An original part of the Clinton and Mary Heath Family Farm established by the Late Bertha C. Heath, R.N.
The following edited collection of articles portrays the life and times of the late Bertha Clara
Heath, R.N., the Continuing Legacy of The Heath Family, and the Moses D. Heath Farm.
THE LATE BERTHA CLARA HEATH
Middletown, New Jersey
To leave a legacy for all people through the Heath Center
and to dedicate this legacy to the crop farmers who were the developers of Monmouth County, New Jersey
Flowers and Gardening, and Nature Study
HER ONE WISH:
--My hope is that one day, Jews will celebrate
a holiday at the Heath Center, and that Italians, Irishmen and all other ethnic groups will celebrate at the center also.--
The Middletown that the late Bertha Clara Heath remembered as a child would not be recognizable to many current Middletown,
New Jersey residents.
Bertha Clara Heath grew up on a farm covering less than 100 acres on land where the Shop Rite
Shopping Center now stands at Route 35 and Harmony Road. She was born in the farm homestead on July 22, 1909 and, during her
active life, remembered early mornings when she raced two miles for a trolley to take her to school. A Middletown Township
High School Class of 1926 graduate, Bertha often remarked that she was one of 64 students who graduated the school that year,
which was then located on Leonardville Road in Leonardo, New Jersey.
Route 35 did not exist, and a tollgate stretched
across what is now Harmony Road, the major thoroughfare, with the tolls paying for the maintenance of the roadway. Peach orchards
covered the land upon which Sears, Roebuck and Company now occupies, and shopping was done at a small market that now stands
idle on Red Hill Road.
Among her childhood memories, she once recalled with greatest warmth, was the sense of community
that existed among the tenant farmers who worked the land of a very rural Middletown Township.
Her father, a former slave named Clinton P. Heath, left North Carolina around 1865, when the end
of the Civil War freed him from his servitude. Arriving in Middletown sometime before 1870 with his brother Calvin, Clinton
secured work as a crop farmer and upon establishing himself, sent for his wife, Mary. Eventually, the Heaths raised 13 children,
with Bertha being the youngest of 6 girls and her brother Walter, with whom she shared the present Moses D. Heath Farm on
Harmony Road. Walter was the youngest of 7 boys.
Calvin became the first preacher at the Clinton Chapel A.M.E. Zion
Church on Red Hill Road, which was founded in 1870 and established in 1890 with a congregation of about nine people. It was
Calvin, whose ability to read and write was a greatly coveted talent among a population of many former slaves.
slavery, using ones ability to read and write was punishable by death. Calvin had been taught by the sister of a plantation
owner, and he, in turn, taught Clinton and some of the other slaves. Because of the risk involved, Calvin had given lessons
surreptitiously by writing in sand on the ground. If a plantation master approached on horseback, the slaves would erase the
words with their feet, using a shuffling action which looked like a form of dancing to the overseer.
times, repeated the following account:
--My father was born the son of slaves in North Carolina. He settled us here
in 1885 and became a tenant farmer. I remember him telling us how his father became a slave. My great grandfather was accompanying
his two sons on thei way to London to study when they were hijacked at an African seaport. They all landed over here as slaves.
The two brothers were separated. My grandfather landed in North Carolina. His brother landed in the oyster beds of Maryland.--
In addition, the Heath family included three foster children, because there were no orphanges or social welfare agencies
at that time. If a child lost his or her parents, he or she would be welcomed into a neighboring family.
homstead was the seventh in a row of houses, in one of five Black neighborhoods in Middletown in the early 1900s. Most of
the families consisted of farmers, but Bertha remembered her father as the finest among the harvesters. Clinton P. Heath was
known as a man who could get two crops for every one another produced. In addition to farming, Clinton Heath worked on the
railroad to supplement his seasonal income.
It is very important to note that Bertha C. Heath, after graduating from
Middletown Township High School, spent 44 years in Upper Manhattan, New York City, working in the field of Nursing. After
graduating from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing in 1930, she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health
from New York University and in 1958, received a Master of Science degree from Columbia University. She worked as a registered
nurse until retiring in 1974, from the Columbia Medical Center School of Cancer Research.
Bertha had also earned credits
toward her Doctorate.
One of her favotite New York City activities was enjoying the musical talents of Big Band era
entertainers such as Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Billie Holliday.
In 1974, Bertha Clara Heath added her own permanent
tribute to her Middletown family legacy when she dedicated the Heath Wing of the Tatum Park Activity Center to the memory
of her parents, Clinton P. and Mary E. Heath.
Bertha had remarked:
--The Bible tells us to honor our parents.
By creating the Heath Center, this is a way to honor them, as well as thank my community for a beautiful life.--
at the center since its dedication have included a permanent exhibit of African American history and year round art exhibits,
ceramics classes and theater productions for all ages.
Bertha Heath, aided by her devoted nephew Walter Spradley,
his wife Susie Spradley, Jane Clark, (then) the Monmouth County Park System Project Director and a band of devoted volunteers
which comprised the Heath Center Black History Committee, organized Black History Month celebrations which have been held
each February at the Heath Center.
Members of the Heath Black History Committee included:
--Bertha C. Heath,
--Walter and Susie Spradley
--James and Norma Todd
--Pauline and Howard
--Col. (Ret) Joseph and Alison Holt
--Amanda Edwards, R.N.
--Drs. Scuddie (Deceased) and
--David and Sharon Henry
--Dr. Alan and Michelle Peterson
--Reverend Clayborn Butts
Very Reverend Ephraem
--Illya and Wally Akinpelu
--Cheryl Pearsall, Current Coordinator
important part of the life and times of Bertha C. Heath was participating in a host of meaningful cultural organizations,
such as the American Association of University Women and the Middletown Township Historical Society.
She was also
--The Harlem Hospital Alumni Association;
--The National Association for the Advancement of Colored
--The National Association of Graduate Negro Nurses;
--The USCCCNII National Clearinghouse and Crime Commission
--The American Red Cross;
--The New York Public Library;
--The NYPL Lecturer Focus on Black History;
--The American Association
of Retired Persons;
--The Monmouth County Historical Association;
--The Monmouth County Genealogical Society;
--The New Jersey Prayer Group; and
--The Middletown Township Commission on Human Rights.
community services of Bertha Heath were not without recognition, as she was saluted and praised as a Black Historian and a
--The Asbury Park Press;
--The Red Bank Register;
--The Newark Star Ledger;
New Jersey Federation of Colored Womens Clubs;
--The National Police Officers Association of America;
Who Among Black Americans;
--The Monmouth County Advisory Commission on the Status of Women;
--and many, many
In the words of Jane Clark:
--I have never met a more inspirational person. Bertha was one
of the few people in the world who transgressed race. She was a very spiritual person, accepting people as they are.--
pre-funeral viewing was held in the rotunda of the Clinton P. and Mary E. Heath Wing of the Tatum Park Activity Center.
Clark, a dear, devoted and true friend, added:
--The viewing at the park is precedent setting. It is our last
thank you to Bertha Heath.--
Norma Todd, Heath Black History Committee member and CEO of Lunch Break in Red Bank,
New Jersey, spoke of Bertha Heath in this way:
--Bertha had a wonderful way about her. She has certainly made an impact
and she will be truly missed by the whole community.--
Bertha Clara Heath once remarked:
a responsibility to your creator to make the most of your time. God endows you with talent and it is up to you to develop
Both the Clinton P. and Mary E. Heath Wing of the Tatum Activity Center and the Moses D. Heath Farm are living
legacies and tributes to the life and times of Bertha Clara Heath, who was taken, by God, from our midst and from this life
into his care on March 24, 1998, because God had far greater tasks for Bertha Clara Heath, R.N. to complete in Heaven.
YOU SEARCHING FOR PEACE AND HARMONY?
You will surely find that and more at the:
MOSES D. HEATH FARM
Harmony Road (Off Highway 35)
Middletown, New Jersey 07748
It is Open To The Public.
is No Admission Charge.
And It May Be The Best Kept Secret in All of New Jersey!
THE HEATH FAMILY LEGACY
CONTINUES ON AND ON:
In 1977, after the disappointing loss of a major portion of the Heath family farm, Bertha consulted
with her nephew, Walter Spradley and his wife, Susie. It was important to Bertha that she find a means of establishing a permanent
memorial to her parents.
Walter Spradley designed a library-type of building to be built on the family house site
on Highway 35 and donated it to the Monmouth County Parks Department.
The Clinton P. and Mary E. Heath Wing of the
Tatum Park Activity Center on Red Hill Road, is an outgrowth of that proposal.
The Spradleys continue to expand and
preserve the Heath Family legacy. Together, they made significant contributions to the early development of the Heath Activity
Center and created two autobiographical coloring books for children of Bertha and her father.
The Spradleys collected and assembled the original family photos and artifacts at the Heath Center.
The large inventory of antique farm equipment at the Moses D. Heath Farm were painstakingly collected by the Spradleys.
The featured farm equipment pieces are duplicates of the original Heath Farm inventory.
Also featured at the Moses
D. Heath Farm, the remainder of the Spy House artifacts which were collected by the late Gertrude Neidlinger (1911-1998).
The Heath Farm is prominently featured in the New Jersey African-American Tour Guide, published by
the New Jersey Commerce and Economic Growth Commission as described as:
A unique reminder of the African-American legacy in New Jersey is the Heath Farm in Middletown (Monmouth
County), a part of the original farm established by a former slave in the 1870s. Today it offers the visiting public a wealth
of agricultural artifacts and activities.
The property has remained in the hands opf the Heath Family since its founding by patriarch Clinton
Heath in the post-Civil War years, after he had made his way to the Garden State from North Carolina. It was passen
on to his daughter, the late Bertha Heath, who, along with her nephew, Walter Spradley, converted the farmstead into the center
of New Jersey's African-American agricultural history.
Visitors to the farm can enjoy a children's educational garden, a blacksmith shop, a sugar cane mill,
an exhibit of antique agricultural equipment and a live honey bee colony. There are also lectures and demonstrations of how
farming was conducted in the 19th century, with authentic period implements.
For a schedule, to arrange a group tour, to volunteer your time or services, or to make a donation
to the Heath farm, contact:
The Heath Farm
219 Harmony Road
Middletown, NJ 07748
732-671-0566 or E-mail:
You Are Cordially Invited to Visit
The Moses D. Heath Farm...
And Experience the Children's Garden Challenge!