“Sandy Hook’s historic resort paradise”
The beginnings of Highland Beach as an iconic seashore resort date to Gilded Age times. The spot is where it seems Sandy Hook, Sea Bright and Highlands of today all converge. Situated 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.
The resort’s founder William Sandlass, Jr. first got involved in November 1887 when he leased 5 acres from early developer Ferdinand Fish. By July 1931, Will had become “monarch of all he surveys,” according to the Long Branch Daily Record. It was the “dawn of leisure time” and the Sandlass family showed the way — building and running a popular family resort for 75 summer seasons.
Will also served on the Sea Bright Borough Council beginning in 1909. In March that year, Highland Beach along with the Normandie and Navesink sections were annexed by the Borough of Sea Bright. The land had been Ocean Twp. property worth about $250,000 then.
During boom summer seasons Highland Beach 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 Surf House Hotel & Basket Pavilion served up to 1,000 meals a day in the resort’s heyday. Mrs. Sandlass’ “$1 Shrewsbury Dinner,” full of seafood choices, rivaled the best around. The structures were torn down in 1932 to make way for the new Highlands Bridge.
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 develop a new state park. The spot would became a national park in 1974.
For more on Highland Beach history, have a look at Navesink Studio’s video Destinations Past: Highland Beach which explains why “time, technology and politics washed away one of the first tourist destinations on the Jersey Shore.” Also, a member of the Sandlass family, Susan Gardiner, has authored a fine new book on the area, Sandy Hook’s Lost Highland Beach Resort ($21.99; Arcadia Publishing). ORDER HERE. Also, many of the photos in this post are part of her collection — my thanks to her.
Visit the Jersey Coast Heritage Museum for more on Highland Beach — history and photos.
The old Sandlass House from Highland Beach days, November 2022 (Marianne Hoff Photo).
Ocean Bathing at Highland Beach, 1920s postcard.
Crowds await entry into the Highland Beach resort, early 1900s.
Highland Beach resort seen from the Highlands bridge, 1930.
“The Visionary” — William T. Sandlass, Jr., 1912. The man who created Highland Beach was known as “Will” by family and friends. Born in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania in March 1862, by age 25 he was leasing property at Highland Beach. For most of the next half-century there he was the “Beach King.” He died in November 1938.
Highland Beach boat dock, 1917.
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.
Highland Beach Pavilion and Surf Club, early 1900s.
Sandlass Baths bathing pavilion after converting to Spanish Colonial Revival style, 1935.
Bayside bathing at Highland Beach, 1905.
Highland Beach bayside, early 1900s.
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.
Highlands-Sea Bright Bridge, 1933. Sandlass Baths beach club in the background — accessible by train, auto, boat or on foot.
Sandlass Pavilion at Highland Beach, 1908 postcard.
Highland Beach postcard, 1920s.
Highland Beach boat maidens, 1910s.
Highland Beach Railroad Station, 1888.
Surf Avenue on Highland Beach, about 1900.
Highland Beach postcard, early 1900s.
The gang’s all here — Highland Beach on the bayside, early 1900s.
Highland Beach also on the bayside, early 1900s.
Highland Beach Airdrome and Bamboo Garden, 1910s.
Summer boathouse off Highland Beach, early 1900s.
Bathing at 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.
Sandlass Pavilion at Highland Beach, 1914 postcard.
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.
“The Oracle” — the Highland Beach resort newsletter, September 1895.
Sandlass family home at Highland Beach, 1950.
Henry Sandlass with his wife Midge (Sheehan). The couple married just before he when to war in 1942. The two would guide the resort during important post-war seasons — making glorious summer memories for generations of families.
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.
Highland Beach, Summer 1922.
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.
Property of the Highland Beach Association, 1870 map.
Navesink Beach and Highland Beach Improvement Company promo sketch, 1889.
“The Famous Highlands of Navesink from Highland Beach,” 1895.
Bridge to Highland Beach. From the Highland Beach Resort brochure, 1888.
Railroad — Highland Beach Resort brochure, 1888.
Boathouse — Highland Beach Resort brochure, 1888.
Restaurant — 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 called “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.
Highland Beach — bayside, 1919.
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 very young Henry Sandlass with his clam bucket at Highland Beach Photo Gallery, 1919
Asbury Park Press story on the beginnings of Highland Beach, July 1888. “No Coney Island about this place.”
Highland Beach letterhead, 1888.
Sandlass Baths at Highland Beach, 1940s.
A view from Highlands to Highland Beach across the bay, 1900.
Highland Beach, early 1910.
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).
Highland Beach, early 1900s.
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 — turn of the century shore scene, early 1900s.
Highland Beach candy store, early 1900s.
Great Switchback Railroad (roller coaster) 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.
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.
The railroad line running through Highland Beach, 1910s.
Surf House at Highland Beach, 1910.
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.
Highland Beach post card, 1914.
View from the Sandlass Beach Club of Twin Lights, 1920s.
Summer Sunday morning at Highland Beach, early 1900s.
Highland Beach: Traffic backups even then, 1925.
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.
Sandlass Beach Club, 1950s.
Bamboo Garden airdrome, 1917.
Ocean bathing at Highland Beach, 1905.
William Sandlass wedding announcement, Sept. 1912.
Mother & Son: Helen and Henry Sandlass at Highland Beach, 1932.
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.
Highland Beach resort plan map, 1880.
Once Upon a Time at Sandy Hook