Monmouth Beach’s Founding Father
The founder and first settler of the coastal area today known as Monmouth Beach (other than the true first settlers, Native American Indians) was a man named Eliakim Wardell. Today’s residents should remember and respect this man for launching such an awesome community — all beginning as “Wardell’s Beach.”
Born on November 23, 1634 near Boston, Wardell was a Quaker (known as the Society of Friends). His father, Thomas, had immigrated from England His mother was Elizabeth Woodruff.
Eliakim and his wife, Lydia (they married in October 1659), were persecuted, whipped, imprisoned, and ultimately banished from New Hampshire by the Puritans for their religious beliefs. Lydia, the daughter of Isaac Perkins and Susannah Wise, was particularly combative in her protests, “appearing naked in Newbury as a ‘sign’ unto her persecutors who had stripped women to whip them.” Ultimately, the couple fled to Rhode Island where things on the religion freedom perspective improved.
In 1667, hearing word that large tracts of undeveloped land were able for low cost and limited taxes, Wardell and wife (they would go on to have 7 children) came to what would become Shrewsbury Township located in Monmouth County (NJ was then a British colony). Around that time Wardell was named an associate of the Monmouth Patent group, the first area developers, which was formed in April 1665.
According to the historic timeline, Shrewsbury Township was officially formed in October 1693. In February 1849, Ocean Township separated from Shrewsbury and in March 1906, Monmouth Beach separated from Ocean Township.
According to the Monmouth County Historical Association, the county was first settled by migrant New Englanders in 1664. Monmouth County was considered a very desirable area for its abundant “shoreline and estuaries which provided a bounty of clams and fish, and the rich soil of the interior lowlands that provided varied and generous agricultural products.” Monmouth County was officially formed in 1683 by the Proprietary Assembly, and was named after Monmouthshire, England.
In July 1670, according to legend, five associates of the original Monmouth Parent holders (Wardell, John Slocum, Jasper and Peter Parker and George Hulett) sought to resolve a land dispute with local Indians. Slocum engaged in a “two falls out of three” wrestling match with an Indian named Vow-a-Vapon. Under the terms, if Slocum won he could buy all the land that he could walk around in one day. If he lost he got nothing. He won the match, despite having to face an opponent who wore “a coat of goose grease.” This account is also cited in the 1940 LB city-bio book, Entertaining a Nation.
“Monmouth Beach isn’t just a place; it’s a state of mind.”
—Sidney B. Johnson
Little For a Lot
Wardell then bought the rights to the area that is now considered Monmouth Beach (about 454 acres including Sea Bright) from the Lenape tribe for the equivalent of 4 pounds (about 11 cents per acre). He paid in blankets, clothing and hardware for all the land north of Long Branch, below Sandy Hook, and between the Shrewsbury River and Atlantic Ocean.
The area known as “Fresh Pond” was called “the most fortuitous land grant of all,” according to the book, Up and Down the Beach by June Methot. And unlike other land deals of the times “there never was much question as to the ownership” by the Wardell family, which would hold clear title to the property for nearly 200 years. The name “Wardell’s Beach” was common on most maps of those days.
Obviously a person of influence, Wardell was appointed the first Sheriff of Monmouth County in May 1683 (he was called a “Royal Sheriff” and served 6 months). Prior to that he had been a deputy representing Shrewbury in the General Assembly. (New Jersey wouldn’t join the union until December 1787.)
Wardell built the first structure in Monmouth Beach. Construction materials included massive stones previously used as ballast on ships coming to America from England. Originally know as the Wardell farmhouse, it subsequently became the Monmouth Beach Country Club and later the Clubhouse Hotel, an exclusive coastal resort and vacation hotspot for Glided Age tycoons in the late-1800s. A fire destroyed the main structure in December 1929, but parts of its still survive today on Beach Road and River Avenue.
Wardell died in 1710 in Burlington, NJ. Many of his descendants (Joseph, John, Ebenezer, Jacob, and Henry Wardell among them) would go on to live in and around Monmouth Beach and help shape our coastal area.