Jersey Shore, Part 6 (A Little History)

It seemed like we spent an inordinate amount of time chasing lighthouses, boardwalks, and breweries although we found other things too.  I’ve always been fascinated by historical sites and I scoured the area for targets.  A lot of notable events happened in the northeastern United States.  The Europeans arrived there early so I suspected the Jersey Shore would be promising.

However, oddly enough, it seemed to fall within something of a void.  Europeans did settle there from early Colonial times.  Nonetheless maybe they just concentrated on farming or sitting on the beach.  They saved important matters for Philadelphia and New York and such.  Even so, I found a handful of things worth mentioning.

Fort Hancock

Officers’ Row

The original fortifications at the tip of Sandy Hook dated to the 1850’s,  just prior to the Civil War.  They protected the southern entrance to New York Harbor.  Fort Hancock came later, towards the tail-end of the 19th Century.  Its gun batteries remained in place until the end of the Second World War.  Shore-based batteries became obsolete in the modern era and Ft. Hancock then housed Nike missiles.  That lasted until the 1970’s with base decommissioning.

Many of the structures haven’t been maintained since that time and now seem to be falling into disrepair.  Notice the wooden beams keeping a porch from tumbling onto the lawn on a home along Officers’ Row in the photograph above.  That level of decay appeared typical.  Superstorm Sandy in 2012 didn’t help either.  One former residence has been fully restored though, a lieutenant’s quarters known as History House (map).  It reflected daily life for a young officer and his family in the 1940’s.


Ocean Grove

The Great Auditorium

Ocean Grove, just south of Asbury Park, revealed its pedigree even though I hadn’t been looking for it ahead of time.  I figured it out when I saw the town’s most prominent structure, “The Great Auditorium,” with its large Christian cross.  I assumed it must have originated during the Methodist camp meeting movement of the 19th Century.  Back then, it became fashionable for people to gather each summer — often at a beach — for several days of church services and devotional activities.  Their camps started with modest accommodations.  Those grew into permanent year-round structures and finally into towns.  I described this evolution in 12MC’s “From Camp to Town“.

Sure enough, when I looked up the history of Ocean Grove, it followed the typical pattern.  It dated back to 1869when a group of Methodist clergymen formed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to develop & operate a summer camp meeting site.”  The camp meeting association still owns all of the land in Ocean Grove according to the local Chamber of Commerce, and leases it to residents and businesses.


Garfield

James Garfield Memorial

I check the 12MC index map whenever I go on the road to see if I might be near any places mentioned in previous articles.  My earlier analysis of Presidential Death Locations showed that James Garfield died on the Jersey Store.  I needed to see that spot in person for some odd reason.

Without going into too much detail, a mentally unstable job seeker shot Garfield at a train station in Washington, DC in 1881, barely four months into his term.  An infection grew in Garfield’s wound, possibly caused by physicians poking and prodding him without washing their hands.  Then they decided to move him to the Jersey Shore to where cooler ocean breezes might do him some good.  Garfield finally died there after suffering pretty horribly.

Anyway, I stopped at the memorial marker in Long Branch, New Jersey, just north of Asbury Park. (map)  Never mind that one of the reviewers on Google Maps said they “thought this was going to highlight a cat.”  Garfield didn’t get  much respect.


Battle of Monmouth

At the Visitors Center

I’ve been to lots of American battlefields over the years.  It’s hard to move anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic region without bumping into the site of an armed conflict, some of them significant and others just little skirmishes.  Still they almost always seemed to date to the Civil War.  Monmouth offered an opportunity to explore an earlier conflict, the American Revolution.

The Battle of Monmouth in June 1778 pitted George Washington and the Continental Army against the British Army under General Sir Henry Clinton.  British troops had abandoned Philadelphia and started marching across New Jersey, hoping to evacuate to New York City by boat.  Washington trailed behind and inflicted some damage along the way.  The battle itself didn’t accomplish much although it allowed the Continental Army to look courageous and Washington to save his job.

It rained heavily the morning we arrived so we couldn’t walk around the battlefield like we’d hoped.  I couldn’t complain too much.  Really, we experienced very little inclement weather the entire trip other than this.  We toured through the visitor center and went on our way.


Double Trouble

Double Trouble State Park

Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a state park called Double Trouble?  The name derived from a cranberry farm that operated on the site around the turn of the last Century.  Apparently cranberries grew well in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.  Double Trouble included the site of an old company town (map) with bogs covering the rest.  Scenic trails ran throughout the acreage.  We probably spent an hour or two hiking through the woods.


Articles in the Jersey Shore Series:

  1. Huh?
  2. Boardwalks
  3. Lighthouses
  4. Brewery Renaissance
  5. Positive Signs
  6. A Little History
  7. Leftovers

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Jersey Shore, Part 3 (Lighthouses)

I enjoy visiting lighthouses .  They’re also one of those things I like to count and track.  Of course I researched the most promising locations long before I ever got to the New Jersey coastline.  This shore seemed particularly attractive so I sifted through a bunch of options and planned my strategy.

I found several possibilities although I also discovered that many of them wouldn’t be open during mid-April at least according to their websites. I thought I’d go there anyway and at least take some exterior photos.  Fortunately, the situation differed in a happy way for once.  Every single lighthouse was open that week.  We were able to climb a bunch of spiral staircases to gaze upon the Atlantic Ocean like keepers of yore.

Navesink Twin Lights

One of the Navesink Twin Lights

We knew the Navesink Twin Lights in Highlands Borough would be open, one of the few accurately depicting its status ahead of time (map).  I’d never seen a facility quite like this one though with two towers flanking a large keepers quarters.  The solid stone construction and imposing footprint made the exterior seem more like a prison with watchtowers.

They allowed visitors to climb the north tower to experience sweeping views across New York Harbor with Manhattan skyscrapers visible in the distance (photo). Such a busy port required something as distinctive as these dual lights, guiding ships past hazards since its construction in 1862.


Sandy Hook Lighthouse

Sandy Hook Lighthouse

We fully expected the Sandy Hook Lighthouse to be closed that day (map).  We showed up anyway, just as a park ranger walked from the keepers quarters and unlocked the door to the tower.  He’d been escorting a small tour group and he asked if we wanted to join them.  Of course we did!  So we got to climb the light while learning about the history of the site.

This tower actually predated the United States.  It began shining in 1764 and held the record as the oldest working lighthouse on U.S. soil.  British troops occupied the light during much of the Revolutionary War.  The rebellious Continental Army tried and failed to destroy the tower, so it survived the conflict intact.  It occupied a spot practically at the tip of Sandy Point when first constructed.  However, sand continued to accumulate along the shoreline over the last couple of centuries and now the tower sits about a mile and a half from the current point.


Barnegat Light

Barnegat Light

The Barnegat Light proved so iconic that the surrounding town adopted its name, having originally been called Brownsville.  It took some driving to get all the way out to the tip of Long Beach Island (map) and that added to its appeal.  Historically, the lighthouse provided a particularly important aid to navigation.  It marked a dangerous shoal where ships had to change course on an otherwise straight-line track between New Jersey and New York.

This one had an interesting background too.  A U.S. Army engineer designed the light and construction wrapped-up in 1859.  The designer happened to be George G. Meade, who later became a Major General for the Union army during the Civil War.  He defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg.  I’m not sure how a lighthouse designer became a commanding general in such a significant battle.  Clearly he had multiple talents.

Our visit took place on an extremely windy day.  The tower’s extra elevation only added to that effect.  We were perfectly safe although it felt like we might get blown out to sea.


Absecon Lighthouse

Absecon Lighthouse

George Meade designed the Absecon Lighthouse in Atlantic City, too (map).  In fact his success at Absecon led to the assignment for Barnegat.  He saw Absecon rise in 1857.

This one is now the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey and the third tallest in the United States (171 feet / 42 metres).  I can vouch that I definitely felt every foot of elevation gain as we climbed each successive step to the top.

Once the tallest structure in Atlantic City, any number of casinos now dwarfed it.  Those were a little farther away from the tower so it still offered some nice views.  Well, parts of the view seemed nice, like the beaches and the ocean and the boardwalk.  That contrasted with the elevated gaze onto crumbling row houses, empty weed-strewn lots, and urban blight.  I tried to ignore that part.


Cape May Lighthouse

Cape May Lighthouse

Another wonderful light appeared at the far southern tip of New Jersey.  The Cape May Lighthouse began operations in 1859 and continues to serve as an active navigational aid (map).  Two predecessor lighthouses sat at unfortunate locations nearby.  Actually, those sites no longer existed, having been swallowed by the sea.

The current structure fared much better, placed a little farther back from the shoreline and constructed to withstand the strongest hurricanes.  We saw more tourists here than at any of the other lights.  It didn’t surprise me.  We stopped by on a warm afternoon with perfect weather.


Bonus!

We even found a couple of unexpected lighthouses as we rode the ferry across the mouth of Delaware Bay.  We couldn’t stop at either one them of course, although we did get close enough for some pictures.

Harbor of Refuge Light

No natural harbors existed near the entrance to Delaware Bay so a series of breakwaters were constructed in the vicinity of Lewes, Delaware during the second half of the nineteenth century.  These collectively came to be known as the National Harbor of Refuge.  Ships heading up or down the Atlantic coast or over to the port of Philadelphia that encountered stormy conditions could stop at the refuge for safety.  Lighthouses were used as beacons to mark the breakwaters.  The Harbor of Refuge light became a primary focal point.

Delaware Breakwater East End Light

The Delaware Breakwater East End Light served in conjunction with the Harbor of Refuge Light to guide those ships to safety.


Articles in the Jersey Shore Series:

  1. Huh?
  2. Boardwalks
  3. Lighthouses
  4. Brewery Renaissance
  5. Positive Signs
  6. A Little History
  7. Leftovers

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Jersey Shore, Part 2 (Boardwalks)

What should people do when they visit the Jersey Shore?  Hit some of the many well-known boardwalks of course.  I doubt any other stretch of Atlantic coastline in the United States has a greater density of boardwalks than New Jersey.  We traveled the length of the state’s waterfront, heading north to south, from Sandy Hook to Cape May and strolled down several boardwalks along the way.

I don’t think anyone could walk every one of them in a single week although we gave it a good shot.  Each one had its own unique characteristics that appealed to distinctly different audiences.

Asbury Park

Asbury Park Boardwalk

We strolled the Asbury Park boardwalk (map) on an early weekday morning as a storm rolled out to sea, leaving the planks damp and deserted.  The previous evening seemed a lot more lively although probably considerably quieter than what it must be like during the summer.  Some places remained open all year round including the Silverball Museum (photo) where visitors could play vintage pinball machines by the hour or the day.  The nearby Wonder Bar (photo) offered a nice spot to stop for a drink.  A few of the restaurants also seemed open.

It evoked images of Bruce Springsteen who got his start here, performing at the Stone Pony (photo) and other clubs in the vicinity.  Madam Marie’s psychic booth (photo), mentioned in his “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” continued to exist.  The original Madam Marie passed away years ago although a descendant still told fortunes at that spot.


Barnegat Light

Viking Village at Barnegat Light

Barnegat Light didn’t actually have a boardwalk.  The town fell a little off the beaten path at the very northern tip of Long Beach Island and didn’t have enough visitors to support one.  However, it did have Bayview Avenue, a nice road that hugged the island’s western coastline.  Infrequent traffic moved at a leisurely pace and wide shoulders offered plenty of room for walkers or bikers.  Local marinas included actual working fishing boats in addition to pleasure craft, a more blue collar atmosphere than many of the other shore towns.  A small area of former fishing shacks called Viking Village (map) provided the closest thing to a shopping district.


Atlantic City

Boardwalk Hall

Imagine the exact opposite of Barnegat Light’s solitude and that would describe the boardwalk at Atlantic City.  Casinos lined the shore along a wide wooden trail.  Crowds enjoyed springtime warmth as they roved from one gambling establishment to another.  Boardwalk Hall (map) in its Art Deco magnificence rose above the esplanade, the famous home of the Miss America pageant.  Unfortunately, almost every part of town just a block to the west confirmed preconceived notions of the financial decline of the city.  Those blemishes weren’t visible from the boardwalk though.


Ocean City

Mini-Golf at Ocean City

Ocean City’s boardwalk (map) gave a much more wholesome experience.  Gaudy and cheezy came to mind almost immediately, although in a pleasantly nostalgic way.  Three distinct buying experiences dominated the local scene:  T-shirt shops; miniature golf courses and pizza parlors.  I’d never seen such a concentration of any of these types of businesses in such a short distance.  It seemed like dozens.  Don’t try to find a beer though.  Ocean City has been “dry” since its founding in 1879.  Alcohol can’t be sold there, a point the town uses to bolster its family-friendly reputation.


Wildwood

Wildwood

Wildwood featured amusement park after amusement park along its scenic oceanfront boardwalk (map).  Oddly, most of the shops on this stretch hadn’t yet opened for the season, more so than any of the other seashore towns we visited that week.  All I could guess was that maybe they couldn’t attract enough visitors until the amusement parks opened, and the rides weren’t operating in mid April.  It didn’t matter to us though.  We came to walk.


Cape May

Full Moon at Dawn on Cape May

Technically speaking, Cape May didn’t have a boardwalk.  It had a promenade (map).  No trees died in the making of this town’s beachfront strip.  The solid asphalt berm likely doubled as a barrier during hurricane season too.  It also lacked storefronts except in one small section.  That made for a great place to jog in the early morning solitude, a flat even surface stretching for more than a mile.


Articles in the Jersey Shore Series:

  1. Huh?
  2. Boardwalks
  3. Lighthouses
  4. Brewery Renaissance
  5. Positive Signs
  6. A Little History
  7. Leftovers

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr