Written By Chris Gaydos @searchingforamerica
Photos By Chris Gaydos
How did a remote, sandy island off the coast of NJ, primarily known for fishing and hunting, become a Victorian playground for the rich in the 19th century?
To answer this question you would have to look back to the mid-1800s, when Long Beach Island, then known as Long Beach, was a sparsely populated island of sand dunes and small ponds. Long Beach still had its share of men who participated in whaling, but wealthy sportsmen seeking adventure came to Long Beach for duck hunting, gunning, and fishing. The Bond’s Hotel at the south end of the island was one of a few hotels catering to these ambitious men, several of whom would come together and directly impact the future of Long Beach.
From 1837 to 1901, on the other side of the Atlantic, there was a renewed interest in art and architecture under the reign of British Queen Victoria. This period of time was marked by industrialism, materialism, and an expansion of new wealth. Much of the world, including the United States, mirrored this Victorian energy
Archelaus Pharo, a successful businessman from Tuckerton, NJ, was a frequent visitor to Long Beach and the Bond’s Hotel. Pharo was instrumental in creating the Tuckerton Railroad, a rail line that connected people from New York and Philadelphia to New Jersey’s shore points. In 1867 he purchased 666 acres of land north of the Bond’s Hotel. Ambitious and wealthy, he no doubt had in mind the creation of a world-class beach resort. Pharo’s family suffered from hayfever; Long Beach, with its westerly winds and lack of trees, offered a respite from the symptoms. It is reported that the Pharo’s daughter, while visiting the island, called it Beach Heaven—a precursor to Beach Haven.
Pharo’s influential acquaintances included executives of the Baldwin Locomotive Company in Philadelphia, and together they formed the Long Beach Land and Improvement Company. Charles Parry, president of Baldwin Locomotive, became the first president of this speculative real estate endeavor and promptly built its first hotel. Beach Haven became the chosen name for this new community.
Beach Haven rapidly developed into a resort. Mud Hen Creek ran from the dunes to the bay, making it possible to transport visitors and building supplies. Vacationers from New York and Philadelphia would board a train and, once in Tuckerton, take a steamship to Beach Haven. Street grids were prepared and lots sold. Prominent businessmen from New York and Philadelphia could afford to build large, Victorian-style vacation homes. Although referred to as Victorian, these homes were designed to include elements of several popular architectural styles of the era, including Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, stick, and the new American shingle style.
In Philadelphia, the architectural firm Wilson Brothers and Company was highly recognized for its design and structure of many institutional and industrial projects including the main buildings at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. They also built the headquarters for the Baldwin Locomotive Works, connecting them to Charles Parry. Wilson Brothers and Company began to receive commissions to build vacation homes in multiple locations along the newly developing Atlantic coastline (courtesy of the expanding Pennsylvania Railroad), but their greatest contributions would be seen in their designs in Beach Haven.
In 1882, they designed the remarkable Gothic and stick and shingle styled Holy Innocents Missions’s Church, now home of the LBI Historical Museum. In 1885, they built several “cottages” for executives of the Baldwin Locomotive Company on Coral Street. In true Victorian style, these homes were often given names. Stick-styled Portia Cottage, owned by John Wilson (Wilson Brothers and Company) at 123 Coral Street, is a remarkable example of one of these homes and is relatively unchanged from when it was built. Mrs. Wilson had three homes built on Amber Street for her unmarried daughters, naming the cottages Rosalind, Silvia, and Audrey. They became known as the Shakespearean cottages. The twin onion-domed homes on Atlantic Avenue are examples of the dramatic Queen Anne style and may also have been designed by Wilson Brothers and Company. Archelaus Pharo’s home on 2nd Street was named Louella for his two daughters, Louisa and Ella. Today it is Beach Haven’s oldest surviving residence.
Large Victorian hotels also dominated the Beach Haven landscape, including the Engleside, Baldwin, Parry House, and Ocean House. In 1895 R. B. Engle, proprietor of the grand Engleside, produced a souvenir booklet promoting Beach Haven’s ideal location for seaside visitors: “Philadelphia’s Newport.”
In 1983, Beach Haven ‘s Historic District, featuring the original surviving Victorian homes, primarily designed by the Wilson Brothers, was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Beach Haven and its Victorian cottages still offer a resort experience and glimpses into the architectural past for new generations of beach lovers and historians alike.