In Another Time > With people came roads, and roads brought more people

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It was not easy in those early times to discover a new community and settle there, as the passengers on the Mayflower were to learn when they disembarked , or much later when American adventurers traveled westward in covered wagons or on horseback in their quests for gold and other opportunities.

Neither was it a smooth journey when the path makers from Philadelphia and Vineland and points even beyond that traveled east, contrary to Horace Greeley’s advice for all young men to go west. They were to find a land and an ocean they praised in descriptions, but which hardly suited their concept of year-round or vacation living. Not like the Lenni Lenape Indians, who populated the county far earlier.

Their discoveries were to be named Holly Beach and Wildwood. One of their big problems was how to get to the island quickly. There were trains then, but at times they ran irregularly and occasionally off the tracks and the passengers, including the women dressed in their seashore finery long before they wore leg baring shorts, had to get off the train and help push it from the muddy terrain back onto the tracks.

To get to Holly Beach, as an early visitor described in 1884, one took a train to Rio Grande, crossed the meadows in a wagon on a road built for loggers, then crossed the inlet in a sailboat and walked the remaining distance on an Indian trail through the woods. Another pioneer, hearing of the potential of the Wildwoods for family living, took a longer route for his wife and children, riding from Philadelphia to Cape May Court House on a train, then by wagon and boat to the new borough of Anglesea in the northern section of the island. The balance of the trip to Holly Beach some five miles away was on foot, either along the beach if the tide cooperated or on the trail the Indians had cut before them.

As taxing as the journeys were for the trailblazers, many were impressed by what they beheld at their destination.

“Until I saw it (Wildwood) I did not know such a variety of trees, vines, climbing shrubs and wild flowers so intimately grouped together could be found in our whole land,” enthused the visiting Dr. Charles eahHaesler.

A writer wrote glowingly of the area’s holly bush after which Holly Beach was named: “The English holly is a shrub, but the American holly growing at Holly Beach, like the country and its people, has aspired higher, has grown and expanded till it still stands a tree of magnificent proportions.”

The Rev. J. Francis Peak wrote his description of how Wildwood looked in 1890, five years before it became an official borough.

“A summer visitor coming to Wildwood in 1890 stepped off a train at a station that stood in the midst of a beautiful forest”, he said “He (the visitor) found a borough of only four streets—Cedar, Oak, Wildwood and Pine. If he asked where he might attend church on Sunday, he would quickly discover that Wildwood has no church.”

But soon, as a church was built and opened by the Baptists in 1892, there came the realization that old Indian trails and circuitous routes would not enhance the popularity of the island, its beauty notwithstanding.

So, not without some controversy, a bridge was built across the inland waterway on Rio Grande Avenue and it opened on March 19, 1903. It came to pass after much negotiation in 1902 with Joseph Taylor, owner of needed property to be acquired on what was still then Holly Beach. The tender of the draw bridge was to be paid $20 each by the boroughs of Holly Beach, Wildwood and Anglesea.

There was much to be done, however, to bring everything up to date in the Wildwoods. Rio Grande Avenue was still a dirt road, but in the late summer of 1903 it was finally graded, as well as part of Arctic Avenue. At a cost of 25 cents a yard plus 15 cents an hour for the worker, the gravel was hauled and spread and then it was covered with salt hay, a hay like grass that grows to as much as two feet high in marshes, for which the borough paid $4.95 a ton.

Earlier in June, the first trolley car ran from Anglesea to Rio Grande Avenue. The Five Mile Beach Railway laid tracks on Rio Grande Avenue to the new bridge and some homeowners in the area of Rio Grande and Pacific Avenues complained of the noise the creaking wheels made when the trolleys turned the corner.

All this was taking place in 1903, amidst a scenario in Trenton to merge Holly Beach, Wildwood and Anglesea into one municipality. Holly Beach opposed the idea vociferously and it did not happen then. Ironically another attempt was made nine years later and this time Holly Beach supported the move while the former Anglesea, then renamed North Wildwood, and the new Wildwood Crest rejected it

Then as now, however, it was Pacific Avenue that was to be the centerpiece of Wildwood, albeit not always amicably.

It began in 1906 when an ordinance was enacted by what was still Holly Beach for the paving of Pacific Avenue. Unlike previous work on Rio Grande Avenue, this was to be the first hard paved street on Five Mile Beach. The contractor was the firm of James McLinden who later became mayor of North Wildwood from 1915 to 1922.

But who was to pay for the construction? That was the question. The original plan was to assess property owners along the route, but some freeholders and the owners protested in a petition, signed by 34 of them. They argued that Pacific Avenue was a public highway and “the only avenue all traffic through this island finds its way”

“This traffic is for the use and benefit, not of the property owners alone, but for the use and benefit of all the residents of Holly Beach, for the trolley cars, for ice, bread, milk produce wagons from off shore and express wagons,” the protesters argued.

They pointed out too that the public was charged through taxation the cost of the recently completed “magnificent Boardwalk,” so why should it be any different with Pacific Avenue?

All were not in agreement, however, especially some freeholders who owned property off Pacific Avenue. They countered that they should not be assessed for benefits gained by those with establishments on Pacific Avenue. On the horns of a political dilemma, Mayor Frank E. Smith tossed the ball to a committee of councilmen, businessmen and private citizens to resolve the problem.

It was finally to be resolved with the property owners on Pacific Avenue paying $10,408 of the total cost of $37,624 and the balance coming from the taxpayers. The assessments ranged from $35.22 to $281.85 depending upon frontage.

(Some of the information in this article was researched in George F. Boyer’s book, “Wildwood, Middle of the Island.”)


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