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

103 years old this week!

Boardwalk and Beach, looking North from 8th St., Ocean City, NJ
Boardwalk and Beach, looking North from 8th St., Ocean City, NJ

A lot of people find their way here to look at old postcard images.

This scan of a 103 year old postcard is not the oldest one we display, but it may be one of the most rare.

This highly collectable philatelic find is one of very few surviving pieces of air mail flown in a Wright Brothers built biplane during a short-lived experiment from August 3-10, 1912 between Ocean City and Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

Postcard with handwritten notation VIA AEROPLANE
Postcard with handwritten notation VIA AEROPLANE

“The First Air Mail Flights in South Jersey – 1912,”  Harlan B. Radford, Jr.’s authoritative 3-page story of those historic pioneer flights of the early “AERIAL U.S. MAIL SERVICE” is liberally illustrated with items from his philatelic collection.

(The printable PDF file here contains links to larger image files.) – JMc

Success is sweet for RLPS Architects with assist from HSR

Santa Bell Beach

One of the more out of the ordinary requests we have received for help came from Jeffrey J. Kirchner, AIA, of RLPS Architects in Lancaster, PA in November who wanted some old postcard images of the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City so that his firm could build a gingerbread model of it for its annual holiday gingerbread display. Here’s a better late than never update on the progress of that group effort.

After Mr. Kirchner explained his project I sent him high-res images of at least four different Ocean City beachfront hotels. He sent me these photos of the completed project on Jan. 5 with the explanation that the “background buildings are “very loose” interpretations of the Flanders and the Bellvue.”

Santa Bell Beach is complete with a boardwalk, carousel, ferris wheel, souvenir store, first-aid station, eateries, and shops, and is populated by snowpeople. There are lifeguards, volleyball players, vendors, sunbathers, boardwalkers, and one guy has a metal detector.

There’s probably way more to the story of why this company has done these elaborate panoramic scenes for the last 20 years, so I invite comments of participants or visitors to the displays.

Sorry that it took so long to follow-up on that development. In fairness, Jeff did invite me to Lancaster to see the display, but I was content to have helped from a distance.

Please let us know if there is ever anything about history with which we can help you. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

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