Friday, August 26, 2011

When is a National Park not a National Park?

Head down I-295 in South Jersey near Philly and you'll eventually run into a confusing road sign.

Red Bank / National Park

Wait, did I read that right? Red Bank is in Monmouth County, near the shore. And it's not a national park. I'm certain of that. What's the deal with this very confusing nomenclature? Ivan and I decided to find out on our recent southbound jaunt.

Taking the designated exit, it wasn't long before we were greeted by a "Welcome to National Park" sign and a host of businesses named National Park this or that. However, nobody seemed to be wearing the distinctive National Park Service ranger hat or arrowhead. We eventually found our way to the Red Bank Battlefield, but that's another story. Let's get to the bottom of the National Park story first.

Located on the Delaware River across from Philadelphia, this tiny borough was originally part of West Deptford. It became the site of a Methodist Episcopal religious resort community in 1895, and was known as the National Park on the Delaware after the organizing group, the National Park Association. The organizers divided the area into plots of land that were sold to believers who came to the community to worship and learn more about their faith. The summer settlers created an association that incorporated the site as a municipality in 1902.

The community became more popular -- and more diverse -- after the opening of an amusement park and the establishment of ferry service from Philadelphia. Many Irish Catholics came from the city to enjoy National Park's beaches, fishing and amusements, and the original Methodists were no longer the dominant group in town. Eventually, with the onset of World War II and the booming shipbuilding industry on the Delaware, many of the remaining summer cottages were converted to year-round residences. National Park's transformation was complete.

It may not be a national monument, with only about 3200 residents, National Park gives visitors the sense of small town America, despite the proximity of a major interstate and one of the country's largest cities. In an upcoming post, we'll talk a little more about the Revolutionary War connection.


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