The Beachcomber – Memorial Day

Beach Haven: Founded By Wealthy, Built By Local ‘Worker Bees’

May 25, 2018

With its hotels and Victorian homes, Beach Haven stands out among Long Beach Island towns with its rich historical heritage. Its origin goes back to the 1850s as a literal haven for well-to-do Philadelphians, many of whom were sportsmen, fishermen and duck hunters.

“And they loved to have a good time,” said Borough Historian Jeanette Lloyd, whose late husband, John Bailey Lloyd, wrote numerous volumes on LBI history. “The atmosphere on the north end of the Island, Barnegat Light, was much stricter. But on the south end, these sportsmen could drink, dance and party – really whoop it up.”

While many people are drawn to the Island today to swim on the beaches, that was not the case in the earliest days.

“It was all about hunting and fishing,” she said. “That changed in the 1860s when they started bringing their wives along.”

Lloyd has recorded the histories of 28 of the area’s most influential families between 1890 and 1910, including the Pharos, Strattons, Spragues, Shourdses, Colmers, Parkers and more. Many of the individuals in these families were baymen who lived on the Island year ’round after train service arrived in 1886.

“They were the worker bees; they were the glue that held our whole community together,” Lloyd said. “They did everything; they were renaissance people. When the bay no longer could give them a living because of the wintertime, then they would do all kinds of jobs on the Island. They were your masons, your contractors. They would clam, do oystering. They did everything in order to eke out a living for their families.”

Deborah Whitcraft and Gretchen Coyle point this out in their new book about the history of Beach Haven in the Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing, set for release on June 1. A book-signing event is planned at the New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven on Friday, June 8, from noon to 3 p.m. Refreshments will be served.

“People were drawn to Beach Haven with their hotels and boardwalk,” said Coyle. “Then many families who came to the hotels later built homes. But we can’t forget about the fire company and the first aid squad that were keys to the town’s development.”

Added Whitcraft, “The wealthy put Beach Haven on the map, but the middle class laborers and workers were the backbone of the community.”

In their book, they note how Beach Haven Realty News promoted the town: “The development is of the highest character – there is no skimping on anything. Those who buy land in Beach Haven now are making an investment that will return large profits. Enhancement of values goes on with every bit of development – every house that is erected adds to the value of the surrounding land.”

Here’s a look at key years in Beach Haven’s history, according to information on the Beach Haven borough website compiled by Lloyd and Glenn Koch.

In 1850, Ocean County was created from the southern half of the colonial-era Monmouth County. At the south end of Long Beach Island, in present-day Holgate, Capt. Thomas Bond had a hotel called the Long Beach House. Among the customers were wealthy Philadelphians who came for fishing and duck hunting; they became interested in establishing a resort for their families.

In 1871, Capt. Tilton Fox  bought a decommissioned government building once used to store lifesaving equipment. The next year, he had the structure barged down the bay and moved ashore on Mud Hen Creek in Beach Haven. There it became the Hotel de Crab.

Archelaus Pharo of Tuckerton completed his railroad across the bay to Long Beach Island, allowing rail travel from Philadelphia. He also bought 666 acres on the Island that became the site of Beach Haven. In 1873, Pharo transferred the acreage to the newly incorporated Tuckerton and Long Beach Building, Land, and Improvement Association.

The first two cottages in town were built on Second Street by Pharo. Charles Parry, president of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, built the Parry House hotel on Centre Street, while Lloyd Jones built the Beach Haven House at the end of Mud Hen Creek. It stood until 1967; Buckalew’s Restaurant is there now.

In 1876, Robert Engle and his cousin Samuel bought land between South Street (now Engleside Avenue) and Amber Street to build the original Engleside Hotel. It went out of business in 1943 and was demolished. Thomas Sherbourne, landowner of the entire south end of Beach Haven, built a farmhouse that over the years was expanded to the landmark cottage on Liberty Avenue now known as “Beck Farm.”

The 1880 census reveals LBI had a total population of 33, with seven families.

The Parry House burned to the ground in August 1881. No one was injured, but it became a priority to organize a firefighter company; the Beach Haven Volunteer Fire Co. was established in 1883.

In gratitude that no lives were lost, Mrs. Charles Parry sponsored construction of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church, which held its first service in July 1882. The original church is now the Long Beach Island Historical Association Museum.

In 1882, a wharf was built at Mud Hen Creek (which became Dock Road) to accommodate passengers traveling from Tuckerton on catboats and steamboats.

The Hotel Baldwin, which could accommodate 400 guests, was built in 1883 between Pearl and Marine streets. It was destroyed in a fiery blaze in 1960; Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church now occupies the site.

The first Beach Haven School was built in 1884 on Third Street. In the mid-20th century, the building was a movie house; now it is the Island Baptist Church.

A great celebration in June 1914 marked construction of a drawbridge and causeway between Manahawkin and Ship Bottom, and completion of a road to Beach Haven. In 1935, the southern branch of the railroad ceased operation when the bridge was washed out by a storm in November.

“The March Storm” of 1962, which resulted in severe property damage and loss of seven lives on the south end of the Island, prompted significant change to local building codes and construction practices. From this time on, new houses would be built on.

Fifty years later, Beach Haven and LBI had to endure another storm, on Oct. 29, 2012 – Superstorm Sandy.

“They were two entirely different storms,” said Lloyd. “The March Storm lasted for three days, whereas Sandy blew in and out very quickly. More homes were lost in the 1962 storm. Sandy was a very large storm, and most of the damage came from the tidal surge in the bay.”

— Eric Englund

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