Where’s Willard Scott? Where’s the cake? Where’s our SILLY PARTY HAT?

Red Bank Borough is 100 years old today!

Or next Monday, depending on which birth certificate you go by.

A century ago, on March 10, 1908, the New Jersey Legislature passed an act to incorporate Red Bank as a borough, “effective immediately.”

One week later the law “went into effect, when a certified copy of the bill was recorded at Freehold,” the weekly Red Bank Register reported in its March 18 edition.

The new law designated the form and powers of the government, which would consist of a mayor and six “councilmen” who, in addition to levying taxes, would have the authority to:

Stop animals from running at large.

Kill dogs running at large.

Stop fast driving.

Not to mention “license pedlers [sic], auctioneers, news stands, theaters, circuses, shooting galleries, bowling alleys, organ grinders etc.”

But it doesn’t seem the designation of Red Bank as a borough was all that big a deal when it happened. By that time, the place was about a century old (in non-Native American terms, that is), having gotten started as a settlement when Barnes Smock opened the first known business: a tavern, possibly on the site of what became the Union House hotel on Wharf Avenue. That structure was torn down just a few years ago and replaced by condos now nearing completion.

Moreover, Red Bank had secured its own identity exactly 38 years earlier. According to Helen C. Phillips’ 1974 history, “Red Bank on the Navesink:”

Red Bank, part of Shrewsbury Township since the 17th century, became an entity on March 17, 1870 by an act of the New Jersey Legislature. By that time it had developed into a town with railroads, steamboats, sewing machines, steam-powered engines and store-bought clothes. The people felt they had their own identity. They had witnessed economic, political, and industrial growth and change. In the good old American tradition they wanted self-rule.

When the Register published a special 38-page combination centennial/harvest edition in 1911, Red Bank’s incorporation as a borough wasn’t even mentioned. Rather, the event that was called out was an 1879 effort to rename the town “Shrewsbury City.” The ability to change the name had already been cleared by the legislature. Here, though:

There was a good deal of fun over the election, but the people of the town, by a vote of more than two to one, decided to keep the old name.

The episode caught the attention of an unidentified scribe at the New York Times, who wrote, in a somewhat purple column published on May 23, 1879:

The people of Red Bank are to be congratulated upon this result. The proposed change is in no respect desirable, is in every respect undesirable, and indeed, ridiculous. For Red Bank is a good name in itself. It is short, easily remembered, easily spoken; it is pleasant in sound, characteristic, and peculiar; and these qualities do not pertain to a large number of the towns and villages in the United States…

The name Red Bank has the prime good quality of describing the place by which it is borne. It was given to the place because the bank of the creek there is red.

Download cityfied_rb_1879.pdf

To mark this latest centennial, borough officials are planning two days of celebration in May, with a townwide parade on Saturday the 17th that ends at Count Basie Field, where a picnic will be held, and a celebration on the “creek” — once the North Shrewsbury and now the Navesink River — the next day.

As for today, Red Bank Historical Preservation Commission head George Bowden tells us nothing special is planned. But there is a council meeting tonight at 5:30p. Maybe somebody will bring cupcakes, at least.

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