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                                        A History of South Atlantic City and the early days of Margate                               

 

  

By Frank J. Tiemann
Reprinted here with the permission of the author.

      In order to know the full background of Margate we must first know something about this section of New Jersey.  Many years ago all of this state was occupied by the Delaware Indians.  They were a branch of the Lenni Lenape tribe of New YorkState.  About 1614 the territory was claimed by the Dutch as a part of New Netherlands and was divided into two sections East and West New Jersey.  In 1623 an explorer named Captain Cornelius Mey, who sailed for the Dutch,  was the first white man to set foot on Abscond Island.  The Dutch called Abscond Island Eyren Haven.  The name was changed in later years to Eyre Haven meaning "Harbor of Eggs."

  Early AbseconBeach was a very desolate region in its early days.  Sand dunes, snakes, grape vines, holly, wild plums, bayberry bushes, Virginia creepers, and red cedars were present.  Indians visited but never settled here.

          In 1695 Thomas Bud, was forced to take land he didn't want at four cents per acre in order to close a deal for more valued farmland of the mainland at forty cents an acre.  Bud came from England in 1678.  He stated that the islands were only good for sea gull nests. 

          The section we know as AtlanticCounty was for many years part of GloucesterCounty, which extended from the Delaware river to the Atlantic ocean.  In 1837 AtlanticCounty was formed and at this time it was made up of woodland and farms. 

          At this time what we called AbseconIsland was comprised of three little islands.  One was CedarBeach which consisted of the upper half of Margate and on.  This was from Mansfield Ave. on up.  This part was sand, hills, and woods.  The lower island was SandHillsBeachIsland.  The other island was InsideBeachIsland.  This is the land over the Margate bridge. I spoke to Miss Alice Whittaker, age 97, who came to Margate in 1887.  She stated that she could remember when the island was cut at Mansfield Ave.                              

      The first known settler was a fisherman and farmer named Hezediadiah Samson who lived in the area during the War of 1812.  He employed a deserter from the American forces.  This deserter named William Day, lived in a cave on the InsideBeachIsland  (back bay).  This cave was near Mr. Samson's farm.  Mr. Samson would give Day a signal when danger was near so that he could escape to his cave and elude his pursuers.  At the end of the war with England Day gave up his hiding place.

          In 1840 John Bryan established residence in Margate.  He operated a salt plant in the region.  He was also in charge of the Government Life Saving Station.  He was a wrecking master when ships came ashore.  He moved to Atlantic City in 1875 and died on April 3, 1878.

          Meadows and bayberries covered most of Margate in its early years.  Catering to the fishing and hunting enthusiasts was the sole occupation of people living in Margate in 1859.  In 1884 the Camden and Atlantic Railroad turned south from Atlantic City and ran the length of the island.  The railroad ran special excursion trains from Philadelphia, PA to the elephant at Cedar Grove Ave.  The train station was at Cedar Grove Ave. and Atlantic Ave. The railroad helped to build up the area because it provided easier access, and it supported the growth of a  number of developing companies moving  into the area.  The Camden and Atlantic Land Company bought Ventnor and the upper half of Margate from Mark Reed for the sum of $1,680.00 in 1853.

          In 1869 the State Legislature paved the way for the individual AbseconIsland governments of Ventnor, Margate, and Longport.  If a move made in that year by a group of Atlantic City Businessmen had been successful AbseconIsland would have been incorporated from GreatEggHarbor inlet to Absecon Inlet and Atlantic City and Margate would never have come into existence.

         The Legislature, however could not see eye-to-eye with the petitioners for a new charter in 1869 and turned down the request to extend the original boundary lines.  Although the idea of one municipality on the island has been discussed from time to time since, this 1869 effort is the closest the matter ever came to realization.  It since has been considered a hot potato by politicians.

          In 1881 James V. Lafferty of Philadelphia, PA came to Margate and started to build Lucy the Elephant.  Mr. Lafferty was a real estate entrepreneur.  He built the elephant to lure potential lot buyers from Philadelphia and Atlantic City.  He inserted an advertisement in the Philadelphia Public Ledger of July 1881: "The Novel Restaurant in the shape of an elephant is course of construction.  For further particulars apply to J.V. Lafferty, 432 Liberty St.Philadelphia." On August 20th he ran an ad which read "Public sale of choice building lots near the Elephant Hotel and Restaurant south of Atlantic City."  Visitors and potential land buyers flocked to the Elephant Hotel and this is why the Camden and Atlantic Railroad moved south on AbseconIsland.

          In May of 1884 the railroad started down to Margate.  They laid out the streets of Margate.  The first street was Vicksburg Avenue, which is now Fredericksburg Avenue.  The next street was New Orleans, then in the following order came Galveston, St. Louis, Davenport, Cairo, Detroit, Cincinnati, Garfield, Barton, Cedar Grove, and Benson, the two latter still have the same name.  The elephant used to be on Cedar Grove Avenue.  The streets from the ocean were Railroad Avenue which is now Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic Avenue which is now Ventnor Avenue, Arctic Avenue which is now Winchester Avenue, Baltic Avenue which is now Monmouth Avenue, Thoroughfare Avenue which is now Lagoon Avenue, and Marshall and Burk Avenues which are still the same.  The last three were on the map for years but were not made until around 1960.

          The first type of transportation to Margate was horse cars.  The horse or mule cars operated in the summer months only.  In the winter they would turn the mules loose in the sand hills around Cedar Grove Avenue.  The first trains came to Cedar Grove Avenue.  Special excursions brought people from Philadelphia to Margate.  The station was near the elephant at Cedar Grove Avenue.  There were three hotels around the elephant. The hotels were the Cedar Grove Hotel, the Mansion House, and the Elephant Hotel.  On August 31, 1884 the trains went to Longport.

        On August 4,1885 Margate made a big step by setting itself off from EggHarborTownship and incorporated into the city called South Atlantic City.  An election was held on August 1, 1885 for the purpose of incorporation and electing officers of a borough.  South Atlantic City became incorporated by the naming of a mayor and council of the Borough of South Atlantic City.

        The officers of South Atlantic City were Mayor James A. Rider and councilmen Jonathan P. Smith, Westley Boice, Stephen Hackney and Alone W. Bannister.

        The following is a copy of a map drawn by Albert Whittaker showing South Atlantic City in 1898.  This was taken from a book made by Mr. Albert Whittaker called "Scrapbook of Margate City" which is possessed by Miss Alice Whittaker, his sister and a resident of South Atlantic City and Margate City since 1887.  Miss Whittaker now resides at 108 South Vendome Avenue. Margate was first shown on a map of Atlantic City in 1900 by John Hall.

 

 

 

 

 

          I only saw Miss Whittaker for one interview for fifteen minutes on October 2nd and she told me about the map-and that she let a Ralph Levin copy the same.  That was the last time I saw Ms. Whittaker.  She is 97 years old and she stated that she did not want to talk about the old days anymore. 
 

          Number 1 on the map is the sod bank built by the Borough Council near where Fredericksburg Ave. is now, to hold back the tidewater from the inside thorofare.  The old sod bank is still there deep under the sand that was dredged in the spring of 1923.

          Number 2 on the map is also a sod bank that was backed up with sand carted off the beach so that it made a sand road back to the thorofare.  This sand road was called Jackson Ave. on the old Camden and Atlantic Railroad time tables.  Now the name of Jackson Ave. is Coolidge Ave.  They changed it because there was a Jackson Ave. in Atlantic City.

          Number 3 on the map shows that South Atlantic City was originally a low salt meadow with alot of high sand dunes covered with bayberries along the ocean front back as far as Pacific Ave. and Atlantic Ave. are now.

          Number 4 on the map was some more high ground, known as Pine Woods to the residents.  This was a fine growth of cedars, large pines some fifty feet high, also wild cherry and a fine growth of oak timber located where Douglass and Monmouth Avenues are now.

          Number 5 on the map was the Government House Creek which was filled in from Coolidge to Washington Avenues in 1907-1908, when a dredge worked those two years filling in all the low ground between the two said streets from the thorofare to Pacific Ave.  The ground between the present location of Winchester Ave. and Ventnor Ave. was low salt meadows with very muddy salt ponds.  Before at high tide the water would go as high as 6 feet deep.
         The meadows were not all low and muddy.  Some higher ground had good salt grass which made the best salt hay.  The residents used the salt hay for their horses.

         Number 6 on the map was the old Cedar Grove Creek.  It was filled in from Mansfield to Union Ave. at the time when the Margate Park Land Company dredged in all the low ground from the two said streets from the thorofare to Atlantic Ave. in 1907 and 1908.

         Number 7 on the map is Pacific Ave. which was a gravel road with two by eight feet hemlock curbing and the sidewalks had a thick growth of grass on them.  George Lenning's summer house was the only house on it.  The house is still there at 8707 Pacific Ave.  Mr. Lenning's daughter-in-law Mrs. John Lenning, age 87, still lives there too.

         Number 8 on the map was Atlantic Ave. now Ventnor Ave.  It was filled in, graveled, and curbed on a date later than 1898.

         Number 9 on the map is Washington Ave.  The Broadway of old South Atlantic, the only street that was filled, curbed, and graveled from the railroad back to the thorofare. In the summer months James Rider ran a one horse bus on Washington Ave.  The fare was five cents for a ride back to the thoroughfare or up to the railroad.  Atlantic Ave. was not built yet.

         In 1892 a trolly system extended southward down AbseconIsland through VentnorCity, Margate,  and Longport.  The line was double tracked.

         The riders on the trolley cars to South Atlantic City and Longport complained because of the stench created when clams washed up next to the tracks and died.  The visitors used to take the trolley's down to watch the seagulls feast on the shell fish.  The city authorities had the clams removed by the wagon loads.

          On May 3, 1909 South Atlantic City became MargateCity.  The new name was fashioned after the famous english resort of Margate, England.  At the time Josiah Norcross was mayor of MargateCity and he believed that this area would become a well known resort and residential area.  The land companies felt that more people would move into this region by using such a famous name as MargateCity

            In 1919 the region from Brunswick Ave. to Kenyon Ave. north of Ventnor Ave. was known as the Pine Woods of Savannah Avenue Woods.  There were two houses in those woods occupied by squatters.  One was occupied by a man with a wooden leg.  He was called Peg Leg.  I can remember my mother telling me about him.  She told me that the kids were afraid of him.  The other house was occupied by a man and his sick wife.  They had some chickens and a small garden from which they made their living.  His house stood around where GranvilleAve.School is located.

        Another project, Winchester Gardens had only eleven houses in 1924.  Many many developments have taken place since these early days of Margate.

             In 1929 Atlantic City politicians asked MargateCity if the city wished to become a part of Atlantic CityMargateCity politely refused.

             In 1937 the War Memorial at Mansfield and Ventnor Avenues was dedicated.  This was made possible by the subscriptions of the school children, residents and friends of MargateCity.

             On June 25, 1938 the Margate Theater opened.  It is a wetland theater and shows first run features.

Mayors of Margate are as follows:

1      1886 to 1891 James A. Rider

2      1891 to 1896 Patrick J. Gilligan

3      1897 to 1904 Charles Boggs

4      1904 to 1908 Henry F. Gertzen

5      1908 to 1909 Harry F. West

6      1909 to 1911 Albert M. Freas

7      1911 to 1915 Josiah Norcross

8      1915 to 1919 Henry Gertzen

9      1919 to 1923 Josiah Norcross

10    1923 to 1931 John W. Risley

11    1931 to 1935 Walter S. Jeffires

12    1935 to 1939 Earl E. Jeffires 

13    1939 to 1943 John Spaulding

14    1943 to 1945 Lewis P. Scott

15    1945 to 1963 Eugene Tighe

16    1963 to 1975 Martin Bloom

18    2002-2007 Vaughn Reale

19    2007 Present Michael Becker

 

 

First Fire Dep't.  was started in 1903.
First Fire House was at Washington and Ventnor Avenues.  1912.
 
First School 1891 at Coolidge and Atlantic Aves.
First Teacher Miss Minnie Baldwon.
First Police Dep't. 1905 Washington and Ventnor Avenues.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

A History of South Atlantic City and the Early Days of