by Harlan B. Radford, Jr.
Never-before-published photographs and several vintage postcard images will explain how early rail travel played a vital role in the early development of Stone Harbor, New Jersey.
The oft-quoted phrase “If you build it, they will come” is certainly reminiscent of the dream of the Risely Brothers to market and promote the building of a charming new resort town in South Jersey. They did build a railroad and people absolutely came to Stone Harbor as a result.
With the rise of automobile ownership, one of the key factors in Stone Harbor’s early development was the construction and 1911 opening of the 3-1/2 mile Ocean Parkway (now known as Stone Harbor Boulevard) linking Cape May Court House and the mainland with the Seven Mile Island communities of Stone Harbor and Avalon.
Our story begins with the adoption of steam locomotive rail travel by day-trippers, or so-called “shoebies,” who often traveled “down the shore” by train from places like Philadelphia and Camden just for the day with their lunches packed in shoeboxes.
In this first of two main parts, a group of photos will illustrate various modes of rail transportation that once served Stone Harbor; in the second part, postcard images will depict aspects of rail travel to and from Stone Harbor from around 1911 and well into the 1920s.
A Pennsylvania Railroad train departs Stone Harbor at the Scotch Bonnet Creek trestle in 1934. The first inlet single-span drawbridge is in an elevated or raised position in the background. This road connected Stone Harbor with Cape May Court House and other mainland points.
In all likelihood, this camelback locomotive and 3-passenger car train were taking on passengers and preparing for departure to South Jersey points on its way to Camden/Philadelphia at the end of another glorious day of summer fun on the beach in 1925. Numerous vintage automobiles are parked along the main street and at times it was common to see 96th Street blocked by a waiting train with the engine and several passenger cars lined up along Second Avenue.
The somewhat unique and very distinctive 040 Cummings gas-electric engine pulls three passenger cars at Stone Harbor sometime in the 1920s. This particular engine was a real work-horse and could pull three loaded freight or passenger cars at around 10 miles per hour along the main boulevard.
The Stone Harbor Railroad Doodlebug Type 76 appears on the left and another version of a gas-electric engine maneuvers a freight car on the right of this photo. Manufactured by Brill/Mack of Philadelphia, the narrow-gauge self-propelled rail car dubbed the Doodlebug was configured for both passengers and freight. Early models were powered by a gasoline engine while later models had diesel engines. The name Doodlebug was derived from the insect-like appearance of the rail cars and their slow speed as they appeared to casually doodle down the tracks.
Two railroad workers stand next to this Reading Railroad Company Gas Motor Coach in the late 1920s. The coaches mainly transported railway express freight and mail along with a very limited number of passengers.
This little-known Stone Harbor Railroad turntable, or turn-around, made the return journey entirely possible. It is in a dilapidated and unusable condition in this 1933 photo. This image was taken near the waterworks and is looking due west on 96th Street. Note the unmistakable Shelter Haven Hotel that was built in 1912 and located at the intersection of Third Avenue and 96th Street in the upper left corner. The large building in the top center part of this photo appears in other postcard aerial views of this area, also looking west along 96th Street.
This very dismantled Stone Harbor Railroad Rail Bus is jacked-up, parked, and no longer in service. Steel wheels and various other parts are in disarray amid the deteriorating and rusting carriage hulk.
A Stone Harbor Railroad Rail Car overgrown with trees and vegetation in 1933 serves as a sad reminder of the glory days of this type of passenger service.
This out-of-service Stone Harbor Railroad Rail Bus epitomizes the effect that the advent of the automobile and new highway construction had on the discontinuance of railroad service at Stone Harbor.
The following vintage postcards show Stone Harbor scenes associated with types of railway equipment, trains, and stations. Together they trace a traveler’s journey from the mainland onto the island and terminating at Stone Harbor. So sit back and follow along as we travel back more than a century for our virtual vacation at Stone Harbor.
The caption accompanying this postcard states, “Over these slender steel threads a million people visited the several resorts of South Jersey last season.” This postally used card bears a Stone Harbor postmark dated SEP. 11, 1911.
A January 2, 1910 article in The Philadelphia Inquirer described the dredging operation that would carve out the yacht basin and use fill to form “…one of the finest ocean boulevards along the eastern coast” and a planned “…high speed interurban trolley road.”
This artist’s rendering shows the many modes of transportation for the proposed Stone Harbor Ocean Parkway. On the far right, a Stone Harbor Terminal Railroad Company electric trolley heads into Stone Harbor while another returns to the mainland via Cape May Court House.
Beginning in 1912, the Reading Railroad instituted regularly scheduled trolley service and located a depot at 96th Street and Second Avenue in Stone Harbor. The Pennsylvania Railroad also used these tracks to convey passengers from further distances. The caption appearing in the lower portion of this postcard reads:
“The Stone Harbor Ocean Parkway, a complete Turnpike, Trolley and Canal System, connecting Stone Harbor and Cape May Court House, now under construction and to be opened next Spring.” This card did not receive postal treatment and thus bears no dated postmark.
The South Jersey Realty Company’s full-page ad in the March 20, 1910 Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed “We are building a railroad, turnpike, and canal from Stone Harbor to Cape May Court House” and used the same artist’s rendering to promote the planned development.
In this color view of “The Great Channel Bridge” approaching Stone Harbor an omnibus pulls a trolley car similar to the ones shown on the previous postcard. They have just crossed over the drawbridge and are about to enter the town of Stone Harbor. This postcard was placed in the mailstream and bears a wavy flag postmark dated JUL 24, 1931.
“The Reading Railroad Bridge” was the first 96th street bridge. The raised road deck allowed a large boat barely visible in this photo to pass through. A line of vintage automobiles waits for the lowering of this draw bridge. The Honorable Woodrow Wilson, then Governor of New Jersey, officially dedicated and opened to the public this bridge on July 3, 1911. This mailed postcard was postmarked JUN 11, 1928.
Another full-page ad in The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 25, 1911, by the South Jersey Realty Company described the venture that had in three years “…transformed Stone Harbor from a waste of sand hills and salt meadows into a modern seaside resort with artesian waterworks, sanitary sewerage system, electric light plant, and miles of graded and graveled streets, with cement sidewalks and curbs.” Imagine getting in on the ground floor of that development!
Even Riverton’s own hometown newspaper ran a South Jersey Realty advertisement in 1912 that advised its readers, “Fortune awaits you at Stone Harbor.”
The steam locomotive pulling three passenger cars just crossed over the Scotch Bonnet Creek drawbridge and heads into town on the Stone Harbor Terminal Railway. A closer look also confirms that the trestle proved popular among people for fishing and crabbing.
The caption on the reverse side of this divided-back postcard states the following: “The Stone Harbor Terminal Railroad connecting at Cape May Court House with the Reading (Atlantic City R.R.) reduced the running time from Phila. to 90 minutes and gave Stone Harbor two railroads in its very infancy.” Imagine that – Philly to Stone Harbor in just 90 minutes! Remarkable, to say the least! This card has a nicely struck circular date-stamp postmark with four killer-bars applied at Stone Harbor and bears the date JUN 25, 1917.
This is the “Boulevard Approach” one would see and use to enter the borough of Stone Harbor. Railroad tracks and the overhead electric wires to the left of this roadway and bridge lead across the inlet into town. This piece was not postally used.
Like the previous image showing the draw bridge, this rare postcard of the “Entrance to Bridge,” illustrates one’s vantage point departing Stone Harbor and heading west to the mainland. Note the set of railroad tracks and overhead electric trolley wires along the right-hand portion of this scene. This mailed postcard sports a Stone Harbor postmark dated AUG 3, 1920.
Probably photographed from the roof of the old Shelter Haven Hotel, this aerial view of “96th Street and Back Bay” looks back to the west and the mainland as well as the approach to Stone Harbor. Two sets of railroad tracks run along the right side of this main street called 96th Street. This postcard was postmarked on AUG 15, 1928.
Presumably shot again from the roof of the Shelter Haven Hotel, this scene of the main intersection upon entering Stone Harbor shows how little development there was in the downtown business section at the time this photo was taken.
In the lower right-hand portion, railroad tracks carried trains just one more block eastward to Second Avenue where the train depot was located. The Atlantic Ocean looms on the far horizon. This century-old postcard also depicts a landmark that still exists today; the large 3-story building on the far left houses the famous Springer’s Ice Cream store. This postcard was not mailed.
Troxel’s, a well-known ice cream and variety store, appears in the left foreground of this view looking west on 96th Street. Several loaded railroad flatcars are parked to the right along the main street.
Railroad tracks conspicuously run along the street to the far left of this view of the center of the developing 96th Street shopping district c1920s. The automobile in the center of the street is driving east toward the waterworks (see the water tower in the distance) and the ocean that is only 3 blocks away.
A Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive is blocking the main thoroughfare as it crosses Second Avenue in this view looking east on 96th Street. The town water tower rises above the houses on the right.
The railroad’s use of Second Avenue along the entire length of Seven Mile Island through Avalon from Townsend’s Inlet and Sea Isle City northward was short-lived as one can readily understand. There were problems not only associated with the danger to pedestrians, vehicles, and property, not to mention the black smoke and soot along with the disruptive noise of the engines that over time contributed to bringing about the demise of this rail service to Stone Harbor. This unusual postcard was postmarked AUG 1929.
We are now looking at Second Avenue where the railroad train tracks travel northward to the end of Seven Mile Island. The waterworks including the water pumping station that was built in 1924 and the water tower along with Diller’s Department Store are all visible here. A single set of train tracks remains in this undated photo.
In this c1920 view of 96th St. looking toward the beach, we see the actual point of confluence of two different railroad companies meeting and terminating at Stone Harbor.
The Pennsylvania Railroad runs north-south along Second Avenue and that rather long multicar excursion train is stopped and blocking part of the intersection at 96th Street. Several of the smaller Stone Harbor Terminal Railroad Company’s trolleys also run on the tracks along 96th Street with service westward to Cape May Court House and connecting to the mainland and points west. This most interesting postcard was postmarked at Stone Harbor on JUL 19, 1928.
Three females in trendy swimming attire pose for a c1920s photo at the 96th Street and Second Avenue intersection with a steam locomotive in the background.
Possibly taken at the town Fire Department Building, a penned notation on the reverse side indicates this photo was taken at “Stone Harbor” and cites the names of the persons shown as “Anita Moore, Vivian and Gerry Black.” The Fire Department Building postcard was not mailed and bears no writing or dated postmark.
This classic view of the Stone Harbor Pennsylvania Railroad Station shows an approaching train entering the picture. The train on just a single set of tracks was routed along Second Avenue and the depot shown here was located at Pennsylvania Plaza. This postally used postcard was postmarked and dated JUL 5, 1929.
A trainload of excursionists arrive at Stone Harbor. The accompanying caption states: “Great crowds arriving at Stone Harbor to witness dedication and opening of the Ocean Parkway and Catholic and Episcopal Churches by Gov. Woodrow Wilson and other dignitaries, July 2 and 3, 1911.”
Initially, in 1892, train service onto Seven Mile Beach crossed the curved trestle of Townsend’s Inlet Bridge from the north and proceeded southward along Second Avenue from Avalon to Stone Harbor. Service from Philadelphia to Stone Harbor began in 1912 crossing the length of the 96th Street wooden bridge to the station on Second Avenue. This postcard was not mailed but was produced in 1911 and continued to be available for sale for several years.
This Pennsylvania Railroad Station was originally established on Second Avenue south of 85th Street. Then, some years later, it was re-located to 96th Street where it became more centrally located and convenient for travelers to access the beach and the nearby stores.
“Dorr E. Newton’s Cottage” at Stone Harbor reveals the passenger cars of an excursion train stopped at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station behind this home at the far lower left. The caption on the message/address side states: “Mr. Dorr E. Newton’s new cottage on Ninety-fifth street, near Sunset Drive, Stone Harbor, N.J. A very popular type of cottage at ‘The Wonder City by the Sea’.” This divided-back postcard was mailed and bears a JUL 14, 1914 Stone Harbor postmark.
The Stone Harbor Railroad Company utilized this type of rail motor omnibus powered by a four-cylinder, 40-horsepower gasoline engine that Brill/Mack of Philadelphia built. This postcard was postally used and bears an AUG 1921 Stone Harbor postmark. The sender of this postcard writes on the back in pencil: “This is a picture of the trolley cars here. They run by gas.”
This postcard shows another “Motor Bus on Tracks.” Mailed from Cape May Court House, it bears an incomplete postmark with an indecipherable date.
This peculiar-looking piece of locomotive equipment was known as a model 040 Cummings gas-electric engine. This relatively small but mighty engine was capable of pulling up to four-passenger cars at a time. A notation penciled on the reverse side of this postcard states, “Summer 1924.”
This special Pennsylvania Railroad passenger car postcard was used for advertising and publicity purposes. The display sign in the railway car doorway proclaims: “SPECIAL CAR FOR STONE HARBOR SOUTH JERSEY REALTY CO.”
The printed caption on this postcard also states: “The South Jersey Realty Company, builders of Stone Harbor, has brought thousands of visitors to this resort on Free Inspection Trips in special parlor and club cars for the purpose of selecting Free Lots, under the company’s famous Bond Plan.” This card was not postally used.
In conclusion, while it was the coming of the so-called “Iron Horse” that opened up the Jersey Shore to Philadelphians and other city dwellers, the increased affordability and popularity of the automobile during the decade of the 1920s would bring about the replacement of trains as a popular means of reaching Stone Harbor. By the 1930s, there were no longer any active railway lines serving Stone Harbor.
So there you have it. Like the 1987 John Candy movie, our Stone Harbor articles have now gone from “Planes, (to) Trains & Automobiles”!
Most of the images shown here are in addition to the ones displayed on our IMAGES/STONE HARBOR page. Judging by the dozens of visitors’ comments left there, it must be a page people land on when they search google for “Stone Harbor, NJ.”
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