The Beachcomber – Memorial Day

Small-Town Charm Part of Ship Bottom Appeal

May 25, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill On Thursday nights in the summer, the 10th Street park and boat ramp become an outdoor arena for feel-good concerts. Facedown (above) is in the regular rotation.

The smell of salt air begins before the source of it can be seen and grows more pungent while traveling over the Causeway toward 18 miles of life on a sandbar. It’s only a matter of time before Long Beach Island, specifically Ship Bottom, comes into view.

As the gateway community to Long Beach Island, the borough, which is just seven-tenths of a square mile, is undergoing a kind of building renaissance at the entrance to the Island. But the projects, which are returning the borough to the glory days of the barrier island’s highly popular and successful Victorian era, can’t detract from what makes the seaside community unique.

While other towns are relinquishing the look and feel of quaint beach cottages and Cape Cod homes once so predominant on LBI, they remain a fixture in Ship Bottom. With that comes a small-town feeling that is somewhat reminiscent of life on the Island in the 1950s and ’60s.

“Ship Bottom is a close-knit community. People on Fifth Street know people on 28th Street,” Mayor William Huelsenbeck said. “We are the nostalgia of what was once the Jersey Shore.”

Even after the wreckage of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 demanded homes in flood zones go up to avoid damage should another storm rip through, the borough has continued to encourage the raising of existing homes instead of building the large Hampton-style homes popping up in other Jersey Shore communities. It’s part of the small-town charm that has visitors returning year after year.

“Generations of families continue coming to Ship Bottom,” Huelsenbeck said, noting the borough continues to attract mostly visitors from the Pennsylvania area. “We did a study of seasonal beach badge sales by ZIP Code a few years ago, and while not scientific, the majority of seasonal beach badges were sold to Pennsylvania residents.”

That’s keeping in line with the history of the borough and the Island, when a majority of visitors were from the Philadelphia area. Now, about three-quarters of the visitors to the area are divided among the New York and Philadelphia markets.

That small-town charm is evident throughout the year, even during the summer season when the borough is packed to capacity with day-trippers from either the mainland or others who want to get away to the shore for a few hours. With its beaches’ close proximity to the bridge, it’s almost easy to navigate summertime traffic in one of the oldest towns on the Island. The current name dates back to March 1817 and an unusual shipwreck that occurred.

As the story goes, the captain of a schooner heading south was navigating through a thick fog when he heard cries from the direction of the shoreline. He alerted Capt. Stephen Willets of Tuckerton of a ship in trouble near the shore after encountering his schooner heading north, according to the history of the borough. The fog prevented Willets and his crew from seeing anything, and the clang from their ship’s bell drowned out any other sound. Still, they rowed along the outer bar for several hours looking for the endangered ship. When they came upon the ship, it was overturned in the shoals. The place of the shipwreck and the rescue became known as “Ship Bottom.”

From its ocean and bay beaches to shopping and restaurants, the borough has something for everyone.

“People with children think of Beach Haven,” Huelsenbeck said of another popular Island destination, “because there is more for them to do.”

If relaxing on the beach, creating memories on the bay, or introducing the little ones to crabbing and fishing is on the agenda, a stop in Ship Bottom, even if lodging is elsewhere on the barrier island, is just the thing.

“We have a premier bay beach for kids,” the mayor said. “Two fishing and crabbing piers, a boat ramp and a ton of recreational things to do.”

In that regard, nothing much has changed in the gateway community to LBI, an apt name for the borough because of the Causeway linking the Island to the mainland.

“Everything flows through Ship Bottom,” Councilman Joe Valyo said.

Whether visitors are traveling south toward Long Beach Township and Beach Haven, or north toward Surf City, other parts of the township, Harvey Cedars or Barnegat Light, everyone comes through Ship Bottom.

“People love the smell of the salt air and the sound of the sea,” Huelsenbeck said, noting the borough has an abundance of both.

— Gina G. Scala

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