While some Jersey Shore communities have quaint stories about how they went from farm land to hugely popular tourist attractions simply because of an idea of a few locals, Seaside Heights origins are much more commercial in nature.
In the early part of the 20th century, a group of developers thought that Seaside Heights, located on the Barnegat Peninsula, would make a fabulous summer vacation spot. They targeted wealthy city dwellers, most of who lived in Philadelphia.
Rather than tell prospective buyers about how great of a spot it was, the developers hosted train trips, bringing potential buyers right to the spot where their future vacation homes could stand. A beach front lot of about 40 feet sold for $100. The deal was too good and the area too beautiful for many to pass up.
The developers hunches were right and before long, vacation homes were being erected along the shore. It was just a few years later that Seaside Heights, located between Seaside Park and Ortley Beach, became a Borough. That same year, a man named Christian Hiering changed Seaside Heights in an important way by bringing electricity to the borough.
He started a company called Barnegat Power and Cold Storage to get the job done.
As it became clear that Seaside Heights was going to continue growing in popularity, plans for expansion were underway. At the end of 1915, a toll bridge opened. The entire cost to build the bridge was a bit over $150,000. Those who wanted to pass in a horse and a buggy were compelled to pay a toll of 25 cents. Cars had to pay 40 cents. Cattle were charged per head.
Prior to this first toll bridge opening, those wishing to visit Seaside Heights had to take a train. This easier access had exactly the desired affect: It brought even more visitors to Seaside Heights.
To accommodate those guests who wanted to stay longer than one day, two hotels sprang up, the Sheridan Inn and the Sumner Hotel. It was soon made known that there were plans to erect all types of amusements in the area. As a result, more hotels were opened and Seaside Heights was on its way to becoming one of the most popular summer family destinations in the north.
Before long, Seaside Heights’ first amusement park opened. Sadly, a fire that occurred in 1955 destroyed much of that first park, including the first carousel ever brought to Seaside Heights. Still, determination and hard work ensured that Seaside Heights would continue growing.
Even in the earliest stages, Seaside Heights exceeded the expectations of developers. During some parts of the summer in 1917, the Pennsylvania Railroad had to send special extra large cars in order to have enough seating to get people back to Philadelphia.
As the growth continued, so did upgrades and improvements. The original bridge was replaced by the Thomas A. Mathis Bridge in 1950. Unlike its predecessor that cost just over $150,000 this new bridge came with a price tag of $6 million.
While there had been a boardwalk for years, it was only a few blocks long. Joseph Stanley Tunney, mayor of Seaside Heights for 25 years, had no doubt that future growth could not happen unless the boardwalk was expanded. As a result of his efforts, the boardwalk was expanded the entire length of the beach.
That allowed room for hotels, more amusements, restaurants, shopping and other businesses. It was a good move. Today, Seaside Heights has only 3100 year round residents. In the summer, however, there are between 30,000 and 40,000 people at any given time.
Summer homes that sit on lots that once sold for $100 now cost an average of $400,000. Visitors come from all over the country to swim, fish, dive and take part in many other water sports. That boardwalk expansion allowed room for amusement areas, a water park, great restaurants and much more.
Even though the history of Seaside Heights doesn’t include tales of locals running with an idea and building a popular resort area, the result is still impressive. Tens of thousands of visitors descend on Seaside Heights during the summer to take advantage of the hard work and vision of a group of developers and the popularity of the area shows no signs of slowing down now.