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NEW Million Dollar Bridge!

The new 1932 Million Dollar Bridge opened to traffic alongside the 1892 Criss Cross rail line offering a new connection to Highlands and Highland Beach at Sandy Hook during the modern age of automobiles.

The MILLION DOLLAR BRIDGE from Twin Lights, Highlands, NJ, c. 1932.

The Criss Cross Bridge seen from Highlands, NJ, c. 1895.

The Criss Cross bridge, known as a Victorian whimsy because of its original design, outlived its usefulness. These trains breathed life into this northernmost point on the Jersey Shore at the dawn of leisure time along the coastline during the Golden Age. This area of the shore continued to flourish and weathered the challenges of Prohibition. Even so, a Depression threatened the future.

Train traveling through Sea Bright, N.J. Changes in transportation at the beach caused the rail service to cease running at Highlands, Highland Beach and points south in 1944.

Undoubtedly, the Great Depression had a serious effect on the town of Highlands and Highland Beach as it did with so many businesses at the time. Despite the Depression, new forms of cultural expression flourished and both commercial and New Deal programs were funded, affecting the shore. One of those programs funded by the State of New Jersey came to the Highland Beach area. In spite of scarce money, the state planned a new bridge between Highlands and Highland Beach. The low bridge caused a problem for boats passing underneath it, resulting in impossible traffic-delays. The nearby highway had been recently paved which gave rise to an extraordinary increase in automobiles. This forced a decision noted in the Destinations Past: Highland Beach documentary by Chris Brenner:

By 1932, public works were underway in grand scale. The automobile traffic was intense, and so the State of New Jersey built a new “Million Dollar Bridge” across the Highlands narrows. The walking bridge was torn down, but the rail bridge remained in place. The new car bridge featured a split lift opening and a higher roadway to accommodate marine traffic. Construction of the new bridge caused dramatic changes to Highland Beach, however. The new bridge also pointed cars towards Sea Bright, adding a slight turning obstacle for visitors arriving from the West.

A postcard at Highland Beach Resort, NJ prior to the opening of the 1932 Million Dollar Bridge.

Another outcome of the Depression and the looming prospect of World War II put many beach development projects on hold and affected revenue up and down the shore. The result was a decrease in visitors and revenue. The idea of a national park at Sandy Hook had been discussed during this period. A reporter from the Daily Record in Long Branch interviewed Sandlass in the early 1930s and he gave his opinion of the plans for a national park:

I met William Sandlass, of Highland Beach, yesterday and he was bubbling over with smiles. “if you had asked me a month ago what kind of season was in sight,” said he, “I would have replied: Things do not look so good.” But now it’s different I have had the best bathing business for June in the past 15 years. Crowds were never so large and last Sunday broke all records. Mr. Sandlass is a unique character at Highland Beach. Not everybody knows the latter is a part of the borough of Sea Bright, the extreme northern end, but it is and William Sandlass monarch of all he surveys. If the residents there had the selection of a man for mayor, Sandlass would win in a walk. He has served in the Sea Bright Town Council and is well versed in municipal affairs. “Sandlass Beach” is a mighty interesting place, and no one would be happier than William Sandlass if Sandy Hook was chosen as a national park in 1932.

At the time, a petition was presented to the U.S. Congress to create a National Park at Highlands and the oceanfront. Following a review, the lands were considered too small. The plan was defeated and the idea abandoned.

By the 1960s, the federal government had another plan for the five acres nestled between the bridge and entrance to the new park located at the Ft. Hancock military gates. Public transportation had almost disappeared, and automobiles again created a challenge to the future of the business operation. As a result of success, the overflowing number of cars parked at Sandlass Beach would be an impediment for traffic flow into the proposed park. During the summer season, automobiles were located in every available space on the Sandlass property. The Sandlass crew acted as valets, positioning the cars side by side in multiple rows along the seawall, beside the Bathing Pavilion, and in front of the Sandlass house and Bamboo Room/Luncheonette. Traffic gridlock remained a point of contention, as it does today. The bridge ramps planned to ease traffic into the park would do little to alleviate congestion. Storm clouds gathered in 1960 and the 1961 summer season was the last at Sandlass Beach. The state’s plan to acquire the land between the Highlands Bridge and the entrance to the proposed state park was confirmed. Eminent domain took over and demolition of the Sandlass Bathing Pavilion, Summer Cottage and Bungalow Colony proceeded the following summer when the new state park opened its gate in July.

Sandlass Beach Crew holding club members on their shoulders. Courtesy of Chris Brenner

The halcyon days and sun-filled summers ended at Sandlass Beach when another era arrived. The New Jersey Park Service opened Sandy Hook to the public in 1962. In October 1972, the NJ Park System transferred ownership to the National Park Service. A new high span bridge exists today taking visitors to the National Park Service Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook and points south along the Jersey Shore.

“The Captain Joseph Azzolina Memorial Bridge”, Highlands to the Sandy Hook Peninsula, c. 2022.

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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