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In the Wreckage of Keyport's Steamboat Museum, Some Treasures Recovered

Sandy washed away the Steamboat Museum, where numerous historical artifacts were stored.

Nearly three weeks after Sandy's storm surge destroyed the waterfront in Keyport, the Historical Society is still working to locate artifacts lost when the Steamboat Museum was washed away.

The 40-year-old museum had been braced for flooding, with items stored above the waterline from Irene and certain artifacts moved to society members' homes before the storm.

Nothing, however, could have prepared them for the havoc Sandy wreaked on the Bayshore. 

The morning after the storm, the community emerged to find their local businesses washed away, homes destroyed and their Steamboat Museum demolished.

Only a small portion of the building's one-story frame was left standing; the rest of the building had crumbled in on itself. Bits of the borough's history were strewn about the rubble, while other artifacts were washed away into the bay. Historical society members and passersby helped sift through the debris for glass bottles, photos, old journals - anything that may have survived.

"I found a diary that was ripped apart," said Keyport Historical Society vice president Dana Weiner. "There was so much history, so much stuff in that museum."

Fortunately, explained Weiner, all was not lost.

"I know the marble fire place mantle from the Kearny mansion is there, but its in two pieces," she said. "We were able to save our printing press from the Keyport Weekly. We were able to save most of the metal letters that they used for the printing press. We saved a bell from a ship."

The society also recovered a number of small glass bottles, clamming and oyster tools, old kitchen tools, shovels and picks, a firefighter's boot from a memorial and old medals that were sewn to a piece of cloth. 

After the surge subsided and tides returned to normal, however, pieces of Keyport's history began surfacing across the bay in Cliffwood Beach, as well as on Keyport streets blocks from the bay.

The society is working to locate all of the artifacts that they have collected since they first started the museum forty years ago. 

"I went to the end of my street, which is Broadway, and there was one of our cases that we displayed pieces in. The glass is gone," she said. "When we were going through the debris, some guy drove by with part of a propellor. He found it in front of his house in Cliffwood Beach."

As they collect artifacts, they hope to be able to clean and preserve them, Weiner explained. Without the Steamboat Museum, storage has been a challenge as well. When the society posted on their Facebook page that they needed a safe place for the items they managed to recover, the Matawan Historical Society was there to help.

"I checked with Bob Montfort, who is the president, and asked if we would be able to help them out," said Matawan Historical Society member Aaron Coleman. "I went over and met Bob Montfort and Julius Kish at the Burrowes Mansion and we looked at the attic and had some space."

"How can you not help out a fellow neighbor? Especially being another historical society," Coleman said.

The items will remain at the mansion until the Keyport Historical Society plans to rebuild.

"I don't think we're going to rebuild on that spot. We're hopefully going to find a place in Keyport on higher ground. Our rent to the borough was $1 a year; I don't think we'll be able to find that," she said.

Editor's note: In order to help raise money for restoration, the annual Candlelight House Tour will be used to fund the society's current needs. Usually, it is used for museum maintenance. The Candlelight House Tour costs $20 per ticket and will take place on Dec. 15 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets for the trolley ride can be purchased at the Keyport Library in advance.

Editor's note: If you come across any items that you believe belong to the Keyport Historical Society, please message them on Facebook.

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