The Blueprint for Monmouth Beach
First incorporated in the Spring of 1871, the Monmouth Beach Association is largely credited with developing the borough that we know today.
The group’s associates — 22 wealthy East Coast blue-blood types — included George Robeson (then U.S. Navy Secretary under President Ulysses S. Grant), U.S. Senator Alexander G. Cattell (who voted to convict President Andrew Johnson of impeachment charges in 1868), David Depue (Chief Justice of the N.J. Supreme Court), Cortland Parker (an influential national Republican), Anthony Q. Keasbey (the longest serving U.S. Attorney in New Jersey history), and Daniel Dodd (a prosperous banker).
This syndicate, which owned most of the land between North Long Branch and Sea Bright, sought an “uncommon exclusiveness,” according to an 1878 New York Times report, noting the location as “an aristocratic colony, with aristocratic cottages, inhabited by aristocratic people.”
Seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of neighboring Long Branch (which first emerged as a national resort when First Lady Mary Lincoln visited in August 1861, according to Entertaining a Nation), many wealthy and well-known families were lured to the seashore town during those fashionable glory days — mostly during the summer months.
The association had acquired the land that now encompasses Monmouth Beach from Dr. Arthur V. Conover, who called his property “The Sea-View Farm.” 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.
With the goal to create an exclusive resort at the Jersey Shore, the association’s managing partner John Torrey, Jr. retained a New York civil engineer (Harry Forsberg) to survey the land and the town’s first streets and property plots were laid out. Thus began the Gilded Age glory days in Monmouth Beach. The center of attention for these wealthy families was the Monmouth Beach Clubhouse Hotel on Beach Road.
To help facilitate travel and make Ocean Avenue “a grand boulevard,” at a cost of $20,000, the railroad line was moved west inland to the present-day Seaview Avenue. Massive houses (“wooden palaces”) were constructed mostly along a 100-foot wide Ocean Avenue. “All along either side are the great estates of city bankers, merchant princes, lawyers and industrial magnates, each splendid domain the site of a veritable summer palace,” according to the Book of the Royal Blue (1910) description of then Ocean Avenue.
Titans of finance, industry and entertainment spent their summers in Monmouth Beach during those days of grandeur. Their dwellings were the large “cottages” (of the 30-room variety) that dotted our coastline. According to an April 1873 New York Times account, the cottages are “exquisite in beauty and finish … at a ridiculously moderate cost.” Some of the properties were so expansive they ran from ocean to river.
The reputation of Monmouth Beach as a playground for the high and mighty grew and by the late-1880s, property in town was selling for $7,000 an acre. Weather, time, and tide did their work to undermine many of those fine homes along Ocean Avenue. By the 1930s, the association had largely faded from glory and power.