In Another Time > Old names still have resonance in Wildwoods

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 It is an irony in the long history of Five Mile Beach that today’s centerpiece municipality was nameless and virtually non-existent at the beginning, and the then-prominent communities no longer exist except in memory.

The early trailblazers as official municipalities in 1885 were Holly Beach at the southern end of the island and Anglesea in the north. It was not for another 10 years that Wildwood was to join them as an incorporated borough. Holly Beach was to lose its identity 27 years after its founding when it became part of Wildwood and Anglesea 21 years after it was official when it changed its name to North Wildwood.

The territory to be known as Holly Beach had been discovered three years earlier in 1882 by a developer named John Burk, after whom a street has since been named in Wildwood. Burk and some of his affluent associates founded what they called the Holly Beach Improvement Company and started developing and selling large tracts of land. The lure of the ocean and the beach and the prospect of healthier living there stimulated sales to the extent that Holly Beach was officially incorporated as a borough in April of 1885. Its first mayor, among five, was Franklin J. Van Valin who later was killed when he was struck by a train

Holly Beach’s name came from the holly bushes that were growing throughout the land. One of its early industries, in addition to real estate and tourism, was harvesting and shipping holly boughs to Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, as Holly Beach was beginning in the south, Anglesea was doing the same in the northern section of the island, albeit with a different scenario. In its early stages the yet unofficial community was a village for fishermen and the site of a historic lighthouse that is still a centerpiece today. Soon, however, as early as 1872, the developers went to work on the island, perhaps not with as much foresight as those in Holly Beach. One of them was Humphrey “Hump” Cresse, a mainlander who is said to have been among many Mayflower descendants who lived in the county.

Perhaps naively and unappreciative of the future, Cresse and his wife sold one and a half acres on the island to the United States government for $150 on July 7, 1873. That site was to be used for a lighthouse.

Six years later, in 1879 a new developer emerged in Anglesea history. His name was Frederick E. Swope, a real estate and railroad entrepreneur from Philadelphia.

He acquired land from Cresse, formed the Five Mile Beach Development Company and started a railroad that made its way to Anglesea. Not so coincidentally he, with the help of 45 employees, also cleared the cluttered land for lots and built houses for the tourists and the permanent residents he hoped to woo.

On June 3, 1885, two months after Holly Beach became official via incorporation, Anglesea was to follow suit. Its first of six mayors to hold office was Dr. William A. Tompkins who came to the island to improve his health, but died during the first year of his term.

The new borough was to be called Anglesea, the origin of the name subject to contradictions. Some claimed it derived from a small village in Wales. Another argued that it was so named “because the land lies at an angle to the sea.”’ Still another contended “it is because they angle for fish there.”

Whatever its origin, Anglesea, originally called the “youthful queen of seashore resorts,” was to retain its name until 1906 when the town fathers decided to change it to North Wildwood, apparently wanting to benefit from the success of its 11-year-old neighbor Wildwood.

Perhaps encouraged by the success of the already-established Holly Beach and Anglesea, the Baker brothers entered the picture in 1883 but didn’t get around to starting an official borough until 12 years later in 1895. They first called their development Florida City, but then changed it to Wildwood in the absence of palm trees and the presence of wild growth throughout their purchased and to- be-developed land.

Once the word got out about this island at the ocean, the people started coming but they were advised to come prepared. Bring opera or spy glasses to view the wonders of the ocean, they were urged. And certainly include medications for constipation or diarrhea and hats to protect themselves from the sun and especially bring strong rope which they might have to use if their hotel caught on fire!olly B eacolly  each

It soon became apparent, however, that Wildwood was growing to become the dominant vacation resort on the island. Even before it was incorporated it was being billed as ‘a new and attractive seashore resort” and in 1890 it made history when President Benjamin Harrison showed up to dedicate the new and imposing Hotel Dayton.

Eventually, in 1912, Holly Beach gave up its identity when it decided to become part of Wildwood. North Wildwood, then a borough and to become a city five years later, and the new Wildwood Crest, opted to stay as separate communities.

The result, though, was that, except for a southern section which is still part of a rambling Lower Township, the four municipalities on Five Mile Beach have Wildwood in their names.

Wildwood Crest was incorporated on April 6, 1910. The Crest in its name, so history claims, stands for the fact that while it is not exactly the Alps, the borough stands highest of all the communities on the island. Some will claim that applies not only to height but to prestige too. The last to appear officially is West Wildwood, incorporated in 1920.

Although they no longer exist as municipalities, there are still reminders of Holly Beach and Anglesea on the island. The Holly Beach Fire Company is located, perhaps symbolically, across the street from the Wildwood City Hall. In North Wildwood there is an Anglesea fire company and people there still talk about residing in the Anglesea section.

As is the case today, many from Philadelphia came to the Wildwoods for their vacations or to settle there. Philadelphia, of course, has an interesting history but how many know the origin of its name? It comes from the Greek words Phila (love) and Delphia (brother) and from them have emerged the City of Brotherly Love, as which Philadelphia is often described. William Penn, who emphasized religious tolerance in his years there, is credited with having applied the words to the city.

(Some of the information in this article was researched in the book, “Wildwood By The Sea,” by David W. and Diane DeMali Francis and Robert J. Scully Sr.)


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