late returning to the rental car on Staten Island, of course its these times that you just miss the subway train, then just miss the Staten Island Ferry. This would add up and now put us in a rush, but at least the sun was low in the sky & the orange paint of the ferry glowed. A few people braved the cold to get nice pictures of Manhattan, but once we started moving, everyone went inside except me. I put my hood up and dealt with it, loving the tranquility caused by the weather pushing them away. It truly felt a bit like the quiet of being on a Newfoundland ferry.

Finding the rental in one piece, it was then time to rush off towards the last thing I wanted to see in the five boroughs. As with my other trip to New York, I didn't come close to crushing the list of things I wanted to see, as that's a really tall order in such a giant, historic place.

Continue to the last thing on Staten Island...


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< Older Update:
Backcountry Snowshoeing to Bakers Brook Pond

< Older Update (this series):
The February Escape to Montreal, Part 2: Upstate NY, NJ

Newer Update: The February Escape to Montreal, Part 4: The New York Farm Colony >

1 - Historic Destinations - Red Bank Visitors Center
2- Guarding New Jersey's Shore: Lighthouses and Lifesaving Stations by David Veasey
3 - Sandy Hook Light - Fort Hancock, NJ - New Jersey Lighthouse Society
4 - Battery Arrowsmith - Fort Wiki
5 - Reading 2: Technological Advancements and Experimentation at Navesink & Robbins Reef Lighthouses -
Navesink Lighthouse & Robbins Reef Lighthouse: Lighting the Way Through New York Bay
6 - Down the Jersey Shore, Russell Roberts & Rich Youmans, 2003

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