A couple of weeks ago, my wife, kids, and I closed out our summer vacation with a quick trip “down the shore” (we’d been staying with my in-laws in northern New Jersey, and I’ve been assured that’s the preferred terminology of locals for what the rest of America calls “going to the beach.”) Thanks to the wonderfully helpful research of our own Steve Fleming, I knew that Mormonism’s history in the Garden State dated back to the late 1830s, but I wasn’t sure if there was much activity along the Jersey Shore. Re-reading Steve’s article, along with a short piece in the April 1973 issue of The Ensign by Stanley B. Kimball (hey, remember when The Ensign used to publish short historical essays by actual historians? That was awesome.), I learned that not only did Mormonism’s history there date back to the 1830s, but that Joseph Smith himself preached in the region. From Kimball’s article:
The earliest non-Mormon use of Nauvoo is in reference to a small fishing village of about 50 men and boys in Monmouth County on the New Jersey shore (now a part of Sea Bright). Although direct evidence is thus far lacking, this Nauvoo was most likely the result of a missionary trip by Joseph Smith and Orson Pratt into Monmouth County from Philadelphia during January 1840. Joseph Smith reports succinctly, ?I left Philadelphia with Brother Orson Pratt, and visited a branch of the Church in Monmouth County, New Jersey, where I spent several days, and returned to Philadelphia.?
It’s not clear which branch of the church Smith visited, though Pratt’s own note that it was “a large branch” with about “ninety members,” probably eliminates all branches but Cream Ridge and Toms River. Though we have no record of Smith preaching to any of the other, smaller branches, we do know that by August 1839 a branch was established in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, located near the present-day community of Sea Bright where the New Jersey “Nauvoo” discussed by Kimball was located.
Like any responsible student of Mormon history, I made sure that we scheduled enough time on our beach excursion to
completely take all the fun out of it drive around in search of any historical markers or memorials to the 19th century Mormon presence in the area. A brief search online revealed that an upscale restaurant in Fair Haven and a row of vacation cottages in Highlands (each located near Sea Bright) both carry on the Nauvoo moniker today, and on our way out of town, we navigated to the cottages.
I was saddened to see that damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy (the region was one of the hardest hit by the 2012 storm) had left the formerly quaint row of bungalows just a block away from the beach in a severely dilapidated condition, with broken windows, interior damage, and overgrown shrubbery outside.
It isn’t clear whether or not the owners have plans to repair the buildings and get them up and running again. There is still a lot of rebuilding and ongoing construction all along the Jersey Shore, and I hope that this small reminder of Mormonism’s early history in the region is able to eventually make needed repairs, as well.
Regardless, it is a good reminder that Mormonism has a history (in some cases, a long and rich history) in regions other than the gathering spots and stops traditionally discussed in narratives of the LDS past. In spite of Steve’s wonderful research, and that of others on Mormonism in various locales, these histories still seem to assume a secondary status in the historiography. More research on those regions, their historical context and development, and how community residents today—both LDS and not—remember and commemorate that history, is needed (undergrads and MA students looking for good thesis/term paper topics, are you listening?) in order to more fully understand both the Mormon past and its present.
 According to a much later reminiscence by George Woodward, Smith preached “upon astronomy and told where God resided. It was very interesting.” (St. George Temple Minute Book, p. 45 [11 January 1900] Church History Library, as cited in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980), available online here).
 Kimball notes that “Sharon Pugsley, reference librarian of the New Jersey Historical Society” believes the branch was “probably the Cream Ridge Branch,” but there were other large branches in Monmouth County, including one in Toms River. See Stephen J. Fleming, “‘Sweeping Everything before It’: Early Mormonism in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey,” BYU Studies 40:1 (2001): 72-104, which describes a branch in “flourishing condition” there.