History of Long Beach Island

History of Long Beach Island

Long Beach Island is located off of the central New Jersey Coast. The island is only about 18 miles long
and narrow enough that one is never more than a short jaunt to the shore. This popular tourist
destination has a long and rich history, and one that includes many trials.

It was in the early 1600’s that Cape May and the inlet were named for Dutch Captain Cornelius Mey. At
that time, the island was lush and green. There was abundant wildlife both on the island and in the
waters surrounding it.

In addition to being an important whaling and fishing area, the island was quite popular with hunters.
The island has had settlers since about 1690. In addition to whaling, fishing and hunting, the island
waterways were a vital shipping route.

Sadly as ships made their way along the inlet, the strength of the tides caused many shipwrecks. Many
lost their lives and there are still ships today sitting off of the coast of Long Beach Island. In an attempt to
reduce the number of shipwrecks, a lighthouse was completed in 1835. It stood 40 feet tall, but the light
was not very bright. While it did help, the lighthouse could only be seen for about 10 miles.

Improvements were made to make the lighthouse more effective. When a storm destroyed the
lighthouse a new one was erected in 1859. By now, the area around the lighthouse was known as
Brownsville.

This name came from the Brown family who operated a boarding house that was popular with hunters
And other island visitors. The boarding house opened in about 1820 and was originally operated by a
man named Jacob Herring. In the mid-1850’s, John Brown bought the boarding house along with a tract
of land from the inlet and reaching to the community that is now called Loveladies.

The Brownsville Lighthouse helped to keep many ships safe on their journeys and continued to do so
when the community and the lighthouse were renamed Barnegat after the Brown family left the area.
The Barnegat Lighthouse is still one of the most well-known landmarks of the island.

Shortly after the new lighthouse was complete, Long Beach Island began to be a popular summer
vacation spot for the wealthy city dwellers of New York and Philadelphia. Many bought property and
built summer homes right along the shore.

As it grew into quite a popular summer spot, amusements spots, such as a boardwalk began to emerge
on the island. At the time, the only way to gain access to the island was via a ferry or private boat. That
changed in 1886 when a railroad bridge was completed connecting the mainland to the island. Now,
coming and going was much easier and many began to visit the island for day trips as well as those who
came for longer stays. Later, in the 1950’s a Causeway was added so that motorists could access the
island via automobiles.

For all of the island’s growth, there were also setbacks. A number of serious storms caused damage to
the island. An unusually harsh winter storm wreaked havoc on the island’s beaches in 1920, destroying
most.

A few years later, in 1923, another storm caused further damage and the number of tourists visiting the
island decreased dramatically. With less need for rail service, the trains stopped running to the island in
1923. In 1935, a storm washed the railway bridge away completely. The island’s boardwalk was washed
away in a 1944 storm.

Aside from the storms, another force of nature can be blamed for the reduction in tourism to the island
in the early 20th century: The shark attacks of 1916, which occurred in the first half of July, have become
the stuff of legends. Many documentaries have been made about these attacks that left 4 dead and
another injured. While there is some disagreement among experts about whether the attacks were, in
fact, the work of a shark, most people at that time believed that they were and the beaches on the
island seemed suddenly much less appealing.

The very famous Peter Benchley novel, JAWS, which was later made into a movie, was modeled after
these infamous attacks.

Slowly, tourism on the island picked back up, but there were still storms that would undo much of the
progress that had been made. One of the worst occurred in 1962. The Ash Wednesday Storm, which
lasted from March 6 through March 8, almost destroyed the island completely and left 40 dead and
hundreds injured.

Still, people came back and rebuilt and the island continue to draw visitors each summer. Today, about
8500 people live on the island full time. During the summer months, that number explodes as tourists
come from near and far to spend lazy days on the beach and enjoy the charm that still is Long Beach
Island.

July 18, 2019, 4:53 am