The History of Harvey Cedars
Over the years the original Harvey who gave Harvey Cedars its name has lived in either a cave burrowed into a hummock or in a shack under a grove of cedar trees near what is now the Harvey Cedars Bible Conference. But from a 1751 deed we now know that our Harvey is as ephemeral as Harvey the Rabbit. In the deed, the locality was designated as "a hammock and clump of cedars called Harvest Quarters." And if you say "harvest cedars" often and fast enough, harvest will be clipped to harves -- and it's only a brief skip of the mouth to Harvey.
These men who crossed the bay from bustling Colonial communities to pasture their cattle and harvest the salt hay used for cattle feed and mulch were some of the first white visitors to what is now the south end of Harvey Cedars. Whalers were the other group who used the outer beach here. As early as the mid-1600s men came north from Cape May and south from New England to pursue the abundant North Atlantic Greenland whale. They set up a lookout on the northern edge of Great Swamp, which extended from Surf City to the southern boundary of present-day Harvey Cedars. A 30-foot tower, nicknamed an "owl's tree," projected above the highest dune, giving the whaler a good vantage to spot the "right" whale, which migrated in February and March. This industry died out in the 1830s when the species had been so over-hunted a profit could no longer be made.
Until the hurricane of 1821, which made a direct hit on the New Jersey coast and destroyed the freshwater swamp with sea water, a great forest covered the south end of town on land that is now well out to sea. Stumps hacked by hand-hewn axes were observed during a blowout tide about a quarter mile offshore shortly after 1900 and again in the 1930s. Reports of earliest travelers tell of rows of huge dunes on the barrier beaches, and there is little doubt that Harvey Cedars had the same topography. The earliest town photographs show high dunes backed by a lush growth of bayberry, cedar, sumac, poison ivy and holly, then wide salt marshes stretching to the bay. (This type of dune formation still exists in a stretch of beachfront in nearby Barnegat Light.)
In 1886 the Harvey Cedars Beach Co. purchased and mapped the land from Sussex to Bergen avenues. That map shows Harvest Point extending to include Wood's Island, but it's probably not accurate, as a photograph taken just ten years later shows a walking bridge from the island to the point across a goodly expanse of water, although not as wide as today. Most of the activity in the late 19th century centered around the Lifesaving station, one of the first in the country, and the Harvey Cedars Hotel, now the Bible Conference. First opened about 1850, by 1870 the hotel was a sportsman's boarding hotel known as "Kinsey's," run by Civil War veteran John Warner Kinsey, whose family would figure in the town's history until the present day. William Sayen, from Wayne, Pa, built an expansive summer home in 1892 on the island off Harvest Point from the hotel, now called Wood's Island. His granddaughter, Katharine Wood Leonard, later remembered Harvey Cedars as a "thriving summer resort" with the hotel (at that time still separated from town by a stream), a boarding house containing the post office, Francis Fenimore's oceanfront mansion, and a large, elaborate pavilion on the ocean. (The Fenimore house was moved back from the sea twice, but both it and the pavilion washed out in the 1944 hurricane.) Vacationing children and adults alike swam, sailed, clammed and crabbed, and in the evenings had marshmallow roasts on the beach or played cards. They met the train to see who had come down or waited for the fishing boats to land to buy the makings of an inexpensive dinner.
The Borough of Harvey Cedars was formally incorporated on December 11, 1894, when a group of men living near the hotel seceded from Union Township (today's Barnegat Township on the mainland). Capt. Isaac Jennings, owner of the hotel, was named mayor. He died shortly thereafter. Jason Fenimore, who lived on the bayfront at Burlington Avenue, soon became borough clerk and his brother Francis became mayor in 1899.
Early Industry: Seaweed and Fish
Aggressive development with an eye to summer visitors and profits started in 1884, when Josiah Busby Kinsey (son of John Warner) and Isaac Lee each bought tracts in what was called High Point (87th Street to Sussex Avenue). Kinsey owned the land to about 78th Street and centered his development around his general store on the northeast corner of 78th and the Boulevard, and a yacht club on the bayfront at 78th -- both still standing. He used his large expanse of bayfront property along Bay Terrace as a field for drying eelgrass. This seaweed was used for insulation, packing and mattresses, and was a well-developed industry in many coastal areas during the early part of the century. Kinsey's name remains in Kinsey Cove.
Lee operated another booming business at his end of town: pound fishing. Lee had operated a fish restaurant near New York's Fulton Fish Market, then became a wholesaler in Philadelphia. By 1900 he had two fish pounds in operation off High Point, two and four miles offshore. He employed 32 husky, strong men and housed them on a seasonal basis in a row of tiny cottages on 76th Street. The men topped 6 feet, 200 pounds, necessary to power the boats through the surf and haul the heavy nets, but the cottages were so small they got the nickname "petrel's nests". The two remaining "petrel's nests" were joined into one, which hugs the Boulevard just across from the Borough Hall. Lee paid $25,000 for the land and in 1887 built his home, still standing on the north side of what is now Lee Avenue. Two of the cottages he built to rent for $50 a season also survive on Lee Avenue.
The train was the key to this development: Kinsey shipped tightly-packed bales of eelgrass and Lee barrels of weakfish, croakers, butterfish, flounder and bass to metropolitan markets. And the train brought the first tourists. Ed Merchant, still living in town, remembers, "We quivered in anticipation of that magic aroma that meant seashore: salt breeze, new-cut marsh hay, sun-dried eelgrass and overripe clam shells left too long in the sun. Not to everybody's taste, but for us it was the perfume of summer." In 1886, the first train into town was a one-car combination engine, passenger and freight owned by the Lee and Fenimore Train Co., painted various shades of yellow and dubbed the Yellow Jacket. By 1906 a longer summer passenger train was brought in but the schedule was erratic at best, and not a very rapid transit. Carlyle Stevens told the story, "We were coming along between Surf City and Harvey Cedars and there were no stops. My buddy and I were playing football in the empty baggage car and the ball got tossed off the train so he jumped off, picked up the ball and hopped back in. He could run faster than the train". The small, cedar shake-covered High Point station was located about where the borough hall is today. It was moved and is now the second floor of a house on Mallard Lane. The Harvey Cedars station, little more than a covered platform, was near Atlantic Avenue.
Steady Growth in the Twenties and Thirties
As Lee and Kinsey sold off lots, and houses were built, both men dedicated several streets to the borough and in 1916, with 20 men registered to vote, Kinsey was elected mayor. Meetings were moved from the hotel to his general store. The center of activity shifted from Harvey Cedars to High Point. The separate names were commonly used well beyond when the U.S. Post Office requested the town drop "High Point" in the early 1930s, and remains in the name of the fire company.
About three dozen cottages had been built from Kinsey Cove to Lee Avenue and the town was a small, friendly place where everyone knew everyone else.
Construction on the Boulevard started in 1914, the year the automobile causeway was built parallel to the train trestle, and High Point grew steadily in the 1920’s. Lumber for cottages was trucked over from the mainland on the new causeway, and with a few friends, or one of Kinsey's carpenters, you could build a cottage for well under $1,000. Each house had its own well and outhouse. Electricity replaced gaslight in 1927 and in 1929 a new yacht club was built on the bay at 76th Street. Kinsey had sold the original yacht club to Dr. E. H. Smith for $850 and he converted it into a summer home for his family. This building, one of the town's first, has been restored and is in its original location next to the public dock.
Eleanor Smith (no relation), a 1920’s settler on Maiden Lane, recalled, "A huckster and butcher came from Barnegat, we'd order one week and get it the next. And we ate a lot of fish, usually we caught them ourselves. We could get all we wanted from the bay." The bay was crawling with crabs, and it was almost impossible to dig your toes into the soft sand and not hit a clam. One year a brother and sister caught so many crabs that they filled up the boat and had to swim back pulling it.
By the mid-1930s, Harvey Cedars had a hotel, a real estate office, a gas station, a general store, a tearoom (formerly Kinsey's barn), a rowboat rental place, paved roads, and a year-round population large enough to send about a dozen children off to the one-room school in Barnegat Light and to the high school in Barnegat on the mainland. In addition to the cottages in town, Frederick Small had completed his multi-home estate from ocean to bay (now Maris Stella) and wealthy Philadelphians had bought boulevard to bay tracts. Six or seven large, modern homes fronted the ocean between Sussex Avenue and the Coast Guard station on Gloucester, and driveways wound through the original vegetation to the homes built in the lee of the dunes.
The town gained a reputation as a summer art colony. Clinton and Hallie Beagary gave lessons in their bayfront home; sculptor Alexander Portnoff worked in his oceanfront home; Salvatore and Angelo Pinto, Gladys and Floyd Davis, Frederic and Sue May Gill, Helen and Earl Horter, Boris Blai and Leon Kelly all took inspiration from the sea, the light, and the solitude. Architect George Daub built half a dozen "moderne" homes before the Second World War put a halt to building.
World War II Just Offshore
|Utility poles teetered at all angles; several remaining oceanfront homes swayed precariously, spider-like, on tall piling; ripped-open houses were scattered randomly, the bay was filled with their debris.|
|All the large oceanfront homes that had survived 1944 were gone. Small's oceanfront bulkhead, considered indestructible, and two oceanfront homes were shredded.|
|Masonry chimneys poked from the sand like ancient monoliths. At 79th Street a 40-foot-wide, 20-foot deep inlet divided the town. From the air the town looked like a child's Lego setup knocked askew.|