Coastal Heritage Trail - Absecon & Cape May Regions - New Jersey Scenic Byway
Industry and Trade
Tradition holds that on the island of Brigantine, the Lenape Indians used the abundant clam shells to make wampum. Later, during the 17th century, Cape May's prosperous whaling industry encouraged pioneering settlers to build year-round communities. Although overhunting of cow whales ended this profitable venture by the mid-eighteenth century, the communities remained.
By late eighteenth century, these coastal settlements began to rely on other forms of commercial enterprise: fishing, farming, cattle, and shipbuilding. As far inland as Mays Landing and Tuckahoe, boats were built along tidal streams and floated down to the bay and ocean. New Jersey's plentiful supply of good lumber supported this fast growing industry.
The population of the Absecon and Cape May regions boomed in the 1850s with the building of railroads and the development of resort towns, such as Atlantic City.
Aids To Navigation
Lighthouses on the Atlantic coast guided ships along the busy and often dangerous shoreline. Absecon and Cape May lighthouses directed ships north to New York City and south to the Delaware Bay for the journey to Philadelphia.
Smaller lighthouses, such as the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, warned of shoals (where the water is shallow and difficult to navigate) and marked the openings to safe passage and harbors.
Sometimes, even lighthouses were unsuccessful in protecting offshore maritime traffic. By the 1890s, the United States Life Saving Service had constructed stations along the Atlantic seaboard, with one every 3 1/2 miles along the New Jersey coast. These stations contained crews and equipment to rescue shipwreck victims. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard performs this emergency service. Many of the 19th century Life Saving Service stations can still be seen, although some have been converted for use as private homes and offices.
During the Revolutionary War, the secluded inlets and harbors of the New Jersey coast were often the site of skirmishes between British and American ships. In Port Republic, a marker commemorates the town of Chestnut Neck, burned by the British in retaliation for the many privateers who used its harbor to dart out, surprise, and then plunder British supply ships.
The strategic importance of Cape May was articulated during WWII when the Army built a large, concrete gun battery to guard against a possible naval invasion and constructed the Cape May Canal to provide Navy ships safe passage from the Delaware Bay to the ocean without having to face possible danger from enemy submarines.
U.S. Coast Guard Station, Atlantic City
When constructed in 1941, it was the largest Coast Guard station in existence. Approximately 325 search and rescue operations are conducted annually for stranded boaters, extending as far as 25 miles offshore. The station grounds include a short self-guided interpretive walk with a handout providing a variety of information about station history and the plant and animal struggle for survival on coastal barrier islands.
A wayside interpretive exhibit explains the history of the U.S. Coast Guard and its role in providing emergency maritime services.
Directions: The station is located at the end of Huron Avenue. As you enter Atlantic City, follow the signs for the Trump Castle Hotel & Casino located adjacent to the intersection of US 30 and state road 87 (Brigantine Boulevard.) Hours: Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. unless the crew has been called out on an emergency. Telephone: (609) 344-6594.
Senator Frank S. Farley State Marina
The marina was originally constructed in the late 1950s as a joint effort between the State of New Jersey and the city of Atlantic City to revitalize the pleasure boat industry in the city. In the early 1980s, New Jersey's Division of Parks and Forestry initiated proposals to rehabilitate Farley as it was quickly slipping from its status as the "showplace" marina of the East Coast. Budgetary constraints contributed to its further decline and eventually lead to an agreement between the State and Trump Castle Associates. Three and one-half years and 30 million dollars later, Trump had demolished the old facility and constructed a new expanded premier marina. TCA now operates Farley under a lease agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection. Its 640 slips are capable of berthing boats from under 20 feet to over 300 feet.
An Interpretive exhibit provides information about New Jersey's maritime history and the changing role of marinas. Historic Gardiner's Basin can be seen in the view south of the marina.
Directions: As you enter Atlantic City, follow the highway directional signs to Trump Castle Hotel and Casino (located at the intersection of US 30 and Brigantine Boulevard) and Huron Avenue to reach the marina. It is located next to U.S. Coast Guard Station, Atlantic City. Hours: The marina office IS open May 15 to June 30 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and July 1 to Labor Day from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hours vary the remainder of the year. Telephone: (609) 441-8482.
Cape May County
This is a full service center operated by the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism. It is fully accessible and includes the Cape May Chamber of Commerce with information about area lodging and points of interest.
New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route exhibits, an audiovisual orientation program, information, and brochures about the Trail are available. The exhibits focus on the Trail's Relaxation & Inspiration interpretive theme.
Directions: The welcome center is located at the Ocean View Service Area of the Garden State Parkway at milepost 18.3. Hours: The New Jersey Division of Travel & Tourism operates this information center daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (4:30 pm on Wednesday.) It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Telephone: (609) 624-0918.
Cape May Lighthouse
Cape May Lighthouse is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. It has been an important navigational aid to sea-going mariners since its construction in 1859.
The lighthouse is located within Cape May Point State Park at the southern tip of New Jersey. Picnicking, beach walking, birding, a museum, and museum shop help round out a visit to this historic site. WWII coastal defense gun emplacements, now battling the elements of erosion and the encroaching sea, can still be seen here.
There is an admission charge for the lighthouse tower, which is operated by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts.
Directions: To reach the lighthouse take county road 606 (Sunset Boulevard) west from Cape May, towards Cape May Point. Watch for Trail blazers and turn south via county road 629 (Lighthouse Avenue). Garden State Parkway and Ferry traffic can follow state road 9/109 to county road 626 and south to county road 606, then continue west as above. Hours: The lighthouse is open daily from April to mid-October and weekends from mid-February to March and mid-October to January 1st. It is closed January to mid-February. Visitors are encouraged to call for specific hours of operation during these various periods throughout the year. Telephone: (800) 275-4278.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
This "Great Victorian" lighthouse has guided local mariners along the Jersey Shore since its construction in 1874. Its fourth-order lantern and lens, 53 feet above sea level, was originally a fixed white light but was changed to a flashing red and white light in 1897.
Local volunteer efforts restored the old lighthouse, which permitted the community of North Wildwood to open the station to the public. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Next door is the old Hereford Inlet Coast Guard Station now operated by the NJ Marine Police.
Directions: The lighthouse is located in North Wildwood on Central Avenue, between First and Chestnut Streets. Southbound Garden State Parkway traffic can take state road 147 from exit 6 to North Wildwood. Hours: The lighthouse is open April 1 through late October, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed the remainder of the year. Telephone: (609) 522-4520.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication