Barnegat Bay 1901

The Bay in the Early Twentieth Century

Did you ever wonder what Barnegat Bay must have been like when the barrier islands and mainland were sparsely settled? Here is one glimpse into a past time.


The Rudder, 1901

That there is such a place as Barnegat Bay is a fact known to probably a great many people, but with most of them knowledge on the subject goes not beyond the fact of its existence. And I sometimes think that those who are nearest to it, the people of Philadelphia, have the least information. A sheet of water extending from Bay Head to Atlantic City, or roughly fifty miles, varying from two to eight miles in width over most of the distance It is surprisingly free from calms, abounds in safe harbors, small towns and summer resorts frequent its hanks, there are three or four safe inlets to the open sea if one wishes to get there, fishing is excellent at almost all seasons, and game in the fall very abundant. Does that not sound inviting to a yachtsman?

The reason it is not explored more oftener by our eastern friends is on account of its shallow waters, but we who sail there regularly have learned to consider this shallowness a distinct advantage in many ways. For to a sailor who is strictly an amateur it gives a feeling not at all uncomfortable to realize that in the event of an accident there is a certainty that some part of his boat is sure to be left above the water as a hitching post. But Barnegat Bay is no place for a fin-keeler; a boat of over three feet draught is at a disadvantage, although craft of twice that draught may navigate freely if they know the channels.

Northern Barnegat Bay

But it is of the northern half of this bay that I wish to write. The Pennsylvania R. R. with its line from Philadelphia runs almost due east till it strikes Barnegat Bay, which it crosses on a trestle about two miles in length, then turns and runs due north along the ocean beach, as far as Long Branch. The station of Barnegat Pier is located on this trestle, and is the usual port of departure for the fishing grounds. Of a summer morning it is an interesting sight to see the fishing fleet of fifty or more boats waiting at the pier for the arrival of the morning trains from west and north, bringing their parties. And then when all are under way down the bay - not racing, but simply seeing who will be the first to anchor on the fishing banks.

The procession of white sails is very beautiful. The bay widens at once to nearly eight miles, and stretches away south as far as the eye can reach, with Barnegat Light towering up about twelve miles away. A truly magnificent stretch of water, almost entirely free from shoals, and the western coast full of little rivers that twist and turn inland, and offer most attractive fields for the inquisitive cruiser. To the north the bay is not so wide and is more shallow but is still fine sailing for ten miles or more. At the eastern end of the railroad pier is the home port of the Seaside Park Yacht Club, Seaside Park, N. J., a rapidly growing settlement of summer homes. This is not a summer resort in the ordinary sense of the term, though having three first-class hotels, electric lights, artesian water with city water works, etc. The ocean beach here is very fine and the strip of land separating ocean and bay is only about half a mile in width.


If we do not inquire too closely into the meaning of the term, but accept without question the dictionary definition of a "yacht" as a boat used for pleasure sailing, there has always been a large amount of yachting on Barnegat Bay. Each year with the advent of June there would be almost a complete disappearance of sails from the bay. Then a few days, and presto! A full fleet of yachts is ready for the shekels of the summer visitor. The erstwhile oyster boat or clammer has scraped his mast, mended the holes in his sail, scraped the barnacles off his bottom, calked his leaks and painted his dirt - and verily in these yachts paint covers a multitude of sins.

The Yacht Clubs

About three or four years ago the Bay Head Yacht Club was organized, in the summer of '98 the Island Heights Yacht Club, and in the summer of '99 the Seaside Park Yacht Club. That summer the first Corinthian races ever sailed on Barnegat Bay were held by the three clubs. A number of handsome cups were put up as prizes, and much interest and enthusiasm was excited. During the spring of 1900 the Seaside Park Yacht Club erected a very cozy and comfortable clubhouse, costing about $6,000, and being paid for by bonds taken up entirely among its members. The Bay Head Club had previously put up a small house of about $2,000, and the Island Heights Club soon made a third, with a neat $4,000 house.

The home of the Seaside Park Yacht Club is built on piling over the water of the bay, connected with the shore by a substantial dock about 250 feet in length. The house itself is three stories, a dock surrounds it, and also extends about 150 feet beyond it into deep water. The first or basement floor of the house contains a janitor's room, floats for landing with rowboats, inclines for hauling out small boats, and a number of boat stalls for storing smaller craft. The main floor has a reception hall with open fireplace, a smoking room, men's lavatory and lockers, a ladies' room with lavatory, and a large room containing two billiard and pool tables and four shuffle boards. Wide porches extend across both the bay and shore fronts. The third floor contains a card room and a large assembly room, with stage, etc. The interior finish is in natural wood with the walls throughout covered with burlap in stenciled and paneled effects.

There were a number of new boats built for local racing the past season: the Polly, a 35-foot open race about of Crownin- shield design; the Lazy Jack, a 30 foot catboat with jib, fitted with large cabin for cruising and designed by Bacon; the Bouquet III, from a Gary Smith model; the Captain, Nemo and Nellie Bly by local builders and a number of others. The racing throughout the season was most interesting, there being scarcely a Saturday afternoon without a close race in one class or another.

The Sewell Cup Race

Particular interest attached to what was known as the Sewell Cup Race. Senator Sewell, of N. J. had recently presented to the Seaside Park Yacht Club as trustees a very handsome sterling cup as a perpetual trophy to be raced for annually by the yacht clubs of Barnegat Bay on the second Saturday in August over the Seaside Park Yacht Club course. Last August was the first contest for this trophy. During the earlier races of the season the Lazy Jack, of the Seaside Park Yacht Club, had shown a marked superiority. She won with ease an open race for the championship of Barnegat Bay, and every other race in which she had entered, and she was looked upon as certain to hold the Sewell Cup for her club. But the uncertainty of yacht racing was never better illustrated. The breeze was a fine two-reef one, the Lazy Jack took the lead at once and apparently had the race well in hand. When her captain ran her a little too near a well-known shoal her centerboard jammed and she was held as fast as though anchored. When she finally got started she gained steadily, but could not entirely overcome the handicap, and was beaten out by a little over two minutes by the Bouquet, a Gary Smith boat.

The officers of the Seaside Park Yacht Club who superintended its organization, all hail from Philadelphia, and are still at the helm. Commodore John Weaver, a well known and prominent attorney; Vice-Commodore H. B. Wyeth, President of Morley Pharmaceutical Co.; Secretary G. H. Thatcher, M. D. ; Treasurer Benj. Deacon, of the Ronalds Johnson Co. The other members of the Board of Trustees are: G. S. Gandy, Capitalist; J. D. Johnson, of the Ronalds Johnson Co.; and H. T. Weber, Merchant Tailor. The clubhouse is open from June 1 to October 1 of each year, and a hearty invitation is extended to all yachtsmen.

The article was adapted from the February 1901 issue of "The Rudder." There is obviously a boat centric theme to the article but it does also bring up a number of neat references to other things. It is interesting to read that there apparently was a railroad station right at the edge of the bay.

It must have been nice to see Barnegat Bay when sailing ships ruled the day. Could you imagine not seeing a single motorboats or jet ski out there!


Return to the top of the page