How Atlantic City Became America’s Middle Class Playground

Atlantic City Became America's Middle Class

How Atlantic City Became America’s Middle Class Playground

In 1850, a local man named Dr. Jonathan Pitney started promoting Absecon Island, which is just off the coast of southern New Jersey, as the perfect seaside medical retreat for many of his patients who were sick with everything from tuberculosis to nervous breakdowns.

As early as 1853, Pitney and civil engineer Richard Osborne, who would be in charge of the building’s design and construction, were able to successfully pitch the idea of building a major seaside resort on Absecon Island in New Jersey to influential financiers and politicians. Pitney praised the curative properties of ocean air and saltwater to anyone who would listen.

How Atlantic City Became America's Middle Class Playground
Photo Credit : Highbrow Magazine

Within a year of the resort being built, Pitney, Osborne, and other New Jersey lobbyists were able to convince politicians and railroad investors in Philadelphia to pay for a railroad that connected the City of Brotherly Love directly to the Jersey Shore and went all the way through the Garden State.

The Camden and Atlantic Railroad began operations on July 4, 1854, with a charter granted by the state of New Jersey. This event marked the beginning of what is now known as Atlantic City, one of the most well-known and infamous tourist sites along the Jersey Shore.

On the very first day that the railroad was open for business, more than three thousand people traveled all the way across the Garden State to Atlantic City.

The Camden and Atlantic Railroad was practically a household name back when it was at the height of its success, which roughly coincided with the years 1870 and 1930. In the year 1879, a wordsmith by the name of the famed American poet Walt Whitman, who traveled the state of New Jersey, proclaimed the praises of this train that passed through New Jersey and of the flourishing seaside resort of Atlantic City.

In 1873, after Whitman suffered a mild stroke that was reported by his doctors to have been brought on by stress, he decided to leave his office job working for the federal government in Washington, D.C. and move in with his brother in Camden, New Jersey. Walt Whitman was able to write and publish his now-famous work, Leaves of Grass, while he was healing and living in Camden.

How Atlantic City Became America's Middle Class Playground
Photo Credit : City Journal

 Because of the royalties he received from Leaves of Grass, he was able to pursue his vocation as a writer on a full-time basis and give up the drudgery that was causing him to suffer from strokes in his previous job in the government. Walt Whitman had the leisure and motivation to travel throughout his newly adopted home state of New Jersey thanks to the fact that he was a full-time writer.

Interestingly enough, Walt Whitman was a big fan of going to Atlantic City in the middle of winter to enjoy the boardwalk and beaches there. In 1879, he contributed a piece to the Philadelphia Times newspaper in which he discussed a journey to Atlantic City that he had taken only a few days earlier. His essay was printed on January 26, 1879, in the newspaper where it was submitted. When Whitman began his essay, he made a passing reference to the Camden and Atlantic Railroad in the buoyant and effervescent tone that was unique to his writing, especially when it came to discussing something as unremarkable as railroad transportation.

 He stated, “As I was going to bed a few Saturday evenings ago, the thought struck my head all of a sudden, decisively yet gently, that if the following morning was fine, I would take a trip through Jersey via the Camden and Atlantic Railroad through to the sea!”

He then went on to describe in almost ecstatic detail the winter beauty of the Garden State outside the window of the train, and he compared it favorably to the environment of his beloved Long Island.

When Whitman eventually made it to Atlantic City, a coastal resort town that he had heard so much about over the course of the preceding decade and a half since the end of the American Civil War, he was completely enamored with the place.

Walt Whitman said that Atlantic City was “a flat, still sandy, still meadowy country” when he talked about it.

An island, but with nice, hard roads, and many of them, and very few trees that are visible from the roadways…

“But in lieu of them, a beautiful range of ocean beaches—miles upon miles of it for driving, walking, and bathing—a real Sea Beach City indeed, with salt waves and sandy coasts ad infinitum,”

The Native American Lenni-Lenape tribe, who had inhabited the region for generations, gave the island its first name, Absegami Island. Later, in the 1700s, European settlers gave the island its current name, Absecon Island, which is incorrect. The sandy beaches of present-day Atlantic City have been a popular destination for swimming and seaside activities for centuries.

However, construction on what would become Atlantic City’s first and arguably its most well-known tourist attraction, the Boardwalk, did not begin until the year 1870. The Boardwalk in Atlantic City was the very first structure of its kind to be built anywhere in the United States.

The initial construction of it cost $5000 and was accomplished by constructing it in portions that were twelve feet long and ten feet wide. On June 16, 1870, the first piece of the Atlantic City Boardwalk was made available to the public.

The very first beachfront wooden boardwalk in America was a stroke of pure genius for Atlantic City’s ever-expanding tourism business. The first boardwalk did not have any stores, rides, games, or other tourist attractions.

Nevertheless, all of those things would emerge by the turn of the twentieth century. Before the construction of the Boardwalk in 1870, seaside visitors to Atlantic City could stay at hotels that were only a few feet from the water. However, they were forced to face the harsh reality of walking outside their doors and into the blowing sand.

How Atlantic City Became America's Middle Class Playground
Photo Credit : My Vintage Photos

This was in contrast to Walt Whitman, who came to Atlantic City during the summer months rather than the dead of winter for ocean “bathing,” as it was known at the time. The architects and developers of the city never anticipated that sand would be such a significant problem for the owners of hotels or for guests.

It would appear, however, that the ever-present sand that guests track into their hotel rooms is what has caused many potential tourists to avoid visiting beach locations. Because it became such a significant issue, in the year 1870, the City of New York sought the assistance of a railroad conductor by the name of Jacob Keim and a hotel owner by the name of Alexander Boardman (no kidding!) in order to devise a solution to the issue.

Keim and Boardman came up with the concept of constructing a wooden plank walkway that would be 8 feet wide and would be laid in a herringbone pattern on top of a concrete foundation. This walkway would go all the way from the beach to the middle of town. Their suggestion ended up being accepted, which led to the construction of the first boardwalk in the United States.

Hurricanes in 1884, 1889, and 1944 were responsible for the total destruction of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, which required it to be rebuilt each time. This is an interesting fact considering the length of time the boardwalk has been in existence. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, large areas were severely destroyed and needed to be rebuilt as a result of the storm’s aftermath.

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The first boardwalk was constructed in 1870 and was a straightforward affair; in fact, it did not even have railings. It was said that at least one person would fall off the boardwalk and into the sand every day, and that the person who fell was typically a man who was flirting with a woman at the time. Some of the people who fell suffered significant injuries.

The original Atlantic City Boardwalk was built for the purpose of preventing sand from entering the city’s many hotels. Despite its simplicity, it was completely effective in achieving this goal, and it was replaced within fifteen years of its initial construction by a much larger boardwalk raised above the sand on pilings.Today, this boardwalk is one mile long and is raised above the sand.

The construction of amusement piers in Atlantic City, complete with shops, carnival rides, and food kiosks, had already begun by the year 1900. These piers were all connected to the boardwalk via wooden walkways. And in 1929, the now-famous Convention Hall in Atlantic City was built. It is still a place where some of the best concerts and sports events take place.

In 1907, just over twenty-five years after Walt Whitman first visited Atlantic City in the dead of winter, another traveler, this time from England, an American correspondent for the London Daily Chronicle named Sir Alfred Maurice Low, was able to write after a visit to the Jersey Shore in his own newspaper column that “The most famous seashore resort in America is Atlantic City.” This was made possible thanks to a railroad that crossed New Jersey and a wooden walkway that was conceived of by a conductor and a hotel owner.

Since then, everyone has been referring to Low by his moniker, for better or for worse. However, he did not end his speech there. Even though Low was somewhat turned off by what he considered to be the low morality of Atlantic City’s tourism (particularly the scandalous bathing costumes of the admittedly attractive young ladies), he nonetheless couldn’t help but describe America’s premier seaside resort destination in almost Whitman-esque terms.

Though not quite as enamored with the 1907 version of Atlantic City as Whitman had been with the pristine beach resort he had laid eyes upon in 1879, He stated in his writing, “It is a location where the God of Pleasure reigns supreme, where people give themselves up to mirth, where for the week or month that they spend there, they leave care behind, and they attempt to grab as much fun as they possibly can out of life.”

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To this very day, almost one hundred and twenty years later, despite the fact that much has changed, much has still remained the same, and we are all still making our way across New Jersey, going down the shore, and in many cases, still making our way to Atlantic City itself in an effort to squeeze as much enjoyment as we can out of life…

Source : Wikipedia

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