History Of Atlantic Highlands
The Borough of Atlantic Highlands, once known as Portland Pointe, was originally part of Middletown Township. During the late 1800’s, the pleasant climate together wit the rolling hills bordering on the Raritan Bay appealed to a number of investors.
In 1879, a surveyor was engaged to lay our roads and lots for a permanent community. The Atlantic Highlands Association was formed by prominent members of the Methodist Church. This organization developed the community of Atlantic Highlands.
Individuals and groups came from New York City and the surrounding vicinity to camp along the water in tent colonies. An outdoor amphitheater was created with a large seating capacity and outstanding acoustics. An indoor auditorium was built, which was utilized for entertaining visitors at the camp meetings. In 1887, Atlantic Highlands was incorporated as a Borough, containing 1.2 square miles of prime real estate bordering on the Raritan Bay.
The major construction occurred from the 1880’s trough 1900. It included hotels, cottages, rooming houses, and private homes. A substantial pier was built extending well into the bay to accommodate steamboats from New York City The next twenty years saw rapid development within the community A water and sewer system was constructed, cottages were erected, and the road system was completed. During this period of development a strong and effective fire department was organized, which is today a well-respected organization within the Borough.
A number of churches saw their beginning in the 1880’s: the Central Baptist, First Presbyterian, Saint Agnes Roman Catholic, First Methodist, and Saint Paul’s Baptist Church.
Steamer service was a major source of transportation during the formation of the Borough, through the 1940’s. The Central Railroad of New Jersey built a major pier at the end of First Avenue. Several trains at a time could continue to the end of’ the pier to off load steamboat passengers. From the teens through the forties, the steamers “Sandy Hook” and the “Monmouth” navigated the waters bringing businessmen and vacationers to Atlantic Highlands.
In the 1890’s, rail service came to Atlantic Highlands. This opened up Highlands and points south to vacationers. The 1920’s saw twenty-six passenger trains daily passing through the Borough.
Some of the names that played a major part in the development of Atlantic Highlands were: Thomas Henry Leonard (businessman developer, first mayor), E.G. Martin (builder), Nimrod Woodward (master mason, builder of the Stone Bridge), George F Laurie (businessman), and Rev. James E. Lake (Pastor of Atlantic Highlands First Methodist Church, promoter of Atlantic Highlands).
Many famous people lived in Atlantic Highlands or were associated with the Borough. Simon Lake, considered by some to be the father of the submarine, tested his craft the ‘Argonaut Jr.” in Atlantic Highlands. The New York Herald reported the testing in the January 8, 1895 issue. In the 1890’s, Charles Payne Sears, a prominent watercolor artist, resided in the Borough. His works were exhibited in the national portrait gallery in Washington D.C. Corwin Knapp Linson, an artist and illustrator also resided in the borough from the twenties through the fifties. The scene at the baptismal within the Central Baptist Church is a Linson rendering. And, anyone who bought the Sunday Daily News in the forties and fifties recalls a full page of cartoons in the comic section created for many years by resident artist, Reamer Keller.
The creation of our municipal harbor took place from 1938 through 1940. This harbor was built with municipal, state, and federal funds; the Atlantic Highland’s Lions Club supplied the vision and determination. Today, the municipal harbor is the largest on the East Coast, home to 715 craft including high-speed ferry service to New York City In 1962, the existing Central Railroad of New Jersey pier was destroyed by fire. In 1992 high-speed ferry service was introduced into our Borough. Today, eleven runs a day leave Atlantic Highlands for the “city.”
It is interesting to note the names that appear in the directories of the 1890’s. These same names populate the Borough and run businesses m the community today. The bungalows on the East Side of the Borough, which in the twenties were summer bungalows, are now year- round homes. The Victorian homes remain a reminder of our glorious past. The waterfront is alive with activity as it was in the 1890’s, welcoming the recreational boater.
Today Portland Pointe, a five-story senior citizen building, provides housing for our elderly. The business community just as at the turn of the century provides for our town and the visitor as well. An array of great restaurants, unique shops, theaters (from a great 5- screen movie house to live theater), provides the residents and the visitor with a reason to spend dine in our unique community A little bit of Victorian America tucked away at the Jersey Shore, Atlantic Highlands is truly the Jewel of the Bayshore.