atlantic city -- america's first boardwalk -- 9/13/19

Today's selection -- from The Amusement Park by Stephen M. Silverman. In the late 1800s, Atlantic City became the nation's playground, with the country's first boardwalk, first amusement piers, and a melting pot of Germans, Irish and Italians and more:

"Atlantic City's Boardwalk ... 'became a stage,' said James Lilliefors, who made a study of America's boardwalks, 'a place where people could see and be seen.' Furthermore, unlike the restricted resorts of New Jersey's Cape May and Stone Harbor, on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, 'everyone was equal,' said another assessment. 'Factory owners rubbed elbows with carpenters, blue-eyed Germans mixed with olive-skinned Italians, and Irish walked next to Jews.'

"The melting pot did not congeal overnight. Originally called Absecon Island, from the native absegami, meaning 'little water,' the marshlands served as the summer home to the Lenape, along with mosquitos and blacksnakes. Thoughts of exploiting the healthful benefits of its coastal air and water did not take hold until the late 1840s, when Jonathan Pitney, a doctor of medicine, partnered with Rich­ard Osborne, a civil engineer from Philadelphia, to sell Absecon as the 'National Resort.' Keeping with the theme, the streets were named for states and the town was rechristened Atlantic City.

"On July 1, 1854, the first train carrying passengers left Camden, New Jersey, at nine thirty in the morning and arrived in Atlantic City at noon. Hotels, boarding­houses, bathhouses, and saloons quickly sprung up, less because of salt water and sea air, and more because Atlantic City, unlike Philadelphia sixty-two miles and formerly a twelve-hour stagecoach ride away, served alcohol on Sundays.

"Foot traffic grew so thick that the Boardwalk was born of necessity, to address the problems of pedestrian logjams and inescapable sand. Sticking to shoes, the grit spread its damage everywhere, driving an exasperated Alexander Boardman, a conductor on the Camden & Atlantic Railroad, whose seats and floors were coated in the stuff, to take his case to the owners of similarly afflicted hotels.


"The upshot was the May 9, 1870, approval by the city council to build a $5,000 protective path of yellow pine planks above the sands.

"Atlantic City's first Boardwalk -- for the record, the first boardwalk in the United States -- opened June 26, 1870. Two years later, an appropriately named inventor from Bridgeport, Connecticut, Isaac Newton Forrester, came to town with his vertical Epicycloidal Diversion, a rotary swing on a circular platform that hoisted sixty-four passengers thirty feet above the beach before returning them to earth. (George Ferriss' much-larger wheel would employ the same principle over Lake Michigan twenty-one years later.)
"Suddenly, Atlantic City was in the amusement business. In 1880, Gustav Dentzel, a Philadelphia cabinetmaker originally from Germany, established his own ride near the Boardwalk, a hand-carved carousel.

"What came next was something that had already been done on the Isle of Wight as early as 1814, conversion of utilitarian boat docking wharves into a series of amuse­ment piers attached to the Boardwalk. By 1913, Atlantic City claimed seven such piers, the first in 1882, when entrepreneur George Howard's self-titled pier and music pavilion began jutting out from Kentucky Avenue. The notion caught on, and within a few years, America's coasts had forty-two amusement piers."



Stephen M. Silverman


The Amusement Park


Black Dog & Leventhal


Copyright 2019 by Stephen M. Silverman


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