The Beachcomber

Beck and His Farm – Still Making History in 2017?

By GINA G. SCALA | May 26, 2017

Charles Beck was a pioneer – not in the same way as Lewis and Clark, but a trailblazer whose vision and action kept Long Beach Island on the map long after the glory days of the Victorian era and a series of unfortunate events that weakened tourism in the 1920s and ’30s. His accomplishments made him a local legend, but what becomes of his farm could determine just what history and the public remember about his storied contributions to this barrier island 6 miles at sea – a phrase he coined in the early 20th century.

At the time of his arrival in Beach Haven in the summer of 1898, no one could predict what impact his foresight and willingness to shake things up would mean for the future of the 18-mile island. In less than 50 years from his arrival to mark the opening of a summer season with a large party at the Baldwin Hotel, Beck’s vision transformed the disjointed, horse-drawn and railroad-reliant summer resort communities to the consolidated and coordinating towns of the 20th and 21st centuries.

“He was a mover and a shaker,” Jeanette Lloyd, Beach Haven historian and a member of the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, said. “He never, never stopped. He followed through and got things done.”

It’s his follow-through that propelled the Island through some tough times after a 1920 winter storm decimated beaches and several hotels and delayed the re-opening of the Holgate inlet. In 1923, a second storm’s destruction resulted in no train service to the Island for three years.

By then, the first bay bridge to connect the Island to the mainland was nearly a decade old. It was built in 1914 by the Turnpike Company, founded by none other than Beck, Lloyd said. That company became the LBI Board of Trade. Today, it’s known as the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce.

“He knew we needed a bridge,” Lloyd marveled, “and he knew it needed to be in Ship Bottom.”

As the son of a colonial family from Philadelphia, Beck was accomplished before coming to Beach Haven. He started his own engraving company and developed the four-color printing process, she said. He became a Beach Haven resident in 1906 when he purchased his first home, Nearsea Cottage on Coral Street.

It’s his second home purchase – the iconic White House of New Jersey or Liberty Hall – that ensured his achievements reached historic heights in the quaint city-by-the-sea of Beach Haven. Built by famed Philadelphia architect Thomas Sherborne in 1874, the home sat on roughly 10 acres of land equal distance from the Atlantic Ocean and the bay, according to Lloyd. In 1909, the year Beck purchased the land, it was also the only notable farm on Long Beach Island.

He raised the house in 1911 by 6 feet, making room for a cellar that boasted a coal-fired heating plant, bathhouses and a wine cellar, but it was the mushroom crop-growing area and the pen for snapping turtles that still hold Lloyd’s amazement.

“The snapping turtles were used to make soup, Beck’s favorite,” she said.

The prime crop was sugar beets, but the caretaker also grew corn, wheat, grapes, pumpkins and cabbage, Lloyd said. Compost, eelgrass, seaweed and manure covered the marshy fields between the house and the boathouse where grains and cotton were harvested, she said.

During Beck’s ownership, the farm also had 150 chickens, pigs, turkeys, Daisy the milk cow, Fred the farm horse and Dan the carriage horse, she said.

“He was a kind person,” Lloyd said, noting he would supply fruits and vegetables from his garden to baymen when times were tough.

Even with the farm, and entertaining governors of New Jersey and neighboring Pennsylvania, Beck found time to be actively involved in Beach Haven as a founding member of the Corinthian Gun Club and first commodore of the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club, as well as a three-term member of the borough council.

“He got himself elected as a commissioner to make sure an acetylene power plant was built for gas lighting. Some of the old houses still have the acetylene pipes,” Lloyd said, adding, “It’s quite a legacy.”

It’s hard to determine whether Beck’s accomplishments outweigh the historical significance of his farm, which after more than two centuries could be facing the cold realty of the 21st century: being demolished to make room for something more of this era.

The estate owners in March announced their intention to review options in preserving the roughly 8,000-square-foot, rambling three-story home. Lloyd and the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee fought to protect the site with a historical landmark declaration at the farm, but the owners, James and Ethel Frazer, never signed the papers for it be put on the national or state registers, she said.

“It’s one of the most historic homes in all of Beach Haven,” Lloyd said, but while she’d like to see it saved, there’s no money to save it.

Developer Mark Davies, who is helping the heirs sort through their options, maintains, “Part of the game plan is to try real hard to save the house.”

Still, he added, “The foundation of the house is shot, so one way or another they’re going to have to pick it up and move it.”

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