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Courtesy of Twin Lights Museum

The Highlands of Navesink built its own identity. A type of lodging was available in the form of private clubs that drew tourists from New York City. Guests enjoyed the exclusivity of an environment that ensured visitors’ comfort and convenience. As word spread of this new accommodation, it increased the desire to visit the Highlands of Navesink and its environs. The 1847 Neptune Club was the first club built in Highlands near the water’s edge on the Shrewsbury River. It was exclusive to yachting members and friends. The club provided its visitors with comfortable arrangements, including overnight rooms, a chef to prepare meals and a room for parlor games. The sheltered dock steered members to its doors. Highlands’ growing popularity was honored by a song dedicated to the Neptune Club with music written by the well-known composer of Welsh descent John Rogers Thomas. “Beautiful Highlands” was one of more than one hundred popular American songs composed by Thomas. His song echoed the nineteenth-century post-Romantic era surrounding the times.

Sea Bright, N.J. fisherman

This seashore location slept from October to May and awoke again each summer. The 1895 Standard Union newspaper of Brooklyn reminds us:

“The air of stillness awakened each summer when cottage life was filled with guests that arrived from New York. Trunks and traps moved oceanward on the rail cars owned by the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Sandy Hook boats from Pier 8, North River, did a very large business offering a pleasant trip to the seashore. Visitors found that the fisherman’s colony of Sea Bright attracted the curiosity of many strangers in town.”

Tents continued to rise in even greater numbers. Vacationers in search of affordable housing continued to look for respite from the dog days of summer. Many encampments reflected the popularity of Highlands and Highland Beach proliferating along the riverbanks and sandy shores of nearby coves on the peninsula. In the greater context, the magnitude of the Highland Beach resort’s popularity continued to have an enormous impact on the southern end of the Sandy Hook peninsula and neighboring resort towns. The reach of the resort touched the towns of Highlands, Sea Bright, Rumson, Monmouth Beach and Long Branch over the history of its presence on the peninsula.

July 8, 1909. “Will be back by Monday. Best Wishes, Elsie"

Resort excursion parties had an increasing number of diversions at the Highland Beach resort in the early 1900’s. Bowling clubs, cycling races, cabaret, Tavern, shooting gallery, Merry-Go-Round, canoeing, swimming, restaurants, hotel and social clubs all provided a myriad of entertainments. Investment in the resort came at a price and great rewards for the enjoyment of the visitors! The GALA DAY events drew huge crowds on Sandy Hook. The secret of the resort’s success was its ability to keep pace with the times. A family history of seeking new attractions and amusements enthralled visitors in this seaside location as a diversion from the demands of daily life. Eventually, events beyond their control changed the future.

Bertha Hickey Conover and friend Rose on Sandy Hook, New Jersey spend a day at

the beach after rowing across the river from Highlands.

Challenges were met as shifts in American culture affected the future of this beach community and the nation. The popularity of the automobile caused a complete collapse of the New Jersey rail system in 1940. The Central Railroad of New Jersey eventually shut down the coastline service. The rail bridge over the Shrewsbury River was dismantled, leaving the Highlands Bridge as the main thoroughfare to the resort. Travel by car was easier with the emergence of Route 35 and Route 36 along with gas stations and rest areas built to accommodate crowds on the highways. Sites farther south, like Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights, drew the attention of New York tourists who had other options when the new highways were put in place. Finally, the steamship lines ceased the majority of service to New Jersey, further cutting off access to the resort. Until this time, Sandlass Baths, Highland Beach served day trippers and locals who filled the river and ocean beaches at the summer resort. Even though trains and steamboats had disappeared, the experience remained. Generations of families returned on a yearly basis with children and grandchildren in tow seeking the enjoyment of a shared summer experience.

Highland Beach Resort rail station, 1888-1945. Courtesy of Greg Kelly

The rail lines continued to run until 1945 on the seashore route in the locations noted on the

Central New Jersey rail map.

Seashore Route, Central New Jersey Rail Road Map published in 1941. Courtesy of Robert Grant

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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