Nauvoo — Start of Sea Bright
Sea Bright beginnings …
It was first known as “Nauvoo” (that’s Hebrew for: “pleasant place”). The very first settlers — Nathan Woolley, William Giles, and Johnty Smith — probably arrived in 1839, according to a Long Branch Daily Record story.
Back then the barrier-beach section of the north Jersey Shore held “three huts” was covered in “cedars and bayberry bushes” and all roads were “mere beds of sand.” The population included about 50 men and boys. Local author-historian George Moss of Rumson believes the name “Nauvoo” was bestowed on Sea Bright by Mormon founder Joseph Smith during a missionary trip to the Monmouth County area in January 1840.
Beginning as a quaint and quiet fishing village — made up of a cluster of seaside huts — by the end of the 19th century Nauvoo was “the largest fishery on the coast.” Writer Gustav Kobbe in his majestic 1889 book, The Jersey Coast and Pines, called these coastal fishing communities “the only ones of their kind” in the country. According to Kobbe, area fishermen would catch 9 million pounds of fish during an average 150-day season. In the late 1880s, fish sold for about 3 cents per pound. “Bluefish, bass, weakfish, blackfish are caught in plenty … these with crabs and clams abounding in the waters make seafood abundant and cheap,” wrote Kobbe.
Nauvoo residents of the late-1800s were: “clam-diggers, rough, hard-bitten professional fishermen with Norwegian backgrounds,” according to a June 1957 Red Bank Register retrospective on the early settlement.
The Seaman Sea Skiff, one of the most famous boats in maritime history, was the boat of choice back then. All started by Nauvoo craftsman Isaac Seaman back in 1841. The boats — with near flat bottoms for better movement through surf and sand — were framed in applewood and later oak.
Going back to 1668 both Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach were part of “Wardell’s Beach” — named for original owner Eliakim Wardell. He acquired the land (about 454 acres) from the Lenape tribe for the equivalent of 4 pounds (about 11 cents per acre). Payment was in blankets, clothing and hardware for all land north of Long Branch, below Sandy Hook, and between the Shrewsbury River and Atlantic Ocean.
By October 1865, Dr. Arthur V. Conover had acquired all of what is now Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach for $30,000. The Freehold physician bought from the heirs of Major Henry Wardell, the great-great grandson of the area’s first settler.
In June 1869, Mifflin Paul paid $5,300 to Dr. Conover to buy much of the Sea Bright acreage. At that time, Sea Bright was “an undeveloped strip of sand” and not a single real house existed. The Paul acquisition, along with the opening of a shore railroad line, brought major development to Sea Bright. By March 1889, Sea Bright (then a section of Ocean Township) voted to incorporate itself, but it wasn’t until April 1896 that Sea Bright became an official, independent borough.