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Last of ebb, and daylight waning,

Scented sea-cool landward making, smells of sedge and salt


With many a half-caught voice sent up from the eddies,

Many a muffled confession—many a sob and whisper'd word,

As of speakers far or hid.

~Walt Whitman

(August 1885)

By 1892, Highlands had acquired a new train station. Even so, there was something missing. The town hosted various amenities; from hotels, boarding houses, and bars to the famous Twin Lights and steamboat docks. The Merchant and Patten steamboat stops were frequent yet the town continued to go without a boardwalk and ocean bathing areas. Across the bay, Highland Beach was also lacking in accommodations. Highland Beach and Highlands recognized each one had what the other needed to provide their visitors a complete experience at the beach.

A symbiotic relationship developed between Highlands and Highland Beach. “William Sandlass’s Highland Beach excursion resort was decidedly one of the several elements that influenced the successful development of Highlands as a major tourist destination.” (King, 2001, 82). By 1892, the Monmouth Press exclaimed:

Highland Beach: Highland Beach has enjoyed remarkable immunity from casualties although over one hundred and twenty-five thousand people have enjoyed the unequaled bathing facilities at this place, the first drowning accident has yet to be recorded. This promises to be a great year for excursion business. It is said that more excursions will go out of Newark this season than in five years past. The city is plastered all over with posters and pictures of the many organizations getting up excursions…It is quite the fashion nowadays for neighboring picnics and Sunday schools from the many small towns in Monmouth County to rendezvous at Highland Beach on Saturdays through the season. In one-day last season parties were there from Red Bank, Oceanic, Middletown, Branchport, Keyport and Atlantic Highlands. They go by wagon, stage, boat and train…Everything is thrown open to them and they practically own the place for the time being. The first Saturday in August seems to be the banner day thus far.

Highland Beach Sunday School Excursion, August 17, 1898. Courtesy of the Van Dyke Reid Collection, South River Historical & Preservation Society

“This rare view of the inside of a camp site c. 1910 in the Water Witch section reveals the summer vacation conditions, the best affordable, of hard-working families escaping the heat, dirt, and crowds of places like Newark, Jersey City, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.”, (King, 2001, 100). Courtesy of John King Collection

Noted in the JERSEY SHORE by Dominick Mazzagetti, pages 86 & 87: “The ‘camp meeting’ phenomenon swept the United States in the early 1800s. These gatherings were a phenomenon of the Second Awakening among Protestant Christians in England, Scotland, and the United States. As the name implies, families would come from miles around and camp out at a designated location to hear preachers and be part of a community of worshippers. The events served as part social gathering and part religious experience…In the same vein, camp meeting associations developed at Island Heights in 1877 and at Atlantic Highlands on the Sandy Hook Bay in 1881…The most successful camp meeting settlement in New Jersey remains, of course, Ocean Grove, which continues to preserve many of its original characteristics.” Tent encampments could also be seen along the river in Highlands. As early as 1863, Highlands’ Methodist house gatherings had become a common occurrence. Devotees could spend a week or ten days at a camp meeting with old friends while making new ones.

Tents continued to rise in ever larger numbers, as vacationers in search of affordable housing during the stifling heat, continued to look for respite from the dog days of summer. Many encampments reflecting the popularity of Highlands and Highland Beach proliferated along the river banks and sandy shores of the nearby coves on the peninsula.

Camping out in the Highlands, c. 1910.

Camp Williams, Highlands, N.J., c. 1900

Gravelly Pt. Campers, Highlands, N.J., 1912

Enthusiasm jumped higher in the succeeding years. On August 18, 1893, the New York Times raved about the experience of time spent in this popular vacation destination.

“CAMPING ABOUT HIGHLAND BEACH: Between the Atlantic Ocean and the Placid Shrewsbury River: This place is becoming a favorite excursion resort. It has features, perhaps, that no other resort on the Atlantic coast possesses. On the east is the mighty Atlantic, on the west, the pacific Shrewsbury, flowing from Sandy Hook Bay past the riverside retreats, Navesink, Highlands, Oceanic, Fair Haven, and Red Bank.

All accompaniments of a modern Summer resort are found here, including carousel, bathing pavilions, photograph gallery, restaurant, and shooting gallery.

Visitors have been treated to a peculiar sight during the past fortnight. Further down the beach toward Sandy Hook and situated under the rays of the famous twin Highland lights, is a large camping colony. The snow-white tents are situated on the riverside, a few feet back from high-water mark. In the rear of the tents, not far distant, splashes and roars the surf of the Atlantic. This camping idea is becoming a popular fad here, and people from New York, Paterson, Brooklyn, Jersey City, and near-by towns take this method to spend a few pleasurable weeks during the heated term.”

When the summer of 1894 arrived, the newspapers were ready to report more Camp news on the sandy strip at the end of the peninsula below the lush green in the hills of Highlands. On August 22, 1894, the Red Bank Register article broadcasts more enthusiasm for this new vacation spot.

“CAMP COMFORT: A Bright Story of Camp Life on the Beach. Uncle Sam has always been noted for his hospitality and good will, and people who happen to know his disposition have availed themselves of the opportunity this summer and camped below the proving ground at Sandy Hook, on a narrow strip of sand beach which is not of much use for Uncle Sam’s purposes.

If one lands at Highland Beach and walks a short distance down the railroad that runs to Sandy Hook he will see a big sign on a telegraph pole, “U.S. Reservation; no trespassing under penalty of the law,” and directly underneath this sign is a tent which is the first one of a stretch of tents for half a mile down the beach. The tents face the Shrewsbury river and at a very high tide one can see the spray dashing up on the ocean side. Here the occupants of “Camp Comfort” have enjoyed themselves for a week. Atlantic Highlands, with its railroad, a perfect imitation of the Hudson scenery; the beautiful Shrewsbury with its numerous craft, the white sand of Sandy Hook, and the ever-restless ocean form a picture of constant change.

At night the twin lights on the Highlands shine far out at sea, guiding and making safe the mariner. All day long the traffic up and down the Shrewsbury makes the front yards of the campers very lively. The campers get out on the beach and as each boat passes with its load of passengers and freight, give the camp call, wave a flag, or blow a horn from “Hornville Camp.” Here, “Angler’s Rest” affords a pleasant home for a party who are fond of fishing. “Laurel” floats a blue pennant with the name of the tent on it. The occupants of the tent probably have earned their laurels and have come to rest.

During the past week a red and white flag has attracted much attention. A white cross runs lengthwise through the flag, the initial letters of the words “Red Bank Trinity Church Choir” standing in the four corners…

Next door to “Camp Comfort” stands a fisherman’s home. The house is built of the wreckage of the Nicol, the tug that went down in a squall not many weeks ago. It is not very beautiful, looks like a “Black Maria,” for it is covered with tar paper and tin-headed nails. The occupants are four or five fishermen…

But just step inside of this adjoining cottage. This place, he said, “is built from the timber of the Kate Markee, the three-masted schooner that went down last spring.”

This vessel, the North America (February 13, 1843), and the Kate Markee (April 11, 1894) were two of the 875 ships wrecked along the Sandy Hook coastline in site of Highland Beach between 1640 and 1935. Courtesy of John King Collection

Then we went up three steps (for this little dwelling is built on a float,) and looked in the door….There were a cooking stove, two chairs, dishes, a lantern, and everything complete to keep house with. “Sea Shell” as the house is called is anchored now, but it is all ready, in case of a bad storm, to pull up anchor and float, like Noah’s ark, until the flood goes down. Another interesting feature of Sandy Hook is watching the cannon balls as they shoot out at sea…These are a very few (items) of interest that have come under “Camp Comfort’s observation.”

This popular trend continued to grow from the 1890’s until 1910 when the summer population peaked in this vacationer’s paradise as 20,000 tourists filled all liveable space on both land and sea in Highlands alone.

The Dancing Pavilion, Highlands, N.J., c. 1900.

In the greater context, the magnitude of the Highland Beach resort has had an enormous impact on Sandy Hook and the town of Highlands over the history of its long-time presence on this peninsula. The Sandlass Pavilion House was surrounded daily by a wide variety of activities built, developed and implemented by William Sandlass as the Proprietor of the Highland Beach resort.

William Sandlass had operators doing the daily work in the Merry-Go-Round, the Photography Studio (photographer, Henry Vantine) and the amusement area. The activities advertised at the resort as mentioned in John King’s book, “Highlands New Jersey: Making of America Series”, pg. 83, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, S.C. (2001) and in historian, George Moss’s reference to a chronicle by Gustav Kobbe in excerpts from his “Gazetteer” present a factual picture of the barrier beach at the time the Elegant Eighties were bowing to the golden decade of the Gay Nineties, (Moss 1990, 95.)

Many of the activities provided visitors with an unforgettable day at the beach: Quoits (horseshoes), Lawn Tennis, Croquet, Shooting Gallery, Bows and Arrows, Carousel, Roller Coaster (Gravity Railroad-1889), Bowling, Dancing, Concerts of Popular Music, Billiards, Photography Studio, Sailing and (America’s Cup Races in 1899 on Sandy Hook), Canoes, Stage Coaches (to Long Branch and local points of interest), Carriages for rides into the Highlands, Dining Rooms and Bar served up to 1,000 people in one party), Bathing costumes and family dressing rooms and Scups fishing (porgy fish).

The property between the Shrewsbury River and the ocean were filled with the buildings and trappings of the new Highland Beach resort. The explosive growth of the resort continued from the late 1880’s into the early 1900’s as the news reports encouraged the public’s attraction to this popular site.

Highlands Train Station overlooking Highland Beach Resort across the bridge on the Sandy Hook Peninsula, c. 1892.

Learn more about Highlands and Highland Beach. Stories and relics 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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