We have become an island of lost landmarks. Fire, storm, tide and general obsolescence have claimed nearly all of them. The big hotels, the boardwalk, the gunning clubs, the train, the old causeway and even Tuckers Island itself have all vanished. All we have are photographs and the memories of those people who were here and who lived through these changing times....
from the Preface
204 pages, 237 illustrations, photographs, and maps; index and bibliography
by John Bailey Lloyd
Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Eighteen Miles of History on Long Beach Island by John Bailey Lloyd. Copyright © 1994. All Rights Reserved.
South of this unnamed inlet there is another barrier beach on the chart. It is some seven or eight miles in length and is labeled Mihannan Shoal, obviously an Indian name whose meaning has been lost. Other maps of the period call it Short Beach. It was the custom then to name uninhabited barrier beaches after either the nearest inlet or some obvious physical feature; thus Barnegat Beach was also known locally as Long Beach or Eighteen Mile Beach, and its southerly neighbor, being about one-third the size, was called Short Beach.
Ephraim Morse was the first known settler on Short Beach. As early as the 1740s he was grazing cattle on its thousands of acres of salt hay and, to supplement his income, he used his dwelling on the edge of the bayside marshes as a grocery for stormbound mariners who often sought shelter inside the inlet in the deep channel behind his island. Short Beach was also, with its easy access to splendid ocean bathing, an ideal location for health- and pleasure-seekers, making it the first seashore resort on the New Jersey coast. Morse did well for several years until tragedy struck. One winter night his house began to wash away as the bay rose in a storm tide. He fled with his wife and five small children through waist-deep, ice-cold water to the high dunes. There was no cover, and exposure to sleet and rain over the next thirty-six hours caused the children to sicken and die. Morse and his wife survived, and when finally rescued they left for the mainland never to return, although accounts say they eventually had five more children.
Except for harvesting salt hay, barrier beaches were virtually useless for farming; in those days, they often sold for a few cents an acre. In 1765 Reuben Tucker, a Quaker from Orange County, New York, bought out Morses interest in Short Beach and settled down for much the same kind of livelihood as Morse, but Tucker took the precaution to build his house on the high north end of the island, where a lighthouse would one day be located. He enlarged the structure into a tavern and place of entertainment. Such was Tuckers personality that his fame as a good host soon spread among watermen from Sandy Hook to the Carolinas. Tuckers Beach or Tuckers Island became a favored place to wait out an Atlantic storm.
In the years after the American Revolution, Tuckers Island continued to be very popular with prosperous Philadelphia Quakers, many of whom had established the base of their fortunes during the war by smelting bog iron and shipping timber out of Egg Harbor before moving to Pennsylvania. They were well-acquainted with the area and with Tucker and used his island and facilities for their five-day camp meetings held every summer. These gatherings of Friends were religious in purpose, but during them the men found every excuse to hunt and fish while the ladies enjoyed the sun and surf. For the young it was a time of matchmaking and courting. Many returned at other times of the year to stay with the Tucker family.
Tucker had fathered two sons, Stephen, who took the Tory side in the Revolution and died an exile in Nova Scotia after the war, and Ebenezer, who took up the Colonies cause. At the end of the Revolution, Ebenezer entered the mercantile and shipping business, becoming so politically powerful in the area that the mainland village once known as Clamtown or Egg Harbor voted to change its name to Tuckerton in his honor.
Meanwhile, Reuben Tucker was finding that he could turn a nice profit on his island by making the big farmhouse available to Burlington County and Philadelphia sportsmen willing to make the long, horse-and-wagon journey through the pines to Tuckerton to book safe ferry to the beach. Most visitors to the seashore in those early years were in the habit of setting up tents or lean-tos on the dunes, but staying at Tuckers comfortable place was the beginning of a trend which led to the development of other early boarding hotels like the Philadelphia Company House and the Mansion of Health on nearby Long Beach Island.
When Reuben died, his widow, who was known affectionately to all as Mother Tucker not Mammy Tucker kept the old place going for many more years. The original one-story house with its hipped roof and broad piazza became a cluster of three buildings joined together but obviously built at different times. Everywhere, the names of former guests had been cut into the boards or written on the backs of bleached clam shells and were nailed to every wall and post. The Tucker House with its three prominent cedar trees appeared on coastal charts as a navigators landmark as late as 1845, even though it burned to the ground that very year. It had been such a familiar reckoning point that the first Tuckers Lighthouse was built on the site three years later.
Mother Tucker died around 1815 and was succeeded by her manager, Joseph Horner, who left within a few years to start his own place on the south end of Long Beach. Meanwhile, the Tucker House was run by the Rogers and Willits families right up until the time it was destroyed by fire. Tuckers Island had by then been much reduced in size, a process that started in 1800 when a great winter storm cut a new inlet across its lower third. The portion below that inlet was forever afterward known as Little Beach, so now there was a Long Beach, a Short Beach and a Little Beach. This New Inlet, as it would be called for the next 125 years, became the best inlet on the coast of New Jersey. It is known today as the Little Egg Harbor Inlet.
After the New Inlet cut through on the south end of Tuckers Beach, the one on the north at last got a name, Old Inlet. Within thirty years its entrance began to shoal up badly, and by the time a lighthouse was built on the site of the old Tucker place in 1848, it was navigable only at high tide. Old Inlet closed completely by 1874 as great quantities of sand formed a hook around Tuckers Island, now separated from its beach by a slough or arm of the bay. The slough ran roughly northwest to southeast and was so wide on the bay or northwest side that hotel guests on the island had to cross it in a flat-bottomed boat when they went sea bathing; on the southeast or ocean end a mile away, the slough was narrow enough to have a small wooden bridge across it. A writer in 1866 noted that the bathing ground at Short Beach is not as good as it was formerly, as sand bars have accumulated some distance from the main shore. It had been a hundred years since Tucker had bought the island and given his name to it.
The first Tucker Beach Light, established in 1848, was discontinued after only a dozen years of operation, most likely because the Old Inlet that it guarded was now of limited usefulness while the New Inlet, several miles south of the lighthouse, was the one that provided the only safe passage between Little Egg Harbor Bay and the ocean. This was confusing to mariners, but it was also probable that funding for another lighthouse was unavailable because on the eve of the Civil War, Congress had more serious matters to consider.
Tuckers or Little Egg Harbor Light was reestablished by an Act of Congress in 1865 without any provisions to have it moved because there really was no better location for a lighthouse anywhere for miles around: The high ground at the north end of Tuckers Island provided security as well as greater visibility. For the next sixty-three years its signal six red flashes and one long white from the tower atop the keepers cottage could be seen twelve miles at sea on clear nights. This characteristic identified the light, 20.5 miles below Barnegat Light and twelve miles north of Absecon Light in Atlantic City. While the signal marked the entrance to the Little Egg Harbor Inlet, its red flashes cautioned mariners to study their charts because the inlet was not at all near the light. It was three miles away.
When the Little Egg Harbor Light was relit after the Civil War, it was also substantially rebuilt, with a black tower atop a white dwelling. The first officially appointed light keeper was Eber Rider, who was born at Tuckerton in 1827. He had married Mary Cranmer of Mayetta, and together they had twenty-one children, only six of whom survived to adulthood. In 1866 their eldest son, Jarvis, was appointed at the age of twenty to be the first master of the Little Egg Harbor Life Saving Station on Tuckers Island. The next son, Anson J., became a game warden. Amanda, the only daughter, married George Penrod, who had a store at Beach Haven. There were three more sons: Eber Jr., Arthur and Hilliard.
Care of the light was a rigorous, time-consuming occupation, and each of the Rider children was pressed into it, including Amanda, but only Arthur took a liking to it; when his father retired on January 1, 1904, after thirty-nine years of service, Arthur succeeded him, staying on until the very end in 1927. Together father and son ran the Little Egg Harbor Light for sixty-three years, a remarkable record in the history of the Lighthouse Service. Arthur was assisted for awhile by Hilliard, who died in his twenties.
The Life Saving station had to be built more than a mile south of the lighthouse so the crews could get their equipment out onto the ocean beaches, where all the strandings and shipwrecks took place. A bridge was built across the slough at its narrowest point to accommodate the vehicles used to haul the lifeboat and the surf cannon. Over the next forty-six years, Jarvis Rider and his crews logged two hundred shipwrecks.
For nearly two decades after the burning of the Tucker boarding house in 1845, there is no record of any vacation activity on the island although there must surely have been campers. Local competition may have been a factor. Bonds, across the Old Inlet on Long Beach, was flourishing. Since 1854 vacationers had been taking the Camden and Atlantic Railroad to Absecon and sailing up Great Bay to Bonds place. Nor did ships crews come to the island anymore. Stormbound mariners purchased whiskey and groceries at Hatfields store on Tuckers Neck, located along Shooting Thoroughfare less than a mile across the water from the lighthouse. Hatfields became well-known enough to be on the official navigation charts of those years.
It was the arrival of the Tuckerton Railroad that finally changed the whole history of the area. The completion of a twenty-nine-mile track from Whiting in north-central Ocean County to Tuckerton in 1871 promised to bring thousands of vacationers into the area. The Camden and Amboy line, which crossed the state, passed through Whiting, and would bring many to the seashore for the first time. The round trip from Camden to Tuckerton cost $2.50. These newcomers would need places to stay, and already there was a brand new resort starting up at Beach Haven with two hotels and many attractive summer cottages.
Inspired by this activity, Alfred Stevens, one of the Life Saving Service crew at Captain Jarvis Riders station, supervised the construction of a four-story hotel on Tuckers Island with two outside decks or galleries. After a wing was added, there were twenty-eight rooms. It was near the Life Saving station and would provide additional income for Stevens and his wife and the men who had helped to build it. During the summer months they were idle and were not paid when the station was closed. Stevens had backing, but the hotel was not a huge investment because, with the exception of doors and windows, there was little expense for lumber. Thrown overboard in storms or washed off the decks of ships, it was gathered up from the beaches. Stevens named his hotel the Columbia and advertised in the Philadelphia papers. Its first season was 1875, one year after the Parry House opened at Beach Haven and a year before the Engleside Hotel.
The island had not seen such activity since the days of Reuben Tucker. The success of the Columbia inspired Eber Rider, now in his tenth year as keeper of the lighthouse, to build an even bigger hotel nearby on the slough where boatloads of happy guests could sail right up to the front door. It was finished in 1879, and it and the Columbia were filled to capacity every summer. Rider at first called it simply The House of Entertainment, but financial backers suggested St. Albans to give it a little more class. In those years when the railroad ran only into Tuckerton and had a spur track to Edge Cove for steamboat service, it was just as easy to go to Tuckers Island as to Beach Haven. It was at this time that the name Sea Haven was given to the community to compete with Beach Haven.
It was more than just a name change. A company was formed to sell real estate. Tuckers Island, where the lighthouse, the two hotels and the Life Saving Station were, would be called Sea Haven, and all the property across the slough would still be called Tuckers Beach, which by now since the Old Inlet had closed up in 1874 had formed a huge hooklike beach with shoals nearly a half-mile wide around the eastern and southern edges of the island. Tuckers Beach was now part of one continuous stretch of land that reached all the way to Barnegat Light.
In 1884 the two hotels at Sea Haven advertised access to telegraph facilities for vacationers because the Little Egg Life Saving Station had a unit of the U.S. Signal Service with a submarine cable to Tuckerton. No station on Long Beach Island had such access yet, and it was suggested that businessmen could relax a little more at Sea Haven knowing that they had instant contact with their offices in distant cities by means of telegraph. The resort was also served daily throughout the summer months by the small paddle-wheel steamer Mary with stops at Edge Cove and Absecon. Sea Haven had reached its zenith.
The Tuckerton Railroad, backed by the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad, was building a railroad bridge across Manahawkin Bay to Long Beach Island and laying tracks south to Beach Haven and north to Barnegat City. The project was completed in 1886. There were plans to take the train the additional four and a half miles to Sea Haven, but nothing ever came of it. The project, financed as it was by the Pennsylvania Railroad, may have been dropped because of friendly connections with Charles T. Parry of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, who was the principal stockholder in the land company developing Beach Haven. He had just finished building the Baldwin Hotel and may not have welcomed the competition from another resort. To be deprived of a railroad stop when one was so near at hand was, in those years, a serious setback, and by the 1890s Sea Haven was finished.
Besides the Riders at the lighthouse and the Life Saving station, there were in the 1890s always six or seven other families who were classified as winter residents because the men were all on duty at the Life Saving station ten months of the year. There were a dozen or so school-age children in these families, so in 1895 a school was built near the lighthouse out of the proceeds from several clambakes. Clambakes were traditional annual fund-raisers at Life Saving stations then, and they were usually well-attended by summer people, who contributed generously.
The new schoolhouse opened its doors December 9, 1895, with Lydia Wills of Tuckerton teaching nine students in six grades. Hitherto, classes had been taught at the Life Saving station, which was on the south side of the island. Since almost all the children lived near the station, they now had to walk a mile to and from school in all kinds of weather. The school doubled as a community center and also was used as a church on Sundays. It had only one big room with a dozen double desks, a potbellied stove and an organ. It was equipped with a belfry in the shape of a watchtower to match the architectural style of the lighthouse and the Life Saving station. The large bell could be used as a signal in fog.
By the turn of the century, fourteen years after the railroad had come to Beach Haven, tiny Sea Haven, its neighbor just five miles down the beach, was in slow decline. Only a handful of summer residents still kept cottages on Tuckers Beach near the ocean, and some were still on the island at Sea Haven, but not for long. The Columbia and St. Albans hotels were in ruins. In 1907 the Sea Haven Company mortgaged the whole south end of the island, about a thousand acres, to the company that had originally financed Riders hotel. They planned an ambitious development called St. Albans-by-the-Sea with lots for sale on a grid of twenty streets, all named after American lakes and intersected by three wide avenues running north and south. They speculated that the railroad might some day be extended south from Beach Haven, but that was never to happen. Finally, by 1918, they were forced into bankruptcy, two years before a fierce storm carved out Beach Haven Inlet and made any further road contact with St. Albans impossible.
There was no gravel on Sea Haven to build streets. The only roads were made of hard-packed sand and crushed clam and oyster shells atop layers of salt hay. Weekly trips were made up the beach to Penrods General Store at the corner of Beach Avenue and Amber Street in Beach Haven, with Harry the Horse pulling the two-wheeled cart loaded with those children who wished to go along on the shopping expedition and most of them wouldnt have missed it no matter what the weather was like. They crossed the slough bridge at the south end of the island over onto Tuckers Beach. From that point it was a six-mile walk up to Beach Haven. These trips were always great social occasions for the shoppers to visit with Amanda Rider Penrod. Once the cart was loaded, the older children had to walk back with the adults while Harry, lent for the trip by the Light Saving station, patiently pulled his load along the rutted sand road that led south out of Beach Haven.
The families of the surfmen lived in six little clapboard-sided bungalows, each painted a different color. Inside, one half of each house was heated with a three-burner kerosene stove where the family cooked and ate all their meals. The other half was divided into two bedrooms, one for the parents and the other for the children. The families of the Life Saving Service were there only from September until the last of May; then they went home to Tuckerton and Parkertown for the summer. There was a food allotment from the station for each man, but it purchased little except staples, so most people on the island caught and killed nearly all their food. It was unusual for them ever to see red meat or any meat other than duck or goose. They ate fish, clams and oysters nearly every day of their lives, and sickness of any kind was rare.
Life at Sea Haven in these last nostalgic years went on. The Atlantic winds howled across the shallow, wave-washed shoals, snapping the red and black storm signal flags on the high tower of the Life Saving station. The island children, when not sitting next to the big, warm stove in their classroom doing their lessons with hand-held slate boards and chalk, were out digging clams in the flats or fishing for eels from the rickety pier of the boathouse. They climbed all the enormous dunes, played in the hulls of old shipwrecks or cautiously entered the gloomy, echo-filled hotels, on the lookout for ghosts. When spring finally came and hard sunlight took the chill out of the ever-present wind, they would run through the twisting trails in the high reeds and bayberry. They looked for exotic bits of flotsam washed into the slough by storm tides. Across the slough bridge came the booming sound of the surf on stormy days.
Arthur H. T. Rider had been keeper of the light for only six years when there were demands for an acetylene-powered range light on the south end of the island to guide vessels into the New Inlet. Tuckers Light was, after all, several miles away, guarding nothing but an inlet filled with sand; it had become a useless expense. Little was done, however, to make changes, and the daily task of running the light went on as before. In 1915 the U.S. Life Saving Service became the U.S. Coast Guard. There were few shipwrecks then and little rescue work, but Prohibition was only five years away and then there would be work aplenty. The Little Egg unit would have its hands full all through the 1920s chasing rumrunners. By then the unit would have two major inlets to patrol, Beach Haven and Little Egg Harbor.
Beach Haven Inlet was born on the night of February 4, 1920, in a fierce snowstorm. Mountainous waves driven by northeast winds opened it up a half mile north of where the Old Inlet had closed up in 1874. Within a month it was apparent that this new inlet would not threaten Tuckers Island because its drift was northward toward Holgate. University of Pennsylvania professor Lewis Haupt, an expert in beach erosion, was called in to design and build two big timber jetties filled with rock and meadow sod at Cleveland Avenue and McKinley Avenue. When they were completed in 1924, they stopped the devastating erosion at Holgate and seem to have worked so well that the currents of the inlet began to wash in the other direction toward Tuckers Island. As the Beach Haven Inlet began to widen and move southward, Tuckers Beach, Sea Havens buffer from the sea on the northeast, began to erode at an alarming rate.
In 1925, there was a half mile of beach between the island and the sea. The next year, sand from the big dunes of the sea beach, driven by pounding waves, washed into and filled the slough. Then a series of severe storms in the spring of 1927 washed out all of this loose sand, and the ocean swirled to within three hundred yards of the lighthouse. Tuckers Island, edged only with fragile sod banks, was now completely defenseless.
At a meeting on the evening of November 8, 1932, the governing body of Long Beach Township ordered its tax assessor to remove from the books that portion of the Township south of the new inlet at Beach Haven known as St. Albans-by-the-Sea as it has been practically washed away by the ocean. Sea Haven was already gone; St. Albans was the last part of the island still remaining. Officially, now it had ceased to exist.
The Little Egg Coast Guard Station at Sea Haven was finally abandoned in February 1933. The crew was temporarily barracked at the Long Beach station on Maryland Avenue at Beach Haven Terrace until November, when they were moved into a big houseboat at Tuckers Neck on Shooting Thoroughfare to await the building of new quarters nearby. Their former station on Tuckers Island washed away the next year.
The last of the landmarks to go was the little Sea Haven schoolhouse, which Captain Rider had bought and moved to the extreme southwestern edge of the island so it could be used as a summer house for the old Sea Haven families coming over from Tuckerton. It was often visited but seldom used and lasted into the war years, when it ended its days ignominiously as a brig for hardened disciplinary cases among the troops stationed on Long Beach Island in 1942 and 1943. Bad soldiers, these prisoners were called by the local people. The historic old building, damaged and defaced beyond repair, finally vanished in a winter storm after the war. Little remained of the island itself anymore.
In the late forties, along the edge of the deep, new Beach Haven Inlet, flocks of seabirds stood at low tide on a long sand bar, all that was left of what had once been a five-mile island with trees, ponds, a lighthouse, a Coast Guard station, a school, two hotels and a proud little community. It had been New Jerseys first seashore resort. By 1952 even the birds had no place to stand. Tuckers Island had disappeared into history.
Copyright ©1994 Down The Shore Publishing Corp. and The SandPaper, Inc. All Rights Reserved.