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

Waiting for Irene

Hunkered down here on high ground in Delran watching the 20 lbs. of grass seed that I put down in my backyard a few days ago wash down the street, I thought I’d take my mind off dire forecasts of flooding and power outages by catching up on some HSR website correspondence.

Madeline writes about the Stone Harbor, NJ Images 

My Mother remembers the boardwalk at Stone Harbor. Does anyone know when it was built and when it was destroyed? Thanks

I emailed my good friend who has provided so many scans of these old postcards, and I asked him about the Stone Harbor boardwalk. Of course the topic of the day is the hurricane (four days ago, it was the 5.8 earthquake), so I mentioned that.  He wrote back:

Brace yourselves for Irene.  I sure remember, most vividly still today, a hurricane that hit South Jersey and headed up and did substantial damage in New England back in the mid-fifties time frame.  The wind was incessant as I recall.  Most harrowing for a child or adult to experience.  Good luck. 

As for Stone Harbor’s boardwalk, it was dedicated in 1916 and lasted slightly less than 30 years.  Sadly, all of the boardwalk washed away in the terrible storm of 1944.  Always happy to provide information relative to these super postcard time- capsules. 

My aunt and uncle had a place on LBI and we took a drive down to view the aftermath of that 1950s hurricane.  That’s when “the bay met the ocean” and water cut the island in two.  We saw so many cottages and homes destroyed. Was it Hurricane Hazel, Readers??

OMG! (as these young folks say).  Comcast just interrupted the TV cable feed for a Burlington County tornado warning.

A couple of weeks ago we received a comment about a LBI postcard which evoked sweet memories for A. Kotzin who writes:

I have the most wonderful childhood memories of staying at the Baldwin Hotel. Our family spent a couple weeks each summer at Beach Haven, staying at the Baldwin. As a child this spectacular building provided exceptional exploring opportunities. My dad was a watercolorist who painted a wonderful painting of an adjacent property, where nuns spent summer vacations. He did so while sitting on the balcony of our room.

When the Baldwin burnt to the ground, Beach Haven lost a large part of its identity.

Thank you for posting this beautiful rendition of the grand old Baldwin.

It’s my pleasure to bring these pictures and information to you. What have you found in these pages that has struck a chord for you?   We have lots more room to post any images or recollections you have to share.

Stay safe. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

Step into the Past with this 1912 Stone Harbor Souvenir Booklet

1912 Stone Harbor Souvenir Folder
The gorgeous weather here in South Jersey this glorious Easter Sunday helps one remember those sunny summer days which lie just around the corner. By now, kids (and their teachers) are counting the days until the term’s end in June in anticipation of going “down the shore.”

What is your favorite shore destination – Avalon, Ocean City, Stone Harbor, Cape May, or any place on LBI?

Here are some newly acquired images scanned from a 1912 Souvenir Folder of Stone Harbor postcards. Find six larger separate images added to the Stone Harbor section of the Images page, bringing to 163 the total number of Stone Harbor images. As always, readers are invited to leave comments or send suggestions.

Find also the new category of Collingswood, NJ Images, just posted. There are 106 classic images of old Collingswood, many of which are of the rare “real photo postcard” type. My Baby-boomer friend who so very generously labored over scanning and sending these files across the miles reminisces,

 

The Grove, Knights Park, Collingswood, NJ - RPPC
“Boy, do I have some great childhood memories from then growing up! Riding bikes around the block, hammocks on front porches, ice, milk, bread and coal deliveries, babyparades and fabulous Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks displays, climbing trees, playing baseball with friends, digging foxholes and playing soldier or cowboys, etc.  I had a cocker spaniel, a cat, a rabbit, a turtle and fish. Post-war America, the Age of Innocence, Baby-Boom, age of heroes and radio broadcasts, no televisions yet, etc.  We didn’t have a lot, but it seemed we were never left wanting for the necessities back then.  Ah, a simpler time, I gotta believe!”

I invite you to leave a comment on a blog entry, an image page, a Gaslight News issue, on a Program page, or on our Facebook page, if you care to. Those of you with information or collections to share, please contact me so that we can make arrangements. – John McCormick, Gaslight News Editor