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The picturesque nature of Highlands and its surroundings overlooking the Sandy Hook peninsula were described in the nineteenth century by novelists, poets and travel writers, including James Fenimore Cooper in The Water-Witch (12830), Walt Whitman in The Fancies of Navesink (1885) and Gustave Kobbé in Travel Guide (1889). These are among the more prominent examples that spread a romantic notion of the scenes encountered when visiting the natural setting illustrated in their publications. The points of interest brought to life in the authors’ writings were close enough for a day trip. Views of the Highlands hills could be seen across the ocean from New York City. Historian John King states, “The New York City spire of old Christ Church was visible from Highland Beach but not the opposite—except that the Highlands hills were quite visible and also Twin Lights as well.” The Twin Lighthouse guided more than ships into New York Harbor, it attracted legions of visitors to the Jersey Shore. Along with the growing transportation options by steamboat or train to the widely promoted destinations, these accounts drew attention to the undeveloped land north of the popular resort at Long Branch.

By the late 1880s, the middle-class members of society could afford a trip from Philadelphia or New York to the beaches within their reach. Tourist guidebooks began to proliferate as members of the middle class became aware of the growing popularity of vacation destinations. Travel writer Gustav Kobbé found the Hills of Navesink in Highlands and Highland Beach a charming and desirable location for all those seeking to leave their worries behind while they rested and enjoyed themselves in the green hills with access to the open-air beaches. Highland Beach was on the map!

Word spread as the possibility of a day at the beach beckoned. As news reports caused more interest in a summer stay at the northernmost point of the Shore, New York theater stars sought a summer getaway in an ideal spot just across the ocean from the island of Manhattan. Within an hour, they could be transported by steamboat or train to a cottage in the Hills of Navesink overlooking the Shrewsbury River bathed by cool sea breezes. Part of the major attraction in nearby Long Branch grew out of the desire to “people watch” when famous members of society joined the ranks at the Shore. Rides on the promenades along Ocean Avenue in a horse and carriage or walking the pier were typical ways to enjoy an afternoon of leisure at the beach. Carriage rides or stagecoach trips up and down the coast from Long Branch to Highlands played a prominent part in encouraging guests to spread their wings beyond the beach. A summer actors’ colony sprouted in the neighborhood of Highlands just below Twin Lights, hosting well-known celebrities of their time. In 1894, the place had grown in popularity to such an extent that it boasted about Neil Burgess occupying a villa in the area. Nellie McHenry and a constellation of stars resided in the shadow of Twin Lights!

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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