“The Reservation” — Long Branch’s Cottage Colony
By Michael Sheehan
Visitors to Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in the City of Long Branch may notice a big house standing alone near the north end of the grounds. But very few know the history behind it.
That “cottage,” as it was known when built, is over 120 years old and was one of nine stately homes built in 1900 by Nathan “Nate” Salsbury, the principal owner and business manager for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (in one year alone the hit show staged 341 performances in 132 U.S. towns).
The 16-acre property in North Long Branch had once held the East End Hotel and before that it was called the Atlantic Hotel. According to a Woolman & Rose Atlas, the property was owed by Jay Gould in 1878. He had acquired 50 aces in the area in 1873 from Richard J. Dobbins, a wealthy builder from Philadelphia. John Hoey bought the land in 1875 and wrecked the hotel. A.G. Greenberg of New York got the property in a sheriff’s auction and Salisbury got it from him.
The ultimate folk hero of the American west, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) was at the turn of century one of the most famous men in the world. He founded his own show, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in 1883, “a circus-like extravaganza that toured widely for three decades in the United States and later in Europe.” As for Salisbury, he had shown early spunk — enlisting in the Union Army at age 15 and fighting in the Civil War. There he learned to be a crack shot and a campgrounds entertainer. Enterprising too, he’d won $20,000 playing cards when he left the service.
Each house in the summer settlement was given a number and named in honor of an Native Indian tribe or chief — #1: Cheyenne, #2: Iroquois, #3: Navajo, #4: Arapahoe, #5: Uncapapa, #6: Okachobee #7: Cherokee, #8: Okaliska, and #9: Miami. The name of the house still standing is Navajo. The group of homes was known as “The Reservation.” And with huge profits from the wild west show, Salsbury claimed he was going to spend “every cent in Long Branch,” according to Entertaining a Nation.
The houses were designed by Long Branch architect Leon Cubberley and built by White & Coyne; Jacob Steinbach supplied the furnishings. Each cottage cost between $10,000 and $12,000 and occupancy began in May 1901.
A shrewd businessman and a tireless promoter, Salsbury marketed the luxury homes as having “a commanding position” on the Long Branch oceanfront, as well as a “superb view” from their upper floors of the highlands of the Navesink and the Shrewsbury River, which he claimed were unmatched by any other section of the Jersey shore. The cottages were only a “brisk” 7-minute walk from the North Long Branch railroad station, according to Salsbury’s prospectus, where frequent trains carried passengers to and from New York City.
Each house came with gas and electric light fixtures, could be wired for telephone service if the resident asked for it, and was connected to city sewers — a big plus. In addition, each family had their own bath house and Salsbury emphasized the privacy of The Reservation’s 1,000-yard-long beach frontage, which was for the exclusive use of residents.
The houses were big even by today’s McMansion standards. In addition to a large living room, dining room, and “reception room” or “sea room” on the first floor, each had five bedrooms for residents on the second floor, with another five rooms on the third floor for the servants. Every floor had a “water closet” — a bathroom, to us moderns. In the basement of each house were the kitchen and the servants’ dining room, as well as the laundry room. The basement kitchen was connected to a butler’s pantry on the first floor by means of a dumbwaiter, which the cook would use to deliver food to the first-floor dining room.
Originally, Salsbury leased the houses, promising renters that he would furnish the homes with “due regard for comfort and utility,” maintain the properties, and pay the water bills. Stables were available for an additional rent, since not all residents required them.
An Illinois native, Salsbury died in December 1902 at age 57 and his daughter, Rachael, sold the houses in 1919. Long Branch resident Joseph L. Woolley was the Res property superintendent from the beginning until his death in November 1939.
Built at the pinnacle of Long Branch’s Golden Era, when it was a favored destination for the rich and famous, The Reservation attracted many distinguished summer residents. In the early years, George B. McClellan, Jr., mayor of New York City and son of the infamous Civil War general and 1864 U.S. presidential candidate, rented a house there. In later years, G.F. Hoffman, founder of Hoffman Beverages of Newark, owned a Res house, as did Clayton B. Jones, chairman of the Board of Managers of the New York Cotton Exchange.
“If there’s a heaven for me, I’m sure it has a beach attached to it.”
Another well-known family that summered at “The Res” were the Forans. Known as “Colonel” from his World War I service, Arthur Foran (1882 -1961) was the owner of the Foran Foundry and Manufacturing Company in Flemington, NJ, a firm that at one time made virtually every lamppost and manhole cover in New Jersey. He also served as mayor of Flemington and was elected to the NJ State Senate, where he would serve as Majority Leader and President.
Foran’s oldest son, John Nicholas (1910-1979), known as Nick, went to Hollywood, where he changed his name to Dick Foran and gained fame as one of the original “Singing Cowboys.” At one time, Dick Foran was among the top 10 cowboy stars in the country, alongside names like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. Another Foran son, Walter, followed in his father’s footsteps, serving in the NJ State Assembly and the State Senate from 1969 until his death in 1986.
Over the years, The Reservation’s large homes made it a family-oriented summer paradise. In the late 1920s, two brothers-in-law, both prominent physicians from Brooklyn, NY, bought houses at “The Res,” as it had become known. Both had large families — George Sheehan, M.D., summered in the house named Okaliska with his wife and 14 children, while his brother-in-law, William Ennis, M.D., occupied Uncapapa with his seven children. Dr. Sheehan’s cottage was badly damaged in a July 1935 fire.
In 1939, the Hoffman house burned to the ground, which proved to be a somewhat fortunate accident. The rest of “The Res” homeowners formed a consortium to buy the empty lot, which was turned into a ball field. Every summer Sunday, it was the scene of a softball game that pitted a team from The Reservation against a team from nearby Allenhurst Beach Club, with spectators enjoying “front-row” seats on the cottages’ spacious porches. Beach parties and cook-outs were also favorite summer activities.
By today’s benchmarks, the costs were absurd — Salsbury built the entire nine-house complex in 1900 for a total of $200,000, the lot that the Hoffman house stood on sold for $3,000 in 1939, and Dr. Sheehan’s widow sold her house in 1953 for $10,000.
By the late 1960s the houses were becoming victim to neglect. The city of Long Branch acquired the property in 1974 for $3.6 million — wrecking all the houses except one. The land — and nearby White Sands Beach Club — sat idle for several years as the city wrangled with Monmouth County over how it should be used.
Lacking the funds to develop the property, the city signed over the title to the county in 1977 but then objected to county plans for a beachfront park that included acquiring an additional 22 acres of land across Ocean Avenue for parking and ancillary services. Eventually, differences were ironed out and the present day 38-acre beach park was formally dedicated in May 1984. A skateplex center was added in 2005.
The county park is named for the seven American presidents who visited Long Branch — Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, McKinley, and Wilson.
Michael Sheehan, a longtime writer and marketing executive, has lived in Monmouth Beach for over 50 years. Six of the Sheehan children who lived at “The Reservation” later lived in Monmouth Beach.
• LOC The Reservation Photos and Drawing — HERE
• Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park — HERE
• Nate Salsbury Helped Buffalo Bill Become the World’s Top Showman — HERE
Images of the Res …