Monmouth Beach: Rich & Famous Era
Gilded Age Glory at the Jersey Shore …
By the 1880s — thanks to the advent of a shore-area railroad system and a train station in the town — Monmouth Beach had become a secluded resort for very wealthy East Coast families. All built on land once nothing more then sand-hills and salt marshes.
Just as the last summer of 1800s was beginning, according to a New-York Tribune report: “Nowhere along the Atlantic Coast is ‘exclusiveness’ in its broadest sense enjoyed as it is at Monmouth Beach.”
The kickoff was in 1871 with the formation of the Monmouth Beach Association — a big bucks group of men seeking to create an exclusive resort at the Jersey Shore. This “A-List” of owners wanted a “select place” for people of “unquestioned respectability.” Many wealthy and well-known families made their homes there during those glory years — mostly during the summer season.
Their dwellings were the massive cottages that dotted the coastline. Ocean Avenue was known popularly and accurately as “Millionaires Row.” The sheer wealth of these people was unprecedented — it mostly ended when the 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913 allowing Congress to levy an income tax. Here is a famous names and families list — all who lived in town at one time or another:
• Bowles Colgate — Co-founder of Colgate & Company, which later merged with Palmolive Soap to form the now giant, Colgate-Palmolive Company (near $19 billion annual revenues). A Brooklyn native and Civil War veteran, Colgate died in April 1902. The family lived on Beach Road.
• George Fisher Baker — America’s first superbanker was a heavy-hitter in so many amazing ways — from being an original investor in today’s Citibank to endowing the Harvard School of Business. He loved Monmouth Beach too and was a summer resident up until his death in 1931. Read my story about the “Spinx of Wall Street” HERE.
• Anthony Q. Keasbey — A senior member of the 1871 Monmouth Beach Association (the wealthy syndicate that developed the town), he was also the longest serving United States Attorney in American and New Jersey history. Appointed by President Lincoln in 1861, he held office continuously until 1886. Born in Salem, NJ, he died in 1895.
• Noah Swayne — He was the first Republican and only Quaker to serve on the US Supreme Court. Appointed by President Lincoln in 1862, the Ohio lawyer served for nearly 20 years on the High Court. In 1878, he paid Jay Gould for $3,000 for his Monmouth Beach house.
• Samuel R. Mott — Nationally-known for the cider company he founded in 1842, Mott and his family lived on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Beach Road in the late 1800s. Today the company is part of the Cadbury-Schweppes beverage empire.
• William Barbour — Owned the Barbour Linen Thread Company, which manufactured linen treads for fishing liens and nets. His son, William, born in Monmouth Beach in 1888 and later a Rumson mayor, represented New Jersey in the US Senate starting in 1931. The family’s large Stanford White-designed house on Ocean Avenue, where the Admiralty now stands, was torn down in 1973.
“Money is not important. But a lot of money is something else.”
—George Bernard Shaw
• John Torrey, Jr. — A prominent attorney and NJ state senator, he was the Monmouth Beach Association’s managing partner. The wealthy group that shaped the town into an exclusive resort starting in the 1870s. He owned the large house on Beach Road next to the old clubhouse hotel. He also played a key role in getting the seashore railroad into the area. Later on he owned all of Lakehurst and developed it into a community. He died in 1914.
• Eddie Rickenbacker — A recipient of the Medal of Honor for his daring as an ace World War I fighter-pilot, he lived on Valentine Street. Before the war, he was a race car driver (competing in the first Indianapolis 500) and also was a chauffeur for wealthy Monmouth Beach banker George Fisher Baker. A longtime president of Eastern Air Lines, Rickenbacker died in 1973.
• Oliver Byron — A renowned actor in his day, he performed alongside the Booth brothers (John Wilkes and Edwin) in the 1850s. He owned a large mansion on Ocean Avenue and other land in MB and in Long Branch. The first firehouse in North Long Branch he helped fund and is named in his honor. He died in 1920 at age 77.
• William G. Fargo — He was the founder of the Wells Fargo Company, the first messenger service between the east and west coasts, which today is a $100 billion financial services company. He was also one of the original founders of the American Express Company in 1850. He lived on Beach Road (today there is a Wells Fargo bank on Beach Road). Also a mayor of Buffalo, he died in 1881.
• Harper Brothers — The founders of the Harper’s Bazaar magazine in 1867 and a later a book publishing firm (HarperCollins), James and John Harper lived on the corner of River Avenue and Beach Road. Another famous publishing titian George Delacorte, who founded Dell Publishing, lived on Club Circle.
• J. Walter Spalding — Co-founder/owner of the Spalding Brothers Sporting Goods Company in 1876. He lived on Ocean Avenue near Surf Road. His son, Albert, was a world-renowned concert violinist. The street Spalding Place in town is named after the family. Spalding is now a diversified sporting goods company with over $500 million in annual sales.
• John McKesson, Jr. — Founder and co-owner of McKesson Robbins, a major US pharmaceutical company. Today McKesson is a diversified health-care company with about $260 billion in annual sales. He owned several pieces of property in town and lived in a large house south of the MB Club.
• Thomas McCarter — A former NJ Attorney General, NJ State Senate Majority Leader, and founding president (from 1909-45) of the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey (once the nation’s largest public utility), he owned a large Ocean Avenue house. Princeton University’s McCarter Theatre is named in his honor.
• Garret A. Hobart — Was the Vice President of the United States (under President William McKinley) from 1897 to until his death in 1899. He also served as Speaker of the NJ Assembly and President of the NJ Senate. Born in WLB, he owned a home on Ocean Avenue in town and another just over the border in North Long Branch.
• Frederic J. Stimson — A true Renaissance man, he was a graduate of Harvard Law School and was also a respected legal writer (penning novels under an alias). He served as the US ambassador to Argentina from 1915-21. He died in 1943 at age 88.
“Wealth is largely the result of habit.”
—John Jacob Astor
• Edward Horsman — Founder of the E.I. Horsman Company, one of the largest doll making companies in the nation, in 1865 in NYC. He owned a large house at Ocean Avenue and Surf Road for over 40 years; he died in 1927. “Horsman Dolls” still sell today.
• William C. Reick — President and city editor of the New York Herald in the late 1800s, he owned a large house on Ocean Avenue. He really ran the newspaper for owner James Gordon Bennett Jr., who was better known for his yachting and world travels. Reick also owned the New York Sun and was part owner of the New York Times. Educated at Harvard, he died in 1924.
• Dr. Edward Lawrence Keyes — He was the son of distinguished Civil War Union General Erasmus Keyes. A pioneering urologist and first president of the American Association of Genitourinary Surgeons, he owned a mansion on Ocean Avenue. A South Carolina native, he died in 1924 at age 80.
• William L. Strong — The last mayor of NYC before it consolidated into five boroughs in 1897, Strong owned several large properties in town including a big summer home on Ocean Avenue. A Republican, he worked to break the grip of Tammany Hall corruption in city government. He died in 1900.
• Henry Heide — The founder of the Heide Candy Company (famous for Jujubes and Jujyfruits), he lived on River Avenue in a house (still standing) designed by the world-renowned architect, Stanford White. Hershey’s ultimately bought out Heide. A German native, he started the company in 1869. and died in 1931.
• James M. Beck — This Philadelphia-born lawyer was one of the nation’s top constitutional experts. Beck served as US Solicitor General (1921 to 1925), US Attorney for Pennsylvania (1896-1900), and US Representative for Pennsylvania (1927 to 1934). He went to court in 1927 to stop a Galilee fishery near his Ocean Avenue mansion. He died in 1936.
• J. Amory Haskell — Was a GM executive and horse breeder. His son, Amory L. Haskell, was the first president of Monmouth Park and the namesake of the track’s annual marquee horse race, the Haskell Invitational.
• Jay Gould — Who personified the “Robber Barons” of the late 1800s, was the founder of the Western Union Telegraph Company and a railroad magnate. Early maps show him having large Monmouth Beach land holdings. He was just 56 when he died in 1892.
• George R. Sheldon — A wealthy banker-financier and Treasurer of the Republican National Committee, he owned a large home on River Avenue. A former president of the Union League Club of New York City, he died in 1919.
• Brayton Ives — A Civil War Union general and presidents of both the Northern Pacific Railway and the New York Stock Exchange. The owner of a large Ocean Avenue house, he died in 1914.
• A.M. Goode — Was the founder and owner of Carter’s Little Liver Pills. He lived on the corner of Beach Road and Ocean Avenue.
• George Robeson — Born in Oxford Furnace, NJ in 1829, he graduated Princeton University at age 18. He was a general in the Civil War and then the NJ Attorney General. He went on to serve as the US Secretary of the Navy under President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) and later a U.S. Representative from New Jersey. He lived on Ocean Avenue.
• John Barrymore — The famous and flamboyant stage/screen actor summered in town on Rivervdale Avenue. One rumor: he popped so many champagne corks at his house the roof needed to be replaced.
• Eddie Condon — The outstanding jazz musician of his age, he owned a large home on Ocean Avenue during the post-World War II years. For over 20 years, his NYC jazz club was a “music mecca.” He died in 1973. He was the brother-in-law of borough historian Sam Smith.
• William Prentice — He owned a large home on River Avenue around the turn of the century and was the great-grandfather of NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman.
• Henry L. Stimson — He was US Secretary of War under President William Taft (1911-1913), Secretary of State under President Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) and Secretary of War under Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman (1940-1945). This ultimate “Washington wise man” lived on Ocean Avenue.
• Helena Rubinstein — The Polish-born founder and namesake of a vast cosmetics empire, was one of the world’s richest women. Her mantra: “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”
• Guglielmo Marconi — The inventor of the wireless telegraph system, which helped bring on modern radio. The first to transmit a wireless signal in 1899, he stayed in the town’s Galilee section around then and used the U.S. Life-Saving Station for his experiments.
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Note: My thanks to Gail Gannon who helped compile the list. Much-admired for her chronicling of Monmouth Beach history through her fabulous paintings, the borough’s “artist-in-residence” died in March 2023.