For all of recorded time the only practical way to travel to what is today known as Long Beach Island had been over the bay by boat. This isolation came to an end in 1886 when the Philadelphia Times announced on June 29, “The C, a spur of the Long Branch division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was formally opened for travel yesterday morning. The new road is about fourteen miles in length and runs from the Tuckerton Railroad at Manahawkin across Barnegat Bay to Barnegat City.”
The island was now linked to the mainland by a piece of modern technology, a 2-mile-long, low-to-the-water wooden trestle, with a swing drawbridge at the eastern end to allow boat traffic to continue to use the bay. As businessmen hailed the improvement and the few year-round residents celebrated the new freedom of being connected with the mainland, however, there were some new problems.
John Brinckmann in his book The Tuckerton Railroad followed the early history of the line.
“The first winter was precarious from an operating standpoint. A 6:04 A.M. train from Barnegat City to Beach Haven was annulled on December 8 due to a washout 20-feet wide by 7-feet deep a short distance below Barnegat City. The following week a severe snowstorm and high tides cut off Long Beach from the mainland between Monday night and Wednesday afternoon. Then in March 1887 the locomotive of train No. 8 overturned between Barnegat City and Beach Haven. Several cars derailed but there were no injuries, the accident being attributed to spreading rails. Once again in April a washout between Harvey Cedars and Barnegat City hampered traffic.”
During the first full summer season of operation, “The little steamer Sunset resumed trips between Barnegat and Barnegat City early in June but U.S. Mail no longer rode upon her deck, having been shifted to rails instead. Misfortune struck again as the first full summer season neared its end. There was a washout between Harvey Cedars and Peahala late in August. Yachts quickly pressed into service hauled stranded passengers from Barnegat City to Barnegat until emergency repairs could be made.”
While summer washouts inconvenienced many tourists, winter storms could be just as costly.
“The blizzard of ’88 had a paralyzing effect upon New Jersey, no less lower Ocean County. Three inches of ice formed on LBRR rails over the bay that fateful Monday, March 12 and ice chipping crews worked upon the trestles in bitter winds and lashing snow until Thursday before service resumed. A Tuckerton Railroad train ran Monday from Tuckerton to Whiting but stalled in a snow bank upon returning. The road opened with its extrication Wednesday afternoon.”
Building a trestle bridge that rested on wooden pilings had a unique problem when it crossed tidal water. When the bay froze solid at low tide, ice encased the pilings; when the tide came in and the ice lifted, it tended to pull the pilings upward, making the rails uneven and unsafe.
While winter problems affected the few year-round residents, the real danger was in the summer with the hard-to-predict storms called hurricanes. The Delaware Gazette of Sept. 12, 1889 told a terrifying story.
“Beach Haven, Barnegat, Long Beach City, Harvey Cedars and other points on Long Beach are inundated, and the railroad washed away in many places. No trains can be run below Manahawkin. At the latter place the bridge had been damaged, and fears are expressed for the safety of the draw tender, who is a prisoner in his frail little home on the bridge. He cannot reach shore, and no boat could reach him, as the sea is running too high.”
As the storm raged, “The long bridge near Barnegat Bay is covered with water but has as yet shown no signs of giving way. The last train over it Tuesday was filled with fleeing cottagers from the beach, and water was on a level with the floors of the cars. No more trains can be run, and the extent of the damage will not be known until the storm abates.”
Two days later the Philadelphia paper sent a reporter to assess the damage.
“The Times correspondent went over the two miles of bridge and trestle across the bay with Mr. Snowden and Mr. Trueax on a hand-car and walked beyond Ridgeway’s on the branch to Barnegat, then to Harvey’s Cedars and back over the bridge to Manahawken, a distance of over eighteen miles. The bridge is intact, and when the wreckage had been rolled and tumbled off and the masses of salt marsh hay and weeds removed with pitchforks, the track and line after its washing looked spick span new.”
Looking to the south from the bridge, there was frantic activity.
“During the afternoon a work train with lots of material and over fifty men came down, and they will work all night in the direction of Beach Haven, where there are many women and children and sick people anxious to get away who cannot make the voyage across the bay by the present Tuckerton route. Mr. Snowden and Mr. Trueax will push the restoration of this part of the road with energy.
“Not a life was lost from one end off Long Beach to the other. Barnegat City got off without much loss, and Beach Haven, barring the fright of the people and short allowance of food, is no worse for the storm.
“The Mansion House, or Ridgeway’s was moved a little and flooded, but not much damaged. Harvey’s Cedars is in pretty bad shape, so that it is not likely to have many gunning parties this season, and the landing is carried away, but it is not an important place.”
The paper reported a typical story from a group.
“At Pehala Club House a party of gentlemen and ladies had a perilous experience during the storm. They were there from last Saturday until yesterday, unable to get away, and had it not been for some clams the men were able to gather on Thursday and a few birds brought down yesterday would have suffered for food. They were on very short rations.”
Finally, from the north end of LBI, the most isolated part, came this report. “This place, the last on the coast to be heard from and the longest cut off from all communication, is safe. A breath of relief will be given by hundreds who have feared for friends and relatives. From Monday until this Friday evening nothing was heard by boat, rail or telegraph between the many hundred souls gathered here and the outside world. For five days a city had been surrounded by water, cut off from every communication from the mainland and limited for subsistence upon the small stock of provisions that hotels and cottages usually have at this time, when the season is drawing to a close. This was necessarily small, and during the last day or two all were on short rations.”
The rebuilding began, but there was no government aid. The railroad was a business, and dollars in cents would determine its fate, not the convenience of a few Islanders or tourists. The railroad was about to come under attack from a more powerful force than any hurricane.
Next Week: Unprofitable!