In an effort to expand beyond the declining oceanfront hotel scene at the close of the 19th century, city developers turned their attention to a picturesque river area — Pleasure Bay, a tributary of the Shrewsbury River.
During glory times the location offered boating, bathing, fishing, lodging, fine dining, and entertainment. Clambakes and “shore dinners” were all the rage. By the 1890s, Pleasure Bay Park “saw champagne flow like the rippling waters of the Shrewsbury,” according to the Long Branch Daily Record.
And yet Pleasure Bay was mostly catering to middle class visitors, according to a July 1961 Long Branch Daily Record retrospective on the area. “It was one of the first efforts to provide large scale amusements for any group but the wealthy.”
According to a 1941 Long Branch Daily Record story: “In the days when palatial steamboats plied between Long Branch and New York, Pleasure Bay was place of distinction. The favorite gathering place for the elite of the land. The era’s celebrities sought relaxation and fine foods at the hotels operating there.” Patrons included Presidents Grant and Garfield, Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, Diamond Jim Brady, Hugh Hastings, George Pullman, A.J. Drexel, and Garret Hobart.
“Pleasure Bay has always been just what its name implies.”
—Daily Record, July 1939
Access could be made by boat, trolley, steamship and later auto. In fact, with the passing of the steamboat era in the late 1920s, Pleasure Bay would lose its “life blood.” By the early 1940s, area waters were a “skeleton of its former glory.”
The oldest hotel on the Shrewsbury River — Price’s Hotel in Pleasure Bay — was established in 1854 by Captain Edward Hartshorne Price. By 1937, the 12-room hotel and restaurant were considered “the choicest spot in Jersey,” by the Long Branch Daily Record. Frequently referred to as “a historic Shore landmark,” everyone from presidents to industrialists to actors visited. Price’s wife Ann (West) helped run the business. She died in 1898; he passed in 1907. It was all wrecked by fire in November 1953. The area’s Long Branch Ice Boat & Yacht Club was formed at Price’s Hotel in 1901.
In June 1929, New York developer Frank Pergola, acquired 14 acres (the park land, Avenel Hotel, and surrounding area) from the Patten family estate. He ended up building 25 bungalows along the Shrewsbury River and also constructed a bulkhead and area streets, but the Great Depression hit his interests hard.
Here is the photo-essay on Pleasure Bay. Enjoy:
Pleasure Bay Park, early 1900s.
SS Thomas Patten passing through the old Pleasure Bay Bridge, early 1900s.
Long Branch Community Pool on Atlantic Avenue in Pleasure Bay Park, May 2022. Developer Green Field Builders gave the $2.1 million complex to the city. MORE INFO.
Old Pleasure Bay Bridge, 1960s. The first Long Branch and Oceanport connection opened in 1894. E.A. Young of Elizabeth was the builder.
Old Pleasure Bay Bridge, 1940s. The old swing opening was replaced with a new 25-high fixed span in September 1965.
Pleasure Bay Bridges — old and new — seen from Oceanport, May 1962.
Alone by the water — a vacant building at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Liberty Street along Troutman’s Creek. In years previous, it was a gas station and Long Branch Bait & Tackle shop (Claudia Giron Photo). The old Pleasure Bay spot cries out for quality development.
Pleasure Bay Park amusements and carousal, 1908.
Price’s Hotel, 1920s. In operation before the Civil War, it burned in 1953 just short of its centennial. Owner Edward Price was born in Oceanport in May 1827.
Pleasure Bay bridge, early 1900s.
Hotel Norwood on Branchport Avenue in Pleasure Bay, 1910s. Among the owners were: Frank Engelfried, Hermann Weschky and Henry Muhlenbrink. The main structure was opened in the 1830s.
Hi-Henry Inn, 1904. Located on Branchport Avenue, it all had been the Hotel Norwood. Henry Muhlenbrink acquired the property in the early 1920s and re-named it after his unbeaten trotting horse, Hi Henry, in 1935. A successful horse driver and owner, he died in June 1952. John and Rose DeLuca ran the popular inn from 1955 to 1974. Born in Bayonne, John died in Feb. 1966.
“Cats Meow” ad, 1975. Short stay — the location would became Casa Comida, a Mexican restaurant run by Paul and Kris Catlett in June 1985.
Casa Comida at the end of its long run, 2022. Very popular in its day, the Branchport Avenue eatery closed in Fall 2021 after 35 years of Mexican food service.
New York Hotel in Pleasure Bay. Built in 1867 off Branchport Creek, it could accommodate 100 guests and even had an observation deck. It became the Riverside House Hotel in 1873.
S.N. Janes cottage in Pleasure Bay, 1868 (G.W. Pach Photo).
SS Long Branch docked at Pleasure Bay, 1890s. The beginnings of steamboat travel on the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers came in a June 1819 New York Post ad — the business including 64 boats in total would operate for 111 years.
“On the Road to Pleasure Bay, Long Branch, NJ” postcard, 1920s.
Entrance to Pleasure Bay Park on Atlantic Avenue, 1906. In 1919, the Long Branch Steamboat Company acquired the park its amusements and lodgings.
Pleasure Bay — in all its seashore glory — via postcard, 1911.
Vintage sailboats at Pleasure Bay, early 1900s.
Pleasure Bay, Long Branch postcard.
Pleasure Bay Park on Atlantic Avenue, 1905. At its peak time as a resort, the park had a trolley line, boat dock, floating theater for concerts and shows, amusement rides and picnic facilities. The area was once owned by George M. Harvey, a former US Ambassador to Great Britain.
Bridgewater Inn at Pleasure Bay Park, 1917. It was torn down in July 1939. Prior to 1912, the spot was the Avenel Inn.
Bridgewater Inn ad. Long Branch Daily Record, June 1912.
Clambake celebration on the banks of Pleasure Bay Park, early 1900s.
Wardell’s Hotel in Pleasure Bay, 1923.
Pleasure Bay postcard, 1908.
Pleasure Bay Casino and LB trolley, 1985
Wardell & Son’s Port-au-Peck Hotel at Pleasure Bay, 1906.
Orpheum Theatre at Pleasure Bay Park, 1906. It was an “open-air” stage along the riverfront. A summer ending “Water Carnival” that season drew 15,000+ spectators. There was also a Pleasure Bay Opera Company that performed here.
“Green Gables” Hotel at Pleasure Bay, 1920. Nicholas E. West opened the spot in 1880 and was a longtime owner. Joseph H. Hornung was a later owner.
Green Gables clambake promo, July 1939.
A steamboat on Pleasure Bay, 1906.
Patten Line Steamboat: the SS Pleasure Bay, early 1900s.
Old Pleasure Bay bridge, early 1900s. Opened in 1894, it was the last steam-powered swing bridge on the East Coast. The old bridge built by E.A. Young of Elizabeth cost $8,250; the new bridge built by Wittberg Construction cost $1.3 million.
Clambake at Wardell’s Port-au-Peck Hotel, 1907. Pleasure Bay swing bridge in background. Clambakes were the hotel specialty.
A very busy Pleasure Bay, 1947.
Branchport Bridge, 1909.
Wardell’s Port-au-Peck Hotel ad, early 1900s. Owner J. Herbert Wardell was born in Monmouth Beach in 1838 — everyone called him “Uncle Hub.”
Price’s Hotel at Pleasure Bay, 1950.
Hotel Garrison at Branchport ad, 1888.
Grand Carousel at Pleasure Bay, 1911. Designed in 1897 by Charles Looff, who built the first Coney Island merry-go-round in 1876. Moved from LB in 1910, ultimately the structure ended up at a Central Massachusetts amusement park until 2000.
Pleasure Bay Apartments, 1966. Located at Atlantic Avenue and Liberty Street, when first opened in March 1964, it included 270 units in a “garden apartment community” (rents started at $104/month). Built on 30-acres along the river, Lionel K. Levy was the project architect; the developer was Atlantic-Shrewsbury Corp.
Old Pleasure Bay Bridge Control House being removed as part of a demolition, July 1964.
Pleasure Bay Bridge connecting Long Branch and Oceanport under construction. The new fixed-span bridge cost $1.3 million and opened in Sept. 1965.
The massive Baruch family home on Atlantic Avenue, 1900. The 35-room, 12-bath, 15-acre estate near Pleasure Bay was known as “Anchorage.” Bernard Baruch (1870-1965) was a financial advisor to seven American presidents.