Seventy years ago, nobody was swimming in the bay or the ocean at this time of year, but there were mounting concerns over the rapid loss of places where the public could do that.
Officials all around Barnegat Bay were declaring their beaches the exclusive turf of their residents ? in rank violation of New Jersey's longstanding Public Trust Doctrine.
What to do as oceanfront beaches became off limits to those who did not live in oceanfront communities?
Or in Island Heights, where the public could still get a toe in the water at the public dock, but no longer at Long Point or Summit Avenue, where the beaches were restricted to residents?
Buy Island Beach, the southern nine miles of the Barnegat Peninsula, was one proposed solution.
Cut off state aid to Island Heights and others who refused to allow the people who paid the taxes that generated that aid onto their beaches was another.
The idea of a state park at Island Beach was a hot topic in Ocean County in late 1937.
It had traction in Trenton and support at the shore.
What it did not have was enough support in the Legislature.
The administration of Gov. Harold Hoffman liked the idea of a state park similar to Jones Beach in New York on Long Island.
Charles P. Wilbur, Hoffman's chief of the Department of Conservation and Development, told the Toms River Kiwanis Club there was a definite plan to buy land for a state park.
Island Beach was one idea. Five hundred acres on Long Beach Island was another.
It was all part of Hoffman's plan for the use of 2,000,000 acres of "idle land" in the Garden State.
"The shore is New Jersey's only public recreation area," Wilbur told the Kiwanians, insisting the park would pay "amazing dividends."
Toms River would benefit, too, if the hundreds of tourists visiting each summer became 10,000 or 20,000.
Wilbur said there was no beachfront land in public hands and the only possible locations for a state park between Sandy Hook and Cape May were in Ocean County.
He recalled how a year earlier he urged the state to buy the Long Beach tract, only to see no action by the Legislature and Long Beach Township selling most of it to private owners at a tax sale.
He also recommended the purchase of the Phipps Estate (Island Beach) but again the Legislature did not move.
The second half of the Hoffman tag team for the Island Beach buy was the state Planning Board, which endorsed it, citing the lack of public recreation facilities at the shore.
Many communities were closing their beaches to the public, it reported.
The result was that citizens of inland towns would be cut off from the ocean if nothing was done quickly.
"A few more years delay and we may expect that a day at the seashore will be one of the forbidden pleasures of the family of little means," the Planning Board said in its report to Hoffman.
Resorts with public beaches were already forbidding visitors to picnic, forcing them to patronize concessionaires, the board observed.
Its plan for Island Beach would cost $5 million to implement. The land was estimated at a cost of $1 million, with the rest spent on a big recreation center with wading pools, surf and bay bathing beaches, a yacht basin, two fishing piers, parking for 10,000 cars, a four-lane highway as far south as the recreation center and a two-lane road from there to Barnegat Inlet, where docks were proposed. There would be a council camp, a cabin camp, and a trailer city.
Visitors would pay two bits to park and 30 cents to rent two lockers.
Throw in a $2.2 million bridge across the bay and the whole thing would cost $5 million, the planners advised.
Revenue annually would amount to $365,000 from parking and bathhouse fees and rentals of the cabins and trailers.
It would be 16 years before the state bought Island Beach from the estate of Henry C. Phipps, a Pittsburgh steel maker and partner of Andrew Carnegie, who bought it in 1925 for $2.5 million. The state paid $2.75 million for its 2,694 unspoiled acres on July 1, 1953, and opened the park to the public in 1959 on a much less grand scale than was proposed in 1937.
Access to the ocean and the bay were assured by that purchase, but across the bay there was a battle raging.
Officials in Island Heights had just shut the Summit Avenue beach to nonresidents, expanding the restrictions already in place at Long Point and leaving the public dock at the foot of Central Avenue the only place where the general public could swim.
It was an idea that caused A.B. Smith, the oldest living Island Heights native and a former mayor, to take pen to paper to condemn it.
It was done at the "instigation of the selfish few," he insisted.
And he said the borough should be expanding public access to the river, not restricting it.
There was plenty of parking along 1,400 feet of riverfront on the west end of town, where a bulkhead was then being installed for a beach.
And 800 feet of waterfront was available at Holly Lake, although a bridge would have to be built over the creek and there was no parking there.
Using the available borough-owned land could accommodate 10,000 people, Smith estimated.
The public was spending millions of dollars on highways leading to and from Island Heights, but the public was being barred from the water once they got there, he complained.
The same selfish interests closing the beaches had helped end rail service to the borough, and had the railroad bridge across the river removed, he insisted.
Today only the Summit Avenue beach remains. The one at Central Avenue has washed away, and at Long Point it was abandoned as part of the effort to halt erosion.
Legal eagles were circling where once a big bronze bird was to roost at the Ocean County Courthouse in 1937.
After the end of World War I, a group was formed to raise money for a memorial for those who served in the War to End All Wars.
There would be a big celebration for the returning heroes and a $30,000 bronze eagle over the entrance to the Courthouse.
Donations amounted to $1,255 before it became apparent that the doughboys were coming home in small groups, which would make one grand celebration impossible. So the war memorial effort ran out of steam.
The money was held by the treasurer of the group, the father of George Willits Parker of Tuckerton, who, as the executor of his father's estate, inherited the task of disposing of the money.
The American Legion laid claim to it, promising to set up a student loan fund.
Some of the donors wanted their money back.
Parker said a judge would have to decide where the money went.
While the dispute raged on in 1937, the fund remained in an interest-bearing account at the First National Bank of Barnegat.
The county's freeholders had launched the memorial effort in April 1919. Local governments adopted resolutions supporting the notion that began with W. Scott Jackson and gained the support of Fred G. Bunnell, then editor of the Point Pleasant Leader.
It was Point Pleasant Mayor Thomas H. Graham who proposed the bronze eagle that never roosted over the Courthouse.
Rep. William H. Sutphin, R-3rd, introduced a bill in Congress calling for the district engineer of the War Department to hold a hearing and do a technical study of the worsening conditions at Beach Haven Inlet. The inlet was gradually filling with sand, threatening to cut off access from the lower bay to the ocean, a route used by commercial and recreational fishermen.
Support for the study came from the Beach Haven Yacht Club, Long Beach Board of Trade, and the Ocean County Waterways Association.
Don Bennett is a veteran reporter.
Copyright ? 2007 Ocean County Observer. All rights reserved.