Strolling the South Jersey Boardwalks and Beaches of Yesteryear

article contributed by Harlan B. Radford,
images from his collection


INTRODUCTION

If it weren’t for picture postcards, think of all the local history that would be lost forever! Vintage postcards are indeed a treasure trove and those moments preserved in time offer us a glimpse into what life “down the shore” was like 75-100 years ago.

Souvenir folder of Atlantic City, NJ

Come one and all, and discover the unique and enduring aspects that lured so many folks to flock to the Jersey Shore. See the ways we got there in the early days, stroll old boardwalks and promenades, enjoy the expansive sandy beaches, and swim in the ocean surf. Various personal postcard messages written by vacationers further illustrate for us what it was like back then.

Each of New Jersey’s resort communities promotes its unique charm with an attention-getting motto and seeks to lure tourists and vacationers during the summer months. Can you match the shore towns below with its slogan?

  1. Avalon                             a. “The Seashore at its Best!”
  2. Stone Harbor                 b. “Residential Community by the Sea”
  3. Atlantic City                   c.  “The Jewel of the Jersey Coast”
  4. Margate                          d.  “The Playground of the Nation/World/America”
  5. Wildwood-by-the-Sea  e. “America’s Greatest Family Resort”
  6. Ocean City                      f. “World’s Finest and Safest Bathing Beach”

PART 1. TRANSPORTATION

Just how did people actually get to what were then remote seashore communities in their early development? The limited methods of transportation in the late 1890s and the early 1900s were both innovative and adventuresome.

Ferry at Stone Harbor, NJ

Before the railroad, the only access to Avalon, and the neighboring beach town of Stone Harbor (which together are dubbed the Seven Mile Island) was by boat.

As demand began to increase, newly constructed roads all up and down the coast accommodated motorized vehicles. New railroads and bridges that crossed the channels and bay soon linked the mainland with the island resorts.

RR Station, Stone Harbor, NJ

In 1934, the Cape May County Bridge Commission began to build a series of toll bridges to connect the various coastal islands creating the well-known “Ocean Drive.” Trains and railway depots sprang up in the seashore towns.

Regularly scheduled seasonal rail services connected the cities of Philadelphia, Camden, and many other South Jersey towns to provide a direct link to the shore. Eventually, by the 1930s, except for those bound for the larger towns of Atlantic City and Ocean City, the trains would all but disappear.

Imagine going back in time and getting in on the ground floor of investing in Stone Harbor.

These vintage era picture postcards show some of those means of transportation for the seashore area. These early views show causeways, draw-bridges, boats, trains, omnibuses, trolleys and automobiles. Remember, there was no Atlantic City Expressway or Garden State Parkway then to facilitate travel.

PART 2. BOARDWALKS

Looking out to Sea, Atlantic City, NJ

Completed in 1870, Atlantic City’s boardwalk was the first in the world. When it first opened, commercial businesses were prohibited anywhere near the boardwalk.

Rebuilt bigger and better after storms in 1884 and 1889, the commercial restrictions ceased, and visitors soon enjoyed a medley of entertainments, places to shop, and food!

These open-air promenades sprang up in other shore towns and made saltwater taffy, homemade fudge, amusements, concerts, and the purchase of souvenirs synonymous with visiting the Jersey Shore.

A happy group on the boardwalk, Stone Harbor, NJ

These vintage postcards depict some of New Jersey’s boardwalks of yesteryear. All told, some 44 coastal Jersey towns once had a boardwalk.

See many more shore images displayed on our IMAGES tab, including those of Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, Avalon, Atlantic City, Cape May and Wildwood, Long Beach Island, Ocean City, Seaside Heights, and Stone Harbor.

Walking the boards with us back then; enjoy the sights and the ocean breeze.

PART 3. BEACHES

A happy crowd on the beach, Sea Isle City, NJ

Spending time on the beach, bathing in the ocean and having fun were the primary reasons why so many ventured to the seashore.

A number of personally written messages inscribed on the backs of some of the postcards clearly convey the real reasons for vacationing at the Jersey Shore.

PART 4 MESSAGES

Spending time on the beach, bathing in the ocean and having a fun time were the primary reasons why so many ventured to the seashore. In the absence of telephones, the penny postcard was the sure way to stay in touch with the folks back home and let them know just what was going on. Those simple notes indelibly recorded their authors’ splendid moments.

Reading these simple missives today, we realize that messages about kids digging and playing in the sand, bathers swimming and riding the waves, taking photos, and even complaints about mosquitos are not terribly different than those one might post today on Facebook.

  • Aug. 10, 1922 Boys are having a fine time. Uncle Eugene Mildred went fishing today. Expect fish for supper. Everybody is well. Boys dig deep holes in the sand. Bathe every day. Aunt Alice
  • Aug. 6, 1923 I am here over this week end and I am certainly having a fine time. I have even been in the ocean. I was in bathing and I got my eyes and mouth full of salt water. I came down by machine with relations and it was certainly a fine ride. I am going to Christiana next Sunday I think. Sincerely Helen Morton
  • Aug. 18, 1920 Dear Sister, This is our house. We would have room for you yet. Wish you were here. We were in bathing today. It’s great only it’s too cold. The nights are so very cool. We went to Wildwood this afternoon in a boat. The kiddies think it’s fine. Anna
  • 1917 Stone Harbor’s boardwalk built by the Borough at a cost of $35,000 is a mile and a quarter long and fully illuminated by electric lights. Dedicated July 4, 1916. A Pier, amusement and Business places are being rapidly built on this new Esplanade.
  • Sept. 1943 Tony has been having a grand time in waves and playing in sand. Susan is happier with her kiddie car so she can move around.
  • Aug. 18, 1941 Dear Friends, This is Monday morning and our last week. Time is going fast. We are having a very good time. The weather has been beautiful. I was only in bathing 3 times. But I am going in today. We were to Wildwood and Ocean City. Would like to spend a day at Atlantic City. Hope you are all well. Martins
  • June 29, 1910 Dear Florence, When I arrived down here I spent about a half a hour fighting with the skeeters. Carrie
  • Aug. 15, 1918 Eight of us are here in two bungalows. Are having a fine time. Spent yesterday at Wildwood. It is delightfully cool this morning. Hope you are both well. Lovingly, Laura Pierce
  • Aug. 8, 1922 Having a fine time in bathing. Gloria
  • Aug. 6, 1919 – Dear Friend, We arrived safely and we are enjoying the bathing although it is cool. We are going by boat to Wildwood tomorrow. Mabel
  • Aug. 12, 1915 I am in the water almost all the time. Having a nice time. George
  • Aug. 4, 1919 Stone Harbor’s matchless bathing beach, is absolutely safe, life lines being unnecessary.
  • Aug. 19, 1942 Greetings Marjorie, It is lovely down here. If you wish you could have come with me. Maybe you will next time? Gertrude

We invite your comments, recollections, and memories about the Jersey Shore of yesteryear.

Answers to shore towns and their slogans: 1-c, 2-a, 3-d, 4-b, 5-f, 6-e

For a modern perspective on what draws Philadelphia Inquirer writer, Kristen L. Graham to the Jersey Shore, see this article on inquirer.com

Boardwalk Empire scenes and old postcards recall shore visits

Boardwalk Empire, Season Two, Episode 5, Opening Scene
Boardwalk Empire, Season Two, Episode 5, Opening Scene

You know you’re from New Jersey if you recognize the unusual structure in the distance of this scene from an episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

New York Times piece entitled The Atlantic City the Boardwalk Emperor Knew outlines some of the familiar places and landmarks of old Atlantic City in the popular series.

Like at the beginning of Episode 5, Season Two when my wife and I each caught sight of Lucy the Elephant Hotel in the distance, and then we reminisced so much about visiting it as kids that we had to rewind the DVR to catch the Nucky Thompson dialogue we had just missed.

It is amazing how a glimpse of an image can transport me back many years to the 1950s when a climb of the spiral staircase to the howdah on Lucy’s back rewarded this visitor with a spectacular view. It would make an impression on anyone.

Built in 1881 and now National Historic Landmark, this amazing and strange, larger than life-size pachyderm-shaped architectural structure has survived the ravages of devastating storms, neglect, and even re-location.

Lucy the Elephant 1909
Lucy the Elephant 1909

Yeah, I know there are already seven Lucy postcards on the site, but there’s always room for another variation on Lucy, The Margate Elephant.

This colorful 1909 postcard captures the simple beauty and charm of a familiar sight in South Atlantic City, now Margate, New Jersey.  Many families and especially children will recall their visits to see and even go inside Lucy while vacationing at the Jersey Shore. Certainly countless family photo albums must contain photographic images of Lucy, The World’s Largest Elephant.

Postmarked at Longport, N.J. on JUL 31, 1909, the sender inscribed a novel handwritten message on the address side. It says:

“Hello Elizabeth,  This thing is a place of amusement.  See the doors and windows just like a house.  It is just as large as a good size house.  Hilda”  On the front of the postcard the writer adds, “This is close to our cottage.”

Lucy  Foldcard #1Lucy  Foldcard #2Also, displayed here is another piece of Lucy-inspired ephemera – an unused folded mailer, copyright 1929, with the bonus of some facts about the architectural marvel.

Read much more about the history of Lucy right up to the present-day on the official website of the Save Lucy Committee.

Find more Lucy images and many more of Atlantic City on our ATLANTIC CITY, NJ Images page.  – John McCormick

 

 

Thank you to Moore’s Postcard Museum for over 90 additions to HSR’s online postcard album

Flanders Hotel - Ocean City, NJ
If a search for vintage postcards brought you to this website, then you will enjoy the blogger that I found, quite by a happy accident, while trying to help an architect in Lancaster, PA with his request for an image of the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City so that he could use it as a model for his firm’s annual holiday gingerbread display.

This is the short story of how a casual decision to aid the designers at Reese, Lower, Patrick, & Scott Ltd. in their creative Christmas confection resulted in a windfall of classic shore images for the HSR, most from the early 20th century–the “Golden Age of Postcards.”

I found a marvelous website called Moore’s Postcard Museum where I found two scans of the Flanders Hotel and emailed them to the architects to help them in their design project.

While I was there I browsed through the postcard categories which includes Halloween and holiday cards, artist signed Clapsaddle, Dwig, and Twelvetrees, Chicago World’s Fair,  and zodiac/months of the year cards. This blogger explains on the “about” page that the collection started with a shoebox of vintage postcards inherited from her grandmother.

I left a complimentary note in a “enter your comment” box and asked if I could display some of the images of shore points on our website.

The blogger promptly sent me an email giving permission and then sent several more emails with the following attached files. Enjoy a trip back to old Atlantic City and Ocean City via this bonanza of vintage images courtesy of Moore’s Postcard Museum. Visit the site directly to read the author’s knowledgeable bits that accompany each card. I already bookmarked the site as a favorite. The pictures will also be placed on the images pages under Atlantic City and Ocean City so you can easily find them on a return visit.

Readers, if you have one image, one story, or a hundred we would love to hear from you and add your voice to this burgeoning online archive. If I hear back from RLP&S about how that gingerbread Flanders Hotel turns out, I’ll let you know.  – John McCormick