BELMAR, NJ — The peaceful and picturesque Inlet Terrace lagoon had quite a celebrated beginning.
During the early 1900s, it was dug out from a strip of salty marshes along the Shark River — a dredging project that involved pumping a million cubic yards of clay and sand. And when the massive project was complete, the lagoon became the centerpiece of a private development of homes built on what became known as the Inlet Terrace section the borough.
The lagoon gained international notoriety during the summer of 1918 when it hosted an American Red Cross benefit swimming meet and Labor Day water carnival and was heralded as the “World’s Largest Swimming Pool,” according to a news story in the Coast Advertiser newspaper.
The history of the lagoon — complete with photographs, newspaper clippings and artifacts — is featured in the Belmar Historical Society’s latest exhibit at the Belmar Municipal Building, 601 Main Street.
A highlight of the display is the 1918 summer event, where swimming records were broken by world-class swimmers and divers, including Duke Kahanamoku of Honolulu. Billed as the “greatest sprint swimmer of all time” by the Coast Advertiser, the Olympic gold medal winner was considered the father of modern surfing and introduced the sport to the mainland and Australia, according to the society.
The Labor Day water carnival included Hawaiian water stunts, a squadron canoe tilt and "fancy diving" showcasing 12-year-old prodigy Helen Wainwright. And it only cost 50 cents for general admission and $1 for a covered grand stand seat to get into the festivities. .
The BHS exhibit also includes a photo of the Inlet Terrace area taken in 1892 before the development began and a woman’s black wool bathing suit of those bygone days. In addition, there is an aerial view of Inlet Terrace, pre-1960s, which also shows the old Route 35 bridge.
The BHS exhibit, designed by BHS Secretary and Trustee Karen Heulitt, can be seen during regular business hours in the Sixth Avenue lobby of the Belmar Municipal Building, 601 Main Street.
An all-volunteer, nonprofit organization, BHS welcomes donations of Belmar memorabilia to add to its historical archives at its museum, located at 900 E Street in the annex of the Union Firehouse. The museum is open to the public every Monday from 2 to 4 p.m., every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon, and the second Saturday of each month from 1 to 3 p.m., or by appointment.
In addition to offering museum tours, free history classes and conducting research to further its mission to save and preserve Belmar’s history, BHS invites the public to joins its ranks, attend free Belmar history classes and learn to serve as a docent to give tours.
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