Centuries of Culture: A History of Red Bank, NJ

Lifestyle

Whether you are a Red Bank resident or a casual tourist, you might agree that Red Bank has a niche for everyone: the town is a fusion of miscellaneous restaurants, stores, cultural centers, and philanthropic organizations. How this combination came to be, though, might be a mystery, no matter how long you have called Red Bank your home. Named after the red soil banks along the Navesink River, Red Bank has a background spanning centuries of innovation, technological advancements, and worldwide historical impacts. The history of Red Bank, NJ is a harbinger of the iconic landmark that the town is today.

Red Bank’s origin is accredited to the Lenape Native Americans, who inhabited the area between the Navesink River and the Shrewsbury River in the 17th century. This location was advantageous, as it allowed for trading opportunities with English and Dutch settlers. Its placement by the water was specifically the greatest asset, though, as English colonists settled in and became involved in shipbuilding, trading, and transportation to Manhattan. 

In the 19th century, Manhattan contributed to much of Red Bank’s earlier success, causing it to be a significant part of the history of Red Bank; goods produced in Manhattan allowed Red Bank to evolve from a maritime industry to a commercial industry inspired by Manhattan’s textiles, furs, and other products. However, the following century saw both triumphs and turbulence for Red Bank as World War I and World War II ravaged the globe, along with the early 1990s recession following the end of the Cold War.

During World War I and World War II, The Galleria played a vital role in aiding men and women who were fighting. Although the Galleria is currently renowned for its modern boutiques, restaurants, and workspaces, the 20th century made the Galleria a textile factory returning to the manufacturing days of the 19th century. The items being made in question were military uniforms, flight suits, and gas mask hoods, under the direction of Sigmund Eisner, an immigrant from Bohemia who settled down in Red Bank as a clothing manufacturer. After World War II, Eisner’s sons closed the factory, until it was resurrected as the Galleria complex we all admire today, showing that part of the history of Red Bank has been inspired by innovators and philanthropists. The Eisner legacy is also memorialized through the Red Bank Public Library, which is often referred to as the Eisner library.

Despite Eisner’s manufacturing success, Red Bank was struck by the 1987 economic recession, especially because its economy was largely based on retail commerce. Under the New Jersey Development and Redevelopment Law, the nonprofit Red Bank RiverCenter managed redevelopment by defining a central business district, which became Broad Street, as well as landmarks in its radius. Other structural changes included pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and lighting, improved signage, and fixing the condition of parking lots, transforming Red Bank into today’s accessible, accommodating town.

Another landmark that blends history with modernity is the classic Molly Pitcher Inn, named after Mary Hays from the Revolutionary War. The hotel offers exquisite dining and a plethora of rooms that can host social events, mirroring the versatility of Mary Hays, who assisted in the Battle of Monmouth. By bringing pitchers of cold water to the soldiers on a sweltering day, and even taking over her husband’s cannon when he fainted on the battlefield, Mary Hays became a legendary figure and earned the nickname of Molly Pitcher, inspiring the Molly Pitcher Inn. Although the Molly Pitcher Inn prides itself on its modern, classy decor and style, guests and Red Bank residents will be reminded of the legacy of Molly Pitcher when they visit, even though her heroic deeds were carried out centuries ago.  

Although Red Bank is frequently seeing new developments in order to adapt with the current times, the history of Red Bank, NJ is timeless and will remain a staple of the town’s culture and lifestyle.

Visit https://www.redbank.org/about/ for everything else you need to know about Red Bank and its history!

By Jillian Buckley

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