Updated: May 5
From the mid 19th century when Mary Todd Lincoln visited through the early part of the 20th century, Long Branch was a favored location of Washington elite. These power players chose the Elberon section to build "cottages," which were large seasonal mansions splayed on acres of prime beachfront land. Nothing is left of that era save one church. Still, walking along the beach today, visitors will marvel at what replaced those cottages -- stately mansions, three beach clubs and religious retreats.
Seven presidents summered here - for the most part.
Elberon's prominence on the national scene started in 1867 when wealthy Republican donors gave President Ulysses S. Grant a "cottage," knowing that his presence would attract wealthy home buyers. Grant was the first person to refer to Long Branch as the "summer capital." He and his family journeyed by train to the Shore for three months every summer from 1867 to 1885. Attracted by the notoriety and easy rail access, other presidents followed.
After being shot in Washington, D.C. by a crazed officer-seeker, President James Garfield languished in ill health for months in Washington. Not re-gaining his health, Garfield decided he needed the fresh air of the beach and came to Elberon. His wounds never healed. He died at the Jersey Shore in September 1881. Today, there is an historical marker commemorating Garfield's death on Garfield Road off Ocean Avenue.
Other presidents that also visited Long Branch and likely stayed in Elberon were Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson. Monmouth County commemorated their presence by naming its park Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park.
When Elberon declined in popularity, the large footprints of the cottages were snapped up by private home owners, entrepreneurs who built beach clubs and religious organizations. It's one of the few places at the Jersey Shore where religions meets the ocean. The Catholic Church
operates the San Alfonso Retreat House (pictured above left in a view from the beach). Nearby is St. Michael's Church (above right) was which founded in 1886. A reminder of its foregone glory is the Church of the Presidents, where all seven president worshipped. It was built in 1879. Later it was bought by the Long Branch Historical Museum Association, which opened a museum. Eventually, the Association had to close the museum due to deterioration of the structure. It's currently closed as the Association raises money for rehabilitation.
Everyone's favorite Jersey Shore windmill.
Hugging the dividing line between Long Branch's main beach and the Elberon neighborhood is Windmill one of the Shore's landmark roadside attractions. The fast food stops offers classic beach
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food—hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and shakes. From before lunch to after the bars close at the Shore in the summer —as late as 3 a.m.—people stop by the take-out counters for a taste of the Jersey Shore.
Tips for Visiting Elberon section of Long Branch Beach
What's New: Nothing.
Road Access & Parking: Parallel to the beach is four-lane Ocean Boulevard, the major access to the beach, parking, restaurants and accommodations. There are no public parking lots. There is very limited street parking.
Amenities: There are no showers or restrooms. They are available north of Elberon on Long Branch's oceanfront promenade.
Beaches: Beach badges are only required at guarded beaches. Per the Long Branch Recreation Department, there are likely to be lifeguards on the beach between the end of the promenade south to Lake Takanassee. The beaches south of the lake are free. Seasonal beach badges cost $45 for adults 18-61 and $30 for students 14-17. For daily beach access, adult badges are $5 weekdays and $7 weekends and $3 for people 14-17. Seniors and children access the beach for free.
This spring, summer and fall, follow Jersey Shore author and expert R.C. Staab as he walks the entire 139 miles of the Jersey Shore from Sandy Hook to Island Beach State Park, from Old Barney to Beach Haven, from Brigantine to Cape May.
Next stop: Deal at Beach Walk Mile post 15.5. See all the Jersey Shore Walk stories at www.JerseyShoreWalk.com