Bay Head Borough
Bayhead Borough Hall is located at 81 Bridge Avenue, Bay Head, NJ 08742; phone: 732-892-0574.
Prior to its development as a summer resort, Bay Head was home to a few hardy settlers and the Bay Head Life Saving Station built in 1854. The landscape consisted of meadows and marshes rising to the high rolling dunes lining the coastline. Between the beach and the bay lay acres of bayberry, plum bushes, heathers and wildflowers. There were only three houses in the area: one belonging to Captain Elijah Chadwick, another belonging to the family of John E. Johnson, and the third, a utilitarian building belonging to the railroad.
In its origins, Bay Head was more modest and more provincial than many other shore developments, such as those found in Monmouth County, Cape May, Atlantic City or Beach Haven. The sumptuous appointments, palatial hotels and impressive architecture of Long Branch or Atlantic City were not characteristic of Bay Head. Rather it was a quiet community founded by real estate developers where hotels and boarding houses were present, but where private summer residences filled the larger portions of the newly laid out street grids. The town reflected the early-twentieth-century idea that it was more fashionable to have your own private vacation home to display your wealth than to stay in an immense hotel, the social hallmark of the late nineteenth century. Turn-of-the-century prosperity and an increasing amount of available leisure time to the more prosperous classes made the building of entire towns for vacationers both possible and profitable for land speculators.
As laid out by its founders, it is a compact town with small lots, most with 50-foot frontages, although those along the ocean are somewhat larger. These small lot sizes meant that most buildings were erected fairly closely to each other, with minimal setbacks at the sides and front. Private space was reserved for porches and small back yards. The result, for example on the west side of East Avenue, is a tight, almost urban streetscape. Purchasers of these lots rarely patronized prominent architects from the big cities, but rather depended on local builders, working in simplified versions of various styles. The result is a conservatism that makes it somewhat difficult to date Bay Head's buildings. This conservatism caused its builders and their patrons to continue to utilize styles that were somewhat out of date when the buildings were erected. This conservatism may also have been responsible for Bay Head's survival in something close to its original form. Long after the more affluent people who first populated resorts such as Monmouth Beach or Beach Haven deserted them for more fashionable locations further afield, Bay Head families continued to remain in the community, changing, but also maintaining their summer cottages.
One of the earliest families in Bay Head was that of Julius Foster. Foster was hired by the Bayhead Land Company as their agent in 1881, and became mayor of the newly incorporated borough in 1886. Wyckoff Applegate, a local builder, came to Bay Head to build the Bellevue Hotel, and stayed to build many of the town's residences. (The Bellevue Hotel no longer exists. It is not known if any residences built by Applegate still exist.) New York physician Dr. William H. Katzenbach and Rev. Samuel M. Studdiford of Trenton took active roles in the well being of the first residents, both physical and moral. Dr. Katzenbach was known for his advice to anxious parents concerning their children's summer ailments: the three "Cs", too much cantaloupe, too much corn and too much cold water. The Rev. Studdiford led large crowds in spirited sessions of hymn singing in the town's earliest church services, held in the bathing pavilion at the end of Bridge Avenue. Dr. Andrew Douglas Hall of Philadelphia and Henry Lee Norris of Princeton also occupied oceanfront cottages. The four southernmost beachfront cottages were owned by the three founders and their close friend Professor Karge, the famous New Jersey cavalryman who taught Continental Languages and Literature at the College of New Jersey in Princeton (today's Princeton University). Another Princeton professor, Dr. Henry Cameron, who taught Greek Language and Literature, also became a summer resident. And of course, the Johnson and Chadwick families lived at Bay Head year round, both families involved in sailing, boat building, and guiding fishing expeditions.