A BRIEF HISTORY OF BRADLEY
By Shirley Ayres, Borough Historian
Bradley Beach is a beach resort town
with a year round population of about 5,000 people and over
25,000 summer visitors and residents. It is located south of
Ocean Grove and north of Avon, and is separated from both towns
After the American Civil War ended in
1865, the religious retreat was founded in Ocean Grove.
Methodists from New York and northern New Jersey were drawn to
Ocean Grove and spent summers enjoying the cool ocean breezes,
far from the hot cities of home. Two of the visitors were James
A. Bradley, a wealthy Manhattan brush manufacturer, and William
B. Bradner, another wealthy business man from Newark. Both men
saw the potential in ocean front property that lay south of
Ocean Grove across Fletcher Lake. The land was mostly pine
forests and sand dunes, but both Bradley and Bradner bought many
acres of land in what would become Bradley Beach. James Bradley
explored north of Ocean Grove and started buying property in
what would become Asbury Park. In the 1870s, only Ocean Grove
was starting to develop. The two business men laid out building
lots and designed future streets because they both knew that
this property would become popular with summer visitors, but
they thought it would be a religious retreat like Ocean Grove.
At the turn of the twentieth century,
the railroads were bringing summer visitors to Bradley Beach
because business people were building hotels to receive guests.
There were several large hotels that would send carriages to the
train station to pick up their guests. Businesses were starting
to flourish and trolleys were running up and down Main Street,
from Long Branch south to Belmar. Some visitors were buying
houses in which to spend the summer months. Single family
houses were being built at a rapid rate. James Bradley donated
some of his property for the Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal
churches as well as for the school and library.
The biggest and most elegant hotel
was the LaReine Hotel on Ocean Avenue. It was built in 1900,
had 100 rooms, and was well known as one of the finest hotels in
the area. Each room had an ocean view. There were two
kitchens, one to serve kosher foods and the other served all the
rest of the meals. When kosher food is prepared, all cutlery
and dinnerware, pots and pans, and serving dishes must be used
only for kosher food. The refrigerators, stoves, ovens and
counter work spaces must be separated from other food
preparation to be considered kosher.
In April 1974, the beautiful LaReine
Hotel burned to the ground in an early morning fire. It was
never rebuilt and today, several townhouses stand in its place.
The first public school classes were
held above a Main Street store. In 1883, a small wooden
structure was built on the east side of Main Street between
Evergreen and Monmouth Avenues. A newer school was built in
1886 on Fifth Avenue. The present school was built in 1911 and
was considered totally fireproof and was the state of the art
school in Monmouth County. In 1927, a large gymnasium was built
and over it, in 1960, a new wing of the school was added.
In the summer of 1929, Bradley Beach
was the first town in New Jersey and in the entire United States
to issue beach badges. They were metal and had the year
engraved on each one. The badges were issued free to residents
and guests of the hotels. Others, wanting to use the public
beaches, were charged a fee for a bath house. That was the only
way outsiders were allowed on the beach. Today, everyone pays
to get on the beach.
To honor the two hundredth anniversary
of the United States, Ross Rowland, Jr., a New York commodities
broker and railroad steam engineer, had the idea to help
celebrate the Bicentennial with a traveling exhibition of
artifacts from two hundred years of American history. The
result was the steam powered American Freedom Train, filled with
over five hundred treasures of Americana. The twenty-five car
train carried such artifacts as George Washington’s copy of the
Constitution, the original Louisiana Purchase, Judy Garland’s
dress from “The Wizard of Oz”, Joe Frazier’s boxing trunks,
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s pulpit and robes, and a rock from the
moon. From April 1, 1975 until December 31, 1976, more than
seven million Americans visited the train during the tour of all
forty eight contiguous states. Tens of millions more stood
trackside to see the train go by. On Labor Day weekend, 1976,
the train, whose cars were painted red, white and blue, was
parked at the Bradley Beach/Neptune siding. There was always a
line to get in to see the pieces of our American history.
Inside the train, visitors stood on a moving walkway that took
them past the cases of memorabilia. At the Freedom Train site,
the Bradley Beach post office had a substation made out of a
mail truck with an awning over the back door of the truck. Two
postal employees sat in the back of the truck, selling special
stamps and cancelling letters with a Freedom Train postmark.
The coastal towns of Monmouth County
have suffered a lot of property damage over the years to
hurricanes in the summer and northeastern storms in the winter.
The last really bad northeastern storm was in December, 1992
when most of the boardwalk from Long Branch to Spring Lake was
torn up and scattered throughout the towns like so much kindling
wood. In 1993, before the start of the summer season, Bradley
Beach replaced its boardwalk with paving tiles. Flower beds
were planted and professional bocce courts and gazebos were
installed, making Bradley Beach’s beachfront enjoyable and
pleasing to the eye. We are very proud of our beautiful town.