ONew Jersey is home to classic and legendary boardwalks -- explore all of them, past and present, is this accessible guide to the Shore's ''boards.'' This take-it-with-you guidebook offers locations, directions, maps, as well as side trip suggestions. Boardwalk history and trivia are included along with color photographs and old postcard images. This expanded and revised 2nd edition also includes a new section about biking the boardwalks, too.
(from the first edition)
“Fact-filled” The Times (Trenton, NJ)
“Authors and walkers Richard Handschuch and Sal Marino tell you where to walk, what to see, how to get there and some history, some stories, some stats and some facts about the boardwalks of New Jersey.” Asbury Park Press
During the early 1800s, the few towns found at the Jersey Shore remained unchanged small fishing hamlets with perhaps a few hunting lodges in the marshes. By the late 1800s, though, as railroads made shore towns more accessible to visitors from New York and Philadelphia, more and more people began to come.
Railroad connections were developed in the 1850s, largely through the efforts of Dr. Jonathan Pitney of Absecon, who was convinced that the people of Philadelphia could benefit from the healthy qualities of the sea at Absecon Beach. Pitney and his association set about building Atlantic City and part of the Camden and Atlantic Railroad went into operation on July 1, 1854.
Several railroads were constructed along the north Jersey coast, and by the end of the 1880s, Long Beach Island, Seaside Park, Brigantine, Ocean City, Ludlam’s Beach and Five Mile Beach (now Wildwood) were connected to the mainland by rails.
Hotel owners and railroad conductors became concerned about all the beach sand that was being tracked onto lobby carpets and into railroad cars. Planks of wood were temporarily laid on the sand as a walkway and were removed at the end of the season.
The Civil War interrupted development and postponed, for a while, the tourist boom. War-damaged railroads needed the iron rails, so local interests had to wait.
Although Atlantic City usually gets the credit, it was in Cape May that the first boards were laid down, in 1868. Atlantic City followed in 1870 and, later, was the first to raise its boardwalk.
As more and more people flocked to the shore, the need for a more permanent type of structure became apparent. Planners had to cope with the surf, the tides and access to the streets. “Build it and they will come” seemed to be their motto. The longer the boardwalk, the better.
In his 1889 book, Jersey Coast and Pines, historian Gustav Kobbe talks of the boards at Asbury Park and Ocean Grove: “Along the beach there is a well-kept plank walk one mile long, with seats and pavilions at intervals, joining the esplanade of Ocean Grove, thus giving an unbroken promenade of nearly two miles.”
As the seats and pavilions filled with people, eateries began to spring up. Tourists could walk the boardwalks, enjoy the views and, when the time came, find a snack or even dinner close by.
Boardwalks quickly became permanent structures in many shore towns. This meant that they had to be maintained throughout the year, whether they were used only in the summer or during cold winters as well.
The first boardwalk built on pilings in Ocean County was at Point Pleasant Beach in the 1890s. Permanent boardwalks were also constructed at Seaside Park, Bay Head, Lavallette and Beach Haven.
By the early 1900s many shore towns had planked walks, boardwalks or promenades. What had once been a practical means of getting to and from the beaches became a place to stroll, watch people and congregate. Here you could show off your finery, mingle with the rich and famous, meet your sweetie, enjoy the sun without getting sand in your shoes, chew salt water taffy and ogle the growing number of sights along the boards.
As the crowds grew, so did the businesses. Today boardwalks are where visitors go to enjoy rides, amusements, games of chance, arcades, and, of course, to shop and eat.
The first boardwalk amusements were built in the 1870s in Atlantic City. They were soon followed by fishing and amusement piers. Point Pleasant Beach and Seaside Heights began offering dozens of entertainments. Few resorts could resist the lure of the boards, though some, such as Long Beach Island, kept commercialism to a minimum.
Atlantic City, whose boardwalk is the only one written with a capital “B”, quickly became the entertainment mecca of the Jersey Shore and became known as “America’s Playground.” Sylvester B. Butler, a teacher from Pleasantville, wrote his mother in August of 1916:
“The Boardwalk is a very wide, substantial affair, about nine miles long, being from fifty to a hundred feet from the water’s edge all along. On the side away from the beach are the hotels and then all kinds of shops, such as one would find in any city, except that I would say there were more soda fountains and candy shops than on a regular city street; then there are some moving picture theaters, merry- go-rounds, shooting galleries, and other amusement places; also any number of what I suppose might be called terminals for the wheeled chairs...bath houses are also on that side of the walk; and to get from them to the beach you go under the walk I don’t believe you ever see anybody on the walk with their bathing suit. On the beach side of the walk, there are here and there long piers reaching out into the ocean, and on these piers are the principal amusement places of Atlantic City.”
And, from a publicity brochure: “Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is a metropolis in itself, a metropolis of joy, a metropolis of amusement, a metropolis of health, a metropolis of wonderful sights that can be seen in no other place in the world except on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.”
Boardwalks evolved from a practical way of getting to and from the beach to a commercial enterprise carrying tourists from hotels to hawkers.
“At the entrance to (Steel Pier) you are charged 10 cents thru the day, 15 cents at night, and this entitles you to the run of the pier; there are countless numbers of people going in all the time, and as they continue to run, I imagine there’s no money lost in the scheme, but you certainly get a good deal for your money,” according to Butler.
Today, boardwalks are used all year long as a more active public jogs or just walks for pleasure and health, and New Jersey offers a variety of boardwalks to meet the needs of everyone.
Copyright © Sal A. Marino and Richard Handscuch. All rights reserved..