Showing posts with label beach.
Showing posts with label beach.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Conquered by mosquitoes: New Sweden's Fort Elfsborg

Not a cloud in the sky, and temperatures were expected to hit the mid 80s -- perfect beach weather. No doubt, the sandy expanses of Long Beach Island, Wildwood, Asbury Park and Sandy Hook were already reaching peak capacity.

. On the way, I'd passed several residential garages and driveways, evidence of a shore community whose more photogenic side was pointed toward the lovely bay view.

New Jersey has its share of forts that don't exist anymore (we've shared the stories of the Revolutionary-era forts Billings and Mercer along the Delaware River), but Elfsborg is the granddaddy of 'em all. Not only is it not there anymore; it was the product of a colony that most New Jerseyans are unaware ever existed.

I first discovered the existence (or maybe the concept) of Fort Elfsborg many years ago on an aimless drive through Salem County, where there are still reliable signs at crossroads to tell you which towns are in which direction. One, somewhere, pointed to Fort Elfsborg. My trusty WPA Guide to 1930's New Jersey noted that Elsinboro Point was the site of the first Swedish settlement in the state. The colonists built a fort there in 1643 "to force Dutch trading ships to haul down their flags."

Colonizing Swedes came to the Delaware Valley in 1638, with hopes of getting their share of the lucrative New World fur trade, despite the fact that the Dutch had already claimed the area and built Fort Nassau near current day Gloucester City along the Delaware, then known as the South River. The Swedes chose to build their fort closer to the mouth of the river, figuring they'd force the Dutch and English to get their permission to sail past, rather than having unfettered access to their own territory.

It was a perfect case of "looks good on paper" - an idea that probably seemed so logical that the Swedes might have wondered why the Dutch hadn't already secured the area. Reality proved different. The true adversary did not reach the Swedish settlement by ship, but by air, as evidenced by the name the colonists gave their fort: Myggenborg, or Mosquito Castle. The marshy land on which the fort was built was so rich with the pesky skeeters and gnats and their stinging so relentless that it was said the garrisoned soldiers appeared to have been afflicted with a horrible disease. It's small wonder that the fort was abandoned not long after.

Historians suspect that the actual fort site is underwater, somewhere off the Salem County coastline. In fact, PSE&G, the Swedish Colonial Society and the New Sweden Centre funded a 2012 expedition that explored both the Delaware Bay and the phragmites-infested coastline for evidence of human habitation. While they discovered portions of smoking pipes and arrowheads, none could be linked to the Swedish settlement. Given changes in sea level, the inevitable depositing of silt and whatnot over the years, impact of storms, what was close to the surface in the 1600s is likely well buried at this point, and the complex root systems of the phragmites are unlikely to give up any secrets.

As for the beach itself, the public portion is relatively small, but serviced by a gated 10-stall paved parking lot courtesy of PSEG Nuclear (that's right - free beach parking brought to you by the wonders of nuclear power!). Fans of natural beachscapes will appreciate the rustling phragmites and the dried-out bay vegetation along the high tide line, but that's about it. It's beautiful and somewhat secluded, but best left to the locals.

The WPA guide notes that Oakwood Beach was a summer colony, named for large oaks that once stood there and were taken down to build ships before the Civil War. Given the tidy upkeep of the 七乐彩彩票app下载s there today, one has to believe that folks still enjoy living the shore life on Delaware Bay, hopefully without the relentless pesky insects.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Oysters to country七乐彩彩票登录 club to bungalows: Laurence Harbor and Raritan Bay

You might notice the name on an exit sign as you drive along the Garden State Parkway: Laurence Harbor. Spelled as it is, in a slighly-unconventional manor, the community's name, for me at least, has always evoked a degree of exclusivity, or maybe just a little hoity, without the toity, so to speak. When I checked The WPA Guide to 1930s New Jersey, I found it described as a "small resort," leading me to wonder whether it had been more along the lines of Keansburg or Deal, Seaside Heights or Avalon.

Today, it's part of Old Bridge, and we ended up there a few weeks ago, when our birding exploits found us exploring Raritan Bay via Route 35. It's not exactly the place most people think of when they're looking for interesting gulls and shorebirds, but it's been productive in the past, particularly at South Amboy, whose shoreline is a regular birder hotspot (and a particularly scenic view of Staten Island).

Fortunately, Old Bridge seems to be making the most of its shoreline with series of boardwalks in its Waterfront Park. The area was hit hard during Hurricane Sandy but to our eyes the walks and surrounding parkland looked largely (or at least convincingly) restored.

Laurence Harbor, back in the day.
In certain areas, small bungalow houses were packed tightly together, reminiscent of other shore communities that evolved from summer vacation enclaves to year-round residences. Laurence Harbor, in particular, seemed especially packed, hemmed in on one side by Route 35 and by the edge of a bluff on the other. It's ringed by the one-way, ovular Shoreland Circle, which we were basically forced to take if we had any hope of getting out of the neighborhood.

Once we got to the waterfront, we were taken by the views -- it's obvious why someone would want to live on the bay portion of Shoreland, with its modest altitude affording a beautiful perspective.

As it turns out, the shorefront community is just the latest in a series of settlements there. First the property of the well-heeled Provost and Travers families, who owned the property from the 1700s well into the late 1800s, it eventually came into the hands of the man whose name it now bears: Laurence Lamb. He converted 400 acres of shorefront land to a luxurious country七乐彩彩票登录 club, complete with golf course, clubhouse and dining amenities. It's said that from its opening in early 1899 into the first two decades of the 20th century, the club attracted celebrities ranging from members of the Vanderbilt family and the Prince of Wales to Clark Gable and Guy Lombardo, coming to enjoy the bay's native chingarora oysters. (Both Gable and Lombardo would have been a bit young - and not yet celebrities, but heck, it's a good story.)

The current residences are the latest iteration of a community created in 1922 by developers who'd bought the storied Laurence Harbor Country Club. Plots of 25 by 100 feet were sold to bungalow dwellers at prices ranging from $75 for the more inland tracts to $500 for shorefront property the boasted panoramic views of Staten Island and the hills of Monmouth County. To complete the seaside atmosphere, summertime residents enjoyed a boardwalk with a merry-go-round, concessions, a dance hall and bandshell.

Evolution from summer haven to year-round residences came with the Great Depression of the 1930s, as many owners winterized their weekend houses and lived more cheaply at the Raritan Bayshore. The boardwalk lasted through the 1940s, but a combination of three devastating hurricanes and the construction of the Garden State Parkway in the 1950s spelled the end of Laurence Harbor as a shore resort. North Jersey residents, it seemed, were finding it easier to head farther south to towns along the Atlantic coast, rather than weekending on the bay.

Today, that boardwalk is replaced by a new walkway, but with a more natural setting. A portion of the Old Bridge Waterfront Park runs along the Laurence Harbor coast, phragmites blowing in the wind and gulls wheeling overhead. Our visit was curtailed by frigid gusts, but we'll surely be back when the breezes are a bit milder and we can explore a bit more.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Jersey Shore's first resort: Short Beach on Tucker's Island

As a kid, I was always looking for parallels: if there were North, South and East Brunswicks, where was West Brunswick? Same for the Oranges: South, East and West were there, so where was North Orange?

And if my curiosity had ventured a little further south, I might have observed that there was a Long Beach Island, so a Short Beach had to around somewhere.

Short Beach, circa 1839, courtesy Library of Congress.
Well, yeah, it was. Once. And it was a vacation destination before LBI ever was. Way before. As in, George Washington could have slept there, had he ventured to the very southernmost tip of Long Beach Island. Not that the Father of our Country ever spent the night there, but had he wanted to, there would have been a bunk waiting for him.

Today, though, that bunk and the island it would have stood on are gone, wiped from the map almost 90 years ago.

This very first resort on the New Jersey shore dates back to sometime around 1740, when a man named Ephraim Morse settled on Short Beach, bringing cattle to graze on the island's abundant salt hay. He appears to have made some extra money selling provisions to mariners who sheltered in the nearby bay during storms, and the summers eventually brought visitors who camped on the beaches to enjoy the shore breezes. Turbulent conditions eventually forced Morse and his wife from the island, after they lost their five children and house to a relentless winter storm.

Reuben Tucker's luck would be a bit different. After buying the land from Morse in 1765, he built his 七乐彩彩票app下载 and lodge on the highest point of the island, about five hundred feet from the shore. Attracted by a terrain of salt hay and maritime forest, Philadelphia-area game bird hunters and fishermen were more than happy to ventured through the Pinelands via stagecoach to get to the island for a sportsman's holiday, sailing the final leg of the trip from what became the town of Tuckerton. The inn grew in popularity as word of Tucker's hospitality grew, drawing Philadelphia Quakers who held camp meetings on the property for several summers after the Revolution.

Tucker's inn continued to draw visitors well into the 1800s, despite the continuing erosion that cut off a third of Short Beach to create Little Beach. With none of the riprap, jetties or dense development that somewhat anchor the barrier islands today, storms and the tides continued to shift the sands dramatically.

When the inn burned down in 1845, the Tucker's Island (or Egg Harbor) Lighthouse was built on the same site, starting what became a somewhat complicated relationship between the island, the U.S. Lighthouse Board and mariners attempting to navigate the area's inlets. The location seemed to be among the few places on the small island that seemed safe for construction, but the light itself was dim, and conditions within the inlet generally discouraged seafarers from approaching at night. When the towering Absecon Lighthouse was lit in 1857, Tucker's Island Light was extinguished.

The decision was fated to be temporary, with the lighthouse put back into service ten years later. Despite the shifting sands, the Lighthouse Board built a new keeper's house in 1879, topped by a lantern light. By that time, several 七乐彩彩票app下载s and inns had been constructed on the island, as well, along with a 七乐彩彩票平台 and a lifesaving station.

Still, the fates seemed not to have made their minds up about Tucker's Island or the lighthouse. Sands continued to shift, reuniting the tiny island with Long Beach Island and then forcing them to part again for good in 1920. Eventually the shifts began to take their toll on what man had built, and structures began to wash away with the sand beneath them, leaving the lighthouse as one of the few buildings left behind.

Finally, what seemed probable became inevitable. The Lighthouse Service ordered the decommissioning of the light in September 1927, and a few weeks later, the waves toppled it into the sea. If you visit the 's faithful recreation of the light, you can see dramatic photos taken as the building toppled off the last remains of its foundation, falling almost intact into the water.

Though Reuben Tucker's Inn and the lighthouse are just memories now, the story of Tucker's Island most likely isn't over. The ocean, as we've seen in recent years, tends to have its own plans for New Jersey's barrier islands, and rumor has it that Tucker's Island is once again emerging among the shifting sands. Given what we've learned about building on sandbars, though, I'd venture to guess that we won't be seeing much new construction when it appears.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Have you driven a Ford (on the beach) lately?

Just about every numbered highway in New Jersey has at least one: a car dealership. They're so commonplace that they'd almost be invisible, except for the giant flags and inflatable thingies dancing in the breeze created by passing traffic. It's hard to believe that there was a time when there were no dealers at all: no lots filled with rows and rows of cars, no salespeople asking what they needed to do to get you into "that" car today. Originally, most if not all auto manufacturers sold their products through catalogs and print advertisements.

Given its onetime status as America's Motor City, it's probably not surprising to discover that Detroit was the 七乐彩彩票app下载 of the first independent automobile showroom. However, the very first Ford dealership wasn't in Michigan, but in the resort town of Cape May, its founding the unintentional consequence of an auto race.

In the early days of the 20th century, manufacturers and hobbyists tested the latest and greatest cars on sand tracks and even on frozen lakes. The names of now-famous brands were participants, including Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet, who drove their own races.

Cape May's beach was lauded as an ideal spot for auto racing, prompted by the formation of the city's own automobile enthusiasts club in 1903. Two years later, more that 10,000 people flocked to the resort city for a weekend beach carnival that included three days of motor racing. All of the big names were expected to be there, including Chevrolet (driving a Fiat), Ford, professional racer Walter Christie and a host of others.

According to the August 31, 1905 issue of The Motor World, Ford was delayed in reaching Cape May for the August 25 races, forcing him to drive his 60 horsepower car without benefit of making necessary tuneups. The auto magnate came in dead last in a field of four, with eyewitnesses later claiming that a sudden wave had overtaken his car, literally washing out his lead.

Reports of the time say nothing of it, but legend has it that Ford was counting on winning the race so he could use the prize money to pay for his accommodations at the Stockton Inn. Lacking those funds, he offered the hotel manager stock in Ford Motor 七乐彩彩票app下载, which had gone public only a year earlier. No dice. Maybe the manager was skeptical about Ford's viability, or maybe he was simply risk averse, but he wanted cash.

Dan Focer, sitting in the Model F he bought
directly from Henry Ford.
Ford then looked to the unquestionably valuable assets he had with him. Besides his race car, he'd brought a Model F sedan, which he offered to local resident Dan Focer for $400. To sweeten the deal, he promised to make Focer the first dealer of Ford vehicles. An engineer on the West Jersey Railroad, Focer agreed to the transaction and started selling cars in Cape May three years later, around the same time Ford began using the production line to manufacture cars. He later took on J.E. Mecray as a partner in the dealership.

As for Ford, he left Cape May with his accounts settled. A few years later, he and a partner purchased land in the city, with the vision of building transatlantic shipping facilities to import cars to Europe. However, nothing became of the plan.

Focer and Mecray reportedly went out of business in 1937, though the WPA Guide to 1930s New Jersey claims that the "First Ford Agency" on Washington Avenue was still displaying the car in 1938. Regardless, the vehicle hasn't been seen publicly in quite some time. It was last known to be with a now-defunct Ford dealership in Chester, PA.