The Jersey Shore
June 20 through June 25
Haunts of my Youth

South of New York City you got the Bay, south of the Bay you got Sandy Hook, and near Sandy Hook you got the towns of Rumson, Sea Bright, Atlantic Highlands, and Red Bank. This is where my family hails from, where I lived until I was 12, and where one of my cousins still lives in the town where my father grew up. The first week of my visit in New Jersey I am staying with that cousin, Marty, and his wife Wendy.

Wendy took me on a rambling tour of all the places I remember from my childhood. Rumson sign

Rumson occupies a peninsula between 2 long estuaries, known as the Navesink River and the Shrewsbury River although neither is actually a river. We lived at 38 Lafayette St in Rumson, next to the elementary school grounds, in an old house probably built around 1890. Bridge across the Navesink Lafayette St was about 2 blocks from the Rumson end of this bridge, which connects Rumson and Atlantic Highlands across the Navesink "River". The pic is taken entering the bridge from the Atlantic Highlands side; if you look just to the right of where the bridge ends, that is where I used to live. I loved to ramble on and under the bridge, listening to the occasional car making rumbling sounds on the metal grids in the bridge. Nowadays of course the cars are not so occasional. the Navesink River (estuary)

Rumson was a town separated into 3 elements -- the very rich, who had estates along the banks of the estuaries, on River Road and Rumson Road; the wage slaves, who lived in neighborhoods of old houses on small lots on narrow streets; and the summer people, who had small unassuming places intermixed with the old worker-houses on those narrow streets. The street where I grew up The populations didn't mix much -- the very rich of course lived in a completely different world from us, and their children went to the private Rumson Country Day School rather than the public schools. I did know one daughter of wealth, whose parents were egalitarian enough to put her in Girl Scouts with the rest of us raff and taggle although she did go to Rumson Country Day; and I was good friends with one daughter, not of the big-estate-very-rich, but of a merely rich family, who was sent to public school. 4 doors down my my childhood house My 2nd-best friend lived here And the summer people were only there for a couple of months each year, their children did not go to school in Rumson, and I think that mostly being New Yorkers, they must not have let their kids run loose all summer the way us resident kids did. It was a time and a place when it was safe to let kids run unsupervised, of course -- and most of our parents had grown up there on the shore and were water-wise, had raised us to be water-wise, so they didn't worry about us drowning in the estuaries either.

Rumson has changed a lot from those days. It is a heavily gentrified town now -- the old estate neighborhoods now have many similarly vast and pricey but brand new places (probably occupied by CEO's and their ilk) in addition to the estates of old wealth. The late-19th-century worker houses are beautifully restored and are obviously premium residences today. The old summer cottages are mostly gone, torn down and replaced by large modern houses that make some effort at looking like their authentic antique neighbors although mostly -- they fail. The little commercial areas, that once had narrow Mom-n-Pop stores and soda fountains, now have large fancy banks and restaurants. My childhood house

This is the house I grew up in. It is exactly the same except for cosmetic improvements, as are all the other old houses on the street. Wendy tells me Rumson has a policy of not allowing remodelling of the outsides of its historic houses -- God knows what they look like on the insides these days, but the houses still look exactly the same on the outside. In my day, this was a utilitarian, kids-live-here sort of place; the paint was fresh, but the yard was trampled and usually had a bike lying on its side and there were only a few anemic flowers. I spent many a fondly-remembered day playing Bambi on the spacious front porch, or sitting there watching warm summer rain fall outside its dry confines. In those pre-airconditioning days, the house was sometimes too hot to be borne on a summer evening so we would eat our dinner at a table out on the porch. My childhood house Those big porches of yesteryear were very functional parts of a house where sometimes the only breath of semi-cool air could be had out there. These days they are designing houses with broad porches again, hoping to revive the sense of communality that existed when not only did your family eat their dinner on your porch, but the next door neighbors were doing the same thing on their porch, within talking distance. I am sceptical about whether that sort of communality can ever be revived, in a time when the most comfortable place to be is inside your house, behind your walls, in the airconditioning. My best friend's house My 2nd-best friend lived here

These other 2 houses belonged to my best friend, who lived 3 doors down; and my 2nd-best friend, who lived a couple of blocks over. They are exactly the same as they were, save for the landscaping and the current paint color. Diane's house actually had better landscaping in the old days; her grandmother maintained beds of brilliant marigolds in front of the porch.

My grandmother's house is now gone. It was a very small house on a very narrow lot, and it and its neighbors have been torn down and replaced by a larger house. I was sad to see it gone -- although to my amused surprise, the local tavern is still there just down the street, and is still called Murphy's.

The other big locale of my past was on the other side of Rumson, on the banks of the 2nd estuary (the Shrewsbury River). My maternal grandfather was a boatbuilder who worked just across the estuary, in Sea Bright; and the family lived in a little house on the Rumson side of the estuary. My mother used to have to row across the estuary with his lunch every day.

Sea Bright, from the Rumson shore of the Shrewsbury River (estuary) <--- This is where she rowed lunch to my grandfather.

Their old house was gone even by the time I was a child there in Rumson, but my mother's sister and her family lived not far from the original Christensen home and I spent many well-remembered days at their house. They had a dock, and a fleet of rowboats, and we used to love to take a rowboat out for a day piddling about on the water. The big locale for family picnics was "The Island", a large dune-y sandbank in the middle of the Shrewsbury not far from Aunt Bertha's.

Their house is still there and is still vaguely recognizable but it did not have the protection of being one of the old historic houses. The garage is still the original, once stuffed with boating paraphernalia; and the house is still way up on a raised foundation. My Aunt Bertha went through one too many flood where the water came a foot into the house, and insisted that the house be jacked up 4 feet into the air and a tall foundation put underneath it.

Their son, my cousin Bud, in his later years was the bridge keeper for the Sea Bright Bridge. It links Rumson with Sea Bright and is an old drawbridge. Bud's bridge Bud's job was to sit in the little glassed booth on the edge of the draw section of the bridge, watch for approaching sailboats with tall masts, and raise the drawbridge to allow the boat to pass. He said the job suited him much better than his previous office jobs -- just sit there looking out over the beautiful water, watching the boats go by, and occasionally press the button to raise the bridge. The bridge is still there, still a drawbridge, still manned by a bridge keeper; but it is slated to be torn down and replaced by a modern bridge. I am sad about that.. but happy that I did get back here while the bridge of my memories still exists, and got a picture of it.

Sea Bright is just a narrow strip of land between the estuaries and the ocean, barely one block wide. In the old days it was a fisherman's town, with very low-budget houses and lots of boatyards. I am happy to see that at least a few of those original bare-bones fisher's houses have been maintained intact except for fresh paint where once they featured peels and scabs. Sea Bright, from the Rumson shore of the Shrewsbury River (estuary) Sea Bright, from the Rumson shore of the Shrewsbury River (estuary) Even in my childhood it was beginning to transform into a beach resort town. There were one or two upscale beach clubs along the beach, but there were still ordinary funky beaches occupied by ordinary local folks. There was a row of little shops, one of which was called the Swedishop, and we used to use the municipal beach behind the Swedishop. When I was very young, beach outings wer family affairs; but after I passed 10 or so, Diane and I would walk the several miles to Sea Bright on our own to go to the beach.

In the days before my time, Sea Bright had a similar dichotomy to Rumson's, in that one section of the beach was lined with fantastic Victorian palaces of the super-rich. The sea has taken them by now, and even in my childhood they were derelicts due to the erosion of the beach and wear and tear of the ocean. In bad storms, waves used to break right over the entire town of Sea Bright and run into the Shrewsbury on the other side. After such storms, the streets of Sea Bright were covered with beach sand. They used to scoop it up in dump trucks and bring it to Rumson where it was used to create a little sandy swimming beach at the town park on the shore of the Navesink. I think the sea walls are higher now and hopefully Sea Bright no longer becomes a part of the Atlantic during storms. The ocean fronts where once the great Victorian houses stood moldering on their expansive properties, that allowed you to see the waves from the street incidentally, are now occupied by towering walls of condos, lining Ocean Blvd so you can't even tell you are driving along the beach. The other side of the road is occupied by a row of lovely old houses of the middle class, that once had views of the sand and the rock sea wall from their ground story, and views of the sea from their upper stories (which frequently feature upper porches). They now look out on nothing but high rises. Really sad.

My mother's brother Hari continued my grandfather's tradition by operating a boat repair and dock facility in Sea Bright called Chris's Landing (Chris being for Christensen.) Uncle Hari died when I was 10, and while his widow operated Chris's Landing for some further years, they eventually moved away and we have lost touch with those cousins completely. As Wendy and I drove along Sea Bright we watched for any sign of what was once Chris's Landing. I saw a small boat facility that looked like it was in about the same location, and I was just saying to Wendy "I think that is where it used to be" when we passed a large townhouse development next to it -- with a fancy sign, "Chris's Landing"! So what is known as Chris's Landing today is a townhouse development, with a tiny remnant of the original extensive boatyard still hanging on next to it. That was a wierd, wierd feeling.