“Sandy Hook’s historic resort paradise”
The beginnings of Highland Beach as a seashore resort date to Gilded Age times. This iconic location — where it seems Sandy Hook, Sea Bright and Highlands of today all converge — rests on a barrier beach. It’s the first ocean access spot along the New Jersey shore. Originally, it was part of “Wardell’s Beach” — going back to the 17th century.
Resort founder William Sandlass, Jr. first got involved in November 1887 when he leased 5 acres from an early developer, Ferdinand Fish. By the summer of 1931, Will had become “monarch of all he surveys,” according to the Long Branch Daily Record. This was the “dawn of leisure time” and the pioneering Sandlass family was way out front — building and running a popular family resort for 75 summer seasons. Treasured memories were built there.
During boom summer seasons the resort offered a wide variety of fun — ocean and river swimming, boating and fishing, sun-bathing, a restaurant and nightclub, a movie theater, roller-coaster and merry-go-round, a hotel, bathhouses and private cottages. Most of the buildings were in the Victorian style of architecture and access to the resort could be had by foot, train, boat or auto.
The “$1 Shrewsbury Dinner” presented by Mrs. Sandlass was full of seafood choices and rivaled the best around. The Surf House Hotel & Basket Pavilion served up to 1,000 meals a day in the resort’s heyday. Those structures were torn down in 1930s to make way for the new Highlands bridge.
In March 1909, Highland Beach along with the Normandie and Navesink sections were annexed by the Borough of Sea Bright (and Will was elected a councilman that year). The land was part of Ocean Twp. worth about $250,000 then. In August 1939, the Highland Beach section was officially renamed North Sea Bright.
By 1962 the good times were over. The state acquired the remaining 10-acre property and 1,200-feet of oceanfront from Henry Sandlass to create a new park. The spot would became a national park in 1974.
For more on Highland Beach history, check out Navesink Studio’s video Destinations Past: Highland Beach which explains why “time, technology and politics” ended the Jersey Shore’s first tourist destination. Visit the Jersey Coast Heritage Museum for more on Highland Beach too — history and photos.
Highland Beach images:
Inside Story — Susan Gardiner, a Sandlass family member, has authored an excellent retrospective, Sandy Hook’s Lost Highland Beach Resort ($21.99; Arcadia Publishing, 2020) ORDER HERE. Many of the photos in this post are part of her collection — my thanks to her.
“Property of the Highland Beach Association,” 1870 map.
“The Famous Highlands of Navesink from Highland Beach,” 1895.
“The Visionary” — William T. Sandlass, Jr., 1912. The man who created Highland Beach was called “Will” by family and friends. Born in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania in March 1862, he was leasing property at Highland Beach by age 25. For most of the next half-century he ruled there as “Beach King” before his death in November 1938.
“A New Resort” — some Highland Beach history.
Henry Sandlass with his wife Midge (Sheehan). They married just before he when to war in 1942. The devoted couple would guide the resort during important post-war seasons — making glorious summer memories for generations of families.
Mother & Son: Helen and Henry Sandlass at Highland Beach, 1932.
Young Lad — Henry Sandlass at the Highland Beach Photo Gallery, 1919.
Postcard Perfect — Highland Beach, 1915.
Classic Architecture — Highland Beach Pavilion and Surf Club during the resort’s glory times, Summer 1922.
“The Oracle” — the Highland Beach resort newsletter, September 1895.
Highland Beach on the bayside, early 1900s.
Surf Avenue on Highland Beach, 1890s.
Highland Beach Airdrome and Bamboo Garden, 1910s.
Sandlass House restoration plan, 2020 (Anderson Campanella Architects). The original was built in 1893.
Highland Beach, Wolverton’s Atlas of Monmouth County, 1889.
Sandy Hook Steamers — “Meet Mrs. Sandlass,” Summer 1929.
“Highland Beach Gala Day,” August 1894.
Bamboo Garden cabaret at Highland Beach, 1916.
Bamboo Room at Highland Beach sketch design, 1940s.
Highland Beach, 1941. The white building is the Sandlass House.
Highland Beach bayside swimmers, 1890s.
Highland Beach bayside swimming, early 1900s.
Highland Beach bayside water sports, early 1900s.
Major storm damage to the Highland Beach train and railroad line, September 1889.
“Sandlass Baths” bathing pavilion — after converting to Spanish Colonial Revival style, 1935.
Early oceanside bathing at Highland Beach, 1905.
Highland Beach — a busy beach at the turn of the century, early 1900s.
Highland Beach — bayside, 1919.
Highland Beach — with railroad line, 1910s.
Highland Beach entrance, 1905.
Highland Beach bathers, 1905.
Surf House at Highland Beach, 1910.
Excursion Landing at Highland Beach, 1905.
Highland Beach postcard, 1914.
Highland Beach is busy with swimmers and boaters in Sandy Hook Bay, early 1900s (John Schneider Photo).
Highland Beach on the Sandy Hook Bay side, 1915.
Getting there — Summer traffic on Highland Beach, 1925.
Sandlass Pavilion at Highland Beach, 1914 postcard.
Surf House & Basket Pavilion early sketch from Highland Beach Improvement Company, 1888.
Surf House Pavilion-Restaurant at Highland Beach, 1920s. The facility could accommodate up to 1,000 diners.
Highland Beach seen from the bay, 1947.
“Merry Christmas” — Highland Beach on Sandy Hook, 1895 (Susan Gardiner Image).
Highland Beach aerial image, 1960s. It was called “Sandlass Baths” then.
Sandlass House on Highland Beach, 1950s.
The old Sandlass House from Highland Beach days, November 2022 (Marianne Hoff Photo).
The old Sandlass House, 1960s.
Ocean Bathing at Highland Beach, 1920s postcard.
Heading to Highland Beach along Ocean Avenue, Summer 1907.
Sandlass Baths beach club, 1950s.
Crowds await entry into the Highland Beach resort, early 1900s. It was the first shore resort set up to cater to day-trippers. By Summer 1910, the place was welcoming 20,000 visitors per day.
Highland Beach resort seen from the Highlands bridge, 1930.
Highland Beach boat dock, 1910.
Highland Beach Railroad Station, 1939. Renamed North Sea Bright, the station was wrecked in the September 1944 “Great Atlantic Hurricane.”
Rising tide along the Highland Beach coast, 1910s.
“On the Sands … Highland Beach,” 1920s.
Highland Beach Railroad Station, 1906.
Highland Beach along Sandy Hook Bay, 1914.
Highland Beach merry-go-round, 1910. It was closed After Summer 1938.
Bayside bathing at Highland Beach, 1905.
Ancient Fun — a very busy day at Highland Beach, 1890s.
Highland Beach resort in all its postcard glory, 1909.
Sandlass’ Highland Beach promo, 1920-1930s.
“Bamboo Room” at Highland Beach, 1940s.
Sandlass Pavilion at Highland Beach, 1908 postcard.
Highland Beach postcard, 1920s.
Highland Beach boat maidens, 1910s.
Highland Beach Railroad Station, 1888.
The gang’s all here — Highland Beach postcard, early 1900s.
Highland Beach also on the bayside, early 1900s.
Summer boathouse off Highland Beach, early 1900s.
The Bamboo Room bar at Sandlass Baths, 1940s.
Good cheer in the Bamboo Room on Highland Beach, 1940s.
“The Oracle” — the Highland Beach resort newsletter, Feb. 1896.
Races at Highland Beach on the bayside, 1905.
Sun and fun in Highland Beach, July 1927.
Magnificent seashore structure — the Surf House Hotel & Restaurant at Highland Beach. Opened in 1891, the hit meal was the “Shrewsbury Dinner” for just $1. The buildings were torn down in 1932.
The Sandlass House on Sandy Hook, 2022. Preservation New Jersey has named the building one of state’s 10 most endangered historic places. MORE INFO.
Sandlass family home at Highland Beach, 1950.
Highland-Sea Bright Bridge. The “criss-cross” section was added in 1892 by the CRNJ. It facilitated fantastic growth at the resort — with 125,000+ visitors that summer.
Old Sandlass family home in sad decline, March 2022. It’s all that remains of a once fabulous summertime resort — Highland Beach (Geri Gray Photo).
View of Highland Beach and the Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge from Highlands postcard, early 1900s.
Highlands-Sea Bright “criss-cross” bridge, 1895. Looking east from Highlands to Sea Bright.
Coming to Highland Beach: the Surf House and Basket Pavilion, 1909.
The other side — the Highlands Bridge connecting to Highland Beach, early 1900s.
Henry Sandless’ New Bamboo Room opened in June 1941. Remnants of his dad’s “Bamboo Garden” built in 1916, where used in the son’s new tropical-themed cocktail lounge.
A Southern New Jersey Railroad locomotive rests at Highland Beach, 1890.
Busy summer day at Highland Beach, 1940s. The resort loved to cater to “day-trippers” and even rented bathing suits.
“Surf Bathing” at Highland Beach, 1905.
Navesink Beach and Highland Beach Improvement Company promo sketch, 1889.
Bridge to Highland Beach. From Highland Beach Resort brochure, 1888.
Railroad from Highland Beach Resort brochure, 1888.
Boathouse from Highland Beach Resort brochure, 1888.
Restaurant from Highland Beach Resort brochure, 1888.
“Aquarium” — home of Ferdinand Fish at Navesink Beach, 1889.
Bamboo Gardens at Highland Beach, 1918. Opened for Summer 1908.
Highland Beach bathing scene in Shrewsbury River, 1915.
Highland Beach “cottages” along Ocean Avenue, early 1900s.
Highland Beach seen from the Atlantic Ocean, 1891 (Library of Congress photo).
Highland Beach banner day, 1930s. By then it was “Sandlass Baths.”
All that remains of the Highland Beach resort glory days, July 2021. Built in 1893, the structure was home to three generations of the Sandlass family. The “Sandlass House” was at the heart of the Sandlass Pavilion business operations, according to author and family historian, Susan Gardiner.
Highland Beach — swimming in the bay, 1905.
An idyllic summer day at Highland Beach resort, 1912.
Bamboo Garden at Highland Beach, early 1900s. Will Sandlass got the “bamboo” idea from his winter trips to Cuba. Later he had a railroad car full of the stuff shipped to NJ for the construction.
Highland Beach connection bridge, 1920s. At right is the Surf House and Basket Pavilion.
Twin Lights seen from Highland Beach over the bridge, August 1887. The first lighthouse was built in 1828 and replaced with the twin towers in 1862. Lighthouse operations ended in 1952 and 10 years later it became a museum.
Sandlass beach and boardwalk postcard, 1938.
A view from Highlands to Highland Beach across the bay, 1900.
Central NJ Camelback train stopped at Highland Beach (the resort merry-go-round is in back), 1928.
“The Breakers at Highland Beach, NJ” postcard, early 1900s (Lester Horner Photo).
Train wreck at Highland Beach, September 1889.
Sandlass Pavilion at Highland Beach, late 1800s.
Sandlass Bamboo Garden at Highland Beach during winter, 1908.
Highland Beach candy store, early 1900s.
“Great Switchback Rail Road” at Highland Beach, 1890. Roller-coaster designer LeMarcus Thompson won a patent infringement lawsuit against the Highland Beach Improvement Company and the ride was torn down in 1893.
Great Switchback Railroad at Highland Beach, 1890. In 1893, Will Sandlass used the ride timbers to build the Sandlass House (Fruit and Cigar Store) on the old coaster footprint. The Sandlass Family lived above the store.
Great Switchback Railroad, 1890s.
Highland Beach bridge, 1906.
Highlands of Navesink and Twin Lights seen from Highland Beach, early 1900s.
Highland Beach, 1932.
Surf House Pavilion at Highland Beach, early 1900s. Opened in 1890.
Highland Beach post card, 1910. Shown are the Candy Store, Merry-Go-Round and Bathing Pavilion Entrance.
Fruit & Cigar Store at Highland Beach, 1893.
Highland Beach bathers, 1890s.
Highland Beach post card, 1910.
View from the Sandlass Beach Club of Twin Lights, 1920s.
Summer Sunday morning at Highland Beach, early 1900s.
Sandlass Pavilion at Highland Beach, 1915.
Bamboo Room at Sandlass Beach, 1940s. In later years, it was used for storage by the National Park Service. It burned in March 1978.
Bamboo Bar, 1950s.
The Bamboo Room bar, 1940s.
Full bar at the Bamboo Room, 1940s.
Bamboo Garden cabaret, 1916. Will Sandlass spent $10,000 to upgrade his “Bamboo Gardens” pavilion in time for Summer 1916.
Highland Beach, 1910s.
Bamboo Garden airdrome, 1917.
William Sandlass wedding announcement, Sept. 1912.
Gertrude Ederle (in pink dress) awards swimming trophies at Sandlass Beach, 1960. Ederle (1905-2003) was an Olympic Gold Medal champion and the first woman to swim across the English Channel.
Sandlass family home, early 1960s. Around the time the family gave up their Highland Beach property to the park service.
Sandlass family home, 2016. A state condemnation committee awarded the Sandlass family $350,000 for the 10-acre tract in 1962.
All that remains of the Sandlass-Highland Beach resort, 1990s. The Sandlass family lost the property to the state government in June 1962.
Once Upon a Time at Sandy Hook