The very known first inhabitants of what came to be known as Seaside Heights were Native Americans of the Lenni Lanape tribe. They called the barrier island Seheyichbi, meaning land bordering the ocean.
In addition to the Lenape, sailors came through the old Cranberry Inlet. The inlet was opened by storms, and was closed by storms. When open, the cut–through was an easy way for ocean ships to get to the port of Toms River. Cranberry Inlet was located in the area of Seaside Heights, on what is now about Carteret to Sampson Avenues. The then open waterway was popular with shipping crews who stocked-up on the tasty and plentiful cranberries, which was their way to eat Vitamin C on long journeys to avoid scurvy.
Pirates also routinely found the area a place to rest. The pirates in this area were known as the Barnegat pirates, and they were known to strip a ship bare.
The evidence of pirates in the immediate Seaside Heights area was apparent in the centuries preceding the 1900’s, even listed in the book, The First Fifty.
The story of the skeleton of the inadvertently exhumed “Red-Headed Pirate” is legendary. He had had been dug up when they were building roads and streets to build the early Seaside Heights. The skeleton had, “a shock of red hair still attached to his skull” His dress appeared to be that of a pirate. He had clearly been buried on the island for some time. Ocean County authorities told the land owner to rebury the body, given its age. The remains of the Red-Haired Pirate are said to be interred in a cement fireplace foundation someplace on Carteret Avenue. Legend is that the house is gone, but the fireplace is still intact.
Following the exodus of the Lenape, the white man took control of New Jersey, known as the Garden State for its vast agricultural industry. Northern sections of New Jersey, areas near New York City, were very developed. Just about the only part of the state that was not developed already or not part of the agricultural industry were the very unpopulated barrier islands along Barnegat Bay. You couldn’t grow anything on sand dunes, you couldn’t have a farm. It was considered a rather useless area.
In 1815, a strong hurricane brought wind and rain to the Jersey Shore, before slamming into Long Island and the New England states. It had the distinction of being the hurricane that closed Cranberry Inlet, and would keep it closed for 197 years. The 1815 storm was considered about a once in one hundred year event, part of a natural pattern that was repeated in 1903 with the Atlantic City ‘Vagabond’ Hurricane.
In 1821, a once in about every 200 year event was seen. It came as a large and powerful storm, equal to what is now described as a Category 4, or an extremely dangerous hurricane. The 1821 storm struck Cape May at full power, and its strongest part, the right front quadrant sliced through eastern portion of the state, with it barrier islands taking a beating. The wind observations of the 1821 storm supported a major hurricane landfall with a fully intact tropical eyewall, the signature of the most intense types of tropical storms. This storm hit as a worst-case scenario. Its path was described as similar to that of what today is the Garden State Parkway. The west part of the state was far more damaged then the east, even though the most destructive energy was focused on the coast. The reason is simple: there wasn’t much to be damaged along the immediate coast of Jersey.
At the time of the initial draft of this book, before Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012, it said, “If the rate of return of about once in 200 years stands true, give or take a few years, such a devastating storm should once again be seen sometimes in the 2010’s or 2020’s.”
It was prophetic, possibly, but even Sandy was not a major hurricane landfall.
In the late 1880’s and 1890’s, The State of New Jersey experienced what came to known as Boroughitis, Borough-Fever, or Borough-Mania. During this period of time, it became easy for smaller neighborhoods to break away from a larger municipality and become an independent, self-governing community. Many of the new municipalities formed adopted the Borough form of government. Lavallette broke away from Dover Township in 1887 and became a Borough. Seaside Park was created the same in 1898.
During the Boroughitis phase, it was first possible to create a Borough very easily, without approval by the State. During the latter years of the phase, State legislatures would have to approve the creation of Boroughs. Even with the state overview in place, many New Jersey communities still continued to form Boroughs, until a moratorium of new Borough creation was in place, sometime in the 1970’s.
The Barnegat barrier island’s southern points were not initially easy to get access. The choice at first was to approach by boat.
By the 1910’s The Pennsylvania Railroad was built, and it ran through Lavallette and Seaside Park from Long Branch.
Work was also being done of a wooden bridge was to span from Toms River to the Cranberry Inlet area, which was all sand dunes, save for about three houses and a small road.
During the second decade of the 1900’s, attempts would be made to create two new Boroughs on the sand dunes between Seaside Park and Lavallette: Seaside Heights and Ortley Beach.
Ortley Beach would populate as a distinctive neighborhood of Toms River, but would never make it to Borough status. Seaside Heights, however, was on the fast track.
Seaside Heights was an area built by promise. Initial investors were sold on the possibilities of the area’s future. It wasn’t much to look at its start. Area investors were taking a gamble on Seaside Heights, which needed to be completely settled from square one as a planned community.
The prospectors, rich men from Camden and Philadelphia, were the ones pushing for the area to become a Borough, even though there was almost no population yet.
The Manhassett Realty Company, who offered the 855 lots planned for the soon-to-be Seaside Heights, was located in the Drexel Building in Philadelphia. It had a large advertisement in the Ocean County Review, printed in Seaside Heights by a Mr. Christian Hiering and sold on the Philadelphia marketplace each week.
The Manhasset Realty boasted, “Seaside Heights holds the undisputed advantage over all resorts in its unique location situated between the Ocean and beautiful Barnegat Bay, which is about two miles wide and positively no marsh land is lining its shore. Seaside Heights can well boast of this advantage over other seashore resorts. It is on the main line of the Pennsylvania railroad to New York, and only 60 miles from Philadelphia. The new bridge across the Barnegat connects it to the main land; makes Seaside Heights the nearest seashore resort to Philadelphia. The fare is but 40 cents…”
The property map formed a group of lots that formed an easy street grid with its ocean-facing side consisting of a ¾ of mile boardwalk. They wanted to sell the lots to the average, but affluent person who could afford a summer vacation home at the Jersey Shore. They were specifically going to market it as such, and of course a place for vacationers.
However, Seaside Heights was not going to be just any type of housing or business development, it was going to be incorporated as a Borough, a government. Rich men from Philadelphia and Camden actually physically moved to Seaside Heights and built houses in the wilderness of sand dunes in order to accomplish this. Seaside Heights would have to have a voting population and a group of citizens to act as governing body, a Mayor and Council, to operate to as a Borough. It was the first step.
Seaside Heights had once been part of Berkeley Township, but that relationship separated by actions taken first on February 26, 1913 and then on April 29 1913, when Seaside Heights was incorporated as a Borough.
A Borough at the time was run under New Jersey legislation, and is the same today. The new Seaside Heights would have a Mayor of 2 terms (later 4) and 6 elected councilpersons. The Mayor is the head of the municipal government and is to oversee that the state laws and Borough ordinances are faithfully executed.
The Mayor and Council annual organization was to be during the first week of January.
The Mayor presides over the Council, breaks ties, and can veto ordinances subject to override by 2/3 majority of the Council. The Mayor would appoint subordinate officers with Council approval. After 30 days or with an official council disapproval, the council would fill posts.
The Council serves as the legislative body, can override a Mayor’s veto by 2/3 majority of its membership, confirms the Mayor’s appointments, and holds all executive responsibility not held by the Mayor.
The Borough would have the ability to hire an Administrator, which certain powers of the Council could be delegated within the Corporation.
The first elections in Borough history happened at the Sumner Hotel. Elected Mayor was Edmund Kramer.
As an incorporated Borough, it now had the rights to access property values and levy property tax. The new Borough could create departments for things such as a police, tax collector, a municipal court, a fire department, and a planning board, among other things.
Mayor Kramer had moved from Philadelphia, where he had been the eldest of eight children. He built buildings known as “continuous air chamber homes” made of cement blocks that promised to keep the home not only dry, but also warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
In addition to the contracting company and a concrete block building factory, Mayor Kramer was partner in, and ran a realty business in the Goodwin-Kramer building. That building is still standing today, on the northeast corner of Sumner Avenue and the Boulevard. This building had multiple tenants, including the local “Tonsorial Parlor”, another word for a fancy barber shop.
The first item purchased by the Borough was the official seal stamper, which is still in use by the Borough Clerk’s office at the time of this writing. It cost $2.50.
The first brouhaha that the governing body would have to solve was the problem of pigs roaming free around the Borough.
Since there were no official Borough buildings, early settlers of the community met in their homes, which were few, and far in-between.
In addition to the Borough of Seaside Heights, the Seaside Heights Volunteer Fire Department was created in 1913. The very men who created the Borough and ran the governing body were the firefighters. They were the only population. They had been from the cities, were there had been fire protection services. The first thing they knew they needed was a fire department if they were going to have a Borough. They knew they needed modern equipment, but that was going to cost money. But they were willing to invest to protect their lives and property.
WELCOME TO SEASIDE HEIGHTS: THE TOWN THAT FUN BUILT!