Forever complicated, Sea Bright — in fact, has two birthdays.
Sea Bright, NJ
On March 20, 1889, voters of Sea Bright (then part of Ocean Township) went to the polls and agreed (136 to 3) to become its own corporate entity. Still, the then 700 inhabitants considered their small shore community a “village.”
The new borough would operate under a 7-member commission form of government led by a president (sometimes called the “mayor”). The first president was Peter L. Cruser who was also town Postmaster (a far more important position in those days) beginning in 1885. The owner of a feed store in town, he died in December 1891. P. Hall Packer was the first commission secretary and James R. Minugh was the first treasurer.
While incorporated as a Borough, residents had little autonomy — officially Sea Bright was still under Ocean Twp. governance. Not for another seven years, April 27, 1896, would Sea Bright be reincorporated as the town we know today. It was truly separate from Ocean Twp. with its own Borough Council led by an independently elected Mayor. It is that date — appearing on the Borough Seal — which is officially recognized as Sea Bright’s birthday.
Sea Bright area map (then called “Wardell’s Beach”), 1860.
The first leaders of the new mayor/council form of government were: P. Hall Packer, mayor; C.W. Osborne, C.V. Shropshire, E.S. Nesbitt, J.W. Eyles, Frank Hampton, and Winfield White, the first borough council members.
In November 1894, the Red Bank Register reported that the Sea Bright Borough Commission awarded $1,025 in contracts to construct a new town hall and jail next door to the firehouse on Surf Street. The building was dedicated in January 1895. An old plaque still hangs on the building: James J. Reed was President and P. Hall Packer was Secretary.
Dr. James Reed — “Sea Bright’s most prominent physician,” according to to July 1899 Asbury Park Press — had a medical practice in Sea Bright for some 40 years. He was one of the first to rebuild his business with brick after the disastrous “Sea Bright Fire of June 1891” — opening a new pharmacy and medical practice at Ocean and Peninsula Avenues. A graduate of College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, he died in September 1937 at age 77. His bother was Dr. Walter S. Reed, a Long Branch mayor and physician.
By 1907, according to the Red Bank Register, the Surf Street facility was deemed “wholly inadequate for borough use.” That year Mayor John W. Eyles sought to add a “second story to town hall” and build a “model councilmatic chamber.” Over the years, borough government also operated on Center Street and sometimes it shared the firehouse on Surf Street.
Greetings from Sea Bright, NJ.
As to Sea Bright’s vital service organizations — Fire Company, Police Department and First Aid Squad — these have mostly confined their setup to the center of town. The first talk of re-developing the old Octagon Hotel property — the spot where municipal service still thrives — came in July 1922 with a Long Branch Daily Record story on a “Community House for Sea Bright.” It never happened.
Finally, a newer, roomer Sea Bright Borough Hall did open in August 1948 — dedicated by Mayor Thomas Farrell. Previously an old borough garage on East Ocean Avenue used by the first aid squad — it was converted into a joint municipal/police/first aid building with a council chambers. The cost was a modest $7,300. The white, one-story, concrete structure was designed by Hugo H. Magnuson of Highlands and built by Frank E. Wilson of Rumson.
By February 1955, the borough council was seeking to consolidate all municipal services — fire, police, first aid and municipal — to one location on Ocean Avenue in the heart of town. In October 1955, Sea Bright firefighters moved into a new concrete firehouse next door to borough hall on Ocean Avenue. The facility was built by the Allen Brothers of Fair Haven for $25,000. It replaced the old firehouse that was on New Street, built in 1892.
Seeing it all — From Sea Bright looking north to Sandy Hook and NYC, 2021 (Brian Allen Photo).
In 1982, the borough proposed adding to its municipal foot-print by constructing new and renovated first aid and police buildings, a two-bay garage, and more municipal offices. After disagreement over the $340,000 cost, plans were dropped.
In September 1986, all municipal offices along with Borough Clerk Mary Larson moved into newly renovated headquarters in a building adjacent to the Community Center. This allowed the SBPD to expand in the old building. Appointed in 1960, Larson was Sea Bright’s longest serving Borough Clerk holding the job for 29 years. The Jersey City native died in November 1993.
According to a March 2008 Asbury Park Press story, the borough’s municipal buildings “seem to be thrown all over the place,” said the town’s mayor. Plus, a 2007 outside survey showed that the existing lineup of municipal facilities were “in dire need of upgrades.” In October 2012, both structures were left badly damaged after Superstorm Sandy and ultimately were abandoned and torn down.
Gordon Map, 1828.
In September 2016, nearly 70% of borough voters approved plans to build two new sizable municipal facilities at a cost of $12.7 million ($7.4 million would come from FEMA insurance) –- the SB Bathing Pavilion and the SB Municipal Complex.
The new state-of-the-art Sea Bright Municipal Complex opened in June 2020. The $7.1 million Ocean Avenue building houses the borough’s police department, fire company and EMS. Settembrino Architects did the design and UniMak, LLC of Saddle Brook did the construction.
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• Sea Bright Fire Department — Organized in May 1881 with 15 charter members; its Ladies Auxiliary started in 1941. In the past, it was divided into two companies: Hook & Ladder (formed in October 1929) and Engine & Hose (formed in 1896). Joseph S. Mount was the first SB fire chief. The current chief is Charles Murphy, Jr.
• Sea Bright Police Department — Organized in 1896. The first official police chief was Andrew P. Anderson, appointed in 1930. A borough native, he died in July 1945. He was replaced by Gilbert W. “Bert” Boyer who served until June 1966. A Pennsylvania native and 35-year SBPD veteran, he died in 1987. The borough finally shifted to 24/7 police patrol in February 1949. Brett Friedman, the current borough chief of police, commands a force of 10.
• Sea Bright First Aid Squad — Organized in January 1936 — it was given space in a small borough-owned garage on Ocean Avenue. Harry Brennan was the group’s first president. The squad acquired its first vehicle, an old Cadillac Meteor, from the Highlands squad for $150. Today, it’s called the Sea Bright Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Squad.
Here’s a photo essay about Sea Bright municipal buildings through the years. If others have more or better info or photos, I’d be grateful for the sharing — HERE. Enjoy.
Sea Bright Mayor Charlie Rooney, 1980s.
First Borough of Sea Bright, NJ governing body in front of the borough hall on Surf Street. The first mayor, P. Hall Packer, is seated at center along with the first borough council memebrs, 1890s.
Sea Bright Police/Fire/EMS Municipal Complex on Ocean Avenue, 2022.
Postcard image of Sea Bright municipal building line-up with the Peninsula House at left, 1950s.
Sea Bright Municipal Complex on Ocean Avenue, Feb. 2023.
Old SB firehouse on Surf Street, 2000s. Opened in 1892, the town council’s first official meeting was held here. And it appears town government also operated out of this building for many years.
New Sea Bright Municipal Complex on Ocean Avenue, 2020. The facility is 14,000-square-feet large.
Front Line — Trucks at the Sea Bright firehouse on Ocean Avenue, 1950s (Scott Mattson Photo).
Sea Bright Community Center, 2019. J. Horace Harding of Rumson donated the Ocean Avenue property in July 1918 — to be used for a youth of Sea Bright. When he died in 1929, he was chairman of American Express. The building was donated in 1972.
New SB Municipal Complex under construction, 2018.
Old Sea Bright firehouse two weeks before Superstorm Sandy hit, October 2012.
Old Sea Bright Fire Company, Police and First Aid buildings on Ocean Avenue, 2000s.
Old Sea Bright municipal buildings, 2000s.
Sea Bright coast with both new municipal facilities in view, 2021.
SB Borough Hall at the time of its dedication. Red Bank Register, September 1948.
Sea Bright Borough Hall, Police and First Aid building, 1950s. The town chief of police earned under $2,500 a year in 1947, according to the Long Branch Daily Record.
SB Police Headquarters and First Aid Squad building. Red Bank Register, May 1988.
Memorial Day in Sea Bright, 2015.
Memorial Day in Sea Bright, 2014.
SB First Aid Squad members. APP, December 1937.
Old Sea Bright Firehouse, 2008. The company marked 125 years of service in 2006.
Memorial Day celebration at SB firehouse with Mayor Maria Fernandes, 2010.
Old Sea Bright Firehouse, 2010s.
SB firehouse, 1980s.
Old Sea Bright Firehouse at the time of its dedication, October 1955.
Getting Clobbered — SB municipal buildings during Superstorm Sandy, October 2012.
SB firefighters clean firehouse after Superstorm Sandy, November 2012.
Sea Bright firehouse became a “First Responder” refuge in the days after Superstorm Sandy, 2013.
Old SB firehouse fenced off and condemned, 2014.
New SB Municipal Complex artist rendering, 2017.
Fireman’s Mosaic — Front of the new Sea Bright Municipal Complex, 2021 (Al William Photo).
New Sea Bright Police/Fire/EMS Municipal Complex on Ocean Avenue, 2020.
A Sea Bright Christmas, 2020.
From above — the SB Municipal Complex, June 2021.
SB Municipal Complex, 2020.
Sea Bright Beach Pavilion on Ocean Avenue, 2021. The $4 million municipal facility houses the Sea Bright Library & Cultural Arts Center, Borough Council meeting room, and town beach operations. The 8,600-square-foot facility opened in May 2019.
Old Sea Bright Borough Hall on Ocean Avenue, 2017.
Old Sea Bright Community Center, 1986. The building, donated by developers Oceans 1239, Inc. and moved by Duffy Fisher, was dedicated in May 1972. The land had been donated by J. Horace Harding of Rumson in 1918 to be used for a youth playground. The Ocean Avenue facility also housed municipal offices. A former chairman of the board of the American Express Company, Harding died in 1929.
Old Sea Bright Community Center/Borough Hall on Ocean Avenue, 2014.
SB Borough Hall/Community Center is surround by Superstorm Sandy wreckage (mostly from Donovan’s Reef), November 2012.
Community Center hall in old borough hall on Ocean Avenue, 2011.
Sea Bright downtown, 1925. The P House is at left, “Millie’s” is at far right (later to be “Ichabod’s” and now “Woody’s”) and the railroad tracks are in front. The white building at right is the old Sea Bright Fish Company (Major William Taylor was the owner and James Lee was the manager) before a firehouse & police station were built on that spot. Today, the new borough municipal complex is there.
Sea Bright town center, mid-1960s.
Area residents line up outside the Sea Bright firehouse to receive a swine flu vaccination. Red Bank Register, November 1976. Nearly 1,500 inoculations were administrated at the free clinic that day.
The original “Ocean Fire Company” firehouse on Surf Street in Sea Bright, early 1900s. The structure was dedicated in June 1892. Edward W. Fary, was fire company president at the time; he became the borough clerk in 1922 and died at the post in June 1947.
“Unforgettable Flavor” — Long Branch Daily Record editorial, August 1948.
SBPD Chief Andrew Anderson, 1939. Appointed in 1930, he was the borough’s first official police chief. A borough native, he died in July 1945 and was president of the Monmouth County Police Chiefs Association at the time.
SBPD Chief Gilbert W. Boyer on the beach (l) after the crash of a light plane on a borough beach. Chief Boyer led the police force from 1945 to 1966. A Pennsylvania native, he came to Sea Bright in 1925. A former borough fire chief and first aid charter member, he died in November 1987. APP Photo, June 1947.
SB Police Chief Kenneth “Tommy” Johnson, 1990. A borough native and US Army veteran, he started in law enforcement as a Monmouth Beach police special and moved to the SBPD in 1964, where he rose to become sergeant and lieutenant. In January 1984, he was appointed the borough’s top cop. Upon his June 1993 retirement, he asked to be remembered as the police chief “who struck terror in the hearts of would-be drunk drivers.” At its peak in 1988, the SBPD made 208 DWI arrests.
Borough of Sea Bright, NJ official seal. Incorporated in April 1896. The first SB mayor P. Hall Packer. The first SB borough council was: C.W. Osborne, C.V. Shropshire, E.S. Nesbitt, J.W. Eyles, Frank Hampton, and Winfield White.
The Octogon Hotel, 1905. First, it was a private cottage built by Mifflin Paul in 1870 for his daughter, Sarah Sandt. The Victorian oceanfront structure would become the largest hotel in Sea Bright. Total construction cost was about $100,000. The hotel could accommodate up to 500 guests and also had “a 150-foot ocean pier with restaurant and bathhouses for summer guests.” The hotel catered to the rich and famous until it was decimated in a triple-winter December 1913-January 1914 series of Nor’easter storms.
In the beginning … Sea Bright before development, 1868. It was called “Nauvoo” (in Hebrew, “beautiful place”). The first settlers were: Nathan Woolley, William Giles, and Johnty Smith, probably in 1839, according to a Long Branch Daily Record story. At that time, the land held “three huts” was covered in “cedars and bayberry bushes” and all roads were “mere beds of sand.” Local author-historian George Moss believes the name “Nauvoo” was bestowed on Sea Bright by Mormon founder Joseph Smith during a missionary trip to Monmouth County in 1840.
Mifflin Paul — “Founder of Sea Bright.” In 1869, he paid $5,000 to Dr. Arthur Conover to buy much of the area and plotted it out. At that time, Sea Bright was “an undeveloped strip of sand” and not a single house existed. A true wheeler-dealer, Paul also brought the railroad to town and built the Long Branch-Seabright Turnpike (essentially Ocean Avenue). He also set up the original Octagon Hotel and Peninsula House Hotel. He died in April 1890. In January 1870 the first official lot map of SB was issued. He ended up sharing Sea Bright development with William W. Shippen and Samuel B. Dod.
Peter Hall Packer was the first mayor of Sea Bright under its current charter (in fact, he lived in Rumson on Packer Avenue). And one of its most colorful and pivotal leaders. Born July 1853 in Neshanic, NJ on his father’s farm, he moved to Sea Bright in 1876 and started in the lumber business. From there he became a “prime-mover” in local real estate. Over 20+ years, he helped Sea Bright grow from a tiny fishing village to one of the shore’s finest summer resorts. Four times elected SB mayor, when he died in February 1924 he was still leading the borough. His motto: “Sea Bright must be kept on the map at any cost.”
Mayor Charles R. Rooney, Jr. memorial at his old North Beach home, 2022. Charley Rooney first got involved in Sea Bright politics in January 1969 when he took a seat on the borough council as a one-year appointee and served there for 20 years. Upon his death in February 1999, he’d been town mayor for a decade.
Cecile Norton, 1985. The first woman mayor of Sea Bright (serving from 1967 to 1987), she was also a board of education and borough council member. Her 1960 winning of a council seat she credited to JFK. Born in New Orleans, she moved to town in 1939. A former state Democratic committee member, she died in July 1988. Her brother Gus Levy was a former CEO of Goldman Sachs.
Sea Bright Democrat allies: Cecile F. Norton and John S. Forsman, review election results indicating their victory. She as mayor; he as council member. And for most of the next two decades: Norton was the mayor and Forsman was the council president. APP, November 1967.
The person at the bottom: E. Wolcott Fary served as Sea Bright Borough Clerk from 1920 until his death in June 1947 at age 83. Born in Ocean Twp., he was also a borough school board president and 61-year fire company member. APP ad, June 1936.
“Seabright — Past and Present.” Red Bank Register, December 1881.
Clean Sweep? — the front-page of the Long Branch Daily Record, August 1938.
Sea Bright map at the turn of the century.