Building Beachwood, Part Three
Posted by beachwoodhistoricalalliance on February 10, 2012
On December 16th, 1914, an article in the New York Tribune headlined, “Beachwood Just Laughs at Storms” recounted a recent winter storm which “caused such havoc and property loss [in the surrounding area, yet] left no traces… along Beachwood’s mile of water frontage.”
The paper attributed this to its position away from the Barnegat Bay, and went on to describe all the safety features and recreation amenities, stating that construction officially began the day before, placing this official first date of construction in Beachwood at December 15th, 1914.
Two weeks later, on December 30th, the Tribune ran another article under the headline “Rapid Progress in Beachwood Work”.
It described that work “is progressing despite ice and snow, by leaps and bounds” and that a letter written by a group of men who distributed tires for the Packard automobile company along the eastern United States was received stating that they had purchased a site in Beachwood on which to build “an up-to-date garage for the accommodation of the residents,” of whom they would be part, having also purchased lots for their bungalows from the Tribune promotion.
The article ran on to describe more of Nickerson’s work, including that “about seventy men were now at work laying out streets, putting up street signs and block numbers, numbering lots, cutting through and improving roadways and building tennis courts. If necessary, to have things in readiness for next summer the force will be increased.”
A week later, January 8th, 1915, the New Jersey Courier ran with an article titled, “Start Several Buildings at Spiles Point, Beachwood”. In it was heavily detailed the first buildings constructed by the Tribune under supervision of Nickerson.
“The Beachwood tract is the busiest along shore just now. Besides laying out streets and avenue, cutting off timber on these avenues, blasting stumps and cleaning out underbrush, the New Year was marked by the starting of at least four new buildings. Three of these are at the Spiles Point, the other, a union railroad depot, at the crossing of the Central and Pennsylvania railroads.”
“On the high bluff, just above the point of the Spiles, a dining room has been built, in the shape of a one-story bungalow, 30×60 feet, and a kitchen annex in the rear. This will have a view down the river.”
“In front of it, to the north, has been started a hotel or rooming house, 73×100 feet in size, built in the old Spanish style, one story high, and, with a patio, or courtyard, in the centre. This will contain thirty-seven sleeping rooms, and will be run in connection with the dining room. From its point of vantage on the brow of the bluff the eye can sweep up the river to Toms River village, or down the stream to Island Heights. The location is superb.”
“On the lower ground, at the foot of the bluff, in the filled in spot where the pond was, and where Toms River boys for generations have waded to pick water lilies and kill water snakes, the bathhouses are started. There will be three rows of them, covering a space 32×46 feet.
“The building of the bathhouses here is particularly satisfactory to Toms River people, who had been fearing that the development of Spiles Point meant that their ancient bathing privilege would be taken from them, and the point become hedged in as private property. It is understood that the beach front at the Beachwood tract is to be kept open to the public and that all lot owners will have an equal share in its use. With bathhouses there many Toms River people will avail themselves of the convenience.”
“The depot will be 20×40 feet in size, and will be used by both railroads. It is located at the crossing of the two roads and also of the main north and south avenue of Beachwood.”
“Plans are prepared for a large clubhouse, which is also to be started in the spring on the bluff overlooking the river.
“The station is expected to be built very soon. None of these buildings is to be pretentious or costly. They are being built to supply present day needs, and as the resort grows probably be displaced with more permanent structures. But they go to show that Beachwood means business and that something is coming of the new development. The work is also giving jobs to many local people who would otherwise be sitting around stoves and wondering how they could get through the winter.”
“Scores of streets are being laid out on the tract. So far about all that is done to this line is to clear up the street of all traces of underbrush and remove the stumps with dynamite and stake off the lots. Some grading has been done, however, and more is contemplated. The Beachwood proposition, backed by a big daily paper, is making quite a furore in New York, and it is said by New Yorkers who come down this way that the lots are going fast.”
The progress in Beachwood did not go unnoted in other local papers and municipalities. On January 29th, the Ocean County Review printed beneath its Pine Beach section that, “It is pretty quiet here this winter, but we can hear the dynamite charges exploding at Beachwood without paying admission.”
Indeed, Nickerson and his crew weren’t the only ones busy that winter. February 1915 saw the release and distribution of a 38-page pamphlet very modestly titled, “The Greatest Subscription Premium Ever Offered and the Reason Why”.
Interspersed between pages of ad copy determined to make the average reader jump at investing were a number of photographs depicting the natural waterfront, sailboats both on the Toms River and docked at Huddy Park, cleared roads, the Central Railroad of New Jersey Toms River Station, and the Atlantic City Boulevard completely devoid of any development.
As we can see, it wasn’t the first of such pamphlets, borrowing heavily on Mayo’s earlier land promotion of Lakewood Club, Michigan.
Meanwhile, Watson and the postal inspectors were themselves hard at work questioning those who wrote letters of endorsement for the Tribune promotion which had appeared in subsequent materials.
One of these letters came from E.P. Robinson, M.D., later profiled in Butler’s 1924 Beachwood Directory as being born of English parents on St. James Island in Barbados, who later followed his dream of coming to America as a teenager, working first a pharmacist in Philadelphia before continuing his career and education in New York City. By the time of the Tribune promotion, he was married and had a son in his late teens.
In the letter he wrote, which was published by the Tribune as part of its promotion campaign, the accomplished doctor praised the newspaper in detail for the advantages of the Beachwood tract and stated that not only did he plan an extensive summer residence but that his wife and son purchased their own lots, as well.
Testifying about this letter and Robinson’s later statements regarding it, Watson admitted he could not find his original notes and instead recounted the conversation from memory:
“I visited Dr. Robinson myself, in company with one of my investigators, and interviewed him, and I swear that endorsement is not on the level. The doctor said – I have a report which I made within an hour after the interview, and I will stand on that report rather than on what I say now, but I will try to recall what he said. It was to the effect that he did not know where these lots were, and he had changed his mind, and he did not think he would ever build there, and he gave this endorsement to the Tribune, but he had not expected that people would come running in there and asking him about it, and that he had since requested the Tribune to take it out of the booklet, and that he might some time use his lots for a public garage down there; and he told me where they were, and I asked him if he realized that that was about a mile off the main road and that you could not drive an automobile in there unless it was equipped with an aeroplane on top of it to lift it over the roads. In other words, it was too ridiculous for consideration.”
Oddly, on a later day of testimony following statements by the postal inspectors themselves, Watson recanted and requested that this statement and all matter of the letters be removed from the record as he could not find his records on the matter and it had been over a year from the conversation so his memory may be incorrect.
Neither postal investigator had any testimony regarding these letters.
Stranger still is the fact that the lots Dr. Robinson ultimately built upon is just one block from the waterfront and on Beachwood Boulevard, the original resort’s main road. It is unclear at this point of research whether this was the original plot of land purchased through the initial Tribune promotion, or if he purchased it at a later date from a second party, or some other event we are unaware of.
Adding to this odd matter is the fact that the New York Tribune made a point to specifically advertise Dr. Robinson’s building plans in early March 1915 with an article titled, “To Build at Beachwood – Plans Being Prepared for New Cottage at Resort”:
“Architects’ plans for the erection of one of the first bungalows to be built at Beachwood, N.J., are being prepared for Dr. E.P. Robinson, of 116 West Thirty-ninth Street, New York. Dr. Robinson, who was one of the first to obtain lots at the new beach resort which the Tribune is establishing, will build a cottage for occupancy throughout the entire year.
“The new cottage will stand back from the beach some little distance and will be artistic in its surroundings. Construction work on the house is contemplated with the coming of warm weather. It is planned to have the cottage ready for occupancy this summer.
“In addition to Dr. Robinson, lots are held at Beachwood by his wife and son.”
We may never know the true events surrounding Dr. Robinson’s lots or his involvement with the Tribune promotional campaign, but what cannot be denied is that the doctor had a very well built, attractive bungalow constructed at the corner of Barnegat Avenue and Beachwood Boulevard, which stands to this day.
Read about investigator’s secret trip to the incomplete resort, alleged scandal within the Tribune offices and the road to the Memorial Day opening, in the next edition of the Building Beachwood series.