Everyone knows about our beaches, the boardwalk, the shore nightlife, and all the other attractions that bring people to towns like Lavallette and Seaside Park.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that our area has a rich history, too. Throughout Ocean County, in towns like Toms River, Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant and others, there are some fascinating historical tidbits that will enhance your appreciation of the area.
Here are a few of our favorites.
- There really is a Lucky Leo! Lucky Leo’s is one of the boardwalk’s most famous arcades, and its namesake is a real person. It’s named after Leo Whalen, a former Lakehurst resident who watched the Hindenburg fly into town as a boy.
- We have no idea where the name “Toms River” comes from. The most common story says that it is named after Thomas Luker, a ferryman who used to run a ferry that crossed what was then called Goose Creek, but that has yet to be confirmed. The town may also be named after English Captain William Tom, and there was also a local Native American man named Tom who some suggest may have been the origin of the name. We may never know the truth!
- Speaking of Toms River, newer residents may not realize that the town’s name was only recently declared to be Toms River. Until 2006, Toms River was just an unofficial nickname for the downtown area around Washington Street. The town’s official name was Dover Township.
- Ocean County used to be part of Monmouth County. It split off into its own county in 1850, but prior to that not only were the two counties one, in the 1700s what is now known as Toms River was actually a part of Shrewsbury Township.
- Today’s tourists, summer residents, and summer renters aren’t the only ones who call the barrier island home. In what is now Seaside Park, the Lenape Native Americans lived on the island (which they called “Seheyichbi,” or “land bordering the ocean”) during the summer months, subsisting on fish, crabs, clams, and scallops. When the weather cooled, they went inland again, just like people do today.
- Toms River is the county seat, but it won out over a seemingly unlikely competitor by a very, very narrow margin: Lakehurst nearly took the crown in 1850 when Ocean County separated from Monmouth County.
- When Seaside Park was incorporated in 1898, its name was slightly different. At the time, it was called Sea Side Park. In 1914, a township clerk accidentally wrote it as Seaside Park in the town’s meeting minutes. The error stuck, and today two words are one.
- The shore area thrives thanks to the Garden State Parkway, but that is a fairly recent development in history. The Parkway only first connected North Jersey to the Shore in the 1950s. Prior to that, the trek to our beaches was a long and difficult one, made along Route 9, which was a two-lane, local road. It was an arduous drive!
- In 1955 in Seaside, a faulty neon sign lit an Ocean Terrace business on fire. High winds spread the blaze. It caught fast. By the time it was extinguished, 85 buildings had been destroyed.
- Seaside Heights exploded in population during the 1920s, growing by more than 150%. The primary reason? A bridge across the bay being built in 1914 and the construction of the boardwalk. Today, of course, it’s one of the biggest attractions at the shore.
There is a lot more where this came from, too. Do you have an interesting historical tidbit for us? Let us know! We’d love to include them in future articles.