"Son, take a good look around. This is your hometown…" (My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen, 1984)
Who knew that almost 40 years after The Boss released this iconic song, arts, history, tourism, economic development, and community revitalization would come together under those words to give the borough of Freehold dynamic new meaning?
On March 8, I attended the news conference at the Freehold Fire House on West Main Street announcing a collaboration between the Borough of Freehold and Monmouth University’s Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music. A historic structure, the old Freehold Fire House will be relocated and renovated under the borough’s redevelopment plan to become an exhibition and education space that displays the life’s work of hometown hero and legend, Bruce Springsteen.
The firehouse is adjacent to Freehold’s bus transit station, offering convenient access to the new exhibition space, and altogether enhancing its tourism destination appeal. In turn, the exhibition space will serve to broaden the community outreach of Monmouth University in Long Branch, which houses Bruce’s extensive archives at its Springsteen Archive and Center for American Music.
I listened to remarks by the Mayor of Freehold, town council members, local historians, and academics, then my personal musical demigod Bruce Springsteen spoke of how important this new collaboration is to Freehold. I learned about the borough’s history going back to the American Revolution and about its immigrant inhabitants over generations, including Springsteen’s Irish family roots. Springsteen offered his own personal and deeply emotional take on why he will always “come back” to his hometown.
The new center will add yet another source of pride for the town’s 15,000 residents, and new local revenues, too. Through the collaborative efforts of many, it will serve as a potentially worldwide tourist destination, not only for Springsteen fans, but also for historians seeking to learn more about his place in American music. No doubt, Freehold’s already burgeoning hospitality industry (evidenced by a growing number of diverse restaurants), will grow further through related patron spending a result of this project.
The Center anticipates opening in mid-2024. Exhibits will feature artifacts, photographs, multi-media displays (voice, film, concert footage, interviews), and interactive displays about the Boss’ monumental career and his personal Freehold experience.
According to Archives Director Eileen Chapman, “The Springsteen exhibition will allow the Archives to provide not only exciting exhibits that tell the story of Springsteen’s early years, but also dynamic educational and public programs with strong ties to the community and area schools. The exhibition will be an educational resource for teachers, with pre-tour activities for school groups.”
This project exemplifies the best in economic and community development through arts and culture. It engages and focuses the talents, resources, and passions of a host of public and private collaborators, including the arts, academia, local government, business, history, and other planning elements like transportation, and housing. And while the value of the arts will benefit the town and its people in practical ways, the strongest roots of this project are in music, in local culture, and in the deeply emotional ties to everyone’s “My Hometown.”
Kudos to all, but special thanks and gratitude go to Bruce Springsteen for treasuring those roots, honoring them in his music, and collaborating with “town and gown” to bring this new exhibition space to life. It is yet one more piece of a rich musical legacy for future generations to enjoy and learn about Springsteen’s contribution to American musical history.