Here’s the full text of what I said at tonight’s meeting, for anyone who zoned out after the third or fourth time I said ‘heritage’ ‘cultural’ or the twentieth time I said ‘historical’:
Thank you Mayor and Council for having me, and thank you all for taking the time to come tonight. My name is Erik Weber, for those of you who don’t know me I’ve been a resident of the borough for 23 years. I’m here this evening to present a bit of our town’s early history and explain why historic preservation of our heritage through the creation of a town preservation commission and an independent citizen non-profit historical alliance would be good for us as a community financially, culturally, and aesthetically, amongst others.
First, a brief history of Beachwood’s early days and its founder, B.C. Mayo.
The area that would become Beachwood was known in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the Carpenter or Pine Bay Tract, encompassed 2,000 acres, was originally part of Berkeley Township and was once partially reserved for a graveyard. That project never materialized due to the long distance bodies would have to be transported to get to their final resting places. The area around what would become the beach was known as Cold Spring, and the beach itself as the Spiles or Spiles Point, named after the beams of timber that held up a small rail system and dock used for charcoal transportation from inland Pine Barrens mining areas at Whiting and Lakehurst to ships waiting in the Toms River.
Spiles Point was for decades already a popular swimming and recreation spot for Toms River residents by the time Bertram Chapman Mayo learned of it, as evidenced in the gruesome report of an 11-year old girl’s death by drowning off the beach in 1911.
In 1912, coming off the success of a series of like-minded newspaper promotions across the country, Mayo, then 47 years old and the head of the New York Tribune’s Promotions Office, looked to create yet another summer resort for middle class families to enjoy, this time in the pine barrens of the Jersey shore. His efforts to purchase the land that year failed as the owners raised the price upon learning of the newspaper’s plans. Undeterred, Mayo commissioned its purchase in confidence through Addison D. Nickerson, a contact he had met in California where Mayo already had set up two similar land promotions; Casadero Woods in the redwoods of Northern California and Beverly Glen, now part of Beverly Hills outside of Los Angeles. The previous year Mayo held a land promotion for the Chicago Tribune very close in nature to what would become Beachwood; that one located around a lake in Michigan and called Lakewood Club. Any of these colonies could be considered related to ours by our shared founder.
It wasn’t until February 1914 that Mr. Nickerson was able to finalize the sale, but Mayo was more than ready and further commissioned the MIT graduate and civil engineer to design the layout of the town, file paperwork with Berkeley Township for the abandonment of the few roads leading through it and hire teams of men to do the work required.
Plans carried out over the following year led to the laying out of streets and avenues by cutting and blasting long uniform paths and grids through the pines; the construction of a dining room in the shape of a one-story bungalow that later became the original borough hall and the Auditorium at the bluff above the Spiles on what is now Mayo Park; a one story rooming house called the Lodge with 37 rooms in old Spanish style with a patio, courtyard and center just to the north of that on the edge of the bluff overlooking the beach and river on what is now the wedding gazebo; bathhouses on top of a filled in pond that exists now as the Beachwood Beach parking lot; the inclosing and cementing of the natural spring just off the water’s edge for use as drinking water; building of a yacht clubhouse and pier over water slightly west of a main swimming/diving pier constructed at the tip of Spiles Point; a clubhouse situated on the steep bluff overlooking Windy Cove giving visitors a view of much of the Toms River and the northern Barnegat Bay; a train depot on Beachwood Boulevard at the crossing of both the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Pennsylvania Railroad that crisscrossed through the land beside today’s Route 9 and Beachwood Boulevard; and the staking out of 20×100 lots for the promotion sale.
In November 1914 as this construction was underway, Mr. Nickerson filed the first official map of the Beachwood tract, comprising 1763 acres, 80 miles of streets and avenues and with 18 lots to the acre. That same month, the New York Tribune announced its famous promotion to New York City: subscribe to a six-month subscription and be able to purchase a 20×100 lot of land in the new summer colony of Beachwood for $19.60. Four six-month subscriptions and four 20×100 lots of land would be required to build. Hundreds responded and area leaders gushed over the new development leading up to the official opening of Beachwood: Memorial Day weekend, May 29th, 1915.
That weekend the Central Railroad of New Jersey made its first stops at the summer colony, bringing hundreds that, along with automobile traffic, amounted to upwards of 200 lot owners rushing to crowd all these new community structures, with spillover filling all the hotels in Toms River to capacity. Crushing throngs of people laid out on the beach under umbrellas or sat in rustic wooden chairs from porches overlooking the river while children swam and played on red swings, all provided by the Tribune. Dances, sailing and canoeing races and recreationals were held, traditional Jersey shore seafood dinners given and excitement buzzed among the new residents preparing plans for their bungalows as local well wishers greeted their new neighbors.
In the summer months that followed, many New York businessmen saw their bungalows completed by one of a few competing construction companies, not least of which was the Nickerson-Glenn Company, founded by Addison Nickerson himself to take advantage of the sudden housing boom on the undeveloped land. The Perry’s, Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. along with their son, Robert, may have the distinction of being the colony’s first year-round residents, having set up a tent and lean to on their property as early as Easter Sunday. That land and their future home can be seen today in the large clapboard house next to the current post office on Locker Street. It was Dr. Norman Rowe’s bungalow on Ensign Avenue near the Perry’s land that was the first completed, however. During all this, Addison Nickerson himself designed and built his family’s home on land located across from the entrance to the beach. More soon followed and before long Beachwood was a bustling summer community of California-style bungalows filled with New York families seeking rest and recreation in the clean pine Jersey Shore air.
Tragically, Mayo did not live to see much of the future for what would prove to be his most successful venture – he died at 55 while in the middle of yet another newspaper land promotion in Browns’ Mills, a resort town located inland of Beachwood in the Pine Barrens. Though his death came too early, his foresight and public interest continues to serve Beachwood to this day – the donation he made before his death and his family made afterward of nearly all the land along the Toms River to the north and all the undeveloped hinterland to the south has been preserved for the public as present day Beachwood Beach, Mayo Park and Jake’s Branch Park.
Many things were built and established in the years following the initial fervor, during which time we officially became a borough: Frank McCraigh’s General Store, on Beachwood Boulevard, was the colony’s first business. Wanda Lohr, a resident who went on to be one of the driving forces behind Beachwood’s first fire company, built a Japanese pagoda house on Capstan Avenue. The volunteer fire company started. A police department, consisting of exactly one volunteer officer on horseback, was organized. A Rod and Gun Clubhouse was constructed in the southern wooded part of town. A library and nondenominational chapel was built on donated land off Clubhouse Road. A new borough hall, this one a cement block two story structure with room below for firefighting equipment was erected near the northeast corner of Beachwood and Atlantic City boulevards, where the Beachwood Circle would later be cut. A new yacht club was built further west along the waterline. The portion of town located south of the railroad tracks was officially titled ‘Beachwood Heights’. Nathan Pulsifer, a man very interested and involved in the welfare of the town, donated a new library on Beachwood Boulevard.
All of this was made possible by the work and interest of Beachwood’s pioneers. Brought together by chance and kept together by the constant destination of the public waterfront, they comprised a diverse and professional class of citizens, including doctors, singers, authors, builders, sailors, captains, airmen from the lighter than air program at Lakehurst Naval Air Base, publishers, painters, corporation executives, reporters, cartoonists, teachers, scientists and filmmakers, just to name a few. They brought with them experience and membership in hundreds of city, regional and national civic, business, social and public interest clubs and organizations and their restless nature saw them quickly recreate likeminded counterparts for the town’s benefit in the form of sailboat racing, volunteer fire, civic, rod and gun, library, scouting, religious, property owners’, athletic, environmental protection, public safety, little league, mens’, womens’ and dozens more associations, organizations and clubs that fundraised, planned, worked and rallied for their adopted community independent of its borough government. Their groundwork, made possible by Mayo and Nickerson’s careful planning, provided for Beachwood the strong foundation upon which all future residents could look to for inspiration in building upon our growing community.
It is the physical evidence of this beginning, this spark that ignited a firestorm of selfless community interest that we are in grave danger of losing today for ourselves, for our children and for our future. Today, Beachwood is in danger of losing itself. That is why I am here before you, for it is our very origin that holds the key to our future. The uniqueness and spirit of our community lies within these remaining structures, but it is right now, this month this week this day and this hour that we must begin the process of recognizing and honoring them as we should recognize and honor the unorthodox way our town was created – by a group of diverse individuals who, in the self interest of recreation and rest, accidentally came up with a self sacrificing community so strong and so embodying the American spirit that to lose it would be to lose a piece of America itself.
The mechanics of historic preservation on the national, state and local levels have led to many successful examples with which to follow. The purpose of these efforts is not to dictate to homeowners the color of their residences; nor is it to prevent property owners from profitable real estate sales. They exist instead to reenergize communities seeking further revenue; owners of cultural property seeking tax assistance; allow local residents and students the ability to experience firsthand the origins of their hometown and get them interested in positive ways of supporting it; locate and acquire funding to recognize, reconstruct and maintain wanted lost structures and for the construction of various cultural heritage markers, plaques and monuments that aesthetically match the town and enhance its prestige; invite new community members to explore the heritage and importance of the area in which they’ve just invested; and generally improve life for everyone.
Burton Dezendorf, a past president of the Toms River Seaport Society, stated just these things when he addressed that organization’s members in 1980. To take a page from his book, one of the most acceptable endowments by which mankind is enriched is that of veneration for the accomplishments of the past. The achievements of our ancestors and progenitors have served as sources of pride and pleasure, commemorated in the artifacts and structures which we preserve and display. The visual heritage that embodies these achievements is collected in the museums and storehouses and small towns of the world and, by this means, becomes a treasure. This heritage enriches those who are privileged to partake of it. It is hoped and planned, under the aegis of the these preservation and educational actions, to celebrate that same heritage – not only for those who remember the past, but for those who are not yet a part of it, newly come to the area… and for the preservation of those elements of that same heritage for future generations. It is a heritage which must not be wasted through inattention and neglect. We must realize that only a small segment of the general population recognizes the historic significance of our area and its importance as it relates to our daily lives. Not only is the end result a cultural and spiritual awakening, but a practical and civic-minded one as well. The potential interest of a visiting public to a heritage area foretells a substantial economic benefit to the entire community.
The creation of, hopefully, a Preservation Commission in conjunction with a non-profit historical alliance for the aid of such a commission, would allow Beachwood to hold onto its unique cultural resources through tax incentives, historic site markers, walking tours and the creation of educational material used to expand awareness to visitors and new residents. This could, in exchange, foster a larger citizen run civic action campaign that could see much improvements and community activities flourish for the benefit of all. Part of this could lead to a larger and more cohesive centennial celebration, one in which everybody can feel part of and act for further citizen-led community beneficial actions in the future.
I want to thank you all for hearing me today, and would like to direct your attention to a historical alliance signup sheet, currently making its way around the room, and a website that everybody will be able to go to for Beachwood preservation information, including photos, documents and firsthand accounts. Thank you.