Looking back on the 1960s now, Craig Bahrs can laugh and take a little bit of pride in making the first page of the Daily Register when he was a happy-go-lucky 18 year old. He wasn’t laughing so hard then.
It was known as Iron City, the most popular spot for the beer parties both teens, juveniles, and even some adults gathered for late night drinking, laughing, talking and getting together.
Police throughout New Jersey were cracking down on beer parties during the ’60s, with newspapers filled with stories about parties being broken up, beer kegs and beer cans being confiscated, arrests being made, bails set, juveniles held for juvenile detention courts, and elected officials issuing press releases they were ordering their police departments to crack down on the mostly summertime antics.
There were parties..and subsequent arrests at Pebble Beach in Union Beach, at Bayview Cemetery, Leonardo woods, as well as an abandoned house in Leonardo, Wallow Recreation Park in Port Monmouth, and other places throughout Monmouth County. Newspapers from 1960 through 1968 were filled with stories about police crackdowns.
But it was Iron City that got the most attention, and the 1965 arrests were the only ones to merit a seven column headline splashed across the top of the Red Bank Register…” Middletown Police arrest 12 at Big Beer Party.”
Looking back, Bahrs, who lived at home with his parents on Portland Rd. and now lives just across the borough line with Middletown, recalls the Iron City escapades. They involved so many local youths simply out for a good time, a few illegal cans of beer, and the excitement of knowing the likes of Captain Joe McCarthy and Det. Sgt. Robert Letts would be leading the corps of police officers who wouldn’t be far behind. Acting Chief Ray Walling had ordered the crackdown. The kids knew the cops were doing their duty, and doing it well, and they kind of figured at one point they would be caught. But that all added to the thrill of a weekend night. They took great precautions, Craig will tell you….heck, they even had lookouts posted to give them a warning if police dared to charge up S. Peak St. or around the corner at Portland Road to walk into the woods just before the Henry Hudson school parking lot. They might have been loud get-togethers, what with music and bantering back and forth. But for the most part, they were just kids getting together and daring to do something wrong. There had been one account over the years of some trouble, when some kids got in a fight and one unhappy drinker had to have 30 stitches in his head. But for the most part, Iron City was a place for older teens to go a bit wild.
The night of Sept. 6, 1965, was a little different at Iron City. Though accessible through Highlands roads, the open area in the dogwood and pine filled woods was actually just steps over the Middletown line in what is now Monmouth County Park System’s Hartshorne Woods. The kids had named the area Iron City for the beer that was so popular on those Friday and Saturday nights.….the police reported there were pyramids of empty Iron City beer cars, thousands of them. There were seven lookouts posted but apparently didn’t see the police early enough or give enough warning to their buddies. Police raided Iron City and disrupted the party, taking a dozen young men into custody, while another unknown dozens fled further into the woods or back through Highlands. Some who fled returned to scoop up the beer that was left. Other were caught and explained to the police they were out on a nature walk, or doing some bird watching.
The name of those arrested that night are outstanding and upstanding names honored and well known today…in addition to Bahrs, there was an O’Neil, a Hartsgrove, a DeAndrico, a Sherwood, a Taylor, Ness, McCarthy, Corson, DesBiens, and Eldridge, as well as a few visitors from out of the area..
The newspaper reported “there were even sofas” at the outdoor site and police said no one would ever know exactly what all went on up there.
But for those growing up in Highlands and Middletown in the 1960s, it was a rite of passage and happy memories to treasure for a lifetime.