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Cox House - Barnegat, NJ

Mary Etta Cox House (c.1850)

Since it was first built by Captain William Cox in the mid-19th century, the Mary Etta Cox House has stood prominently as the iconic manor in the heart of historic Barnegat Village. The house has become associated with two powerful, barrier-breaking women: Mary Etta Cox (1867-1949) in the early 20th Century and Mary Ann Cox (1901-1983) in the second half of the 20th Century. Mary Etta Cox is credited with the design and management of the 1904 major renovations to the property in the style of Colonial Revival/Queen Anne. Newspapers articles published during the 1904 renovations describe the building as “eclipsing anything in town for its stately and colonial style.”

Mary Ann Cox was one of the first female editor/publisher in New Jersey and became a major political and cultural force in Southern Ocean County. She was a patron of local arts holding a cultural Salone, purchasing painted and fiber art works, and receiving dedication to a number of authors’ works. At the time of title transfer to the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the remaining art collection contained over 205 items. The items are on display at Cedar Bridge Tavern and the Lakewood office of the Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission.

Ironically, the home is also associated with Ezra Parker (1854-1935), the political nemesis of the Ocean County’s first elected female assembly person, Lilia W. Thompson (1875-1933). Ezra Parker and Mary Etta Collins Cox were married in 1907. Mr. Parker was also the president and founder of the First National Bank of Barnegat that still stands as an antique restoration shop that borders the Cox House property. Ms. Thompson prevailed and was elected to two terms (1924-1925) in the NJ Assembly, the first woman to represent an entire county in the NJ Assembly. She even challenged the Ocean County political machine of Captain Tom Mathis, coming up short in her challenge for the NJ Senate. The section of route 9 between Lakewood and Manalapan is named in her honor.

The Mary Etta Cox House (2005) and Cedar Bridge Tavern (2013) remain the sole Barnegat Township listings on the National Register of Historic Places for their roles as the one-hundred-seventy year cultural center in the heart of historic Barnegat Village and the site of the last battle of the American Revolution respectively. Symbolically, the historic Cedar Bridge Straight Road connects the sites by approximately 7.8 miles. The Freeholders of Monmouth County granted a Road Return in 1797 for a straight road that goes from Cedar Bridge Tavern at the intersection with the Old Springfield Road to the Shore Road about 100ft south of the spot that would become the Mary Etta Cox House. This road is currently known as Barnegat West Bay Avenue or Ocean County Route 554.

Additionally, the Cox House is at the terminus of the 15.9 Ocean County Park linear Barnegat Branch Trail. In fact, the passenger station for the historic railway line, the Jersey Central Line (originally the Barnegat and Toms River Line) was immediately adjacent to the rear property line of the Cox House. This was also the location of the cross-over to the Tuckerton Railroad.

Historic Buildings Architects (HBA) of Trenton has completed a comprehensive preservation plan for the ongoing renovations of the Mary Etta Cox House. The renovations will expand its existing function as the cultural community hub of the historic village of Barnegat Township with the inclusion of a visitors’ center for the Barnegat Branch Trail, a historic archive, and the realization of Mary Ann Cox’s vision for a Cox Memorial Library to stimulate further discussion and scholarship on Ocean County history.
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