UNION, NJ – Amusement parks have long been a staple of the Jersey Shore, thrilling visitors with gentle kiddie car rides, roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, and fast-food emporiums. As presented by retired teacher and author Rick Geffken at the Union Library this week, there were 14 amusements parks at the Jersey shore from Sandy Hook to Manasquan alone in the late 1800s/early 1900s.
Geffken, author of Lost Amusements Parks of the North Jersey Shore along with George Severini, said some of these early parks were located in Asbury Park, Boynton Beach and Atlantic Beach. They were ever popular with New Jerseyans and New Yorkers alike seeking relief from the summer heat and humidity.
“The most popular attractions from the early 19th century at the Jersey Shore were the merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, bumper cars, and Ferris wheels,” said Geffken. “When you think about it, what’s changed?”
One amusement park further north, Boynton Beach, was located in the Seawaren section of Woodbridge. Geffken said people would come by the thousands via steamships from New York City.
The Atlantic Beach Amusement Park in Atlantic Highlands was opened from around 1915-1940. Geffken said a steamship, the Mandalay, would deliver up to 3,000 people twice daily to the park.
The Great Switchback Railroad was the first attraction at the Sandy Hook amusement area. For five cents, riders in carts were pushed down one track to the end, then walked across to another cart for their return trip. Geffken said the gravity-propelled Great Switchback had a speed of about 6 mph.
The Highland Beach Excursion Resort was built up around that area, with blue wool bathing suits for rent for “gentle water bathing.” By 1910, there were 20,000 visiting the area daily.
The Asbury Park amusement area featured a Ferris wheel with an observation deck, a ‘tunnel of love’ and the annual Baby Parade which drew thousands each year. Geffken said Asbury hit its peak around 1926 with huge crowds every summer day.
Geffken said the cost of doing business, high land values and a change in culture eventually drove those amusement parks to close, although Point Pleasant, Keansburg, Seaside and Atlantic City continue thrilling visitors throughout the summer season.