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Shore Chronicles

The Ocean City beach in 1952

For millions of people, summer means travelling to the New Jersey Shore. Every generation brings a new perspective and a new sense of discovery to this beloved region. Every visitor returns home with tales of their experience along this 127 mile long sandy coastline of boardwalks and beaches.

At the dawn of the new millennium, Shore Chronicles: Diaries and Traveler's Tales From the Jersey Shore 1764-1955 enlightens contemporary shore-lovers with fascinating historical perspective. Illustrated with 50 historic photographs, etchings and fine art images, this comprehensive collection begins with adventure travel in 1764 when the shore (and much of New Jersey) was still a wild frontier. The book concludes in 1955 with the opening of the Garden State Parkway, which brought exponentially more visitors - and rapid development - to the Jersey Shore.

A total of 50 accounts comprise the book. Writing by such well-known figures as John J. Audubon, Walt Whitman, Robert Louis Stevenson, Stephen Crane and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is included. But, perhaps most interesting are the selections from private journals, letters, and diaries from unknowns vacationing or visiting the shore.

As fresh as their experiences are to shore visitors each year, most activities here are timeless — the fundamental attractions of the seashore resonate throughout time. Yet it is stunning to read how different the landscape and environment was before development.

The foreword was written by the late, renowned, New Jersey historian John T. Cunningham.



1764, Peck’s Beach: We came to the great ocean and drank of its salt water; it is considered healthful and therefore a great many people, with various illnesses, come here in the spring and summer for two or three weeks to bathe in the water and to drink it.
— Rev. Carl Magnus Wrangel

1809, Long Beach Island: On August 12 it was too cold to swim so Sarah Thomson and her brother went riding on the beach in the ox cart and hunted birds eggs. She wrote in her diary, “Charley got a handkerchief full, fetched them home to make egg nog, found them all full of young ones. Ha, Ha. Joke on Charley.”

1828, Long Beach Island: A British barque went aground and a wreck sale was held on the beach. A dense crowd of bidders gathered in the shadow of the high and dry hulk, ready to bid on copper sheathing, casks, cargo, masts and sails.

1829, Great Egg Harbor: To such naturalists as are qualified to observe many different objects at the same time, Great Egg Harbor would probably afford as ample a field as any part of our coast.... Birds of many kinds are abundant, as are testaceous animals.
— John James Audubon

1848, Cape May: Rebecca Sharp and Henrietta Roberts came by steamship from Philadelphia for a two-week stay at the drafty, barnlike Ocean House. Back in her room after a night of dancing, Henrietta wrote in her diary, “A startling knock at the door to inform us of the intoxicated state of the poet, owing to an overdose of opium and mint juleps — Our nerves were quite unhinged.”

1850, Cape May: Carriages and horses drive out into the waves, gentlemen ride into them, dogs swim about; more than a thousand white and black people, horses and carriages and dogs - all are there, one among another, and just before them porpoises lift up their heads and sometimes take a huge leap.
— Frederika Bremer

1864, Barnegat Bay: I sat on the beach near Barnegat Inlet on a soft balmy day in November from early morning until night and scarcely saw a break in the continuous line of ducks, geese and brant bound south.
— T. Robinson Warren

1870, Ocean Grove: James A. Bradley, founder of Asbury Park and a member of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association, pitched a tent near a grove of pine, cedar and hickory on his lot in the newly formed community of Ocean Grove.

1875: Sea bathing was an unknown and somewhat scary activity for most people. A guide book offered much advice: “Where persons go to the shore alone, or with only their families or intimate friends, they may use their own everyday clothes with which to go into the water. If practicable, as to weather and those present, they may go in naked. The latter may be a better way. But where there is mixed company and strangers, a suit specially designed for the purpose should be used.”

1878, Point Pleasant: A bluefish blitz is reported: “I stood on a sand bank at the mouth of the Manasquan River and watched... There was a strange sort of boiling appearance in the water, and then a whole host of moss bunkers flung themselves wildly on the sand beach, flopped about, gasped hysterically, and then, after a few more fruitless leaps, lay still, choked by the hot air and burning sun. The men and boys were meanwhile swinging as fast as they could their squids, and sending them, some of the best throwers, fifty yards into the surf. No sooner did the squid touch and disappear beneath the water than they ran up the sand-hills, and lo! A large blue-fish came leaping and tumbling out of the sea.”

1879, Atlantic City: I have a fine and bracing drive along the smooth sand (the carriage wheels hardly made a dent in it). The bright sun, the sparkling waves, the foam, the view - Brigantine beach, a sail here and there in the distance - the ragged wreck-timbers of the stranded Rockaway- the vital, vast monotonous sea - all the fascination of simple, uninterrupted space, shore, salt atmosphere, sky, were the items of my drive.
— Walt Whitman

1880, Ocean City: The bay was populous with wild fowl, geese, ducks, brant, loon and others of their kin and it was no uncommon sight to see flocks of “blue bills,” acres in extent, moving up and down with the tide, and at evening the homecoming of the geese from their day on the ocean, was as regular as the sunset. The woods were filled and thrilled with music, song birds everywhere, from the thrush and robin down to the incisive and persistent mosquito.
— Robert Fisher

1881, Sea Isle City: The Atwater family lived in Millville and wanted a house where their nine children could experience a “free life on the beautiful beach.” Abby Atwater wrote to her sister, “We are talking now of taking all the family to a place just stared on the Jersey coast called Sea Isle City. While it is getting under way to be the grand watering place the developer intends it to be, we might spend July there for a year or two quietly and pleasantly. There are no mosquitoes, and still-water bathing inside, and surf outside the island.”

1892, Wildwood: That I am at last in a bit of Jersey’s primeval forest there is little doubt. Everywhere towering trees bearing evidence of great age, and early in the day I found myself face to face with a huge cedar, dating back at least to the Norsemen. Here was a tree that for centuries the Indians had known as a landmark.
— Charles Abbott

1907, Atlantic City: A young woman may walk the beach in the full light of day in the most abbreviated of costumes and no one thinks any the worse of her... Atlantic City is free and easy, unceremonious and undignified, good-naturedly boisterous and unnecessarily loud, but it is respectable.
— Sir Alfred Low

1914, Atlantic City: The hotels in Atlantic City are as fantastic in appearance as the place itself. I imagine that the architects have been kept for weeks on the seafront and were probably fed on crab and given gin rickeys to drink. Then, when allowed to drop to sleep in the early morning, they would dream. At the end of a fortnight or so of this treatment their dreams would be imprinted on their memories and they would draw plans of suitable hotels. The Atlantic City hotel is less stately than fantastic. It is a building which any one would declare to be impossible if he did not see it in actual existence.
— James Hannay

1917, Little Egg Harbor Inlet: It was mating time, too, and from every dune and marshy place the plaintive cries of the nesting plover came to us, punctuated at times by the sharp bark of a fox of which the dunes held quite a few. And how wild and lonely it all was! During the two weeks we spent there we saw not a living soul. We might have been so many Robinson Crusoes, so far as the outside world was concerned. We were cut off from everything save our own thoughts.
— Van Campen Heilner

1919, Wildwood: In September the bathing is at its best. The beach itself, colored in the first flush of the level sun, is still faintly warm to the naked foot, after the long shining of the day; but it cools rapidly. The tide is coming in with long seething ridges of foam, each flake and clot of crumbled water tinged with a rose-petal pink by the red sunset. All this glory of color, of movement, of unspeakable exhilaration and serenity is utterly lonely.
— Christopher Morley

1922, Atlantic City: One of the famous amusements of Atlantic City when you are not moving along the Boardwalk in the huge invalid-chairs is to go down to Young’s million dollar pier and see the fish net being drawn. They are very numerous and very varied, it is rather a horrible sight, that mass of pullulating life, flapping and beating in its vain struggle against extinction.
— Arthur Conan Doyle

1936, Brigantine: There were no breakers anywhere, no breakers as far as the eye could reach, not a whitecap on the sea. All the ocean was so quiet that when it came up on the beach it just rippled in. There was no small of salt, for the wind was offshore. There was a wall of snow perhaps three feet high at high water mark at the foot of where the dunes once were. The leveling of the dunes has unquestionably brought about many of the inroads of the sea. In many places up and down the coast we saw cottages that had been undermined and toppled into ruins, or thrown about in confusion, or carried in and left stranded quite a distance back from the ocean.
— Cornelius Weygand