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This column is on hiatus -- be back one of these days. 

A weekly column on Themestream focusing on the towns along the New Jersey Transit North Jersey Coast Line railroad. If you are planning a Jersey Shore vacation, get the inside stories here.

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North Jersey Coast Line

Asbury Park and Stephen Crane (Click)

Arbutus Cottage was a modest Victorian house; not up to the grand mansions or down to the simple cottages of the 19th century Christian resort town of Asbury Park, New Jersey. It was a family home lived in by a creative family whose most famous member would write The Red Badge of Courage, a classic in American literature.

Ocean Grove: Camp Meeting Tents

By 1878, Ocean Grove, a Methodist Camp Meeting site, had a summer population of 18,000 people; there were 721 homes and 506 tents. There are 114 tents still existing of 250 around the turn of the 20th century.

"Loch Arbor: New Jersey's One and Only Village

Loch Arbor had been since 1848 one of the original eight United States Life Saving Boat House sites; huts, really, built after 18 sailors drowned trying to swim 300 yards to shore from a grounded brig. The eight life-saving stations were strung every two and a half miles along the Jersey Shore and were the beginnings of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Ocean Grove: "Way To Build A Town"

An aspect of the mission of the early town planners was to foster community and fellowship. The houses were deliberately built in close proximity, with single, double, or triple-tiered porches, so that neighbors would interact and converse outdoors. A backyard is a rarity, although gardens are common. In an almost startling contrast to the modern backyard, garage and driveway, which effectively isolate people from their neighbors, the streets of Ocean Grove, even today, offer daily interaction among its residents and guests. Social chatter, gossip, scandal, and hot political news travel from porch to porch.

Ocean Grove: "Music To My Ears"

Music comes on the air of this Methodist Camp Meeting town. My appreciation of Methodists goes back to when I was a small girl who balked at attending the Dutch Reformed Church of my forbearers. I had an indulgent, well, unconventional, mother, who did not stop me from climbing the hill on our street on Sunday mornings to go all by myself to the Summerfield Methodist Church. I had one reason for this early rebellion and one reason alone: The Music.

"Asbury Park In The News"

triCity does a wonderful job of promoting Asbury's modern pioneers, like the contemporary crafts gallery, Cleopatra Steps Out, the Ocean Park Gallery, El Lobo Negro Gallery, the vintage furniture stores, Of Rare Vintage and House of Modern Living, the cafe Emeralds & Pearls, with its jazz program, the Moonrock Cafe, with its acoustic rock, the gay bar culture, as well as Asbury's great churches. tri-City has recently undertaken to subvert the local radio station into an Asbury Park version of National Public Radio, with interviews and features on art and local politics. triCity does so much good, it is hard to say anything bad about it. triCity's vision is coming true to an unfathomable degree. Whatever Asbury becomes, it will be triCity's doing.

(I do kind of wish they'd stop whining about the Asbury Park Press for just one issue.)

"New Jersey Transit to Bay Head"

The trains themselves are nothing fancy and the service is downright eccentric. Conductors, except for one single curmudgeon who takes great pleasure in pointing up a passenger's failure to obey every rule, are courteous and helpful, even as far as telling you, for next time, how to buy the cheapest ticket. Onboard personnel, young or old, are old school railroad. And that's how we like it here in the Garden State. We like a conductor to call out in fulsome tones, "The station is Ho-BO-ken!" or "Mat-e-WAN! The station is Mat-e-WAN!"

"Ocean Grove Eats And Conveniences"

Get up early, Kevin's opens at 5:30 AM, go get your newspaper. Go next door to Freedman's for a doughnut and coffee, or across the street to the Daily Grind for a French Roast and poppy seed scone. Walk down to the beach. Sit on a bench. Drink your coffee. Watch the sunrise break over the ocean. Spend the day reading under a beach umbrella, gather seashells, take a swim. In the late afternoon, go home to your hotel room and take a nap. Get up, get showered, get dressed. Walk to the fishing club pier and join the rest of the town at sunset. Look out over the swelling sea and up at the first glowing, then darkening, sky. You will have found
Heaven on Earth.

A very, very Methodist kind of convenience.

"Springtime in Ocean Grove"

Even today, when some houses are air-conditioned, the life of the town is outside, and homeowners delight in presenting their houses in the best light to the street. Facades are painted and detailed in Victorian style, wicker and wrought iron furniture graces the porches, and petite gardens are planted in every flower, bush, and shrub. Some of the front yards have gardens that are bigger than the cottages they front. Some of the gardens are as small as the space between the road and the sidewalk, where every free inch is planted. The town does plant in parks and other public greens, but it is the citizenry whose pride and labor produces the display of beauty Ocean Grove enjoys in three seasons of every year.

"Asbury Park and Tony Soprano"

Asbury Park on "Sopranos" is portrayed truly. It is just that surreal and ghostly, all that abandoned and bereft. A town out of Rod Sterling's "Twilight Zone" where everybody one day stood up and walked away. Just as Louis Malle's "Atlantic City" caught its moment, so did David Chase's 26th episode of the second season of "Sopranos" catch Asbury Park between its past and future. It is here, in this wind-swept ghost town of a seaside resort, just poised on a new beginning, where Tony Soprano meets his own past and future on April 9, 2000.

"Long Branch: The 19th Century Resort of Choice"

Picture if you will, the arrival of the steamboat -- Col. Jim Fiske's "floating palace" - the side wheeler "Plymouth Rock," having taken the Outside Run from the Hudson River (then called the North River) in Manhattan, through the Narrows, across the Lower Bay, past Sandy Hook, to dock at the famous Ocean Pier at Long Branch. Billowing canvas awnings shade the fashionable ladies and gents seated on the pier who await the arrival of weekend guests. As they wait for the ship to come in, they take the cool ocean breezes and breathe in the good salt air.

"Drinking in a Dry Town" (Ocean Grove NJ)

Our town of Ocean Grove, New Jersey, was founded as a Methodist camp meeting site after the Civil War. There has always been and still is an ordinance here against drinking alcohol. I am told that out near the Broadway gate at Highway 71 once stood a speakeasy, where visitors in horse-drawn buggies and later automobiles would stop on the way into town to stock up on spirits for their spiritual weekend, before, during, and after Prohibition. Getting around the town's blue law has always been something of a local sport. A charming custom to develop from the official ban on alcohol was known as Tea Time. Residents of an early evening would set their tea services out on a front porch table and pour cocktails for their guests to drink from fine china cups.

"The Disappearing Railroad Blues" (Keyport NJ)

Keyport is an excellent example of a town that has gone through a long period of decline and is now picking itself up and brushing itself off. My architect friends, Dann and Stephen, say it often enough, "Poverty is the best preservationist." The building stock in neglected shore towns often retains its 18th and 19th century integrity, while more prosperous areas have been modernized out of any recognizable past. It is quite true and shows its truth right nicely in the Raritan Bay town of Keyport.

"Go Away and Come Back" (Ocean Grove NJ)

I mentioned Asbury Park earlier, but I neglected to mention gay people and Asbury Park. The local paper in Asbury Park, the "triCity News," had a piece recently on gay people from Manhattan buying up the beautiful old houses in Asbury and transforming them into palaces of good decorating taste. This weekend the story around town was that a gay newspaper that is distributed in gay bars all over the world is doing a piece on gay life in Ocean Grove. I am here to tell you that Ocean Grove's gay people are not much fun at all. They might as well be Methodists, as far as I can tell. When they want to misbehave they go over to Asbury Park. Even when they have their annual gay potluck dinner, it is held in Asbury Park.

Featured Links For Travel

New Jersey Treasure

Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce

Travel Notes