On-line Book




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
National Park Service Arrowhead

Railroad Resorts
railroad map
Figure 19. Map of the Railroads of New Jersey, 1887. Hagley Museum & Library.

The social democratization described by nineteenth-century authors Frederika Bremer and Olive Logan depended on improvements in transportation. Before the railroad provided an inexpensive and easy way to reach the shore, resort vacations were limited to those who could afford travel and hotel accommodations. Long Branch and Cape May, within a sloop or steamboat ride from major cities, attracted wealthy visitors eager to escape the urban intensity of New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore. The growth of secular resorts like Atlantic City, created by the railroad, was followed by the founding of coastal religious "camps," such as Ocean Grove and Seaville, which also capitalized on sea breezes, seaside locations, and convenient transportation. Beginning in the 1870s, the railroads brought a new type of tourist to Jersey beaches, the "day-tripper" of limited means. As the social composition of the exclusive resorts began to change, new resorts were established to profit from the influx of middle-class tourists. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the railroad created a tourism industry (Fig. 20) that supplemented the local, primarily maritime-based economies of the small towns along shore and bay. In other areas, particularly the Barnegat Peninsula and the neighborhood around Toms River, trains provided the incentive for extensive land speculation. That the resulting new towns catered to a middle-class, suburban population was reflected in the proliferation of comparatively cheap cottages and boardwalk amusements.

drawing of horses and riders
Figure 20 Ocean Avenue After Arrival of Evening Train Long Branch Harper's Monthly, 1876.

Traveling from his Camden home to Atlantic City in 1879, Walt Whitman observed the New Jersey landscape from a window on the Camden and Atlantic Railroad:

What a place (is it not indeed the main place?) the railroad plays in modern democratic civilization! How indirectly, but surely, and beyond all other influences to-day in America, it thaws, ploughs up, prepares, and even fructifies the fallows of unnumbered counties and towns!—the tough sward of morals and manners of the low average (nine-tenths) of our vulgar humanity! Silently and surely and on a scale as large and genuine as Nature's, it sets in motion every indirect and many direct means of making a really substantial community—beginning at the bottom, subsoiling as it were—bringing information and light into dark places opening up trade, markets, purchases, newspapers, fashions, visitors, etc. [1]

Whitman's thoughts show how quickly the railroad influenced American life, transforming both the physical and social environment as it pushed across the country. Only twenty-five years before Whitman's observation, the first Camden and Atlantic train roared into a city created for its arrival; twenty-five years later, the automobile would begin to further "democratize" the shore. The similarity between Bremer's thoughts on the social leveling force of the sea and Whitman's description of rail travel describe a shore resort community—and attitudes toward it—that evolved in response to the "iron horse."

Early Railroads

In the 1830s, when shore visitors were still traveling by steamboat and stagecoach, the first New Jersey railroads began to transport goods across the state. Because of its proximity to New York, the Bayshore region (the northern coast between the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays) was a principal point for the transhipment of goods to and from the interior. South Amboy (Fig. 21) was strategically located on a canal route, an ideal terminus for the Camden and Amboy Railroad upon its completion in 1834. Reportedly "the first steam-powered railroad to operate successfully in the United States," [2] the track ran from Camden to the bay. By 1840, the Camden and Amboy owned the Philadelphia and Trenton Railway and had made arrangements with the New Jersey Railroad Company to facilitate the first New York-to-Philadelphia rail connection. [3]

Broadway, South Amboy
Figure 21. View of Broadway, South Amboy. HABS No, NJ-1001-1.

At mid century, the Camden and Amboy Company was notorious for its control over rail transportation in the "state of Camden and Amboy." When the New Jersey Central and the Philadelphia and Reading connected to form a competing route between New York and Philadelphia, the two companies entered into a bitter court dispute. The ensuing media battle outraged the public, causing the state to pass a law allowing all railroads to use the tracks. [4] This decision resulted in the creation of the single longest line along the shore, the Delaware and Raritan Bay Railroad; it stretched from Port Monmouth to Camden County, passing through Red Bank, Eatontown and Lakewood, intersecting with the Camden and Atlantic at Winslow Junction. A spur from Eatontown reached Long Branch in 1860 as the railroad pushed its way south. The tracks, constructed to reach valuable Monmouth County marl deposits, were occupied by the New Jersey and Southern Railroad in the 1870s. After extending its line through Vineland and Bridgeton into the Delaware Bay region, the company suffered from financial problems and was forced into a dependent relationship with the Central Railroad of New Jersey. [5]

Atlantic City

The Camden and Atlantic Railroad obtained a charter for the first rail service to the shore in 1852, before Atlantic City was anything more than a speculator's dream. When Dr. Jonathan Pitney began exploring Absecon Island in the 1830-40s, a single boardinghouse accommodated the area's few adventurous visitors. The climate and location of the land inspired Dr. Pitney to envision a bathing village for wealthy Philadelphians, a scheme encouraged by glass and iron manufacturers as well as railroad investors, who demanded efficient local transportation routes. In 1853, Camden and Atlantic Railroad engineer Richard Osborne laid out city streets, creating a fully planned "paper" city (Fig. 22) by 1854. [6]

Within a year, the Camden and Atlantic Railroad brought a select group of 600 news and businessmen to the United States Hotel, and Atlantic City began its physical and metaphoric growth as a choice resort. The brand-new city thrived on the imagery of excess and pleasure. In his plan of "the first, most popular, most heath-giving and most inviting watering place," Osborne incorporated a sense of nationalism along with an unspoken faith in the city's future prominence. The streets extending from the beach to the inland marshes were named after states, while those running parallel to the ocean took the names of the seven seas. [7]

Figure 22. Plan of Atlantic City, 1877. Winterthur Museum & Library.

The promise of the railroad inspired entrepreneurs like Thomas Bedloe to build accommodations for thousands of expected guests. Lured by the potential of Osborne's "first" and "most popular" resort, Bedloe came from Philadelphia in 1852 and began constructing the Bedloe House, a hotel he completed in time to greet the first railroad passengers. The history of the United States Hotel, destination of the special inaugural train, illustrates the speculative nature of such early investments. The hotel's first owners, Michener and Neleigh, spent too much on accommodations for the anticipated crowds and were forced to sell the building after only two years. The business fell into the hands of its builders, Philadelphia lumber merchants Brown and Woelepper. Although the hotel required a new Atlantic Avenue wing in the early 1860s, by 1892 the property had passed to "John S. Davis and Elwood Jones, who divided the land into cottage sites and moved the hotel to the Pacific Avenue side of the square. This section was afterwards razed and the land sold as building lots." [8]

The wealth and prominence of the first Victorian hotels is made graphically clear by drawings in Woolman and Rose's 1878 Historical and Biographical Atlas of the New Jersey Coast. In addition to picturing the United States Hotel (Fig. 23), guaranteed notoriety through its connection with the railroad, Woolman depicts the Colonnade House, Haddon House, Seaside House, Germantown Cottage, and several private residences. The city's reputation as a retreat for invalids, with "the proverbial dryness of the atmosphere, and the health invigorating sea breezes is considered by some to rival Florida." [9] Hotels like the Haddon House offered covered porches with views up and down the beach, as well as special basement and parlor heaters providing year-round climate control. Placed in a central location, the hotels were within walking distance of the railroad depot, post office, city hall, and a hot and cold seawater bathing establishment. The Seaside House at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue seemed to sit right on the beach. [10]

United States Hotel
Figure 23. United States Hotel, Atlantic City. Historical and Biographical Atlas. 1878.

The population of Atlantic City increased dramatically between 1855, when the year-round population was estimated at 250, and the turn of the century, when over 27,000 lived in the resort city. [11] The demand for accommodations was satisfied by the construction of new hotels with hundreds of rooms and the expansion of popular older buildings. The Hotel Dennis grew from a two-room summer house in 1860 to a twenty-two-room lodge in 1867, and a 150-room hotel in 1892. The Chalfonte underwent a similar metamorphosis; the Victorian house built in 1868 was remodeled throughout the century, and emerged, in 1904, as Atlantic City's first iron frame hotel. Shortly after Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton enlarged the Chalfonte (Fig. 24), fellow Philadelphian, William L. Price, embarked on an equally ambitious scheme. Price combined two previously existing buildings, the Marlborough House and the Blenheim House, to form the impressive Marlborough-Blenheim. When it was rebuilt in 1906, the Marlborough-Blenheim (Fig. 25) claimed a place in history as the first hotel in the world composed of reinforced concrete. Thomas Edison, inventor of the new construction method, oversaw the concrete pouring. [12] The hotel was the first to offer private baths in every room—with hot and cold saltwater on tap—modern conveniences it hid behind a dreamlike exterior facade suggesting Far Eastern influence. A reporter for the New Cosmopolis did not know quite how to explain the Marlborough-Blenheim's captivating personality.

If Coleridge, in Kubla Khan, or Poe, the Doman of Arnheim, had described such a fantastic structure we should have understood, for they are men of imagination. The architecture might be Byzantine. It suggests St. Marco's at Venice, St. Sophia at Constantinople, or a Hindu Palace, with its crouching dome, its operatic facade and its two dominating monoliths with blunt tops. [13]

In 1979, a year after legalized gambling offered hope for urban renewal, the hotel was destroyed to make room for casinos.

Chalfonte Hotel
Figure 24. The Chalfonte Hotel, Atlantic City. Boardwalk Elevation. Library of Congress.

From its early planning stages, Atlantic City evolved from the need for an efficient transportation system. Increased traffic led to the construction of a second rail line to Camden in 1877; the Philadelphia and Atlantic City's Narrow Gauge was laid down in only ninety-eight days. The West Jersey and Atlantic Railroad Company built tracks connecting Atlantic City with Newfield in 1880. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, tracks stretched across the entire length of the island, linking Atlantic City with the communities of Margate, Ventnor, and Longport. The railroads also operated steamboats from Longport at the extreme south end of the island, to Ocean City and Somers Point. By 1897, the West Jersey route and parts of the South Jersey Pennsylvania lines merged to form the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad Company, owned by the Pennsylvania company. [14]

Marlborough, Blenheim and Dennis, Hotels
Figure 25. Marlborough, Blenheim and Dennis, Hotels, Atlantic City. Library of Congress. HABS No. NJ-976.

South Shore

Figure 26. Notice of Lot Sales, Sea Isle City. 1883.

The Cape May and Millville Railroad provided inland visitors with the luxury of rail service to beach resorts in 1863. Beginning in 1879, the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad took charge of the Camden and Millville and began working its way up and down the shore. Two years after the Seven Mile Beach Company established Avalon, the company granted the West Jersey Railroad the right to lay tracks the entire length of the island, connecting to the Cape May main line. The tracks were extended into Stone Harbor three years later. [15] By then, the Avalon Hotel, located near Townsend Inlet at the north end of the city, had already been open for a season. The hotel and twelve cottages were the product of the Public railroad's demand for token "model homes" demonstrating projected development. [16]

As early as 1888, just a year after its founding, Avalon attracted "excursions" to its newly opened beaches. The train arrived at the beach and picnic groves of Peermont with thirteen coaches carrying 700 excursionists from Philadelphia. During the summer season, the daily excursion train always had two engines and about twelve cars. On the weekends, trains with fifteen to seventeen cars, pulled by two or three engines, came into the island's five stations and unloaded 4,000 to 5,000 revelers at Avalon's picnic groves, beaches, and rustic dunes. Speculators often bought and sold lots during such excursions. [17]

Just above Avalon, the stretch of land that would become Sea Isle City awaited the arrival of the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad. The island was relatively unpopulated, with only a few "beach houses," two lifesaving stations, and a lighthouse, before speculators encouraged further building. Charles Landis, founder of Vineland, Cumberland County, purchased Ludlam Island in 1880 and began planning Sea Isle City. He envisioned a town patterned after Venice, complete with canals and classical statuary, accentuating the community's maritime setting. [18] Although Landis' plan was never realized, the Sea Isle City Improvement Company was able to attract a substantial population. An 1881 map of "Sea Isle City, Ludlam Island, New Jersey" advertising 5,405 surveyed lots (Fig. 26), shows that most of the beachfront property, and even inland lots along Railroad Avenue had already been purchased. [19]

The Ocean City Railroad Company provided the first rail service to Sea Isle in 1882 with its 4.8-mile spur from the West Jersey Railroad's main Cape May line. During the 1890s, the Ocean City Railroad Company was absorbed by the West Jersey and Seashore and the South Jersey Railroad, which offered service from Philadelphia through Winslow Junction. Chief engineer H. Farrand's report on the property suggested a profitable future.

With proper railroad facilities, and lots offered at a reasonable price, I do not see why this place should not become as great a resort as Atlantic City, by reason of its proximity to Philadelphia, and the character of the beach . . . The West Jersey Railroad can make the same time to Sea Isle City from Philadelphia, as to Atlantic City. [20]

Though Sea Isle never reached Atlantic City proportions, the proliferation of local hotels throughout the 1880s-1890s illustrates a significant resort trade (Fig. 27). One of the earliest, the Excursion House, was built by the Landis' company in 1882. Complete with stores, a skating rink, and public second-floor terrace, the Excursion House formed the social center of the growing town. By 1889, the Continental Hotel assumed this role, at least in terms of size and fashion. One of the largest hotels on the shore, the Continental's five stories were reached by the only steam-operated elevator in Cape May County. [21] An 1897 history of the area reported thirty hotels, all with electricity and good water. [22] According to one historian, Sea Isle City was the first shore resort to provide "Excursion Houses" for itinerant "Shoobies," visitors who arrived for the day with lunches packed in shoe boxes. Like the famous Excursion House Hotel, these "grandstands facing the beach" provided places for various social events and spectacles, such as horse racing. [23] Beginning in 1905, Sea Isle City residents could join the newly formed Sea Isle Yacht and Motor Club. [24] A decade later, the trolley line running parallel to the sea became a wide avenue, extending through Strathmere to Ocean City on the north and to Avalon on the south.

Figure 27. "Greetings from Sea Isle City." Postcard. ca. 1942. Allaback.

The West Jersey Railroad's decision to connect Sea Isle City with Ocean City in 1884 resulted in the development of the northern section of the island. Though the city of Strathmere was not officially named until 1912, its history as a resort dates back to the 1870s. The Whelen Hotel was built in 1871 to house Pennsylvania Railroad workers and adventurous fishermen. [25] Then known as Corson's Inlet, the area was called Whale Beach when the first boardwalk was constructed in 1911. Throughout the twentieth century, both Sea Isle City and Strathmere have suffered from the effects of coastal storms. Sea Isle's recoveries from the three severe storms between 1944 and 1962 earned it the nickname "the city that refuses to quit." [26] A 1911 hurricane washed away the foundations of homes and flooded most of the island, reminding late season residents of the constant threat to their resort-based economy.

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Last Modified: Mon, Jan 10 2005 10:00:00 pm PDT

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