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Sandy Hook, originally known for its fishery and the lighthouse built in 1764, enchanted the passersby on steamboats as the new century approached. Steamboat travel ushered in a new era at Highlands and the barrier beaches protecting it on the peninsula-side. Fervor found in religious tent encampments eventually spread. As early as 1863, Highlands’ Methodist house gatherings had become a common occurrence. The Methodists had the intention of sharing a community with fellow believers. In Monmouth County, the history of Ocean Grove and Asbury Park were closely intertwined because of a shared border on either side of Wesley Lake and a common bond through the Methodist Church. Asbury Park grew rapidly and had nearly two hundred hotels. While other resorts sparkled with amusements, Ocean Grove fostered rigorous restrictions depending on the church denomination. Devotees could spend a week or ten days at a camp meeting with old friends while making new ones. A short distance down the coast on Sandy Hook Bay, Atlantic Highlands joined in the popularity of camp meeting associations in other beach towns.

HIGHLAND BEACH Sunday School Excursion on August 17, 1898. Courtesy of the

South River Historical & Preservation Society & Rick Geffken.

Modesty in swim attire took hold according to norms of the times. Sea bathing became a popular amusement. Most women were encouraged to only go in the ocean up to their knees. Women and men had different hours to use the beach and men could go “au naturel” early in the morning hours. Portable bathhouses on the sand allowed bathers to change into their bathing costumes. Covering up at the beach concealed women from head to toe in their bathing attire which promoted propriety of the day. Due to the bathing costumes covering the entire body, only wading into the sea was possible. By the mid-1800s, bathhouses became permanent rather than single portable changing lockers with wheels rolled to the edge of the ocean.

Friends of Highland Beach, Facebook Page.

The 1920s brought dramatic changes in swimming attire with short suits. Bathing restrictions changed along with new fashions and styles coming into vogue. “This Jazz Age was characterized by new freedoms in social, economic and cultural aspects of life. It is often synonymous with pleasure seeking and people having a good time after the devastation of the First World War. “ – Biography Online

Bertha Hickey Conover and friend Rose spend a day at

the beach on Sandy Hook after rowing across the river, c. 1920s.

Friends of Highland Beach, Facebook Page.

After the war, good times returned as the nation entered the roaring 20’s. The Monmouth County area took hold as THE place to summer. Jazz music was in fashion, and Highland Beach responded by hiring popular bands to play in the Bamboo Garden on weekends…Of course, with the start of Prohibition, Highland Beach was dealt a blow—the revenue stream from alcohol sales stopped, and things started to change. Much of the New York tourist trade slowed, but more local, permanent residents remained as the area gentrified. –Chris Brenner, documentarian

Wool bathing suits hung on the line to dry as seen above the word “BEACH” stenciled on the bathhouses at Highland Beach, Sandlass Pavilion. The bathing suits were washed in carbolic soap before being rented out the next day at the rate of .05 cents daily. In this era, you only had to see Philip Lynch for bathing suit rentals at the resort, possibly a cousin of Helen Lynch Sandlass in this family-owned business. Occasionally, suits were thrown over the bathhouse lockers by patrons to an awaiting friend, saving the rental fee.

These postcard images captured the attention of the day tripper making plans for a sojourn to the shore. Receiving the “Wish you were here!’ cards piqued more interest in popular destinations, and this personal advertising sparked a longing for more time at the beach. When visiting Highlands, the closest location to take a dip in the ocean required crossing the Highlands Bridge to the other side at Sandy Hook where Highland Beach Resort was ready to serve the visitors

Advertising in local Red Bank newspaper, 1950s. Courtesy of Sandlass family archives.

New bathing suits and musical styles continued to influence the resort experience. In the very early years, along with wool, swimsuits from this era were also made from canvas and flannel which were far too heavy for swimming. At least it had the virtue of being sturdy and, most importantly, didn’t turn transparent when wet. – The Radical History of the Swimsuit

In the 1950s, nylon and elastic was added to jersey fabric to make it dry faster after a dip. Improvements were also made to the rubberized material from the 1940s Lastex. This, along with cotton, acetate and taffeta made up most of the swimsuit materials in the 1950s. – What they Wore-1950s Summer Style-Oh So Delightful

The 1950s-1960s brought a change at Sandlass Beach in bathing suit trends. No more rental suits at the main office in the bathing pavilion lobby. Instead, the glass display cases exhibited the latest bathing suits for purchase along with bathing caps, sunscreen, rubber tubes, and sand pails with shovels. Everything a bather or child needed for a day at the beach!

Bathers at Sandlass Beach Club, 1950s. Courtesy of the Carolyn Mcmillan collection.

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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