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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
National Park Service Arrowhead

Religious Resorts (continued)

Asbury Park

Few contemporary visitors to Asbury Park would ever suspect the town originated as a religious resort. Across the bridge over Wesley Lake, a neon sign atop a tall office building advertises "liquors." The building stands just down the street from Palace Amusements, now abandoned, lacking the "P," and facing empty parking lots. But Asbury Park's illustrious past lives on in history, song, and memory. The area just north of Ocean Grove was developed in 1871, and by 1878 Harper's Weekly described both resorts in a single article. (Fig. 49 & 50)

Our readers will notice that the central sketch gives equal prominence to Ocean Grove and Asbury Park. The latter enterprise owes its inception to the energy of a single individual, Mr. James A. Bradley. Asbury Park soon grew into a populous summer city. At present, it has two church edifices, hotels, boardinghouses, stores of every variety necessary, a weekly paper, a post office, a public hail and in the centre of the Park, Educational Hall. [27]

Ocean Grove and Wesley Lake Asbury Park
Figure 49. Ocean Grove and Wesley Lake. Methot Up and Down the Beach Figure 50. Asbury Park, Methot Up and Down the Beach.

Bradley, a New York brush manufacturer, hoped his resort would instill religious principles and encourage temperate moral living. He named the town after a human embodiment of such ideals, Francis Asbury, the first Methodist bishop in America. An Ocean Grove camp meeting vacation inspired Bradley to purchase 500 acres for $90,000, supposedly in an effort to keep the land from those less religiously inclined. Insuring that "no bad influences might encroach on the adjoining camp meeting," Bradley wrote restrictions against alcohol into Asbury Park property deeds. While Ocean Grove maintained its rather self-righteous demeanor, Asbury Park rebelled against its religious upbringing, quickly becoming a successful secular enterprise that brought a new liveliness to the north Jersey seashore (Fig. 51). "Stimulated by the fiery influence of ice-cream and ginger-pop, its permanent and floating population may plunge into the vortex of social dissipation afforded by pool, billiards, bowling, smoking and dancing," Kobbe reported. [28]

Convention Hall and Boardwalk
Figure 51. Convention Hall and Boardwalk. Asbury Park. HABS No. NJ-1175-2.

A row of lumberyards along the New Jersey and Long Branch Railroad tracks at Asbury Park in 1878 attests to the building boom that swiftly saw dozens of wood-frame hotels, boarding and guest houses erected along the broad avenues leading to the Atlantic beaches. The Grand Avenue, Coleman, and Lakeview House were among the rambling hostelries pictured in Woolman & Rose's 1878 Historical and Biographical Atlas of the New Jersey Coast. [29] By 1889, the town was well-equipped for summer crowds with a one-mile-long plank boardwalk lit up at night, a lecture hall from the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia that accommodated 1,500 persons, and about 200 hotels, some open throughout the year. [30] After describing the extensive civic amenities, including wide streets, pure water, and an excellent drainage system, Kobbe remarked, "In time Asbury Park may become a winter as well as a summer resort, a remark which applies to all the resorts along the coast." [31]

By 1890, Asbury Park was one of the shore's popular resorts, its population of 4,000 permanent residents hosting 26,000 summer visitors. [32] The religious Bradley may have inadvertently increased Asbury Park's secular popularity when, as a member of the New Jersey legislature, he arranged passage of a bill banning betting. The new law closed down Long Branch's popular Monmouth Park race track and left Asbury Park with much of the resort's wealthy clientele. [33]

Away from the ocean, along Cookman Avenue, a business district gradually grew to become the major retail and commercial hub of Monmouth County, a role it would play until the advent of shopping malls well into the 1960s. By the 1870s, stores here sold stoves, newspapers, pumps, meat, fruit, candy, and tobacco. [34] In 1887, New Jersey's first electric trolley and America's second was operating along Asbury Park streets. [35] A decade later shoppers had such easy access up and down the shore that the Steinbach Brothers confidently built a multi-story, brick and stone, department store (Fig. 52)—a scaled-down, seaside version of the great emporiums John Wanamaker and R.H. Macy had built in Philadelphia and New York. For years Steinbach's flyers proclaimed it "the world's largest resort department store."

Steinbach Department Store
Figure 52. Steinbach Department Store. Asbury Park, HABS No. NJ-1076-1.

By the early twentieth century, Kobbe's prediction had long since become a reality. The temperance advocate's ideals were forgotten in a scramble to develop the area into a substantial city from the revenues of a hardy tourist trade. Hotel advertising and the city's promotional booklets continued to depict a Victorian seaside resort. Trees had matured along streets where many year-round residents occupied well-proportioned foursquare and Colonial Revival houses. As early as 1910, the city's mayor predicted a new "airship" link to New York, [36] and the following year, the city fought for the right to permit trains to stop at the station on Sundays.

Construction of the monumental pseudo-Spanish-style Monterey Hotel along the boardwalk in 1912 foretold of a new resort on a larger, more flamboyant scale. However, it was James Bradley's death in 1921 that released land for redevelopment and enabled the city to grow dramatically. In 1926, the brick Colonial Revival Berkeley Carteret Hotel opened as a year-round business. Vacationers to Asbury Park in the 1920s strolled along a crowded boardwalk lined with shops and anchored by two impressive secular buildings—a festive casino and an elegant convention hall—which were heated in winter by the mausoleum-like central plant that sits at the foot of Wesley Lake.

Island Heights

Like Ocean Grove, Island Heights was named for geographical features that Methodist ministers found attractive in a camp meeting site. Situated at the mouth of Toms River, with a view of the bay from the highest point on the shore south of Highlands, Island Heights has a long history as a choice "camping" spot. Indians spent their summers in the area hundreds of years before the Methodists arrived. One local legend claims the river is named for Indian Tom, who settled on the bluffs of Island Heights. The property was known as Dr. Johnson's Island in the seventeenth century and Dillon's Island in the eighteenth, until a serious storm closed Cranberry inlet and left the northern channel part of the mainland.

Nineteenth-century development began when the Reverend Jacob Graw established the Island Heights Association, a group of twelve members of the New Jersey Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and seventeen businessmen. The association incorporated and purchased the property in July 1878. According to his son, "Dr. Graw did not undertake to establish a second Ocean Grove. That was impossible then and now. But he did undertake to build up a Christian family resort under temperance influences with the camp meeting as a special feature." [37] The association immediately began constructing the camp meeting grounds, roads, and docks, placing the auditorium in a clearing on the steep bluffs overlooking the water. Before the first gathering that August, "underbrush was removed from about ten acres; two avenues partly opened; a pavilion built; seats arranged for camp ground; thirty camp meeting cottages erected; and a hotel commenced." [38] Within five years, the new resort was connected with the Camden to Seaside Park line by a branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Because the settlement grew from a carefully thought-out urban plan corresponding to the landscape, two distinct sections were created. Serpentine roads, like Camp Walk, crossed the eastern riverfront property, while the western end was blocked out in a regular grid. Small camp meeting cottages were built around the meeting ground or "tenting" area bounded by Simpson and Laurel avenues. Camp Meeting Walk encircles the site of the auditorium, now a playground with a view of the river through the pines. An original cottage (Fig. 53), No. 129, still stands on the west side of the street. [39] Larger Victorian houses decked out in gingerbread and Shingle-style "villas" were built along River Avenue facing the water. In 1890, Philadelphia architect Henry Petit designed Arbutus Lodge, his own Queen Anne home at 60 River Avenue.

Figure 53. Cottage, Camp Meeting Grounds. Island Heights. HABS No. NJ-OC-11.1. David Ames.

During the early years of settlement, the riverfront was developed to accommodate summer guests. A wharf provided space for yachts and hacks chartered by visitors and a 16' x 30' building was constructed to house the association's administration headquarters, a store, and rooms for visiting ministers. [40] The yacht club and pavilion (Fig. 54), constructed early in the twentieth century, still provide a focal point for riverfront gatherings. The commercial district developed along Central Avenue, extending inland from a riverfront pavilion that served as a dock and community center. A variety of small businesses, the 1890 Tudor ice cream parlor, the old Island Heights movie house, and a Classical Revival drugstore, line the historic road.

Yacht Club
Figure 54. Yacht Club, Island Heights. HABS No. NJ-OC-10.1 Ames.

Though still a dry town, Island Heights grew out of its religious roots into a popular family resort. By the early 1920s, the borough offered all the latest modern conveniences within a scenic location free from noisy seaside amusements. A promotional pamphlet published by the local board of trade boasts of Island Height's "splendid roads, concrete sidewalks, boardwalk, electric lights and gas, splendid supply of excellent water for domestic use, sewer system" and "more public docks than any other community in the state." [41] Perhaps because of its quiet setting, the city attracted artists; the painter John Frederick Peto first came to Island Heights in summer 1889 and played the coronet at a Methodist camp meeting. Many years later, Peto returned to build his studio at 102 Cedar Avenue. One of his paintings, which still hangs in his studio, depicts a letter addressed to his daughter in Island Heights. Describing the resort in their promotional guide of 1920, the central committee of the Barnegat Bay Board of Trade emphasized Island Height's exclusive population sequestered in the pines overlooking the water.

The first day here you'll write back home that you've discovered the Ideal Spot. Every condition is favorable to rest and enjoyment, health, convenience and economy. The masses know nothing of the wonders of Barnegat Bay, and it is for the purpose of keeping the summer colony as select as possible that instead of heralding our fame through the press of the country we have compiled this booklet and mail it to those whom we care to reach. [42]

Even today, without the religious influence, Island Heights retains an aura of privacy and spiritual peace. Naturally protected from the traffic along Route 9 and the Garden State Parkway, the city offers a sense of what late nineteenth-century resorts might have been like.

Ocean City

When four Methodist ministers chose Peck's Beach as the site of a camp meeting settlement, the island on the upper coast of Cape May County was an almost untouched wilderness. According to legend, William Burrell and Ezra B., James E., and S. Wesley Lake made a covenant establishing the city on September 10, 1879, near what would become the "Ocean City Tabernacle grounds." The newly formed Ocean City Association began building almost immediately after purchasing a 500-acre parcel of the island from John Somers the following year. Agreeing that the "Grove Association" form of land ownership adopted at Ocean Grove was unsuitable for rapid development, Ocean City founders accepted private investments dictated by a set of stringent moral rules. Those abusing the privileges established by the association were forced to give up their land to the governing body.

Like Ocean Grove, however, Ocean City was planned around a large tree-filled campground area, and the streets formed a grid pattern of standardized rectangular lots. By the end of 1881, more than 500 building lots had been sold. [43] Just a year after the city's incorporation, a ninety-five-room hotel was built on Ocean and 7th Street, overlooking the smaller stores and homes already lining the beachfront. Pieces of the Brighton were shipped to the island and assembled on the site 600 yards from the water. [44]

The hotel owners must have anticipated business from the Pleasantville and Ocean City Railroad, which began running between Pleasantville and Somer's Point in 1881. Visitors traveled to Ocean City on the Atlantic Coast Steamboat Company's ferrys until 1884, when a turnpike and connecting bridges were built from Beesley's Point. [45] Early growth centered around the auditorium, later known as the Tabernacle, built in 1881 between Fifth and Sixth streets and Asbury and Wesley avenues. Even before the permanent wood-frame building was completed, the first meeting drew about 1,000 participants who camped in tents on the future Tabernacle site. [46] The Rev. William W. Wood's 1880 report, as president of the Ocean City Association, anticipated a series of social events that would enhance the camp's religious reputation. "Besides the regular services of the encampment, there will be temperance conventions, anniversaries, and other Christian and philanthropic convocations, fully occupying the season, and making it memorable in interest and profit." [47] That the venture did become popular, as well as profitable, is illustrated by the National Temperance Camp Meeting held there the next year and the association's sponsorship of one- and two-room cottages. Examples of these "association houses" or "salt boxes" still exist on the island. [48] The tabernacle continues to host nationally prominent preachers of various denominations in a 1957 modern brick building on the original site. [49]

Figure 55. On the Highlands. Picutresque America. Vol. I. D. Appleton & Company, NY 1872.

Atlantic Highlands

Two of the ministers involved in the establishment of Ocean City, James E. and S. Wesley Lake, were also responsible for the founding of a camp meeting in Monmouth County. They chose Portland Point, a failed speculative development, for the site of the new Methodist Atlantic Highlands Camp Meeting, which grew up around the traditional "sylvan amphitheater" and "octagonal tabernacle." [50] Although the group financed the Grand View Hotel and sold property lots, the camp meeting's hegemony had diminished by 1886 and development continued as a secular vacation city.

The history of the Atlantic Highland's religious resort, where one could absorb "a wholesome atmosphere of temperance and "a moral and Christian sentiment," was barely mentioned in the 1922 History of Monmouth County. [51] This historical account emphasized the city's location, "nearest to New York of the shore resorts of New Jersey" and "ideal in every respect." Features of the city enjoyed by visitors of all religious persuasions include sea breezes, fishing, bathing, "faultless" roads, and "a marine view not excelled in America (Fig. 55)." [52]

Even during its religious years, Atlantic Highlands was a significant Monmouth County port. In 1883, the New Jersey Central Railroad abandoned its pier on federal land at Sandy Hook and re-established it at Atlantic Highlands. The town became the transfer point between ship and train for tourists coming from New York. The huge piers, once linked to the shore by webs of curving rails, allowed trains to go right out onto the dock. [53] The piers are gone now, but a commuter boat—although no match in luxury for yesterday's sidewheelers—still operates from one pier to Manhattan.

Atlantic Highlands' downtown is not quite the busy business and retail center it was in the nineteenth century, when its landmarks included such scaled-down interpretations of Richardsonian Romanesque as its 1885 National Bank. The structures that survive, such as the thriving hardware store and the vintage stainless-steel White Crystal Diner (Fig. 56), reflect the twentieth century. The 1930s WPA New Jersey: A Guide to its Present and Past recommended Atlantic Highlands for the "Scenic Drive, climbing sharply and passing old Victorian houses with the towers, turrets, bay windows, hidden porches, irregular contours, and baroque decoration popular in the nineteenth century." [54] Today, high-style Post Modern homes appear on this bluff road alongside a few remaining Victorians and innumerable Colonial Revivals of every era. With its leafy streets and sharp, steep turns characteristic of the pre-automobile era, Atlantic Highlands has retained favor with the wealthy.

White Crystal Diner
Figure 56. White Crystal Diner, Atlantic Highlands. HABS No. NJ-1078-1.

Sea Grove/Cape May Point

In 1875, the small Presbyterian community of Sea Grove was established on the southern tip of New Jersey. Three years later, the community was renamed Cape May Point. The religious resort was founded by Alexander Whilldon, a successful Philadelphia wool merchant who sold his inherited land to the Sea Grove Association after it was chartered by the state legislature. The original board of directors—Alexander Whilldon, Dr. V.M.D. Marcy, Hon. Downs Edmonds, J. Newton Walker, and John Wanamaker—aspired to "furnish a religious and moral seaside home, for the glory of God and the welfare of man, where the latter may be refreshed and invigorated, body and soul, and better fitted for the highest and noblest duties of life." [55]

With Wanamaker's encouragement and financial support, Whilldon supervised the association in establishing and marketing city lots, and in 1875, the construction of a pavilion in the center of the village. Encircled by Pavilion Avenue, it was an open octagonal structure, 100' in diameter, and is said to have held 15,000 people. [56] An 1876 plan of Sea Grove (Fig. 57), designed by the office of Philadelphia architect J.C. Sidney, shows wide boulevards radiating from this central hub where community religious services were held.

drawing of Sea Grove
Figure 57. "Bird's-eye View of Sea Grove, Scheyichbi and the Strand. 1876.

Soon after Sea Grove's founding, three hotels and a few private dwellings were erected. The largest hotel was the Sea Grove House, which stood in the block bounded by Beach, Cape and Lincoln avenues, and Sure Street. Two other hotels, the Union House and the Cape House, were both located on Cape Avenue. Carefully surveyed and numbered lots covered the land between the Sea Grove House and Pavilion and the area stretching from Lake Lily to the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. In an attempt to attract a summer population, the association provided clergymen with $500 lots. By 1876, a substantial number of dwellings had been built, mostly concentrated in the southwest section of town between the pavilion and the beach. [57] Along with the purchase of cottages, new residents were given free passes on the West Jersey Railroad.

In 1878, under the new name Cape May Point, the community attracted a variety of visitors. A seaside "home" was founded for underprivileged children and their parents. John D. Lankenau, patron of the Lankenau Hospital in Philadelphia, provided a house to accommodate nurses and hospital employees. St. Peter's-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church (Fig. 58), originally built in 1876 for the Centennial Exhibition, was purchased and moved to Cape May Point in 1879. It has since been moved several more times, in retreat from the receding shoreline, and now stands on Lake Drive. [58] In 1890, a camp meeting for the United Brethren of Christ was formed at Cape May Point (Fig. 59). Though small, it apparently was successful, since the property was not split up and sold until 1935. [59]

St. Peter's-by-the Sea Episcopal Church
Figure 58. St. Peter's-by-the Sea Episcopal Church. Cape May Point. HABS No. NJ-1114-3.

Figure 59. Cape May Point. San borne Fire Insurance Map. 1890. Library of Congress Collection.

Quite a few cottages dating from the third quarter of the nineteenth century still stand in Cape May Point. One noteworthy example is the vacation home of department store magnate John Wanamaker (1838-1922). Reportedly, President Benjamin Harrison and his wife were entertained by then Postmaster General Wanamaker in Cape May Point around 1889. The Harrisons were said to have enjoyed their stay so much that a group of friends raised $10,000 and erected a twenty-room house for them. The Harrisons spent the summers of 1890 and 1891 there, but the property was abandoned after Mrs. Harrison died. It was purchased by the Wanamaker family in 1909. [60]

Prior to the Sea Grove Association, the lighthouse at Cape May Point was the only standing structure in the area. The present lighthouse is the third on the site. The first, erected in 1823, was replaced in 1847 when the original beacon "toppled into the sea." The second structure, also threatened by the waves, was replaced in 1859 by the present lighthouse. [61] During World War II, the area near the lighthouse was taken over by the U.S. Government. A concrete gun emplacement from this era now sits in the bay.

During the early twentieth century, when the association sold much of its land, the architectural personality of the city began to change. Constant erosion took its toll, destroying many cottages and relocating other structures further inland. The Shoreham Hotel, erected in 1890, is one of the few remaining beachfront buildings. Now a summer retreat for the Sisters of St. Joseph, the hotel recalls the city's early religious roots, though its patrons are of a different denomination. [62] The commercial district consists of a single building, "the General Store." Perhaps because of its proximity to the popular and heavily restored Cape May City, two miles down Sunset Boulevard, the point remains relatively undeveloped. Potential erosion might also keep prospective builders from investing. Residents recall the days when other avenues extended beyond Harvard, a street currently endangered by the waves. Today Cape May Point is frequented by birds traveling the Atlantic flyway. The many birders who flock to the point each fall rarely remain off-season, and the town of 267 people becomes smaller every year.

Seaside Park

In 1876, the year Presbyterians were populating Sea Grove, Baptists established a 300-acre camp on the strip of land north of Long Beach Island. Seaside Park was originally envisioned as "a place of rest and ease at moderate expense and free from the blighting influences of immorality, drunkenness and Sabbath desecration." [63] Probably because of the lack of efficient transportation routes, the resort failed to attract converts, and by the end of the decade, the association's property was sold at a "sheriffs auction." [64] Virtually all the property was purchased by Thomas Kennedy, [65] who quickly went to work laying out a grid of streets. In 1878, the Seaside Park Hotel (Fig. 60) was completed and another, the Franklin, was under construction. [66] Real development began after the Philadelphia and Long Branch Railroad reached across Barnegat Bay and north to Bay Head. New hotels included the Berkeley, which was burned or demolished early in the twentieth century. The Hiawatha Hotel, the Maryland pavilion at the Centennial Exposition, was partially dismantled and floated by barge to Seaside Park. Under the new name of Manhasset, the hotel offered "150 rooms, barber shops, laundry, pool, shuffleboards, elevator, electric lights, artesian well water, long-distance telephone, tennis courts, and golf." [67]

Seaside Park Hotel
Figure 60. Seaside Park Hotel, ca. 1880. Up and Down the Beach. Methot.

Early in the twentieth century, four fisheries were located at Seaside Park's south end: the Seaside Park, Hiering, Spring Lake, and United. "The fisheries were able to ship fish and other sea produce by truck to the mainland, sometimes averaging as much as twenty truckloads a day and often exchanging their fish for the mainland's farm produce." [68] Charles Hankins & Sons began building boats on Grand Central Avenue in 1912. The automobile has since turned Seaside Park into a strip indistinguishable from the rest of Island Beach, although it remains more residential in character than commercial Seaside Heights.

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