Building Beachwood, Part Two
Posted by beachwoodhistoricalalliance on February 10, 2012
On February 13, 1914, the front page headline of the Toms River/Ocean County weekly, the New Jersey Courier, announced “Pine Bay Tract is Sold for $90,000/Said to Be a Record-Making Price”. Curiously, these new purchasers are never mentioned by name.
The article goes on to describe the land as it was before any work had been completed: “The tract has a mile and a quarter river frontage, including the
bluff at Cold Spring, the point of the Spiles [both later part of Beachwood Beach], and the bluff on the west shore of Squally Cove [renamed Windy Cove], the river frontage, running from Cedar Point [at today’s South Toms River] to the head of Squally Cove, where it meets the Buhler property, now a part of the Pine Beach tract [Pine Beach not having been incorporated until 1925; the land then was mainly known to visitors for the railroad that extended across the Toms River to Island Heights]. It extends back across both railroads and west to the Dover road [later, South Toms River], while on the south it abuts the Barnegat Park tract [in Berkeley Township, later the site of yet another notorious land promotion named Pinewald, through which was built the Royal Pines Hotel that stands today as Crystal Lake Healthcare. It’s interesting to consider that Pinewald could have incorporated itself as a borough separate from Berkeley Township as Beachwood, Pine Beach and Ocean Gate had if it succeeded in its time].
The land then changed hands from Nickerson to Mayo to Stanley D. Brown, trustee of the New York Tribune. Mystery still surrounds these transactions as no money ever changed hands between the sheriff’s sale to Nickerson, Nickerson to Mayo, and Mayo to the Tribune, yet Nickerson had already
begun surveying the land well before a deal was set, setting aside a few choice plots, including the site where he would eventually build his family home across from the entrance to Cold Spring and Spiles Point, later Beachwood Beach; Mayo wound up owning virtually all of the waterfront area property and 5,000 lots in the tract’s southernmost “hinterland”, all of which would eventually be sold in perpetuity in December 1917 to the newly incorporated Borough of Beachwood for the original per-lot price of $19.60 for public and municipal use.
But that wouldn’t be for a while. Mayo, Nickerson and the Tribune would first face the threat of charges brought by the U.S. District Attorney’s office and U.S. Postal Service at the behest and urging of the Hearst company and its reporter, even while Nickerson was busy directing workmen to cut and blast his grid of streets out of the knotty, dense pine forest.
Over the next eight months, while Nickerson busied himself with the land survey and subsequent layout of the new streets and avenues, Mayo, in his office at the Tribune Building in New York, worked out the details of the promotion. An item in the October 23rd. 1914 New Jersey Courier stated:
“The Berkeley Township committee at its meeting last week abandoned a number of roads where they cross over the Beachwood (formerly known as Pine Bay) tract… the roads abandoned are: the old Double Trouble road; part of the old Cedar Creek highway; Buhler’s road; a branch of Buhler’s road; and the old road running into the old Double Trouble road, beginning where the county road crosses the [Pennsylvania Railroad].
“As part of the agreement for vacating these roads, Mr. Nickerson, who represents the new owners of the property, has announced that the tract will be laid out in streets, so that these roads will be unnecessary.”
One week later, October 30th, the Tribune announced to the Toms River area its plans in the pages of the Courier, likely when the land officially changed hands from Nickerson and Mayo to their ownership. Its headline proclaimed, “New York Tribune to Develop the Beachwood Tract at Spiles Point”. This announcement predated any such notice posted in their own newspaper, as well as any official promotional materials.
“One of the largest real estate deals that has been made in Toms River in many years was concluded this week, when the two thousand acre tract adjoining the town and known as Pine Bay tract was acquired by representatives of the New York Tribune. This will mean much to the future prosperity of Toms River, for the Tribune intends to improve the property and make of it a large summer resort. A club house will be erected on the shore of the river, also a yacht club building, bathing pavilion, bathing wharves, etc. The tract will be known as Beachwood, and it is expected that it will be the future summer home of many well known New York people, who will have their cottages there. The project is under the direct supervision of B.C. Mayo of the New York Tribune and the local work is in charge of A.D. Nickerson.”
Here we can pick up Butler’s 1924 Beachwood Directory, who compiled the largest section, “A Chronological History of Beachwood”, stated to be “Pictures, in Brief Paragraphs, of the Rise and Progress of the Beautiful Resort in the Pines on Barnegat Bay, and the Social, Economic and Political Life of its Summer Population of 1,500 or More People”.
According to Butler, “the first official map of the Beachwood tract, comprising 1,763 acres, 18 lots to the acre, was filed November 11th .”
November is also the month that the Tribune issued a special advertisement, dressed up to appear as an extra edition of its regular publication, “containing many illustrations and the… announcement, in large letters, on its first page: “Subscribe for the New York Tribune and secure a lot at Beautiful Beachwood. Greatest subscription premium ever offered by a newspaper – nothing equal to it was ever attempted in the United States. Act at once – secure your lot in this Summer Paradise now.” On another page came [the] assurance [that] “The Tribune does not do things halfway. A fortune has been put behind this offer. Already plans are being made to start a building company.” The price of lots was placed at $19.60 apiece, each lot carrying with it a six months’ subscription to the paper.”
On December 1st, the Mayo-Tribune promotions rolled out further, this time in a Tribune article titled “Roads to Beachwood” and depicting a large illustration of the auto routes between Manhattan and Beachwood, as well as the Central and Pennsylvania railroad lines.
Ten days later, the New Jersey Courier and New York Tribune ran articles on the burgeoning resort. The Courier’s, headlined “Marine Names for Beachwood Avenues”, recounted a Tribune article that “Nautical terms prevail in the selecting of street nomenclature adopted for Beachwood… the street signs will also bear out the meaning of the town’s name by a series denoting a variety of trees… Plans for the construction of the buildings which are to be erected on the waterfront, such as the yacht club, dining hall, club building, etc., are already under way. It is expected that the railroad station… will be completed in January.”
The Tribune’s article, titled “Fine Railroad Station for Beachwood”, verified the Courier account. “Residents of Beachwood… are to have a railroad station of their own. Plans for the building have been made and its site chosen. It will be ready for occupancy in January. The building will have the excellent accommodations of a typical suburban union railroad station… the structure itself is to be of attractive design and calculated to meet all the requirements of Beachwood residents.”
It is around this time that Victor A. Watson, a New York City native living on the Lower East Side who had made his living for the previous 17 years as a newspaper reporter with Hearst’s New York American, claimed to receive “complaints from a number of persons who wrote letters… to the effect that the New York Tribune… was backing a notorious real-estate swindle. In the course of office business the matter was turned over to me to investigate.”
Looking into the matter, Watson noted that the Tribune was claiming to be making absolutely no profit off the land deal, opting instead to run the promotion purely as an act of friendship in an effort to boost its circulation. Skeptical, Watson looked at the numbers and found this to not be the case. After consulting with his peers, he took the information to the office of United States District Attorney H. Snowden Marshall. The case was soon assigned to two United States Postal Inspectors, [Hugh] McQuillan and [Oliver] Schaeffer.
Together with the inspectors, Watson produced what he claimed to be direct evidence of mail fraud. This consisted of mailed materials produced by the newspaper that stated they were making no money off the land deal but wished instead for good friendship by increasing their readership. Watson insisted that the Tribune was committing mail fraud because a survey of the money paid for the land tract versus what they were charging showed a high degree of profitability set to flow into Tribune coffers should the promotion be successful.
In laying out these calculations, Watson said the land was drawn out to encompass thirty to thirty-five thousand 20×100 lots to be sold at $19.60 each. Adhering to the original plat map of 1,763 acres and 18 lots to an acre, that number was exactly 31,734 lots. $19.60 multiplied by 31,734 becomes $621,986.40. He estimated that between the purchase of the property at $90,000 and adding another approximately $35,000 to developing it for the lot owners, they would have invested only $125,000 total, meaning they stood to reap an estimated profit of $496,986.40. At the time, Inspector McQuillan estimated it lower, at $300,000.
Suspicions were raised further when Watson stated salesmen working the promotion for the Tribune would take “them down to the beach, and [then turn around] and sell [them] something back in the woods that is almost like Africa.” Watson later reflected that Beachwood was so remote that it would be still be an undeveloped and undesirable patch of land one hundred years in the future. He was so sure of this that he told the judiciary committee he would make a bet on it if he could.
As a result, Watson and the postal inspectors began a series of covert visits to the Beachwood tract while it was under development in early 1915. Secretly, Watson also conscripted a number of men to work within the Tribune offices as spies, quietly writing up daily reports for the New York American reporter. Meanwhile, Bertram Mayo and Addison Nickerson moved forward with their work, unaware how dangerously close they were to being arrested and brought up on charges of mail fraud.
Read about the first resort buildings, reaction from a nearby community, and the further investigation of Watson and the postal inspectors, focusing in particular on one Dr. E.P. Robinson, whose home stands today at the southwest corner of Beachwood Boulevard and Barnegat Boulevard, in the next edition of the Building Beachwood series.