By Andrew DeCredico
Sea Isle City is an amazing city filled with restaurants, bars, video arcades, and shops of all kinds. It wasn’t always this way. Before the city we know today, Sea Isle City was a part of the larger island owned by a man by the name of Joseph Ludlum. He named the island Ludlam Island, and today the island is home to both Sea Isle City and Strathmere.
Among the first human visitors to the island were the Leni-Lenape tribe of Native Americans, who would travel to the island for fishing as well as collecting shells.
The shells they collected were quayhog shells. These shells have a purple shine on the inside, and this purple lining made the shells valuable to the Native Americans. They called these shells Wampum, and used them as their currency.
In the late 17th century Joseph Ludlum purchased the island from a group of Quakers from western New Jersey. They called themselves the West Jersey Proprietors and had been given the land about 20 years before they sold it to Ludlum. The Proprietors Governed the greater area surrounding the island and called it ‘Cape May.’ It wasn’t divided into Upper, Middle, and Lower sections until 1723.
When Ludlum purchased the island, he divided it up into sections, one of these sections was bought by John Townsend, and was given the name ‘Townsend’s Inlet.’ The section called ‘Ludlam’s Beach’ later became Sea Isle City.
In the beginning Ludlum used the island to keep his livestock on. Sheep and cattle were made to swim across the bay to the island, where they would be free to graze on the vegetation and live their lives. This lasted for about a century, and the island didn’t have any permanent residents until nearly 200 years after Ludlum purchased the island. However, the island had plenty of visitors in the form of mainlanders crossing to the island for fishing, hunting, and other activities. There is even evidence of pirates visiting the island at this time. Pistols were found on the island, meaning they must have stopped while on their way up the coast.
In 1880 Charles Kline Landis, the man that the main street of Landis Ave. is named after, purchased the island with the intent of creating his dream vacation island. This dream was based off of Landis’ recent trip to Italy, where he visited cities like Venice and others along the coast. Canals and waterways made Landis’ idea come to life, and soon he was importing art and statues from Italy to give his dream island an old world feel.
In 1882 Sea Isle City officially became a borough of Cape May County, and in that same year, the construction of the towns Excursion House was finished. The Excursion house was the island’s first true tourist attraction and contained all manner of entertainment from dances and parties, to boxing matches and other sporting events. Most visitors were only staying for one day, and as such would bring their lunch in a shoebox. The name ‘shoobies’ comes from this time and was used to describe these people.
A year later, in 1883 Landis constructed a new rail line and road to the mainland in order to make accessing his resort easier. This allowed people from Philadelphia to flock to the resort because making their way to the town was as simple as hopping on the train.
This influx of tourists meant the town needed to build hotels and by 1891 the Cape May County Times had stated, in their Christmas day issue of the newspaper, that “no place has improved more rapidly.” As the years went on, Sea Isle City continued to improve, and at one point, had the only steam elevator in the county.
In 1885 a lighthouse was erected on the corner of 31st street and the boardwalk. Landis requested the lighthouse be built because in the years that Landis owned the island many ships wrecked themselves, ruining Landis’ picturesque vacation spot. The lighthouse stood for decades until a fire was started by the keeper’s dog, who knocked over a kerosene lantern and ruined the building’s roof and light.
Later, the introduction of automobiles caused the city’s trolley service to go out of commission in 1916, thus their trolley station was no longer needed. This was eventually purchased by a local group of Lutherans who used the station to hold their services.
During the Second World War, The United States had a shortage of steel, and many railroads were torn up to lend aid to the war efforts. This included the railroad in Sea Isle City. As a side effect the path that the railroad used to occupy was a popular place for people to walk, or ride their bikes. This pathway was later named Pleasure Ave.
As the years went on Sea Isle City has changed and adapted to new technologies and trends but one thing has remained true. Sea Isle City is a wonderful town, full of pride, culture, and some amazing restaurants. Many who think of ‘the real Jersey Shore’ think of Sea Isle City, and many more come to visit every summer with their families.