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Chapter 1
Early Resorts

Chapter 2
Railroad Resorts

Chapter 3
Religious Resorts

Chapter 4
The Boardwalk

Chapter 5
Roads and Roadside Attractions

Chapter 6
Resort Development in the Twentieth Century

Appendix A
Existing Documentation


An Historic Theme Study of the
New Jersey Heritage Trail Route
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Early Resorts (continued)

Cape May

By 1834, Cape May, located at the southernmost tip of the state, was already "a noted and much frequented watering place." [21] Almost 150 years earlier, New Haven and Long Island whalers settled the area, beginning a tradition of maritime activity that continues today. The road built in 1796, "along which boats might be stowed," contributed to the growth of the hamlet, a village with "clean and grassy streets" by 1829. [22] Resort and maritime trade grew simultaneously; the sloops carrying wealthy Philadelphians to the resort in 1815 passed fishing boats on their way to the island. Early Cape May County industries included lumbering, oystering, clamming, and fishing, but, even at this early date, "a considerable revenue" was "derived from the tourists who visit the seashore during the hot weather." [23]

Cape May's "transportation monopoly" is the best explanation for its rapid rise as a particularly attractive shore resort. [24] As early as 1800, Philadelphia newspapers lured potential visitors with descriptions of the sea, maritime resources, and travel options. Ellis Hughes' article in the June 1801 Philadelphia Daily Aurora is preoccupied with stagecoach arrangements (Fig. 9), and illustrates the uncertain and time-consuming travel conditions before regular railroad service. [25] A letter describing an 1823 visit to Cape May included three pages devoted to the steamboat journey. [26] Upon arrival at Cape May, the author recorded a series of "taverns" waiting for guests: the Upper House, the Large House, and the Lower House. The author recommends the third establishment to invalids because of its proximity to the surf and sea breezes. [27]

drawing of carriages
Figure 9. Wide-wheeled Beach Carriages Crossing the Marsh. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine. 22 August 1857.

Before the completion of the railroad to Atlantic City, Cape May's location—the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay—provided the advantage of easy sloop rides down the river and convenient access to the shore from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City. An 1877 brochure advertising the West Jersey Railroad describes the "annual pilgrimage" to the Cape in terms of transportation improvements. "Down through succeeding years—the stagecoach finally [gave] way in an unequal contest with the innovating steamboat to carry the increasing crowds of seekers after health, recreation, and enjoyment, and the boat in turn succumb[ed] to the locomotive engine." [28]

The 1850s marked a turning point in the urban development of the island; the town was incorporated in 1851 after an extensive street survey. [29] Gradually the resort gained notoriety as a place for recreation as well as health, and the first summer cottages were constructed. Building proceeded on a grand scale, as it would over the succeeding decades. Thomas Ustick Walter, architect of the U.S. Capitol, was commissioned to enlarge the Columbia House. [30] An 1856 fire burned the Mount Vernon (Fig. 10), then the largest hotel in the world, just two years after the Camden and Atlantic Railroad to Atlantic City ended Cape May's "transportation monopoly." Despite these setbacks, the city continued to grow in anticipation of its own railroad, the Cape May and Millville.

drawing of hotel fire
Figure 10. Mount Vernon Hotel Fire, Cape May. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. 20 September 1856.

Among the many Philadelphians banking on the trains' success, were John Bullitt and Frederick Fairthome who purchased the Columbia House in 1863. [31] They changed the architectural future of Cape May by hiring Philadelphia architect Stephen D. Button to remodel the hotel and add a summer house. Over the next thirty years, Button designed nearly forty buildings representing a range of local architectural types and styles, from simple cottages to classy hotels. The elaborate John McCreary Villa (Fig. 11) at Columbia and Guerney, the row of seemingly mass-produced Victorian cottages built down the street in 1871-72, and the sprawling Windsor Hotel, constructed seven years later at Windsor and Beach avenues, are Button's creations.

John B. McCreary House
Figure 11. John B. McCreary House, Cape May. Library of Congress.

Although the Italianate villa on Washington Street is sometimes attributed to Button, it closely resembles a design Samuel Sloan published in The Model Architect. [32] Books like Sloan's, with easily modified patterns, were the inspiration behind many "anonymous" Cape May Victorian homes. In contrast, the Emlen Physick estate attributed to well-known Philadelphia architect Frank Furness is "of a design different from any other in Cape May." [33] The house is surrounded by various out-buildings including a carriagehouse, dovecote, and school. The Physick House, today occupied by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, overlooks a tennis court in a neighborhood of year-round homes.

Atlantic City and other shore resorts depended on the railroad for development, but Cape May waited for decades before West Jersey Railroad trains finally began to arrive. The company's 1877 promotional booklet describes the trip from Philadelphia across New Jersey to the Cape May depot. Visitors were greeted by "drivers or attendants vociferating the names of all the hotels at the Cape." [34] Along the ocean front, those driving to their hotels could not miss the L-shaped Congress Hall, with its hot seawater bathing pool and 1,000' long ocean pier. The hotels offering sea breezes and views (the Ocean House, Centre House, Atlantic, Columbia, Marine Villa, and others) were most desirable, but also most expensive. A large number of smaller hotels and boardinghouses were hidden away in "the shady city" just a short walk from the beach. [35] Washington Street was the primary shopping district, running from the Congress to Schellinger's Landing on Cape Island Creek, parallel to the ocean. As early as 1877, it included the post office and churches, as well as many stores. The guide considered both Washington Street and Lafayette, the street paralleling it a block to the north, "the principal interior avenues of the city." [36]

In 1878, a devastating fire destroyed a large portion of Cape May, including the popular Congress Hall Hotel. The next year, Philadelphian Edward Knight rebuilt the hotel, which had gained a reputation as "the summer home of Presidents" Buchanan, Pierce, Grant, and Harrison who used it as a summer White House. A seven-night concert conducted by John Philip Sousa on the Congress Hall lawn in 1882 also attests to the resort's rapid recovery from the disastrous fire. Sousa dedicated "The Congress Hall March" to the hotel owners. [37]

Long Branch

Long Branch, located on the long branch of the Shrewsbury River in Monmouth County, north of Long Beach Island, was also one of the earliest Jersey Shore resorts. According to Gustav Kobbe, Philadelphians were frequenting a local inn as early as 1788. Before the turn of the century, a boardinghouse operated by Herbert and Chandler presented competition for the first summer rentals. [38] By 1840, New Yorkers were coming by steamers (through an inlet, now filled in) that docked along the Shrewsbury River. [39] Steamship transportation made Long Branch (Fig. 12) a competitive destination with Cape May and Saratoga, establishing the future of the quiet Quaker resort that, in 1876, Harper's Monthly Magazine would declare "the great marine suburb of the great metropolis." [40]

drawing of people at steamboat landing
Figure 12. Steamboat Landing. Long Branch. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. 23 August 1879.

By 1860, Long Branch offered the social schedule and accommodations necessary to attract wealthy celebrities and politicians such as Edwin Booth, Maggie Mitchell, Gen. Winfield Scott, and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln. [41] The city's tradition as a presidential summer resort began in the late 1860s when a group of business and newspaper men bought up beachfront property. After supporting Louis P. Brown in his land-development project, which resulted in the creation of Ocean Avenue, George W. Childs invited President Ulysses S. Grant to experience a Jersey Shore summer. Childs and others pooled their resources to purchase 991 Ocean Avenue for the President and his family, beginning Long Branch's reign as the "summer capital" of the United States. [42] Other presidents followed Grant's example, and Shadow Lawn, the old Elberon Hotel, and an Episcopal church (Fig. 13) near the Takanasses Bridge became known for presidential patronage. The construction of Monmouth Park in 1870 also attracted approval from federal officials. A life-size statue of Grant in front of the track proclaims his fascination with racing.

Church of the Seven Presidents
Figure 13. Church of the Seven Presidents, Long Branch. HABS No. NJ-1083-2.

The combination of presidential prestige and the competitive spirit of Monmouth Park, which tacitly sanctioned gambling, resulted in a burst of popularity for the city during the 1870s-80s. Stimulated by gambling activity, Long Branch opened clubs such as the Pennsylvania, where the lucky could flaunt their winnings in style. A parade of larger-than-life characters flocked to "the Branch," eager to partake of the action and outdo their contemporaries in lavish display.

Here Lillie Langtry kept her private car for an entire summer on a railroad siding adjoining the home of her current protector; there Diamond Jim Brady drove Lillian Russell in an electric coupe brightly illuminated on the interior rather than with headlights, so that all might see and enjoy; and here Josie Mansfield and Ed Stokes admired Col. Jim Fisk and his regiment in their gold braid as they played at drilling on the Bluff Parade Grounds. [43]

Summer visits by subsequent Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, James Garfield (who died at his cottage in Elberon after being shot in Washington in 1881), and Chester A. Arthur contributed to Long Branch's status as the premiere American resort of its time (Fig. 14). Completion of the New York and Long Branch Railroad in 1875 brought train loads of both the urban rich and the middle class to the seashore, where they stayed in elaborate Victorian hotels and boardinghouses.

The hotels were titanic masses of wood and fancy ornamentation. . .two or three stories in height and usually a block long. Their porches were furnished with wicker rockers and chairs, shaded from the sun by huge striped awnings in bright colors. [44]

Hardly a stick of wood remains from hotels such as the West End, which had a wooden footbridge across Ocean Avenue to a two-story beach pavilion.

postcard of Shadow Lawn
Figure 14. Shadow Lawn. Summer Capitol, Long Branch, NJ. Postcard, Sarah Allaback, Ca. 1916.

Along with the visitors came speculators with money to invest, attracted by what was later described as "brave, expensive and perilous" advertising, sold with "elaborate pressure methods." [45] These investors have left more tangible evidence of their times. Promoter Lewis B. Brown made huge profits subdividing oceanfront plots in Elberon, a seaside neighborhood in Long Branch's south end. [46] Actor Oliver Byron built fourteen cottages at Long Branch, and financier Jay Gould built four. Elberon's streets were lined with shingled, turreted Queen Anne mansions. Old postcards show street profiles of Ocean Avenue porches, gables, towers, and awnings facing the sea. The house Solomon R. Guggenheim bought in 1899 on Ocean Avenue was "festooned with fretwork from porch steps to gable peaks." [47] Though Guggenheim's house was torn down in the 1940s, examples of cottages by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White, such as the Charles Taylor House, remained through the early 1980s. New York architects Peabody and Steams, designers of the now-demolished Elberon Casino, were also active in the city. Artist Winslow Homer came to Long Branch in the late 1800s, engraving beach scenes (Fig. 15) for Harpers and other popular magazines and painting his famous "Long Branch, New Jersey," depicting women with parasols peeking over the bluffs.

drawing of women descending stairs from bluff
Figure 15. On the Bluff at Long Branch. Winslow Homer. Appleton's Journal. 21 August 1869.

Other evidence of Long Branch at its height can be found inland, mixed with the suburbs and shopping centers that have since surrounded the old business district. In 1905, Murray Guggenheim, son of mining magnate Meyer Guggenheim, hired New York architects Carrere and Hastings to design a palatial residence (Fig. 16). The partners' New York Public Library had gained them a reputation for the kind of civic monumentality Guggenheim must have desired; the Beaux Arts mansion, set amid landscaped grounds at Norwood and Cedar Avenues, resembles a pavilion from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The residential design won the architects a gold medal from the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects. [48] In 1960, the Guggenheim Foundation of New York donated the house to Monmouth College, which now uses it as a library. Also part of Monmouth College is Woodrow Wilson Hall, previously the presidential mansion Shadow Lawn and the set for the movie "Annie." The mansion was built for Hubert Parson, president of Woolworth's, the five-and-dime store chain, and was later used by Woodrow Wilson as a summer residence.

Murray Guggenheim House
Figure 16. Murray Guggenheim House, Long Branch, HABS No. NJ-1178-1.


Why did nineteenth-century city dwellers endure the long, uncomfortable trip to the shore, and what sort of activities awaited them when they arrived? Some resort vacationers were interested in hunting and fishing, but more traveled to the shore in search of "the cure." Seabathing was a popular seaside activity performed by young and old to maintain a vigorous constitution (Fig. 17). The early Jersey Shore resorts differed in clientele, atmosphere, and location, but all could boast of limitless opportunities for the popular seaside ritual. A visitor writing from Cape May in 1823 affirmed that "bathing in this surf is the great object of visitants. The bathing consists in walking out to a convenient entrance and either permitting the waves to break over you or diving through them, and various other maneuvers according to skill or inclination." [49] The letter also documented the highly developed etiquette surrounding the bathing process. Each "tavern" supplied a bathhouse for changing into proper attire. Bathers were segregated by sex, not only in the bathhouse but on the beach. Bathing facilities in Cape May maintained a time schedule allowing gentlemen bathing privileges from 6 to 7am and 5:30 to 7pm; ladies could occupy the beach from 7 to 8am, 10 to 11am, 12noon - 1pm and 4:30 to 5:30pm. [50] During the 1830s, the Mansion House utilized a flag system to enforce bathing rules; a white flag signified women's hours, and the red indicated that men might enjoy the beach. [51]

drawing of women
Figure 17. Bathing at Long Branch—"Oh, Ain't it Cold" Every Saturday, August, 1871. Library of Congress.

Beginning in 1891, the Atlantic City Beach Patrol was organized to monitor the beach during the bathing hours from 9am to 5pm. The next summer, the city hired twenty lifeguards equipped with ten lifeboats to keep an eye on audacious bathers. Adams and Jacksons' baths, located around Pennsylvania and Virginia avenues near the Steel Pier, were particularly well-patronized facilities that year. "Bathmaster" Alfred Adams charged 50 cents a week for his services, which probably included access to changing rooms. Jacksons', known as a more luxurious bathhouse, accommodated 100 bathers and offered apartments and restrooms with cots. [52] As the proliferation of fancy bathing facilities illustrates, seabathing quickly became more of a social exercise than a health-related activity.

On her visit to Cape May in 1850, Swedish novelist Frederika Bremer observed the unusual equality of human relationships promoted by the bathing experience.

It is, as I have said, a republic among the billows, more equal and more fraternized than any upon dry land; because the sea, the great, mighty sea, treats all alike, roars around all and over all with such a superiority of power, that it is not worth any one's while to set themselves up in opposition to it, or to be as anything beside it; the sea dashes over them all, dashes them all about, enlivens them all, caresses them all, purifies them all, unites them all. [53]

The author went on to describe various seabathers—a young couple, an aged husband and wife, a little boy with his mother, and an old woman—all mingling in the surf despite differences in sex and age. As she qualified the rigid impression of sea bathing earlier in the century, Bremer also alluded to a continually recurring theme—the power of the sea. The literature published by railroads, chambers of commerce, and individuals promoting the Jersey Shore almost always focused on the sea's compelling presence. In the nineteenth century, the ritual of bathing, with its religious and homeopathic associations and defined code of etiquette, was a highly significant cultural activity. Though bathing is no longer laden with such meaning, the sea remains unchanged in its power to draw visitors to the shore for rest and relaxation.

While resort promoters targeted the middle class, those who had been summering for generations at the more exclusive resort communities, such as Long Branch, were less excited about entertaining "excursionists." Reporting for Harper's in 1875, Olive Logan commented on the large number of such travelers crowding the streets and beaches, and contributed a "horrifying" description of their behavior and accoutrements while bathing. She was particularly disturbed by the bathing houses (Fig. 18), "shanties rudely nailed together," built for shelter against the sun and wind. [54] Logan's article emphasized the threat that "camps" of excursionists posed to the security of the upper classes pleasantly established in their weatherbeaten beachfront hotels. Such class issues were central to the changing character of late nineteenth-century "watering places."

Today the New Jersey coast, with its endless boardwalks fringed by shooting galleries and fortune-tellers' booths and hamburger and hot-dog stands and salt-water taffy concessions, is solidly in possession of the millions; the millionaires have been good-naturedly elbowed off the scene. Long Branch, even in its prime, was engaged in the unequal struggle of trying to hold back the masses; it was futilely defying its manifest destiny. It could not be, at one and the same time, the great marine suburb of the great metropolis and the snug harbor of the leisure class. [55]

Atlantic City Bathing Pavilions
Figure 18. Atlantic City Bathing Pavilions. On the Beach, Atlantic City, NJ. Library of Congress, ca. 1904.

If some regretted the loss of snug harbors, there were certainly more who celebrated the democratization of the shore. The proliferation of amusements along the boardwalk, and finally the boardwalk itself, became the popular symbol of the Jersey resort around the turn of the century.

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