I will be the first to admit that I wish that I had more information on this line. If anyone has any additional information on this line, please contact me with it so I can add the information to what I already have. I am certain, though, you will enjoy what I have here.
While the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) fought with the CNJ over the New York & Long Branch, and competed with the Atlantic City Railroad (Reading) for southern New Jersey, they also eyed another seaside resort. That location was Seaside Park. The PRR built their line from Camden across the central part of state, crossing the CNJ at Whitings (Southern Division Main Line) and Beachwood (Barnegat Branch), completing the line to Ocean Gate and across the Barnegat Bay into Seaside Park in 1881. The first train from Philadelphia (Philadelphia to Camden by ferry boat) to Seaside Park was on July 4, 1881. The Seaside Park station was located in the Hiawatha Hotel until a new one was built. In 1882, a new station was opened between 5th and 6th Avenues, and called “PK” by the PRR. That year also saw completion of track work connecting Seaside Park to Bay Head Jct. With the opening of the line, seafood caught in the Barnegat Bay and Atlantic Ocean could be shipped fresh to Philadelphia markets. By 1900, seafood was the main export of Seaside Park, while coal and lumber were the main imports.
In 1883, the PRR built a manual swing bridge over the Toms River and connected Pine Beach with Island Heights. The bridge itself was 1,800 feet long and had a 40-foot draw opening. A station at Island Heights was completed in 1884, with a coal and lumberyard a half-mile from the station. A huge wye allowed the locomotive to be turned around. Most passengers traveling to Island Heights were destined for the Edgewater Hotel located on the boardwalk. The PRR also played a key role in the life of Ocean Gate. The PRR moved ice, milk, supplies for local merchants, and of course, the mail. (The mail was delivered twice per day.) In 1897, the PRR opened the Delair Bridge over the Delaware River, providing an all rail route from Philadelphia to Seaside Park. During the summer, the PRR ran a train called the Commodore from Broad Street Station in Philadelphia to Long Branch via Seaside Park. While Seaside Park was the main attraction for the PRR’s advertising, many people spent their day at Barnegat Pier. Located at the western side of the bay and called “BN”, people at the pier spent their day fishing or simply enjoying the bay breezes. Needless to say, a small community developed at Barnegat Pier. In 1916 (a year after the CNJ), the PRR began dropping passengers off at Beachwood and was now listed as a stop.
Like any other rail line, the PRR did have some problems along the line. In 1910, a head-on collision occurred between a passenger and freight train when a wrong switch was thrown in Seaside Park. In the winter of 1913, an ice flow developed in the bay and drifted into the bay bridge. This was a precedent for an ice flow that large to be in the Barnegat Bay. The ice flow destroyed 600 feet of the bridge. Train service over the bay was immediately suspended until repairs were made to the bridge. Passenger traffic between Island Heights and Pine Beach started to diminish in the mid 1920s and service was terminated in 1931. The PRR offered to sell the bridge to Ocean County for use as an automobile bridge, but the county declined. (Boy what a mistake that was! Anyone who lives in Ocean County would love to be able to cross the river at Island Heights and avoid all the congestion on Route 166 and the GSP.) Island Heights Jct. (in Pine Beach) was removed as a stop and the station was relocated to the east end of Riverside Drive. The bridge was dismantled in 1934.
Unfortunately, rail service came to an end in 1946. During the early morning hours of December 1, a fire destroyed 300 feet of the train bridge. The PRR decided against the bridge’s repair. Instead, the PRR devised a schedule that terminated train service between South Toms River and Seaside Park and ran buses between the two points. After a public hearing, the ICC authorized the PRR to abandon all trackage between South Toms River and Bay Head Jct. In 1948, the PRR closed Beachwood Tower. By the end of 1949, tracks were removed between Seaside Park and Bay Head Jct. Tracks were also removed between Ocean Gate and South Toms River with Beachwood Tower being razed as well. Bus service was provided until the mid 1950s, when the tracks were further cut back in South Toms River for the state’s realignment of Route 9 and the Garden State Parkway. With that, the PRR completely terminated passenger traffic on the line, and was now a freight only line into South Toms River. The South Toms River station was moved to Beachwood, as is now a private home. The Beachwood Station was razed in 1950.
Today, some evidence of the line can still be found. Route 9 from Exit 80 of the Garden State Parkway through Beachwood follows the route the trains took. Seaside Park station was sold and was moved and still stands. The Seaside Park Municipal Complex was built on the site where the station stood and was dedicated in 1953. A small portion of the trestle at Seaside Park still stands and is used as a fishing and crabbing pier. Ocean Gate station was moved, twice, and currently resides at the corner of Asbury and Cape May Avenues and is now a museum. In Ocean Gate, the Water’s Edge Restaurant stands adjacent to Barnegat Pier, and only a few pilings remain. I have speculation that the current streets of Barnegat Lane, Lake Street and Route 35 South (from Bay Head to Mantoloking to Seaside Park) follow the route of the train tracks.
Today we can only guess as to what would have happened to the line if the trestle were not burned. As far as I can tell, the person (or persons) responsible was never caught. (And it is a little coincidental that only a few days later, the Matawan Creek trestle also caught on fire!) Today, the line would provide an alternative to getting into the Seaside area, instead of the summer congestion on Routes 37 and 35. The line would have provided an alternative for people traveling to New York and Philadelphia, for work or pleasure. But unfortunately, we can only dream of what might have been.
How the pier
looks today at Seaside Park
How the station site looks today
How the line departed from Bay Head Yard
Current Day View from Ocean Gate overlooking the bay
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