It’s a lone white wooden building that stands with its back to the windswept shore of the Sandy Hook Bay in the Port Monmouth section of Middletown. Its official name is the Seabrook-Wilson Homestead, but most people know it much better as The Spy House. Though its true history belies many of the legends that have circulated for years about this old property, that has not dissuaded some believers in the paranormal from dubbing it “the most haunted house in America.”
The Spy House was built some time around 1650 and originally sat on 300 acres of land along the lonely Port Monmouth shoreline. As the story goes, at the time of the Revolutionary War it was a tavern and a popular drinking spot for British troops. Its owner at the time was an innkeeper named Thomas Seabrook, who was a patriot in the New Jersey militia. The origins of the “Spy House” moniker come from the legend that Seabrook would get the Redcoat soldiers liquored up enough to spill military secrets and then pass his overheard intelligence on to the Colonial forces. Historians are dubious about the validity of this tall tale, though most will admit certain aspects of it are at least partially factual. The building actually would become a tavern, but not until around 1910, more than a century after the legend states. It would be employed as an inn right up until the 1970s, operating under various names such as The Bayside Manor and the Lighthouse Inn.
In the early 19th century the house belonged to a local reverend named William V. Wilson and his wife Martha, whose residence there would add the second part of its official name, the Seabrook-Wilson Homestead.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and it became a museum around the time of the United States Bi-Centennial in 1776. It was at that time that it started to be known as The Spy House. The term is credited as being coined by a former curator named Gertrude Neidlinger ,who would give public tours of the house and its hodge-podge of various artifacts of supposedly historical significance. Gertrude, an elderly woman who, by most accounts, was a colorful character with a vivid imagination, would spin yarns of the house’s past, weaving in threads of ghosts and espionage as she walked visitors around the museum. Though most historians today bristle at the tales she told, they will admit that Neidlinger’s narratives gained quite a bit of attention for the house in the public’s eye. Current day preservationist will concede that she may be at least partially responsible for the fact that the Seabrook-Wilson Homestead still exists today.
Whether true or not, the ghost stories that began to circulate about the Spy House soon became the primary focus of the homestead’s appeal, much to the chagrin of the local historians. Nonetheless, visitors often reported seeing ghostly apparitions, either while in the house or through windows from the outside. Paranormal investigations were conducted, often resulting in persuasive evidence of alleged other worldly activity. Articles were written by notable paranormal experts, some of which would dub the Spy House “The most haunted house in America.”
Soon the Spy House, as it was then most commonly known, stopped allowing the public in for tours. This only further fueled the ghost hunters’ beliefs that officials were trying to cover up the paranormal presence within its walls. During its closure the Monmouth County Park Commission removed all the items once displayed at the house and stripped the interior to the bear timbers in an overall effort to restore the building to its original appearance circa the Seabrook’s era. The Seabrook-Wilson Homestead in now once again open to the public, displaying exhibits of verifiable historical significance––a sort of time capsule of Middletown’s history. But what of the ghosts of the old Spy House, were they too swept away with the odd bric-a-brac that was removed from the building? Some think not, and believe that while you may be able to clean out an old house, that doesn’t mean that you have cleansed it of its ghostly inhabitants. At this time the spectral future of the former Spy House remains to be seen.
Weird NJ readers share stories of their own ghostly encounters at the Spy House…
One morning my friend Dave’s parents went to visit the old Spy House Museum in Port Monmouth. They were there at the appointed opening time but the curator wasn’t there. After about a half hour of waiting they said “the hell with it,” and left. As they were getting back into their car, my friend’s father looked up and pointed out a kid about 10 or12-years-old, looking at them from the upstairs window. His dad said that the kid had on one of those puffy shirts that they used to wear in the old days.
As they watched, he slowly backed away from the window. Just then the curator drove up and apologized for being late. They told her that they had seen a young boy in the upstairs window. She said no one is supposed to be in there. She opened the house up and together they searched the place, but found no one. –Ray
The Ghosts Keep Rocking at the Spy House
On the way back from a very fun day at the water park in Keansburg, my dad decided to show my sister and myself the Spy House. When we got there we looked into the windows. It was extremely dark inside, and everything was locked. When we made it to the left side of the house my dad noticed something moving inside the house. I just shrugged it off as nothing, but then when I was looking in the same upstairs window I noticed that the rocking chair moved!
I was scanning all the windows to see if I could see anything else unusual, and I clearly saw a man sitting in a rocking chair reading. It couldn’t have been a ranger because he was wearing old clothes and was sitting in the dark, reading, in a locked up house. We snapped a picture and ran, and as we pulled away, a ranger pulled up and unlocked the doors, so we assume it must have been a ghost. –Ali
The Spy House, or rather the Seabrook-Wilson Homestead, is located on Port Monmouth Road, in Port Monmouth, and is home to the Bayshore Waterfront Park Activity Center.
Weird NJ visits the Spy House. Video by Brian Johnston.
Photos ©Weird NJ/Mark Moran, illustration by Ryan Doan (www.ryandoan.com).