Kevin Coyne Preserves Freehold's Rich History

Freehold Borough is one of the oldest towns in the country, and Kevin Coyne helps maintain its great history.

Walking around Kevin Coyne's house is like venturing through the town museum.

The living room is graced with walls of framed Bruce Springsteen concert posters, maps, and photos of what was once Freehold Borough. One room has shelves of enough leather-bound books and there is a giant shelf that contains hundreds of CDs.

Coyne is a fifth generation Freehold Borough resident whose day jobs include freelance writing and teaching journalism at Columbia University. Coyne's most well-known job is far more interesting but pays much less—Freehold Borough historian.

“This is how much I earn from my job as Freehold Borough historian,” Coyne said, shaping a zero with his fingers. “I do this out of love and to preserve the town's history.”

And Freehold Borough has plenty of history.

The Battle of Monmouth was fought in Freehold on June 28, 1778 between George Washington's Continental Army and Sir Henry Clinton's British Army. It was a key battle during the Revolutionary War and a major moment in American history that took place in borough residents' backyards—literally.

Coyne speaks to grade school students about this major part of Freehold Borough history.

The other piece of Freehold Borough history he discusses is his favorite artist and the town's most famous son—Bruce Springsteen.

“Every time Bruce does a tour, especially overseas, I'll have journalists call me for information for that old story of how he became Bruce,” Coyne said, donning a sweater that read “Born to Run,” the title of Springsteen's 1975 hit single and third album.

“Bruce isn't just a famous artist from Freehold Borough. He's one of the most famous artists of all-time, who always writes about the borough and is still very much involved in the community.”

Prior to succeeding Freehold's former historian, the late Ira Tilton, Coyne was part of the Borough Council and wrote for The New York Times' New Jersey section.

He has written numerous books, including Marching Home: To War and Back with the Men of One American Town, which chronicles the lives of six Freehold men during their military stints in World War II, as well as their postwar life.

For a man as well-versed as Coyne is in journalism, it might be surprising to hear his take on the state of his profession.

“I think too many people took the same approach to journalism as they did with music and file-sharing in recent years,” Coyne said. “They feel like they don't need to pay for information since a lot of it is available online for free, when it costs credible papers like The New York Times a lot of money to pay reporters to research, travel and cover events.

“The only way I see journalism heading in the right direction is if we start paying for information again. A few dollars a day or month for your local paper online or in print isn't too much to ask for.”

For now though, Coyne is focused on preparing his graduate school students the best way he can, working on his latest book, and maintaining Freehold's history—something he says the town has not done much of in the past.

“We are one of the oldest and most historic towns in the country, yet we didn't even have a historical preservation committee until I helped establish one as a councilman,” Coyne said.

“States like Massachusetts preserve a ton of history and most of the towns there haven't been around as long as Freehold. For the few remaining landmarks and artifacts we have left, we need to preserve them and continue to educate our residents about the historic town they live in.”

Springsteen once wrote, "This is your hometown," and Kevin Coyne for his part, is not forgetting where he's come from.

Marc LeVine February 20, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Kevin Coyne is one of our town's greatest resources as a historian and also as a "protector" of the many important things we often take for granted about our town's history and its "soul." One of the reasons I returned to the Council in 2005 was to serve with Kevin, whom I admire so much.
John CArey February 21, 2011 at 09:24 PM
Freehold, hometown of Coyne! (And Bruce , too.) Couldn't imagine the place without him.
Kyle Hogg February 08, 2013 at 08:26 PM
As a new transplant to Freehold from Richmond, VA I was instantly won over by the town of Freehold when we moved here. I was lucky to meet Mr Coyne at a presentation he gave at the Monmouth County Historical Society about the musical history of Asbury Park. The talk was fun, fast paced & fascinating. At the presentation I acquired a copy of Mr Coyne's book Marching Home. It sat on my shelf for a while with the 100s of other books I have not yet had a chance to read. I picked it up last week & am now totally enthralled in the lives of the men whose lives he chronicles & the history of Freehold. His book has stoked a pride in me for Freehold that I did not even consider possible until I began to read his book. Part of the pride is in the town & its rich history & day to day life that Mr Coyne details, but also pride in the fact that such a talented writer as Mr Coyne calls Freehold home. As crazy & proud as Freehold is of Bruce Springsteen, based on Marching Home, Freehold should be just as crazy & proud of Mr Coyne. The detail, the research, the history & the just daily life captured in the book is an amazing feat in journalistic writing. The way he weaves stories, facts & anecdotes together to create a seamless story line is stunningly precise but also as beautiful & moving as listening to a grandparent tell stories of their youth. Freehold should feel truly lucky to have a person like Mr Coyne preserving it's history & presenting it's story to the world.


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