Jersey Shore History Highlights
The Jersey Shore has brought joy and sustenance to all who have visited its beaches and bays for thousands of years. Long before European explorers discovered the new world, the indigenous people known as the Lenape would make an annual pilgrimage to the coastal region and barrier islands where they would camp, canoe, fish, hunt, trap and gather shells used for their currency called wampum. They came, like today’s visitors, to enjoy the warm sun, brilliant beaches and gentle bay waters. History tells us that in 1609 one of Henry Hudson’s crew coined the word “Barende-gat” meaning inlet with breakers which over time became known as the Barnegat Inlet and adjoining Barnegat Bay. The Dutch established trading posts in the area where they exchanged beads and wampum for beaver and muskrat. In 1664 the English took over from the Dutch and within 50 years whaling and logging became the shore’s growth industries centered at Toms River, Tuckerton and Barnegat.
In 1750 a storm opened a wide inlet halfway between Point Pleasant and Barnegat Inlet, it was named the Cranberry Inlet due to the berries that grew on its shores, it was soon known to be the best inlet on the US east coast being both wide and gentle without the turbulence of Barnegat. A favorite passage for pirates, the privateer turned pirate, Captain Kidd found it to be his choice when hiding the rare treasures and gold captured from French and Spanish cargo ships. The local legend claims his loot could still be buried on Money Island, off Island Heights or on one of the many small islands in the bay.
During the American Revolution the shore area provided supplies to Washington’s troops and was consequently targeted by the British. In 1780 Joshua Huddy was commissioned as a privateer and as captain of his gunboat, the Black Snake, marauded loyalists’ shipments. Two years later, while defending Toms River at a fortress call the Block House, he was captured and later hung. Huddy Park in Toms River is named in his honor.
Cranberry Inlet significantly aided the growth in commerce and population of the shore area until a storm caused it to be closed in 1812. Its closure made shipping more difficult and placed a burden on the local economy. In an attempt to right mother nature’s wrong, in 1821 an entrepreneur named Michael Ortley began a project to reopen the inlet, with success finally achieved after two years, the inlet soon filled back with sand. What remains of his efforts is the area now named Ortley Beach.
The Barnegat light house was first constructed in 1834 to aid shipping, it was only 40’ tall with non-flashing illumination and was insufficient for the needs of shipping during the industrial revolution. By 1859 it was replaced with the ‘Old Barney’ we know today, standing proudly at 172’ and shedding its light for 22 miles. In 1862 the railroad came to Ocean County and by the 1880s a building boom was underway in Lakewood with many hotels making this a resort town. The first boardwalk in the area was constructed in Point Pleasant Beach in 1895.
The decades that followed saw continued growth in the shore area but the most dramatic change occurred on the opening of the Garden State Parkway in 1954. In the ten years from 1950 to 1960 the Ocean County population nearly doubled from 56,000 to 108,000. The shore area exploded with beachfront estates now only steps from summer bungalows. In 1963 a new dynamic in housing came to the forefront of real estate development – senior citizen housing. A Lakewood developer, Bob Schmertz, founded New Jersey’s Leisure Village, a concept that was copied and spread across the nation.
By the 1970s, civil unrest in the more populous areas, the growth in retirement living and an increase in disposable income available for leisure were trends that found their outcomes in residential and commercial development at the shore. By 1990 the Ocean County population was 433,000 and Community Medical Center in Toms River was the largest non-teaching hospital in the State. From 2000 to 2010, Ocean County’s phenomenal growth continued, making it the fastest growing county in the State.
The forty miles of barrier island beaches and their communities that contain Barnegat and Little Egg Harbor bays continue to offer the joys found by Lenape – the warmth of the sun, brilliant beaches and gentle bay waters – these joys can be yours, when your new home is a ‘Jersey Shore Premium Home.’