Before automobiles and railroads, boats provided the only means of access to Long Beach Island.
Visitors would travel by stage coach to places like the taverns at the end of Beach Avenue in Manahawkin and take passage to places like the Mansion of Health in present day Surf City by sail or row boat. In fact, a trip to the end of Beach Avenue results in land that does not even a little bit resemble a beach or ocean; but rather miles of mud, meadows and mosquitos (and the inevitable greenhead). The “beach” was on the other side of Manahawkin Bay. Long Beach Island was known by various names such as “Long Beach” or “18 mile Beach.”
Transportation to Long Beach Island transformed in 1871 when the Tuckerton Railroad connected southern Ocean County to the world via connections with what would become the Pennsylvania and Jersey Central railroads at Whitings, NJ. Everything changed.
Starting June 6,1872, a two mile spur of the Tuckerton Railroad (the Bay Track) was constructed to Edge Cover where a steamship called the “Barclay” was used to ferry the railroad passengers to Beach Haven on a regular basis. The Barclay was constructed in 1849 for service of the Rancocas Steamboat Company. The 120’ long and 40’ beam ship was named for the owner Barclay Haines. The service was inaugurated on July 4, 1872 with 200 patrons on a demonstration run. Full summer service began on August 16, 1872. In 1874, the Barclay went to Philadelphia for refitting and painting.
The regular, predictable and dependable transportation link was the basis of economic prosperity to both Beach Haven and Tuckerton. Previously, a sailboat had connected Bond’s with Atlantic City. The Ferry service was instrumental in the grand opening of the Long Beach Island resort on June 30, 1874. Eventually, two additional ferry boats were employed. The Pohatcong was a shallow draft, propeller driven, second generation craft. Used for five weeks during 1897, the total receipts were $133.40. The Pohatcong was sold on June 18, 1899 at foreclosure for $550. The third and last ferry was named the Haven Belle. In 1878, the salaries of the steamboat crew ranged from $25 to $50 per month.
The Sunset was a small steamship that operated between Barnegat City (now Barnegat Light) and Barnegat, the end of what would become the Jersey Central railroad line.
In 1886, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad constructed a wooden railroad trestle bridge to Long Beach Island and began service to Barnegat City (Barnegat Light) to the north and Beach Haven to the south. There was a proposal to continue the railroad south to Tucker’s Beach, but this never materialized. Ironically, the crossing was just south of Beach Avenue in Manahawkin at the end of Bay Avenue (sometimes called Eel Street). The other railroad that served the area and terminated in Barnegat (later the Central Railroad) had planned to bring the railroad to Long Beach Island at Beach Avenue and Main Point (the legendary road to nowhere).
The ferry to Beach Haven continued intermittently even after the Tuckerton Railroad abandoned the spur track to Edge Cove in 1886. The wooden trestle across Manahawkin Bay was very low and would occasionally be out of service due to the damage of storms. Finally, the wooden railroad trestle was not replaced after the storm of 1935.
On June 7, 1892, E.A. Horner and F. R. Austin leased the “Bay Track” line to Edge Cove from the Tuckerton Railroad to transport clams. The flat cars were powered by horses or powered by canvas sails on mast. The “Sail Car” has become a noted novelty, even famous. The Sail Car is reported to have been have “met an untimely fate in a Halloween ramble by local pranksters who caused it to jump the rails and nose into the swampy brine, where the broken hulk is reported to rot to this day.”
A Serious proposal was made to connect the railroad tracks of Long Beach Island to the Pennsylvania Railroad in Seaside through what is now Island Beach State Park with a bridge from Barnegat Light. Another plan would have connected the train to Beach Haven from Absecon Island.
In June of 1914, the wooden trestle bridge intended for automobiles was opened up to Long Beach Island with a great parade and festivities. This bridge was replaced in 1957 and in 2016.
The railroad bridge of 1886 and the car bridge of 1914 made the ferry service obsolete.
As the island grew and traffic congestion worsened, various plans arose to provide other routes to Long Beach Island. A bridge was proposed from Island Beach to Barnegat Light during World War II. The end of the war delayed these plans. In the period after World War II, various plans to construct a coastal highway along the Jersey Shore similar to the coastal highway in Florida. The people of Barnegat Light and the rest of Long Beach Island opposed the idea of attracting transient traffic and spoiling the isolation of the “Beach.”
In the 1920’s, there was a serious proposal to build a bridges between Long Beach Island and Tuckerton and Tuckerton and Brigantine through Little Beach. The state actually built the connecting highway now known as Great Bay Blvd or 7 Bridges Road. If you drive there you will only count 5 bridges, the other two bridges were never constructed.
Serious consideration was advanced to build an automobile bridge from West Creek Dock Road to Brant Beach. This plan never materialized due to environmental and political opposition.
Various plans to reopen a water route between Tuckerton and Beach Haven have surfaced over the years. Most involved various restaurants and private enterprises. One ferry was operated out of Tuckerton Crick and involved dinner cruises.
History of Ferry Service taken from The Tuckerton Railroad by John Brinkman, self published and copy right 1973.