Getting To Know Asbury, NJ: A Brief History

by newjerseyshores | Apr 24, 2023

Let’s take a look back in time and explore the fascinating history of Asbury Park. This remarkable city has been around for many years and has experienced both good times and bad, but it has always managed to retain its unique character and charm. From its humble beginnings as a quiet fishing village to becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations on the east coast, Asbury Park has come a long way.

asbury park new jersey history and statue

Throughout its history, this coastal city has had an influence on politics, music, fashion, culture, art, and entertainment – making it a truly special place that continues to draw crowds from all over the world.

Asbury Park was established by James A. Bradley, a broom maker from New York City, in 1871 and has since been recognized as a forward-thinking city, precisely the aspiration of its originator.

Bradley, a devout adherent to the Methodism faith, decided to take a pilgrimage down south to visit a summer camp meeting in Ocean Grove. During this trip, Bradley’s ambitions were set alight; he yearned for something more and so chose to purchase roughly 500 acres of oceanfront property north of his current location. This venture would eventually result in the formation of Asbury Park.

Bradley shelled out a whopping $90,000 for the property in 1871 and named it after Francis Asbury, the renowned first bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. With this move, Bradley paid tribute to Asbury’s pioneering work within the denomination and demonstrated his religious devotion.

From the outset, Bradley implemented progressive and creative plans for Asbury Park, such as constructing a boardwalk featuring pavilions, installing electrical systems, installing trolley lines, and digging an artesian well. His forward-thinking concepts made possible a transformation of the area into a desirable destination.

Other implementations of the city plan included wide, tree-lined streets, lush parks with plenty of public spaces for gathering, beautiful churches to provide spiritual guidance, and a bustling business district right at the oceanfront’s edge. This carefully crafted design allowed citizens to enjoy all that their town had to offer in terms of convenience and recreation.

Each year in the early years of Asbury Park, more than six hundred thousand people visited as tourists. During this period, from the later part of the Victorian era until the 1960s, the city saw a surge in growth and prosperity. It became a popular destination for travelers who were looking to experience all that this bustling coastal town had to offer.

Tillie, The Iconic Symbol Of Asbury Park

In 1880, George C. Tilyou, the celebrated Coney Island impresario, opened up his much-loved steeplechase amusements on Ocean Avenue and introduced his iconic smiling face of “Tillie” to Asbury Park. His presence brought a new level of excitement and joy to this seaside resort town.

The historic carousel house in asbury park, new jersey

He was renowned for creating a unique experience that combined interactive entertainment with an array of lighthearted activities and attractions. With the arrival of Tillie, people from all walks of life were drawn together to share in the fun and merriment he provided.

In 1888, the magical Palace Merry-Go-Round was placed at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Kingsley Street, and shortly afterward, an array of other exciting amusements and attractions were established in close proximity. The area quickly became a popular destination for local citizens looking to have some fun on weekends or days off.

The Convention Hall And Casino

In 1929, the grand opening of the Convention Hall and Casino marked a significant moment in the city’s history. This iconic building brought an influx of culture and commerce to the area, transforming it into a vibrant destination for tourists and locals alike. It had luxurious stores to explore and cinemas, theaters, and live music venues showcasing performances from renowned artists worldwide. As a result of this new development, the city became an exciting place to shop and enjoy the entertainment.

Asbury Musical Heritage

From the formative days of Arthur Pryor and John Philip Sousa through the golden age of the big band and jazz music, Asbury Park has an illustrious history regarding musical heritage. Notable contemporary musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Southside Johnny have all performed in this city at some point in their careers. Asbury Park is a vibrant center for music that continues to bring joy and entertainment to people from around the world.

Clubs on the city’s Westside along Springwood Avenue were popular hangouts for many jazz and blues legends, such as Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton. People from far and wide would flock to these establishments to experience the music created by American cultural icons. The energy and atmosphere inside were electric, as people eagerly anticipated performances from their favorite musicians. Unsurprisingly, so many famous names frequented these clubs; they provided a unique setting where they could express themselves musically and freely.

Asbury Park Finds Favor Again Among Tourists

Over the years, Asbury Park has been an exceptionally popular tourist destination, attracting millions of people worldwide. It is especially renowned for its music scene, drawing countless live entertainment lovers to revel in its vibrant atmosphere.

For decades it has been a hub for musical creativity and exploration, offering something special for everyone who visits. However, with the emergence of the Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, Garden State Parkway, and multiple large shopping malls located nearby, Asbury Park sadly experienced a sharp decline in popularity as tourists, businesses, and shoppers became drawn away from the city. This period of hardship lasted from approximately 1970 to the arrival of the new millennium.

Today, due to the combined efforts of longtime residents, newcomers, and organizations such as the Asbury Park Historical Society, the city is experiencing a resurgence. From its revitalized boardwalk to the newly energized downtown and residential areas, Asbury Park has quickly become a sought-after location for those looking for an exciting place to be.