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Two additional fast steamers were built to go to Highland Beach in the summer of 1895. The direct local service brought greater numbers to attend the resort. The Jersey Lily, Our Mary, Leon Abbett, Highland Beach, Shrewsbury and Navesink plied the rivers that summer. When the full complement of six steamers made seven round trips each summer, they brought 3,000 persons a day! The Highlands hotels thrived across the river. An attempt was made by the Highland Beach Improvement Company to purchase Thompson’s Pavilion, the East View House and Swift’s Pavilion in anticipation of the resort growth. The steamers Shrewsbury and Navesink were put into service on July 2, accommodating 500 passengers a day from Red Bank to Highland Beach.

Riverboats increased their passenger rolls adding to the latest trends in transportation at the shore. The steamers, Sea Bird and Albertina, docked first at Highland Beach followed by a trip across the river to Highlands. Before the advent of the motorcar, the electric trolley replaced the stagecoach. These early trolleys travelled routes from Atlantic Highlands to Highlands, Keyport to Highlands and Middletown to Highlands, eventually connecting with the steamboat pier at the end of their destination on the river.

Courtesy of John King’s Collection.

There was a nominal fee for the forty-five-minute trip by steamer, with extra attractions at night offering “moonlight” excursions for twenty-five cents. Day fares remained at ten cents for one-way trips. The boats made several trips a day with a 128-passenger capacity and an extra trip at night on Sundays. The waters were shallow in certain locations at the resort, causing one of the steamers to hit something below the waterline. The Shrewsbury steamer struck a submerged obstacle and broke one of its propeller blades. Once the damaged steamer was repaired, sale of the riverboats was made to the Spanish Consul for $10,000 (equivalent to $291,000 in 2019). At the end of the summer, after just one month of service on the Shrewsbury River, the riverboat sale included the Shrewsbury, the Navesink and the Leon Abbett steamers. (They were delivered by steamer to Havana and used during the revolution in Cuban waters for boarding launches to transfer soldiers from one boat to another. Ultimately, the United States severed ties with Spain during the Spanish-American War in 1898.)

Courtesy of John King’s Collection.

The unpredictable weather always brought a concern around the biggest day of the year. Thousands of dollars were lost to Highland beach on one of the fourth of July weekends as a result of dismal weather. The Oracle resort newsletter reported that the crowd could scarcely leave the rail cars due to the exceptional downpour. The cool weather that continued did not favor excursions until the cool spell broke the following week. Mother nature finally cooperated. The Oracle shared an amusing story about a little girl who approached at the Bathing Pavilion window with a question. There was a sign posted for the benefit of patrons that said, “Look out for thieves!” After reading the sign, the little girl asked, “Can I see the thieves?”

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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