MAC350building-pics-018-630x419The Middletown Arts Center is the scene for a Saturday afternoon celebration of the township’s big 350th birthday — as well as a night-before Gala party on Friday.

A bit lost, perhaps, amid all the historic hoopla over New Jersey’s 350th birthday is the fact that the Garden State shares an anniversary year with the largest municipality in Monmouth County AND the greater Green — Middletown Township. Officially first settled by the Quakers in 1664 (the year that the English acquired what was formerly called “New Netherland” from the Dutch), its nearly 60 square miles once sprawled even further into areas of what are now Atlantic Highlands, Hazlet, Highlands, Keansburg and other local communities.

That milestone birthday hasn’t gone overlooked in M’town, however, as the township gears up for an official observance that begins Friday evening, June 20, with an Anniversary Gala that takes place both inside and outside the Middletown Arts Center. Going on from 7 to 11 pm, the formal affair features dinner, dancing, fundraising casino tables, “tricky tray” prizes, and a sneak peek at the “50 Year Time Capsule” of Middletown memorabilia that’s scheduled to be interred the next day. Take it here for reservations of last-minute tix ($85 per person; includes two glasses of beer or wine) — and take it around the corner for more public-welcome birthday excitement this weekend.

Open to all and free of charge, Saturday’s Middletown 350 Parade commences at 11 am from Middletown High School North on Tindall Road — crossing Route 35 to Kings Highway, then proceeding west on Church Street to the Arts Center building. It’s there that a special Anniversary Plaza will be set up, featuring live entertainment, food vendors, family activities and burial of the Time Capsule on the MAC grounds. The Plaza will be decorated with personalized bricks that are being sold by the Middletown Arts Center, and will be installed later this year.

There’s still time to take part in the big parade — community groups, schools and families can register for free right here (local businesses can join in as well, for a $50 participation fee).