The Beachcomber – Memorial Day

Tucker’s Island: a Once Thriving Resort That Vanished

May 25, 2018
Artwork by: Supplied Photo

Long before vacationers flocked to the hot spots on Long Beach Island, Tucker’s Island was the place to be.

 

Beginning in the 18th century, it was was a small but thriving summer community located off the south end of Long Beach Island. It had a lifesaving station, a lighthouse, two hotels, seven houses and a schoolhouse. But all that’s left of it today is a shoal, as it gradually washed away in the 1920s and 1930s.

 

“It was really the first Jersey Shore resort, dating back to the 1700s,” said Beach Haven Historian Jeanette Lloyd. “There was no gravel to build streets. The only roads were made of hard-packed sand and crushed clam and oyster shells atop layers of salt hay.”

She said that at one time, people could walk from Beach Haven to Tucker’s Island.

“That happened a lot on Sundays, when the families of people working at the lifesaving stations would walk over for a visit,” she said.

Lloyd said continuous erosion created an inlet separating Beach Haven from Tucker’s Island in the early 1920s.

“No one could walk there any more, and then conditions got worse, and the area gradually disappeared until there was nothing left,” she said.

Two years ago, Beach Haven residents Gretchen Coyle and Deborah Whitcraft, fresh off the success of their book Inferno At Sea: Stories of Death and Survival Aboard the Morro Castle, took their maritime knowledge from sea to land with a book devoted solely to the history of the vanished island. Tuckers Island, published by Arcadia Publishing, brings to life the history of those times with never-before-seen photos.

  

The book starts at the very beginning, when the first people set foot on the island.

 

“Was it the Lenni Lenape in the 1500s? We have no idea and no proof, but it sure is nice to surmise,” said Coyle. “We know that the Lenni Lenape spent summer months on New Jersey islands, hunting game and gathering wild berries such as cranberries and blueberries.”

 

People later commuted to Tucker’s Island by first taking the train from Philadelphia to Atlantic City and then by horse and buggy to docks in AC, Leeds Point and Absecon, where they boated in. From the north, they traveled the railroad to Whiting and then finally by boat, Coyle noted.

 

The book focuses on the people who lived on the island during the 19th century, including life savers under Jarvis Rider and their families, lighthouse keepers Eber Rider and son Arthur and their relatives, as well as people who visited on weekends and during the summer. Eventually, houses and hotels disappeared one by one. The lighthouse fell into the sea in 1927, and the island had completely vanished by 1952.

 

Coyle said the last people to travel to Tucker’s Island were families who could get gas for their boats in the mid- to late-1940s, said Coyle. By this time, the island was extremely small, mostly just a sandspit, with no buildings or remains left. Members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary also patrolled part of the area during World War II.

Photographs taken of island artifacts kept at the New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven and Tuckerton Historical Society are also included.

“It’s neat to look at life in a whole different era. It gives readers an insight into a different lifestyle and a different time. It’s just something that they will never experience,” said Whitcraft. “Today life is so hectic. You’ve got a phone in one hand and you’ve got a computer or a laptop in the other hand. It’s a whole different world.”

— Eric Englund

 

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