Photo: View from the intersection of Ocean and Spier Avenues. The Allenhurst Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register in 2010. Photographer and date unknown. Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS NJ-1005]. memory.loc.gov, accessed February, 2013.
The Allenhurst Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡] .
The Allenhurst Residential Historic District, located in the Borough of Allenhurst, is a late nineteenth century shore community which features well-preserved resort architecture that was speculatively designed and built to attract an upper middle class clientele. Allenhurst's development was influenced by the rise of business fortunes, the growth of an affluent middle class, the corresponding expanse of leisure time, and improved transportation. The Allenhurst Residential Historic District meets criterion for the National Register of Historic Places as a distinguishable entity with an excellent collection of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century high-style period revival homes, most with a high degree of integrity of setting, design, feeling, workmanship, and materials. The Allenhurst Residential Historic District's period of significance spans the years between 1895, when the Coast Land Improvement Company began developing lots, and 1930, when the region's trolleys discontinued service and building in the Borough slowed.
In 1665, the first European settlers arrived in present-day Monmouth County. Along the shorefront where soil-quality was poor, small-scale fishing supported the few that lived close to the beach. The Borough of Allenhurst occupies a portion of the land south of Long Branch that at least by the mid-nineteenth century was referred to as Deal Beach (today the municipalities of Allenhurst and Deal). One of the first settlers within Allenhurst was Abner Allen, who resided in the area since at least 1846. Allen and his family owned a 120-acre farm, located approximately 0.3 miles from the ocean, and the family utilized their farmhouse as a boarding house for vacationers along the shore. Gilbert M. Spier (namesake of Spier Avenue) of New York City also owned a 20-acre lot in the area that would later become Allenhurst.
On August 10, 1895, the 120-acre Allen farm was bought by the Coast Land Improvement Company, under the direction of President Edwin P. Benjamin and Vice-President James M. Ralston, of Asbury Park, in order to plan and build an exclusive resort community to attract "only the best class of refined summer residents." Benjamin immediately began making improvements to the property and dividing the land into lots. On August 31, 1895,120 lots, with an average size of 50 feet by 150 feet, were offered for sale at $500 each.
By 1896, tremendous progress had been made in the construction of both homes and amenities. Benjamin and Ralston, who both owned homes and operated a real estate agency within the development, hired George D. Morrow, from Trenton, to be the Superintendent of building operations. Within a year of the first residential lot purchases, 30 cottages were constructed, along with sidewalks, sewers, electric lights, and an artesian well system. The Company, which had its own architects, builders, and lumber yard, also financed the construction of a pavilion and bath houses at the end of Allen Avenue "in the hope that it would attract prospective homeowners." The Allenhurst Inn, formerly the Allen family boarding house, was also given several modern improvements. By 1896, the development first began to be referred to as Allenhurst (named after the Allen family). As noted in a May 11, 1896 article "It Is Now Allenhurst" in the Asbury Park Daily Press, "...the stretch of land beyond Deal lake, familiarly known as the Allen estate, was rechristened. The official name obtained by the operation is Allenhurst." During the summer season of 1896, the Asbury Park Daily Press boasted, "[T]oday [Allenhurst] stands forth as a place of summer residence and retreat unrivaled anywhere along the Atlantic coast."
The rapid development continued into 1897. This was due to the fact that "[a]s soon as the season of '96 ended, building operations were pursued with more vigor than before, while improvements to streets and sidewalks went on with astonishing rapidity." In 1897, Allenhurst contained 62 homes, ranging from $8,500 to $15,000 in price. The development of Allenhurst was so quick that it led to the borough being officially incorporated on April 26, 1897, with Benjamin, the director of the land company, serving as the first mayor. High demand for lots caused the Coast Land Improvement Company to purchase the Spier family tract in 1897. After the purchase, an additional 117 lots were surveyed and added to the community.
Allenhurst featured many attractions for its residents and visitors. Visitors could choose from several hotels. The Allenhurst Club replaced the Allenhurst Inn in 1903 after a fire destroyed it. The Hotel Curlew and The Dunes (located along the beachfront on opposite sides of the present-day Beach Club) were other popular hotels in Allenhurst. Those staying at the Hotel Curlew were in close proximity to entertainment venues, such as the salt-water pool and the casino along the beach. The Allenhurst Casino was designed by architect Ernest A. Arend, of Asbury Park, who designed several homes in Allenhurst. Alterations were made to the casino in the 1920s. In addition, a 1,250' esplanade, modeled after the one in Atlantic City, ran along the beachfront.
A significant factor in Allenhurst's development and growth was its proximity to a railroad line that connected it and other New Jersey resort towns with New York City. The development of Long Branch, located to the north of Allenhurst, as a prime beach resort after the Civil War was the impetus for the railroad construction. The New York & Long Branch Railroad was chartered on April 8, 1868. The goal of the New York & Long Branch Railroad (NY&LB) was to eliminate the Raritan and Delaware Bay Railroad's slow and inefficient steamboat service by offering a faster all-land route to and from New York City. The entire line, which ran from Perth Amboy to Bay Head Junction, began operation in 1875 and was completed in 1882. While Asbury Park had already been established before the railroad, new communities near it, including Bradley Beach, Avon-by-the-Sea (commonly called Avon), and Loch Arbour (just south of Allenhurst), took advantage of the new railroad access.
At different times, the New York & Long Branch Railroad was operated by both the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) and the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), beginning with the CNJ in 1873. The Pennsylvania Railroad wanted a way to reach southern New Jersey, and after threatening to build their own set of tracks alongside the New York & Long Branch Railroad, the CNJ proposed an agreement in 1882 that would allow joint operation of the line by the two larger companies. The agreement was to last 99 years and would lead to the double-tracking of the rail line.
The rapid growth of Allenhurst during the late nineteenth century led to the construction of a new station stop along the NY&LB in 1898. The railroad line and the new station stop allowed Allenhurst residents to travel from their principal residences in the New York metropolitan area to their seasonal cottages in a timely manner. The Coast Land Improvement Company promotional brochure from circa 1900 advertised that Allenhurst was "only forty-five miles from New York by rail, and is readily accessible by the trains of both the New Jersey Central and Pennsylvania Railroads."
In the early twentieth century, the CNJ and the PRR, which jointly ran the NY&LB after 1882, promoted the resorts along the northern New Jersey shore, including Allenhurst, through their own publications.
In 1930, the PRR identified Allenhurst as a place that "has been built up by those to whom a more crowded resort for summer residence does not appeal."
Another mode of transportation utilized by the Monmouth County shore communities was the electric railway. According to Harold F. Wilson's The Jersey Shore: A Social and Economic History of the Counties of Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth, and Ocean, "Monmouth County developed the most extensive trolley service of all the shore counties." By 1870, a horse-drawn trolley line was opened in Long Branch; the line was electrified in 1889. The Atlantic Coast Electric Railroad Company, established in 1895, extended the Long Branch line south through Allenhurst to Asbury Park; the electrified line was officially opened on July 27, 1895. The trolley route traveled from Asbury Park through Allenhurst along Main Street, traveling past the company's car barn on the corner of Main Street and Elberon Avenue, turning east on Elberon Avenue, and then turning north along Page Avenue towards Deal. Seeing this as a selling point, the Coast Land Improvement Company advertised, "The new electric Railroad to Elberon and Long Branch passing directly through the [Allen] estate makes it literally a part of Asbury Park."
Due to the large volume of passengers, much of the trolley line was double-tracked in 1904. The Atlantic Coast Electric Railroad Company was reorganized in 1905 as the Atlantic Coast Electric Railway. During its height of service, the tracks connected the communities of Long Branch, Elberon, Deal, Allenhurst, Asbury Park, Bradley Beach, Neptune City, Avon, Belmar, Spring Lake, Sea Girt, and Manasquan. In 1924, the East Jersey Power Company took over the trolley line and merged with the Coast Cities Railway. Trolley service through Allenhurst was discontinued in 1930.
Exclusive Monmouth County Resorts
Allenhurst was one of several neighboring shore towns specifically developed to attract wealthy guests and residents. Their exclusivity is reflected in the size and grandeur of their homes, many of which were high-style versions of late nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural styles. According to Allenhurst's promotional brochure written by the land company about 1900, Allenhurst "appeals only to the best class of our citizens, and it may be said at the outset that it is a resort of the most exclusive character, and it will be conducted on lines which will maintain the high standing which it has attained."
The promotional brochure also noted that the homes "are noted for the beauty of their architecture, which, taken in connection with the charming environment, makes an ideal city by the sea. Not every one can purchase lots or cottages at 'Allenhurst,' ...There is no question that many otherwise desirable resorts have been injured by selling lots to any one who came along and built flimsy cottages which soon became cheap boarding-houses." Allenhurst's high style homes in conjunction with the Coast Land Improvement Company's desire to keep it as an exclusive resort, attracted a great deal of wealthy businessman to reside in the area.
As early as 1896, it was said that, "It is astonishing to see the number of well-known people who already occupy cottages at Allenhurst..." Residents included James J. Belden, a former New York Congressman; Clarence W. Francis, a Deputy Attorney-General from New York; as well as judges, lawyers, and other prominent businessmen. These "men of wealth and position" came from New York City, Philadelphia, and cities in northern New Jersey, such as Newark and Elizabeth. Other prominent residents and guests included: Hubert T. Parsons, president of the F.W. Woolworth Company, who rented a home in Allenhurst; Frank E. Wright, President of Syndicate Publishing Company in Philadelphia, who visited Allenhurst each summer; the brother of President William McKinley, who resided at 24 Allen Avenue; John Augustus McCall, President of the New York Life Insurance Company; and George Pullman of Chicago's Pullman Sleeping Car Company.
Allenhurst was among other seashore resorts along the Monmouth County coast that developed as exclusive communities in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and that catered to wealthy vacationing and year-round residents with monthly parades, private beach and lake facilities, livery stables, and sporting amusements. Historian John T. Cunningham noted that as the popularity of Long Branch waned in the late nineteenth century, affluent residents moved to places such as Elberon, Allenhurst, and Deal in a "display of wealth [that] stretched from the lower end of Long Branch down through Loch Arbour." Much of this development could be attributed to "the construction of the shore railroads in the late 1860's and 1870's that catalyzed real estate promotion and the vacation trade along the coast. By the end of the 1880's the shorefront had become nearly a continuous line of resort communities." Between 1890 and 1910, many large homes were built in this part of Monmouth County.
Elberon, Deal, Loch Arbour, and Allenhurst all developed similarly. They were laid out by their land companies or subdividers in rectilinear grid patterns bounded on the east by the ocean and on the west by railroad tracks. The trolley line tracks were located further inland, running along Page Avenue in Allenhurst, Norwood Avenue in Deal, and paralleling the railroad tracks near Elberon. In addition, the communities each originally catered to an affluent clientele. The promotional literature for many of the new shore towns advertised, above all, "exclusivity and every modern improvement." For example, visitors of the Allenhurst Inn and those who wanted to purchase a home in Allenhurst first had to provide references.
Elberon, an unincorporated community in Long Branch, developed along the NY&LB as a summer resort for the wealthy. The town featured homes "built and conducted on a most elaborate scale" and very few hotel rooms, making it a private and exclusive area. Lewis H. Brown purchased the 100-acre village and created lots and streets in the 1870s. Elberon became known to some as "the most exclusive residential settlement on the coast."
The Borough of Deal, which borders Allenhurst to the north, developed similarly to Allenhurst. Residential development began when Theodore Darling purchased a tract in the area in the early 1890s. However, it was not until 1894 when the Atlantic Coast Realty Company purchased the land that enough funds were available to more fully develop the shore community. The wealthy businessmen of the company were then able to create "a resort for the privileged" in a strictly residential community that soon became "known for its palatial homes." Deal separated from Ocean Township and was formally incorporated in 1898.
Allenhurst and Deal were comparable in many ways, and sometimes little distinction was made between them. In 1900, the CNJ described the two small towns: "Allenhurst is a sister town of Deal, and their cottage colonies are so closely connected that it is impossible to distinguish the dividing line. As regards social life, they are practically one resort." Likewise, the PRR described Deal in 1930 as "a collection of handsome homes and hotels where many of the country's well-to-do spend the summer... One can hardly find the boundary line between Deal and Allenhurst, so closely do the many beautiful homes and hotels in one approach the other..." Allenhurst and Deal shared many attractions, including Deal Lake, country clubs, and a casino. Although Deal's lots and building sizes were generally larger than Allenhurst, the architecture of the two towns was similar. In Deal, some houses featured Tudor and Spanish-style architecture; other homes had "the appearance of miniature castles and mansions, many of them having porticos and colonnades." In addition, both towns featured little commercial activity.
Loch Arbour, immediately to the south of Allenhurst, was purchased by Edward Boyle, an earlier settler, circa 1865. When Boyle passed away with no heirs to take over his land, the tract was purchased by a Dr. Samuel Johnson. He, along with others, began planning the community in 1882, as the railroad was being completed. Loch Arbour grew as a neighborhood within Ocean Township, not becoming a separate municipality until 1957. In the 1920s, Loch Arbour was described as, "The borough (sic) [that] has many handsome residences, a large number of which are owned and occupied by business men of Asbury Park."
Of the 296 individual buildings within the Allenhurst Residential Historic District (including the 3 buildings within the Allenhurst Beach Club), the overwhelming majority of resources were designed in, or influenced by, some type of revival style popular at the turn of the twentieth century. This group includes Colonial Revival, (including Dutch Colonial Revival) (79), Mission (16), Tudor Revival (7), Classical Revival (5), Italian Renaissance (5), and Late Gothic Revival (1). There are also houses designed in non-revival styles such as Queen Anne (39), Prairie (17), Shingle (16) or Craftsman (13); some buildings are mixtures of two or more styles, with the predominant style being "influenced" by the other (41).
In its early years, the Coast Land Improvement Company provided plans, supervised construction, and purchased wholesale materials for housing in Allenhurst. The company hired architect George D. Morrow of Trenton to help construct some of the first cottages. However, many residents of Allenhurst utilized outside architects to design and modify their homes between 1896 and 1930. Local architects from nearby Asbury Park were more often retained than any others, but some residents also hired architects from New York City.
Asbury Park architects included Ernest A. Arend, who also worked out of Red Bank and New York City at various times. He was hired by several Allenhurst residents to both design new structures and modify others. Arend, formerly of Brouse & Arend of Trenton and Asbury Park, was noted for his use of the Italian Renaissance style and, even more so, the Colonial Revival style. Arend entered into at least 12 building contracts in Allenhurst, including a contract to make alterations to the Beach Casino. This fact, and the involvement of other architects, is known chiefly due to the remarkable collection of building contracts covering these years that is held by the Monmouth County Archives. This collection includes at least 79 contracts for Allenhurst buildings that were executed during the period of significance, and the architects named in them probably fairly represent those whose designs were built in the town.
Other Asbury Park architects who designed homes in Allenhurst include William C. Cottrell and Kenneth Towner. After an apprenticeship in the office of Freehold architect and builder Austin Patterson, Cottrell established his own firm, which his son Arthur later joined. Around 1896, after several years of engaging in design and construction, Cottrell devoted himself solely to design. Individually and in conjunction with his son, Cottrell designed at least five houses in Allenhurst. In addition to homes, William Cottrell also designed hotels and churches in other seashore towns, and Asbury Park's first casino. Architect Kenneth Towner was also quite prolific in Allenhurst circa 1920. Towner entered into at least four contracts, for both new garages and alterations and additions to homes. Towner was known in Asbury Park for designing an Italian Renaissance post office and plaza and also a Beaux Arts station for the CNJ circa 1921.
New York City architects who designed homes in Allenhurst included G. Kramer Thompson and John H. Duncan. Duncan, who designed several business buildings in New York City, is perhaps most famous for designing Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive in New York. In Allenhurst, he was retained by Searles Babbitt of New York City to design his country home, and was commissioned to make alterations to a residence at 18 Spier Avenue. Other New York architects were Werner & Windolph, who had one commission in 1901, and George A. Freeman, who was hired to design the Allenhurst Club House in 1902. Other architects commissioned within Allenhurst included J.C. Delatush and I. William Roberts, who each had at least one commission. Allenhurst's own F.H. Dodge had at least three commissions in 1901-1902, and Paul L. Dodge of Asbury Park had two commissions in 1925.
Allenhurst from 1930 to the Present
From Allenhurst's inception through the 1920s and 1930s, the population was primarily seasonal with few year-round residents. From 1900 to 1920, the population grew steadily from 165 to 343 residents. By 1930, the population had increased to 573 residents. Since the 1930s, the community has become a desirable place for both year-round and seasonal visitors. Population numbers have remained fairly constant since the 1950s when 758 people lived year-round in Allenhurst. According to the United States Census in 2000, there were 718 year-round residents of Allenhurst.
Although transportation along the shore was dominated by train and trolley lines throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the rise of the automobile greatly affected passenger traffic along these lines. According to Heritage Studies' A Cultural Reconnaissance For the New Jersey Shore..., "By circa 1930, following the rise of the automobile, all of the region's trolleys had shut down, and passenger rail service soon followed suit." In Allenhurst, the trolley car barn along Main Street was demolished in 1959 and the railroad station was demolished in 1982.
Allenhurst's physical development was nearly complete by 1930. According to an Asbury Park Press article in 2000, "Of the borough's 350 homes and buildings, 200 were built prior to World War I and 170 were standing before 1905." During World War II, the Allenhurst Inn and several other structures were utilized to house men of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. By the 1950s, all of the hotels within Allenhurst had either been lost to fire or razed. The hotels have been replaced by Ranch houses and other mid-twentieth century residences, which constitute several of the non-contributing buildings within the historic district.
Most of the original structures within the Allenhurst Residential Historic District have been retained. According to the article "Allenhurst Founder Mapped 'Exclusive Character' Resort" in the Asbury Park Press, "Allenhurst's physical appearance has not greatly changed since its founding. Many of the original large homes remain...along the broad, tree-line streets."
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‡ Nancy L. Zerbe, Jennifer Warren, Marianne Walsh and Angela Materna, ARCH2, Inc., Amhurst Residential Historic District, Allenhurst, Monmouth County, NJ, nomination document, 2009, NR #10000353, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Allen Avenue • Cedar Avenue • Corlies Avenue • Elberon Avenue • Hume Street • Main Street • Norwood Avenue • Ocean Avenue • Ocean Place • Page Avenue • Route 71 • Spier Avenue