Stafford Township Historical Society
Heritage Cultural Center(click here to see church scheduled events)
The Heritage Cultural Center is the Old Manahawkin Baptist Church which stands on the corner of Rt 9 and North Lakeshore Drive.
The Old Manahawkin Baptist Church was originally built prior to 1758 as The Free Church of Manahawkin. The deed to the land is dated August 24, 1758 and from the wording, it appears as though the Meeting House was already standing. The Church provided a pulpit for circuit riders of any denomination, and purportedly was the first house of worship to be erected in the region of Monmouth County, later to become Ocean County. In 1770 Captain Thomas Webb is reported to have visited the village, preached, and formed the Baptist Society with nine members. In its earliest years, the church was the only school for the children of Stafford Township and the only materials available for their teaching was the Scripture.
During the Revolutionary War, in the "Skirmish at Manahawken" , between Captain Reuben Randolph's Manahawkin Militia and John Bacon's band of "Pine Pirates" or "Refugees", wounded members of the Manahawkin Militia were treated and cared for in the church. Several veterans of the Revolution are buried in the cemetery surrounding the church.
By 1864, weakening of the walls prompted the appointment of a committee to start remodeling or rebuilding the structure. The rebuilt church, with the original within it (floors under floors, walls within walls), was rededicated the 2nd week in July, 1867. In later years, a small addition was built on the back, an enclosed entranceway was added to the front, and the steeple lowered to its present height after numerous lightning strikes and at least one fire. Original wide floorboards are intact, as are the wooden pews and pulpit. The under-floor (original) reportedly still has the bloodstains of the Revolutionary War wounded. A winding stairway leads from the vestibule to the second floor gallery (mentioned in a December 4, 1875 entry in the original record book, indicating it was there at the time) which overlooks the full sanctuary. The bell in the steeple is the original church bell, cast in England. Decorative embossed tin still lines the ceiling and upper walls, in a manner typical of older buildings once illuminated by open flame - first kerosene, and later, gas.
The building continued to be used for religious services until a newer brick structure was erected across the street (currently the Stafford Branch of the Ocean County Library), shortly before the Historical Society took possession of the building and grounds from the Board of Trustees of the Baptist Church.
Since its acquisition by the Stafford Township Historical Society, the church building has been used as a meeting place and depository for artifacts. It has been reroofed several times with native cedar shingles, repainted, and most recently had a new heating and cooling system installed. As is common with buildings of its age, the church is constantly in need of interior and exterior maintenance to slow the deterioration.
The Society is looking toward more community use of the building for various cultural activities, such as musical programs, dramatic presentations, historical tours, or group meetings. .
(information used here has been taken from the Stafford Township Historical Society Nomination Form for the National Register of Historic Places Inventory, prepared by Doris F. Cranmer, Secretary, March 17, 1972. and from Edwin Salter's 1890 "A History of Monmouth and Ocean Counties", pg. 316)