Old postcards trace early development of Stone Harbor, NJ


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New Stone Harbor in the Making

The Rise of Stone Harbor, N. J.
Harlan Radford

In the late 1890s, three enterprising brothers from Philadelphia formed a business venture called the South Jersey Realty Company. Howard, David, and Reese Risley envisioned a thriving seashore resort community on an undeveloped tract of land popularly referred to as Seven Mile Island located in Cape May County.

New Stone Harbor, NJ – Watch it grow

The Risley Brothers set into motion a plan to transform this barrier island of sand dunes, wide expansive beaches, and salt marsh at the southernmost portion of the South Jersey peninsula into a popular vacation resort. Some folks referred to this new resort as being ‘Philadelphia’s Seashore Suburb.

A very important part of this early development plan included providing a means for connecting Stone Harbor with the mainland. Originally, a rail line was proposed but that soon gave way to a more feasible elevated roadway. Dubbed “The Ocean Parkway” initially and later called “The Stone Harbor Ocean Parkway,” this new boulevard extending from Cape May Court House now made it possible for people to come to the island. And come they did!

 “Building the Causeway to Seven Mile Island”

In 1911, a Gala Week of celebration scheduled for July 1 to 5 included an entire series of events of general public interest arranged as a means of promoting and featuring the many fine aspects and possibilities of the “new” Stone Harbor in the making.

Festivities kicked off on Saturday, July 1 with competitive sailboat races open to the public and a lush dinner-dance provided at the newly opened Yacht Club. Sunday, July 2, ushered in the first religious church services at the new Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches. Monday, July 3, witnessed the dedication of the Boulevard Bridges and Canal with appropriate ceremonies attended by public officials, dignitaries, and many spectators. Included in that august group of officials would be the Governor of New Jersey, the Honorable Woodrow Wilson. Other attractions included exciting automobile races on the beachfront, a beach party with a barbecue for county granges, a water carnival, a fireworks display, and a dedication ball at the Yacht Club. Tuesday, July 4, saw a sailing Regatta followed by athletic sports, including track and aquatic events and concluding with yet another ball at the Yacht Club for the visiting athletes and yachtsmen.

The conclusion of Gala Week celebrations occurred on Wednesday, July 5. The South Jersey Realty Company offered and sold First Mortgage Beach Front Improvement Bonds at the opening price of $65 (par, $100), which advanced to $70 at the close of business that day.

Purchasers under the famous Stone Harbor Bond Plan received free fully improved lots at Stone Harbor. Thus, not only was Stone Harbor then on the map, but interested persons could invest and buy into this community enterprise.

Gala Week in Stone Harbor, July 1-5, 1911

At about this time, postcards and especially picture postcards became in vogue as a popular means to communicate by mail with relatives, friends, and neighbors. Soon the post office delivered a marvelous travelogue of images depicting new and distant places to our mailboxes. Typical postcards featured an interesting photograph on the front and space for a brief hand-written note or printed message, mailing address, and a postage stamp on the other side. Postcards served as souvenirs or keepsakes and provided an easy means of sending personal greetings as well as conveying timely commercial advertisements.

The Risley brothers devised a novel means to promote the idea of announcing their real estate venture in Stone Harbor and they connected with the public in a clever and inexpensive way. Just one cent covered the cost of mailing a postcard back then. The Risleys utilized picture postcards as a means to promote Stone Harbor and attract buyers of homes and property. They captured the attention of interested parties by mailing picture postcards describing their direct role in the construction of homes and cottages in Stone Harbor. In addition, those picture postcards also clearly document the early development of Stone Harbor.

The Building Boom in Stone Harbor

The Risley brothers’ innovative postcard advertisements pictured below show the early stages of growth and development in Stone Harbor. South Jersey Realty Company/Beach Front Improvement Investment Bonds, issued in May 1909, raised money to fund the beginning construction of needed infrastructure including streets, sidewalks, sewers,  water supply, and electric power in Stone Harbor. Each beautifully steel-engraved certificate bore actual penned signatures of David Risley, Secretary, and H.S. Risley, President, and guaranteed the purchaser the return of $100, payable on December 1, 1927.

South Jersey Realty Company advertising postcards and bond

Boosted by the rise in popularity of picture postcards, Stone Harbor became incorporated just five years later in 1914. The Risley brothers’ brilliantly conceived real estate venture grew to become a unique South Jersey resort and adopted the slogan, “The Seashore at its Best.”

The advent of the automobile, the construction of major, multi-lane highways and toll roads, along with the emphasis on enjoying the leisure benefits of the Jersey Shore directly contributed to the Stone Harbor we have all come to know today.

Published by

John McCormick

Teacher at Riverton School 1974-2019, author, amateur historian, Historical Society of Riverton Board Member 2007-2023, newsletter editor 2007-2023, website editor 2011-2023

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