Nothing goes better than a fun Jersey day trip to an iconic town that starts the Jersey shore and gives you so many fun choices to fill with food and history. The Mr. Local History introduces you to Keyport, New Jersey, a historic seafaring community full of history and a great place to grab a days worth of great eats!
Known as “The Pearl of the Bayshore” and “Gateway to the Bayshore,” Keyport is a borough in Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States. With a current population of about 7,240. As people cruise by exit 117 on the Garden State Parkway on their way to Sandy Hook National Seashore, there’s a reason on your way home you need to take a detour to this historic gem at the unofficial start of the Jersey Shore.
Keyport is known for its oyster industry, which had been one of the world’s largest suppliers until over-fishing and pollution led to a collapse of the industry in the early to mid 20th century. Started as an 800 acre plantation settled by the Kearney family in 1714. It was called Key Grove Farms and farming, timber, shipping and oystering were the main sources of income. In 1829 the Kearney Estate was partitioned and sold at auction and the sale was the foundation of the soon to be town of Keyport.
Keyport: Additional Historic Tidbits
- It’s called Key Port – Get it? “Pearl of the Bayshore”- Again get it? Hint: tied to the oyster business.
- Keyport was the home of the Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company which operated from 1914 to 1930 and built seaplanes for the United States Navy during World War I.
- Keyport has been credited as the birthplace of the “Lazy Susan“, designed by William Bedle in 1845.
- It was the site of the professional dance debut of film star Fred Astaire in 1903 at age four, together with his sister Adele, as part of an act that earned a review that called the duo “the greatest child act in vaudeville.
Keyport Historical Society
In 1972 a group of Keyport residents formed the Keyport Historical Society after salvaging some items from the Kearney’s Mansion House before it was demolished. These salvage artifacts created a need for a location where they could be kept and displayed along with other Keyport artifacts to keep Keyport’s rich history alive.
In 1976, the Steamboat Dock Museum opened. It was located at the foot of Broad Street at American Legion Drive. It was originally owned by the Keansburg Steamboat Company. After the storm, artifacts were everywhere, floating blocks away from the museum, known as the Steamboat Dock Museum.
On November 7, 2012, there were no words to express the heartbreak the community felt when SuperStorm Sandy destroyed the historic collections from the Keyport residents. Hurricane Sandy was the deadliest, the most destructive, and the strongest hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. The storm inflicted nearly $70 billion in damage and killed 233 people across eight countries from the Caribbean to Canada.
A core set of volunteers refused to let history slip from their hands. Today, the Keyport Historical Society is a beautifully restored former residence off the bay on 34 Main Street. The former home is jam packed with exhibits, artifacts, and history typically reserved for higher end societies that have big budgets.
The Keyport Historical society received a grant to purchase their current location at 34 Main St, from Bill and Carol Cerase, after their original building on American Legion Drive was destroyed in Super Storm Sandy. The Museum is home to over 4,000 Keyport historical artifacts and a meeting place for society events, such as their annual Yard Sale, annual Art & Craft Show and Sale and monthly free historical presentations opened to the public.
What’s a day trip without food! We know how to travel and had to share with you a few gems we found. We definitely went home full! Two gems caught our eye including the Broad Street Diner, recognized as the state’s most iconic diner by a statewide vote from the Mr. Local History Project as well as with NJ.com, where the public overwhelmingly chose Keyport’s own Broad Street Diner. Then right across the street is a recommissioned old Presbyterian church that pays tribute to “Old Glory” and some great pizza.
Broad Street Diner
This authentic diner is a circa 1953 O’Mahony stainless steel railcar diner located just a few blocks from Raritan Bay at 83 Broad Street. Known previously as Stanley’s Seaport Diner you won’t have to wonder much about its 1950s origins as you will be reminded about it at every turn . The O’Mahony stainless steel tag is attached to the inside of the vestibule door. Broad Street is one of a handful of classic O’Mahony diners still operating in the Garden State. This diner is the “real deal” in every way and Keyport should be very proud of the history, but also for the food that’s pumped out of this kitchen.
Owned by Nick and Maria Kallas since 2015, the two grew up in Greek diner families, as you’ll see their experience reflected in the daily specials and hearty portions. As they say in the diner biz, “Food is only half the meal.” The savory atmosphere is the other half—and equally important. If possible, when visiting a Jersey diner, sit at the counter. That’s where you’ll meet, greet, and mingle with the staff and customers.
Redefining Keyport’s old First Presbyterian Church – Old Glory Kitchen & Spirits
The First Presbyterian Church at 84 Broad Street in Keyport was built in 1868 serving the local community for almost 100 years. But as the demographic changed, so did churchgoers. So rather than demolishing the church, why not convert it to something the community would enjoy. First as the Trinity Restaurant, the structure now serves the public as the Old Glory Kitchen & Spirits restaurant.
Fast forward to 2016 where Old Glory describes itself as a “American upscale style restaurant with a patriotic theme”. In the former First Presbyterian Church of Keyport, the Old Glory Kitchen honors the red, white, and blue. Inside, you’re greeted by an authentic Uncle Sam costume that was used in the iconic “I Want You” WWI Army recruitment campaign. The ceiling is a bonafide flag, painted to resemble a Betsy Ross 13 star flag.
A wide variety of food, cocktails, and craft brews are part of the American themed menu. But brick oven pizza is their specialty. Inside, as well as outdoor deck dining (two floors), is also available. A very patriotic and historic building has been re-imagined and lives on. We have no problem with that. And you can say grace as well but not sure if it constitutes an official church visit in gods eyes.
We didn’t get to hit another local favorite, but we promise we will be back. The Keyport Fishery is definitely on our to-do list!
Keyport Fishery website – Check out the great drone footage!
- Keyport Historical Society – Check for hours.
- New Jersey’s MOST iconic Diner: Broad Street Diner
- Old Glory Kitchen and Spirits
- Images of America: Keyport (online)
- America’s First Flag will Surprise You- And It’s a Jersey Thing
Have a Keyport place to share that we missed on the road trip? Post in the comments section below.