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By the 1880’s, societal influences and seashore improvement companies converged on Highlands. Their explosive impact caused a rise in visitors to Highlands and the southern end of Sandy Hook. In this era of the melting pot, there was a tremendous population and middle-class growth in the U.S. With the newly established culture of seeking leisure activities and an eagerness to spend cash, the resort at Highland Beach and businesses in Highlands saw a revenue increase. During this epoch, we saw business pioneers set the standard for the American dream that will transform America.

1872 Walking Bridge, Highlands to Sandy Hook Peninsula

Before railroads and automobiles crossed the Shrewsbury River, the Highlands walking and drawbridge opened travel to Sandy Hook in 1872. The bridge linked the peninsula to the mainland which allowed Highland Beach to act as a catalyst for a boom in resort growth at both Highland Beach and Highlands in 1888. Over the following decades, four uniquely designed bridges would change the nature of travel to the northernmost point on the Jersey Shore.

A Seaside Turnout

SANDY HOOK-IN 1879 by George Houghton. Illustrator, Frederick Church

1888 Advertising Ad for HIGHLAND BEACH

A visit to the seaside was now available to all who wished it and those whose coins paid for the fare.

The author, David McCullough says:

"History, really, is an extension of life. It enlarges and intensifies the experience of being alive, like poetry and art and music.”

When looking back, we discover how the Dawn of Leisure time brought scores of visitors to the beach at the turn of the 20th century. This new era remains significant because of its link to important periods in the past during the birth of tourism at the Gateway to the Jersey Shore. In the earliest years of tourism, this region of the seashore periodically challenged the heartiest of visitors. The original bathing business pioneers appeared undaunted in their quest to establish enclaves along the shoreline.

A bathing business and hotel pioneer, William Sandlass, Jr., set to work building the bathing pavilion as a lessee of the Highland Beach Improvement Company who owned the land. The Great Switchback Railroad roller coaster was a prime attraction for day-trippers on a summer day. Once a bucolic nature-preserve, the southern end of the Sandy Hook Peninsula became a summer beehive of tourists and bathers seeking time in the sun and a respite from the demands of their everyday lives. However, weather challenges and transportation changes brought opportunity and potential catastrophe in opening and sustaining the resort. Legendary growth of the resort ensued when new attractions appeared ready and waiting for upcoming seasons. The Merry-Go-Round, Boardwalk, GALA DAY, Regatta Races, Cigar Store, Billiards, Bowling, Cycling Shack and more were heavily advertised in the resort’s Oracle Newsletter to build excitement!

“As roadways improved, so did the traffic, and what started in this decade would prove to foreshadow bigger challenges in the future. With all three modes of transportation in use during 1910, it was in fact the busiest summer ever at the resort.” – Destinations Past: Highland Beach, Chris Brenner, Documentarian

Life was revolutionized by inventions for the betterment of man. A social movement was born and these inventions fueled the Golden Era. Highland Beach surged forward to meet the public’s thirst for recreation. Following the Industrial Revolution, for the first time in American history the middle-class had spending power. A surge in technology acted as a linchpin to spur the growth of railroads, steamboats, bridges, and cars to transport the largest crowds ever seen on the northernmost point of the Jersey Shore. We discover that the great entrepreneurs were willing to take risks.


The seaside experience is a microcosm of society that exposed a celebratory moment to share. As decades unfolded and years passed, social changes brought a new awakening of what is important to families as they grow. New generations joined summer memories at the beach. This mix found joy in the shared moments together.

Learn more about Highlands and Highland Beach. Stories and artifacts of a bygone era await you in Gallery 1 at the Twin Lights Museum. Read the recent book, Sandy Hook’s LOST Highland Beach Resort, found in the museum store recounting a fanciful era in a town glittering with stars from Broadway and the early years of silent film.





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