Updated: May 28
The Bay Head Business Association describes Bay Head as "the crown jewel of the strand of beaches that constitutes Barnegat Beach Island: a dazzling rustic haven by the sea." Other than the rustic part, the description is fairly accurate for a town that simply gets its name from being at the northern tip or the "head of the bay." There may be no finer stretch of residential mansions along the beach front at the Jersey Shore than on East Avenue, the road east of Route 35 that runs the length of the town.
It's a one way street so for fans of beautiful shore homes should start their drive, walk or run from the north section at Osborne Avenue.
But with so many places that are known for their crown jewels (i.e. England), there are challenges in maintaining status, especially with an unforgiving ocean to the east, a large bay to the west and those pesky Pt. Pleasant Beach neighbors.
Steep walk to the beach
The wicked, windy storms of 2021 damaged much of the beach. The cliffs from last spring are gone but it's a steep drop from the top of the manufactured dunes the shorelines which is one of the narrowest at the Jersey Shore.
NJ Transit: between a lake and a hard place
If you read the previous Jersey Shore Walk story about Pt. Pleasant Beach, you may remember that local hero Captain John Arnold promoted and funded the extension of the railroad to that town. But the railroad company had no interest in extending further south along the thin peninsula. That meant the company needed a railroad yard for trains could turn around. Arnold had already built up much of what is downtown Pt. Pleasant so it's likely he encouraged the rail company to build its rail yard on an undeveloped wetlands area further south that is now part of Bay Head.
That rail yard comprises a substantial chunk of the Borough's land -- non taxable land -- and borders the small Twilight Lake which feeds into Barnegat Bay. After Superstorm Sandy, the yard’s two substation structures were damaged having been submerged in salt water. Buoyed by strong political interests at every level, NJ Transit undertook a massive "resilience program" throughout the state which includes replacing the Bay Head Yard substation.
At The Little Point Bookshop
Give the Jersey Shore
for Father's Day.
Get the scoop on whale watching, minor league baseball, fishing adventures and more with the #1 NJ Travel Guide:100 Things to Do at the Jersey Shore Before You Die. The Little Point Bookshop has moved into a large space across the street at 618 Arnold Avenue
For more than six years, the locals have waged numerous protests as evidenced by the many lawn signs that read, "Save Twilight Lake from NJ Transit". The campaign organizers are concerned about the negative impact to the wetlands area after years of what they say is a history of environmental neglect by the transit agency.
However, while NJ Transit has sought public feedback, it makes clear on its website that the state entity "does not require approvals by local planning or other boards." Last year, NJ Transit broke ground on the substation. Just this week, NJ Transit announced the restoration of dozens of trains providing shuttle service along the Coast Line between Bay Head and Long Branch throughout the summer.
Not-so-pleasant people sued to get on the beach
The beaches in Bay Head are not owned by the Borough. They are owned by the 73 beachfront homeowners as well as the non-profit Bay Head Improvement Association (BHIA) which takes care of them through sale of beach badges. The Association has been around since 1910!
At some point, BHIA restricted access to the beach, only allowing members, member guests and fishermen to walk "through the upper dry sand area to foreshore" during the summer months.
In the 1980s, nearby some Pt. Pleasant Beach residents had enough. They weren't allowed to sit much less even walk across the invisible beach boundary between towns so they sued BHIA. They couldn't buy a beach badge unless they were sponsored by a BHIA member. The lawsyit reached the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1983. In a ruling, the Court cited ancient Romans which held that "by the law of nature the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea were common to mankind." The Court also cited a 1821 New Jersey case about fishermen harvesting oyster beds, saying that the seashore was not private property but "subject to the same law as the sea itself, and the sand or ground beneath it."
Today, anyone can buy a beach badge, even people from Pt. Pleasant Beach.
The canal that created an island
There is one more indignity that was foisted upon Bay Head. Originally, Bay Head was the northern terminus of the Intracoastal Waterway which continued all the way to Florida. It was the "head" of the "bay", thus the name of the town.
Yes, as early as 1833, fishermen, civic and state leaders pushed for a canal to be dug between the Manasquan River and the Barnegat Bay. The idea was to allow fishermen located along the Manasquan River to easily access the fish and oysters of the Barnegat Bay instead of a 45-mile roundtrip via water. And with a canal, fisherman from Manasquan could start their journey south via the bay for some 26 miles before having navigate the ocean.
After much delay, the canal was dug. Fortunately, the canal avoided cutting through Twilight Lake which was originally part of the plan. After the canal opened in 1925, salt water immediately flowed from the Manasquan River into the bay creating an environmental nightmare. Within a few short years, the Manasquan Inlet closed and fishermen were out of business. Most people blamed the closure of inlet to the unanticipated diversion of water from the canal to the Bay
Repeatedly, the Manasquan Inlet was dredged and reopened. Support walls were built along the jetty to keep the Inlet open to the ocean. The walls are visible today as you motor out to the ocean.
An island is born. Previously, a very long and thin peninsula that stretched from the southern tip of Island Beach State Park to Manasquan and then inland. You could walk or drive from the state park north along the peninsula and continue to Pt. Pleasant and points west without crossing water. By digging a canal, an island was created with the bay and the canal on the west, the Manasquan River to the north and the ocean to the east and south.
One last indignity was imposed by Pt. Pleasant folk. The original name of the canal was the Bay Head-Manasquan Canal. In the 1964, Pt. Pleasant officials convinced Congress to change the name to The Point Pleasant Canal.
This eyesore is history
The tallest building in Bay Head was the New Jersey American Water tower with numerous antennas from cellular companies. It was an eyesore. It didn't even have a friendly saying on it like "Welcome to Bay Head". The tower is has been taken down. The cellular towers are in a temporary location until they can be replaced.
Site of Life-Saving Station?
Before there was the United States Coast Guard, there was the United States Life-Saving Service. In 1848, NJ Congressman William Newell advocated for a law to establish eight unmanned lifesaving stations from Sandy Hook to Long Beach Island to provide "surf boat, rockets, carronades and other necessary apparatus for the better preservation of life and property from shipwreck".
Both the US Coast Guard and the U.S. Life-Saving Service Station Heritage Association note that there was a life station in Bay Head built in 1855 and then rebuilt in 1871. Supposedly the station house was moved and became part of a private home at 627 Lake Avenue but on inspection, that doesn't seem to be the case. If anyone has more info, please let me know!
By 1878, the volunteer life-saving role was assumed by a new federal agency, the Life-Saving Service, which refurbished, replaced or built 40-plus stations from Sandy Hook to Cape May including a new Deal station in 1882. From 1871 through 1914, the Service aided 28,121 vessels, and rescued or aided 178,741 persons. It's unofficial motto: “Remember, you have to go out, but nothing says you have to come back.”
Tips for Visiting Bay Head
What's New: Nothing new to report.
Access and Parking: Most people enter Bay Head along busy Route 35, know as Main Avenue in Bay Head. There's a strip of businesses if you enter from the west along Route 13/Bridge Avenue. Parking is free but near the beach is nearly impossible. In some places the parking is restricted to a two-hour time limit.
Amenities: There is a bathroom a few blocks from the beach at Centennila Park.
Beaches: There isn't a boardwalk or a promenade. There are 11 access points along East Avenue. Beach badges are required weekends beginning May 28. Badges are required daily from June 18 through September 5. Full season badges are $95 and half season badges are $50. Daily badges are $10 (cash only). Badges are not required under the age of 12.
Starring Role: Bay Head has been featured in the movie Tomorrow is Today.
Follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he recounts his 2021 walk of every beach along the 139 miles of the Jersey Shore coastline from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Read all updated stories at www.JerseyShoreWalk.com.