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Elegant Shore Town, Stately Homes, Irish Riviera, Life Saving Station Converted into Ocean Home

Essex and Sussex Condos from the boardwalk. All photos by R.C. Staab

Passing through the red-brick gate from Belmar to Spring Lake, the boardwalk veers closer to the ocean so visitors are immersed in the dunes and the ocean not the noise of cars driving by or parking. The stately Spring Lake homes and a few old hotels are the only thing visible above the dunes while walking the two miles of the boardwalk.

Towering over the homes and the rest of Spring Lake since 1914 is The Essex and Sussex. For most of its history, the building served as a hotel, but since 2002 it's an "active adult" condominium

community. A few blocks north is The Breakers on the Ocean Hotel, where visitors can take a drink from the bar, sit on the porch, and look across Ocean Avenue at the beach.

The Breakers on the Ocean Hotel

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The Martin Maloney Cottage

The Irish Riviera

While there are 14 towns or beaches across American that champion themselves as the "Irish Riviera," Spring Lake may have the strongest claim for that title. According to the the 2000 Census, 39.4% of Spring Lake residents identified as being of Irish American ancestry, the highest percentage of Irish Americans of any place in the United States. Irish immigrant Martin Maloney built a 26-room mansion that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it's occupied as

St. Catharine Church

a private home near the ocean on Morris Avenue. In the early 1900s, Maloney also funded the construction of St. Catharine Church and commissioned Irish-themed murals for the most impressive Catholic church at the Shore. The building has a remarkable setting overlooking Spring Lake. The church dome is easily viewed from a float or surfboard a few hundred yards from the shoreline.

Former Life-Saving Service Station, now a private home.

Converted Life Saving Station by the ocean

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". The first Wreck Pond was built in1849.

Photo from U.S. Coast Guard, date unknown

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 and many more along the nation's coastlines. In 1891, a new station was built "two and one—half miles south of Shark River" because the old one "built many years ago and which had become inadequate to the wants of the Service" at Spring Lake. The original design is by Architect George L. Tolman -- dubbed “the Quonochontaug” after a Rhode Island beach—in 1891, and it was used for more than 20 stations erected for the Lifesaving Service around the country. By 1933, the station house was "abandoned". Fortunately, a private owner purchased the property and kept much of the original station house. It's a private home today looking out toward the ocean as it did more than 130 years ago.

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.”

Why the streets are "crooked"

If you drive around Spring Lake, the town's roads lack the generally structured grid of neighbors on both side. In large part, that's a remnant of the originally development of the area as four separate communities: North Spring Lake, Villa Park, Spring Lake Beach and Como. Realizing the complexity of providing municipal services to four unique communities, the voters approved the formation of Spring Lake Borough in 1892.

Unique among its neighbors, Spring Lake's main shopping area is not a major road through the town, nor is it the main east-west route from Route 71 to the beach. The result is a quaint, more pedestrian friendly shopping strip centered around the intersection of 3rd and Morris Avenues.

Tips for Visiting Spring Lake

What's New: Main Pharmacy on Third Avenue is completed remodeled and open.

Access and Parking: The main access to the town is via Route 71 to the west or driving south along Ocean Avenue from Belmar. Parking is free.

Amenities: There are restrooms along the boardwalk.

Beaches: As of May 19, exact days when beach badges are required have not been confirmed. Badges will be required Memorial Day Weekend and then, most likely, some weekends in June and then daily from mid-June to Labor Day. Daily beach badges are $12 and can be purchased at the beachfront. Last year, daily beach badges were $20! Seasonal beach badges are $110 for people 12 and older and $80 for people aged 65 and over -- both the same as previous years.

Starring Role: Featured as a turn-of-the-century town briefly in the move Ragtime, Once Upon a Time in America and The Subject Was Roses.

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


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