History of Asbury Park
The history of Asbury Park as a seaside resort community began in 1871 when a brush manufacturer
from New York, James A. Bradley, set about the task of developing the area. Asbury Park, named for
Francis Asbury, the first American bishop in the Methodist Episcopalian church, was incorporated as a
borough in 1874 and then as a city in March of 1897.
Located in Monmouth County on the central coast of New Jersey, Asbury Park was full of promise and
possibility as a seaside resort community. Bradley made great strides in seeing this come to pass. He
allowed the Atlantic Coast Electric Company to bring electricity to the area, installed a boardwalk, and
added a pavilion and other amenities.
Seeing how quickly the city was turning into a popular summer retreat, other businessmen and
developers hopped on board and added yet more attractions and amenities. In 1888, Ernest Schnitzler
erected the Palace Merry-Go-Round. This was the beginning of Palace Amusements. A spot that would
one day end up on the National Register of Historic Places yet, sadly, be demolished anyway.
Uriah White brought the first water well system to the area, and it seemed that the growth potential was
unlimited. More than 600,000 people would descend on the area each summer. Traveling on the New
York and Long Branch Railroad, visitors would come from New York City and Philadelphia to enjoy the
amusements and attractions offered in Asbury Park.
During the late 19th century, many hotels were built in Asbury Park to accommodate the growing number
of affluent visitors to the area. The 1920’s brought yet more additions including the Paramount Theater
and the Casino.
In the midst of the growth, Asbury Park was home to a tragedy in 1934 when the small cruising yacht SS
Morro Castle washed ashore after wrecking off of the coast. In 2009, a monument was dedicated to the
134 lives that were lost in the tragedy.
After the Second World War, much of the farmland in Asbury Park slowly began to morph into tracts of
suburban housing. The area also remained a popular summer getaway, but it would not be long before
the popularity of Asbury Park as a resort community began to decline.
In 1960, Monmouth Mall opened. Just a few miles from Asbury Park, this mall lured many of the
shoppers that once patronized the downtown area of Asbury Park. When Six Flag Amusement Park
opened nearby just a few years later, even more of the summer visitors stopped coming.
While the city was in decline from its previous heyday, when it was a sort of Hamptons of its day, Palace
Amusements hung on for many years. While many other buildings were in disrepair and businesses had
closed, Palace Amusements continued operating each summer until 1988.
In the summer of 1970, events took place in the city that would forever mar the landscape.
The race riots of 1970 started fairly small with nothing more than a few small groups of young people causing
minimal damage. By the time the riots were over, seven days had passed, there was more than $4 million in damage and 165 people were injured.
Many Asbury Park buildings were completely destroyed during the riots.
In 1973, Bruce Springsteen gave Asbury Park a place in musical history when he released his debut
album, Greetings from Asbury Park.
Despite the connection to this well-loved rocker, during the 1980’s and 1990’s, the city continued its
steady decline. The city has never fully recovered from the series of events that led to its decline, but
modern developers are changing that.
While, as mentioned earlier, Palace Amusements was demolished in 2004, there are now plans in the
works to rebuild the area. There are some plans that include keeping the original look of Asbury Park,
but much of what will be built will not resemble the buildings of the past.
As developers work to bring glory days to Asbury Park once again, there are many books and Web sites
dedicated to preserving the memories of the parts of the city that are gone forever.
Many strides have been made over the last few years to restore Asbury Park as a popular vacation spot,
and visitors are starting to once again descend on Asbury Park. The new boardwalk is home to live
entertainment, popular nightclubs and other attractions. Of course, the beach continues to be a draw.
Visitors to Asbury Park today may not see much of the history, but the new Asbury Park will prove to be
just as much as fun as the former.