Early History of Brant Beach

Early History of Brant Beach

Barrier islands like Long Beach Island are temporary formations in the large scale of time and tend to migrate over thousands of years. Forces such as the rise and fall of sea levels and the expansion of the Atlantic Ocean due to movement of the earth’s plates have caused LBI as well as the entire east coast of North America to move many miles westward in the past fifty thousand years and more.

Native people
Paleo-Indians first arrived in the New Jersey Pine Barrens about 12,000 years ago, after the last ice age. Roughly one thousand years ago, the nomadic Lenape natives constructed wigwams and structures on pilings along the banks of Tuckerton Creek, on the mainland near present-day Tuckerton.

The Lenape Indians crossed the bay to harvest the abundant fish, plentiful clams, and wild plants from the beaches of Long Beach Island. Brant Beach was probably a favored destination, with its perfectly shaped cove making the finest natural harbor along the eighteen mile stretch of Long Beach Island.

First Europeans
In 1524, the French explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano explored the parts of the Jersey shore north of Long Beach Island. In 1609, the British captain Henry Hudson, sailing on the Dutch ship Half Moon, sailed along the coastline from the Delaware Bay northward toward present-day New York on his way to survey Hudson Bay and the Hudson River. He claimed the land for the Dutch, who called it New Netherlands.

The British reclaimed New Jersey from the Dutch in 1664 and divided the territory into two parts. The part including Long Beach Island was given to Sir George Carteret. New Jersey was reunited as one colony in 1702.

Starting in the late 1690s, the earliest European settlers on the island were fisherman, hunters, and whalers. They built whale watch towers on the dunes in Brant Beach and harpooned whales from row boats launched from the beach.

Through the late 1600s and early 1700s, pirates and privateers were active in our area, and legend says that Captain Kidd buried treasure that would be worth $10 million today near Long Beach Island. Even today, old Spanish coins occasionally wash up.

In the late 1700s, Long Beach Island became a hotbed of anti-British activity during the Revolutionary War. Privateers used the islands and inlets to avoid the British navy. In 1782, British loyalists massacred about twenty patriots while they slept on the beach at Barnegat Light.

Early shipping
Ships traveling along our coast to and from the busy port of New York were often beset by storms or ran aground in the treacherous waters off New Jersey. Shipwrecks were common as early as 1705 with the loss of the schooner Archibald Morris. One of the most remembered wrecks was in 1817, when a woman, trapped in the hull of the ship, was rescued, giving the town of Ship Bottom its name. Many islanders became scavengers when the cargoes of these shipwrecks washed up on our beaches.

Early development
If you were to visit Brant Beach back in the 1700s, you would see hilly sand dunes, bogs, creeks, bayberries and even grazing cattle. There were sandy paths but no roads, and very few people. In the 1800s, the island became known for duck and goose hunting, with sportsmen arriving by boat and staying first in rustic gunning shacks and later in several large hotels which sprung up on the island.

Commercial fishing
Pound fishing was a technique originally used by the Lenape and adopted by Norwegian immigrants for harvesting fish from the sea. Men drove tall hickory poles in a curved formation into the ocean floor and strung long nets between the poles to form large fish traps or “pounds.” The Brant Beach Pound Fishing operation was located on today’s 74th Street from 1870 to 1956.

The fishermen would row out in wooden skiffs to harvest the catch trapped in the nets overnight by the current, bringing in as much as fifteen tons per day. To avoid spilling their catch on the way back, the heavily loaded boats would wait beyond the breakers to carefully time their return to shore between sets of waves, which was called “pigging the slats.” When a skiff hit the beach, a team of strong Clydesdale horses would pull the boat ashore on wooden rollers. In later years, horses were replaced by tractors, but the fishing continued until 1956. The fish were stored in a huge icehouse right on 74th street prior to shipping to Dock Street Market in Philadelphia.

In 1886, hotel owners to the north and south of Brant Beach joined with the Tuckerton Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad to build a 6000-foot trestle with one train track from Manahawkin to LBI. Track was laid north to Barnegat City (“City” was added to the name to attract visitors) and south to Beach Haven. At that time, the Boulevard did not exist, and the main route of travel was only a sandy, rutted path used by horse-carts along the train track.

At first, the railroad did not stop in Brant Beach because it was quite desolate. It was accessible primarily by boat over the bay.

Original land ownership of Brant Beach
In the 1890s, the future Brant Beach was part of a four-mile tract of land stretching southward from Surf City. It was purchased by two New York attorneys named Culver and Wright. Upon their untimely deaths, it was acquired by a Philadelphia lawyer named Henry B. McLaughlin, who saw the growing appetite for summering by the sea.
The one-mile section which became part of Brant Beach was to be called Beach Haven North, but the name was changed to honor the Brant geese that were found in vast numbers along the bayfront.

To attract potential buyers, McLaughlin built a train station at the southwest corner of present-day 60th Street and offered free train rides and clam bakes to entice the upscale Philadelphia tourists to stop at Brant Beach. He priced prime building lots at $50-$100.

Until the late 1800s, all Long Beach Island communities were under the governance of the closest township across the bay. Today’s Brant Beach was split between Eagleswood Township, which claimed the area south of 61st Street, and Stafford Township, which claimed the area to the north.

Around 1890, Beach Haven, Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, and Surf City incorporated on their own. In 1899 the remaining areas including Brant Beach were merged into a single entity called Long Beach Township. This explains why our township is a patchwork of four noncontiguous land areas, and why there are six municipalities on the island.

Prior to 1900, there probably was no year-round population in Brant Beach, and very few seasonal visitors.