The history preserved at the Battery Lewis restoration in Hartshorne Woods Parks spans the more than a century that this historic spot has been modernizing and expanding coastal defenses along the eastern seaboard.
In the information provided by the Monmouth County Parks system it is pointed out that the Hartshorne property in Highlands because of its high elevation and location at the southern entrance to the New York Harbor was a most desirable location for providing defense in the 1930s. But it was not until 1942 the government purchased 224 acres from the Hartshorne family and launched into the construction of the Navesink Military reservation portion of the New York Harbor Defenses, along with the headquarters at Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook.
The US Army built two batteries at the site, the larger of which is Battery Lewis, the only 16-inch gun battery in the state. The two batteries were connected by a corridor housing ammunition storage and power rooms, are constructed of steel and thick reinforced concrete and covered with earth, the prototype for all sixteen inch gun batteries developed by the Army. The two Navy guns mounted in Battery Lewis in 1943 are the type originally made for mounting on Navy battleships, weighing over 150 tons each with barrels over sixty feet long, and able to fire armor-piercing projectiles sixteen inches in diameter and 2100 pounds in weight. Their reach extended from Point Pleasant Beach to Long Beach, NY.
After World War II, the Army removed the guns from the batteries, selling them for scrap metal, and demolished the 100 foot observation tower. After the land later served as the Highlands Air Force Station, then later as the Highlands Army Air Defense site, it was acquired by Monmouth County through a no-cost transfer of federal surplus land.
The County Park System immediately began plans to restore the historic Battery Lewis for public visitation, completed repairs of the concrete on the casement canopies and wing walls, and in 2015, had the Navesink Military Reservation Historic District listed on the National Register. The park system also restored the 600 foot long battery, improved lighting and utilities and enabled visitors to tour the entire facility.
In attempting to replace the WWII 16 inch gun barrel so it could be displayed in one of the casements, the Park System applied to the Inactive Ships Program of the US Navy requesting a surplus sixteen inch gun from the USS New Jersey, the nation’s most highly decorated battleship. The battleships guns are the only weapons similar to those installed at Battery Lewis during the war. Successful in that venture, the Park Service had the gun barrel transported from Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia by rail to South Amboy, then to Red Bank, then the remainder of the way to Highlands via tractor trailer seven years ago.
In making its last ascent up Portland Road to Hartshorne Woods, the gun barrel passed the Capt. Joseph Azzolina Bridge between Highlands and Sea Bright, the bridge named after the Highlands native who once served aboard the USS New Jersey and later, as a state assemblyman, was largely instrumental in having it brought back to New Jersey where it is now a museum in Camden.
The gun barrel at Hartshorne Woods was cleaned and painted, a concrete pedestal was constructed, and the gun barrel was placed at its permanent location in the south casement of the battery.
At the time of its original placement in Highlands, employees and Army personnel posed for a photo beneath the massive gun barrel, a photo still visible on displays at Hartshorne Woods and in Monmouth County Parks information sheets.
In October, when the executive officer and five other crew members of the crew of the submarine New Jersey, SSN796, visited New Jersey as part of the Navy’s program to build relationships between crew members and the state for which their boat is named , Hartshorne Woods Park and the Battery Lewis Restoration were one of the first visits the crew members made in Monmouth County. Monmouth County photographer Michael Colarusso captured a photo of the submarine’s first crew members on that visit similar to the earlier photo of army personnel with the original gun barrel.
This week, five cadets from MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, are traveling to Norfolk, Virginia, upon the invitation of the US Navy to be the color guard for the christening ceremonies of the submarine, the third Naval vessel to be named for the Garden state, and the first submarine to be so named. The Virginia class boat, still under construction at the shipyard, is designed to support defenses in extensive capabilities and expected to be commissioned and ready for service in late 2022.