Timothy Hart remembers being curious about local history even as a youngster growing up in Stafford.
"I grew up near an old railroad right-of-way, and I always wondered what had been there," said Hart, who graduated from Southern Regional in 1972. In those days, Ocean County was only beginning to feel the impact of the Garden State Parkway. And that right-of-way? That's where Route 72 is now, Hart said.
Hart's love of history has now landed him in a role he could only dream of: That of county historian for Ocean County. Hart, who serves as the director of the county's Cultural and Heritage Commission, was appointed county historian by the Ocean County Board of Freeholders on Wednesday afternoon.
Hart succeeds Pauline S. Miller, who has been the county's only historian previously. She died in December at age 93.
"His love for the history of this great county makes him the perfect choice for county historian," Freeholder John C. Bartlett said. "Tim has extensive knowledge of the county's history. He is an expert when it comes to the role Barnegat Bay plays in county history, in addition to how historical events like the Civil War had an impact on this county."
The title carries no salary, but Hart said he is very happy to be chosen for the post.
"It's quite an honor," said Hart, who also serves as deputy director of the Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen's Museum in Little Egg Harbor.
Hart, who serves as Stafford Township's historian, has been a member of the Stafford Township Historical Society since his childhood. His Linked-in profile lists historical organization after historical organization, going back to high school. A theology major at Georgetown, he minored in history, while majoring in theology at Georgetown. He later attended law school and passed the bar in the early 2000s.
Hart not only studies history, however; he participates yearly in the reenactment of the battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern, site of an important Revolutionary War skirmish.
Hart said he does not see himself as the kind of historian Miller was.
"I don't know everything," he said, but instead he knows who to ask for the answers. That includes a vast wealth of town historians throughout Ocean County, whom Hart intends to get to know in the coming weeks and months.
"It's my fantasy to tour each of the towns with their historians and have them point out, 'This used to such-and-such,' " Hart said.
"We live in such a homogenized society, with all the McDonald's and Walmarts and such," Hart said. "When you know about the local history, it makes it kind of a special place."
And that right-of-way that Hart grew up near? That's better known today as Route 72.