Peninsula House — Sea Bright’s Elegant Past
and the Octagon Hotel …
Known by locals as the “P House” — the iconic seashore structure dates back to Sea Bright’s late 19th century glory days. The Peninsula House hotel was constructed in 1881 by Mifflin Paul, the unofficial founder of Sea Bright, for his daughter, Martha Dederer.
Paul built the sprawling wooden hotel along the Shrewsbury River to entertain the rich and famous who came to Sea Bright at the turn of the century. Moved east across Ocean Avenue in 1884, it remained there until burning to the ground in October 1986. Other Peninsula House owners included John Connelly and the Murphy brothers. After years of decline, restoration expert Mary Weir acquired the property in 1980 and returned much of the Edwardian luster to the P House. She sold the landmark property in 1983 to seek other interesting business opportunities.
The last owner, James Yacenda, had received adjustment board approval to turn the facility into an all-year hotel when a fire deemed “suspicious” by the SBFD took the five-level building.. The borough ultimately acquired the vacant property for beach parking.
Generations of Sea Bright residents, families, and out-of-town members remember the spot as a summertime paradise.
The Octagon Hotel
Mifflin Paul was also responsible for the massive Octagon Hotel. Built in 1872 for Paul’s daughter Sarah Sandt, the Octagon underwent grand additions in 1875 and 1879 and became the largest hotel in Sea Bright.
Without him, Sea Bright would not exist in the form we know it today — he plotted it out. Paul bought the land that is now Sea Bright in June 1869 from Dr. Arthur V. Conover (who also owned all the Monmouth Beach property). The Freehold physician had bought the tract for $5 an acre in 1865 from the heirs of Major Henry Wardell, the great-great grandson of the area’s first settler, Eliakim Wardell.
Born April 1814 in Moorestown, NJ, Paul was a busy man. He also managed the construction of the first Sea Bright-Rumson bridge, the Long Branch and Sea Bright Turnpike (that’s present day Ocean Avenue), and the Long Branch and Sea-Shore Railroad.
The borough of Sea Bright has a very rich shore history. One of the best and most thoughtful resources for local shore history was the late George Moss, Jr. The Monmouth County historian and author of eight books on Jersey Shore history, he died in 2009. His 1990 book, Another Look: At Nauvoo to the Hook (Ploughshare Press), is a marvelous literary and visual portrait of shore life in Guided Age times, roughly from 1860 to 1900.
According to the Moss account, the Octagon could accommodate more than 500 guests and also had “a 150-foot ocean pier that supported a restaurant and bathhouses for summer guests.” The hotel catered to the rich and famous until it was decimated in a triple-winter 1913-14 storm. That December-January series of storms did more than $500,000 in damage to Sea Bright shore structures. The Octagon was totaled.