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Spending a vacation in the Wildwoods is a tradition for many people. It's a place where adults can relive the magical time of their youth and intrduce their own children to the activities and attractions they enjoyed when they were kids. Like building sandcastles on the beach, riding the amusements on the Boardwalk, frloicking in the ocean's waves for hours on end, sailing on Sunset Lake, taking a boat ride for deep-sea fishing, spending an evening playing minature golf then grabbing an ice cream cone, and the pleasures of homemade fudge, saltwater taffy, funnel cake, and cotton candy.
First time visitors to the five-mile long barrier island find their vacation is a time of discovering both simple pleasures and exciting times. Like taking a long, romantic walks on the beach as the sun sets, watching the dolphins play in the ocean just a few hundred feet from the water's edge, shopping in the island's downtoan district known as Holly Beach Station, enjoying first-class entertainment and the finest seafood, taking in the breathtaking sights, sounds and smells of the world famous Boardwalk, and seeing the historic sights in the Wildwoods and surrounding communities.
From early spring through late fall, the Wildwoods are fraught with family-style events that attract thousands to this unique resort. Some of the more popular events include East Coast Boardwalk Nationals Auto Show (May 9-12), Pirate's Weekend, East Coast Stunt Kite Championships, Mummer's Brigade Weekend, the 73rd annual National Marbles Tournament, Polka Spree By-the-Sea, Fourth of July foreworks display, Pro-Am Volleyball, Italian Festival, Christmas In July Boat Parade, Rock & Roll All Music Collectibles Show, Bluefish Music Festival, the New Jersey State Fireman's Convention, Irish Fall Festival, Seafarer's Celebration, Stringband Weekend and Oktoberfest By-the-Sea, and the Thunder on the Beach Monster Truck Competition.
Throughout the season, there are weekly musical concerts in each of the Wildwoods, craft shows, fishing tournaments, and conventions and parades for state and national organizations like the VFW, the American Legion, the Elks, the Shriners, the National Judges Music Festival, Knights of Columbus, and the Harley Owners Group.
Each week in the summer, youngsters can join in an environmental exploration led by Captain Oceans, who takes children on a beachwalk to investigate the riches of the sea and beach unique to the region. Children from 1-100 become enchanted when they take one of the several whale watching excursions that leave the Wildwoods throughout the day in search of the multitude of whales and propoises that populate the waters just off the island. And a "must-see" attraction in the resort is 220-foot long, 30=foot high "Whalling Wall", at Garfield Avenue and the Boardwalk, an undersea environmental mural by internationally renown artist Wyland.
Selected as the nation's "Best Sports Beach" by Conde' Naste Traveler magazine, the Wildwoods' massive beaches can't be matched when it comes to a beach for playing sports. Volleyball courts can be found on the beaches for the entire stretch of the island, and any spot at all is perfect for body surfing. Marbles, horseshoes, clamshell tossing, and bocce are other sports popular on the resort's beaches.
The resort's beaches attracts international sporting and recreational events like the East Coast National Stunt Kite Championships, The Wildwoods Classic Cup Sailing Regatta Hobe Cat Races, the International Power Kite Exposition, the World Water Slide Speed Championship, America's Birthday Bash and the Captain Morgan Big Shot volleyball tournaments, the annual Around the Island Row, Ultimate Frisbee Beach Tournament, Beschen-Callahan Memorial Lifeguard Races, USNBA body building shows, and Dutch Hoffman Memorial Lifeguard Championships.
Public Tennis courts can be found in each municipality of the Wildwoods, as well as basketball courts, playgrounds, and baseball fields. Jet Skis can be rented at several locations along the beach and along the back bay areas, and bicycle rentals can be found in many spots sovisitors can enjoy biking along the resort's Boardwalk in the mornings, or taking a two-wheeled tour of the entire resort.
Golf, both minature and the "big person's" variety, is available when visiting the Wildwoods. Dozens of miniature golf courses pepper the island, giving novices and experts alike the oppurtunity to "putt-putt" for 18 holes on courses that range from very difficult to rather easy. There are three public and two private championship golf couses nearby in surrounding communities offshore, and eight public 18-hole courses just a short drive away in Atlantic County.
Beginning in 1996, each summer morning will begin with an aerobics workout, there's no better place for an early-morning jog or run.
As one of the largest fishing ports in the country, the waters off the southern tip of New Jersey abound with marine life. Ther are more than 100 party boats that make daily trips to fishing grounds, and charters for private parties or groups for sport fishing are available throughout the rsort of the Wildwoods. Sightseeing and whale watching excursions run at various times each day, and sailboats, motorboats, Hobie cats, and wind surfing are all experiences that make the Wildwood vacation complete.
For those who prefer to stay on land, ther are a myriad of locations for crabbing along the waterways, fishing off piers, jetties, or from the edge of the surf.
The Wildwoods are home to more than 400 eateries, and no fewer than 30 nightclubs or taverns are open each summer to accomodate the entertainment nedd for adults 21 to 101.
Entertainment at the many nightclubs runs from "alternative" for the younger set, right up to "swing" style music for the older crowd. Live entertainment dominates the Wildwoods' nightclub scene, anywhere from a one-man band using a synthesizer to multimember horn band.
Afternoons and early evenings are the popular times for establishments with dockside bars. The Wildwoods have many outdoor bars with menus that include a variety of delectable seafood dishes from appetizers and snack food to full=course dinners.
For sports fans there are many taverns and pubs on the island that offer "no frills" food and drink, accompanied by numerous large screen TV's tuned to channels woth sporting events.
In North Wildwood's Hereford Village nightclub district, there are a dozen establishments within walking distance of each other, offering the full spectrum of nightlife. There, anyone can find a nightclub to suit his or her taste in musical entertainment, including authentic Irish music, and popular tunes from the '40s to the '90s.
Wildwood's nightclub district centers on Holly Beach Station, with dance clubs that don't close until the wee hours of the morning. Cheers, Club Dreams, the Fairview and Shamrock arre just some of the more popular nightclubs in Wildwood.
Brief History of the Wildwoods
The first inhabitants of the Wildwoods -- a five-mile long barrier island made up of the communities of Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, North Wildwood, and West Wildwood -- were Indians in the Ketchemeche tribe, an offshoot of the Lenape Nation, who first used the island as a summer gathering place to enjoy the sun, hunt, and fish.
In 1874 the U.S. Lifesaving Service built and operated a lighthouse on the northern end of the island, known as Anglesea. The lighthouse keeper and a small group of fishermen who built shacks in Anglesea were the only inhabitants of the island until 1882, when a group of settlers arrived and began work clearing forest, building homes, schools, and churches. Those settlers, lead by a man named Philip Pontius Baker, gave the small town they were creating the name of Holly Beach. The boroughs of Holly Beach and Anglesea were officially incorporated in 1885.
The Borough of Holly Beach, at the time of its incorporation, ran from Cedar Avenue south to McCandless (now called Morning Glory Road). The population at that time was 210, with 20 homes and boarding houses. The year before Holly Beach became a borough, the West Jersey Railroad ran a line from Cape May Court House in Middle Township, to Anglesea. The railroad line ran parallel to an Indian trail, the continuation of King Nummy Trail, which was the only northern access to the island, and travelers entered the island just west of the present day New Jersey Avenue.
Franklin J. Van Valin was voted the Borough of Holly Beachıs first mayor. In August 1890, the 23rd President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, attended the dedication of the Dayton Hotel at Wildwood and Atlantic avenues. The Borough of Wildwood, which existed for only seven years, was incorporated in 1895. That borough was made up of the northern section of what is now the City of Wildwood, from Oak Avenue through 26th Avenue. Latimer R. Baker served as Wildwood Boroughıs first and only mayor from 1895 to 1912.
At the southern end of the island existed an inlet, called Turtle Gut Inlet, which separated the main part of the island from a beach two miles long. The inlet, at what is now Rambler Road, was later filled in to expand the Borough of Wildwood Crest. Wildwood Crest was incorporated in 1910 and Philip P. Baker was the boroughıs first mayor. That same year, Anglesea, from Hereford Inlet to 26th Avenue, incorporated and took the name City of North Wildwood. Two years later the boroughs of Holly Beach and Wildwood consolidated to form the City of Wildwood. The first Mayor of the City of Wildwood was J. Thompson Baker.
The first church on the island was a Baptist church, which was erected on Pine Avenue, west of Pacific Avenue, in 1892. The first public school building on the island was in Holly Beach Borough, constructed on three lots on Andrew Avenue between Holly Beach (now New Jersey) Avenue and Pacific Avenue. Although the original school building was destroyed in a flood, the one-room schoolhouse rebuilt in 1904 still exists at the site, now called Holly Beach Park. In 1902 a school was built in the Borough of Wildwood at Glenwood and New York avenues. To this day, there is still a school at that location.
Following a lead from Atlantic City -- which in 1870 built Alexander Boardmanıs Boardwalk -- Latimer Baker in 1899 suggested a similar Boardwalk be constructed in the Borough of Wildwood from Oak to 26th Avenue, on the easterly margin of Atlantic Avenue. Work for the seven-block structure was completed in the summer of 1900. Before the Boardwalk was built, the island of Five Mile Beach was a haven for tourists not for its beaches and the ocean, but rather, for the enjoyment of a magnificent park and lake between Magnolia and Cedar avenues.
In 1903, Wildwood Borough Council decided to move the Boardwalk eastward, make it elevated and widened, to connect with a new pier, called Ocean Pier, being constructed between Juniper and Poplar avenues. In 1904, the council passed an ordinance calling for a new Boardwalk from Cedar Avenue to 26th Avenue, 180 ft. East of the eastern side of Atlantic Avenue, to join with the Anglesea Boardwalk being constructed. Ocean Pier was competed in 1905 (destroyed by fire on Dec. 25, 1943).
Holly Beach Borough Council in August 1904 voted to build a Boardwalk, which would run from Cresse Avenue north on Atlantic Avenue to Lincoln Avenue, and swing out to tie in with the Borough of Wildwood Boardwalk at Blaker Pier. Holly Beach celebrated the dedication of the Boardwalk on Aug. 17, 1905, with a parade. Sometime in the first decade of the century, a boardwalk spanning six blocks from Cresse Avenue to Aster Road was constructed in the Borough of Wildwood Crest. By the early 1920s the boardwalk was torn down and replaced by what is now Seaview Avenue.
Along with a new Boardwalk that spanned most of the islandıs beachfront, the new century brought much change to the Wildwoods. On June 9, 1903, the first trolley car on the island began its run from Anglesea to Rio Grande Avenue. That service ran until 1946, when the trolley service was replaced by buses. In 1903, the Rio Grande Bridge, bringing travelers onto the middle of the island, was built and opened.
By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, folks on the island of the Wildwoods began to realize they were duplicating governmental services. In August 1911, a general election was held on the island for residents to decide if all the communities of the island should consolidate. The measure was approved by the boroughs of Holly Beach and Wildwood, but shot down by Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood. Holly Beach and Wildwood later went on to consolidate themselves. In 1914, under a new governmental set-up, the citizens of the City of Wildwood began a petition drive to recall their three city commissioners. The attempt failed. J. Thompson Baker, Wildwoodıs first mayor, went on to become a U.S. Congressman. By summer 1914, the Wildwoods were bustling as a tourist and entertainment magnet. Each day, there were flying exhibitions on the beach to enthrall touristsı interest piqued by the antics of Wilbur and Orville Wright in Kitty Hawk, N.C. Musical entertainment was provided daily with concerts on Casino and Atlantic Piers. A general census of the resort put the islandıs full-time population at 3,858 in 1915. In 1915, at the request of local merchants, a bandstand was erected east of the Boardwalk at Schellenger Avenue (that bandshell exists today at Montgomery Avenue).
The popularity of the automobile was a boon to the Wildwoods, bringing more and more families to the resort for extended vacations. During prohibition, Chicago and New York werenıt the only places for the illegal import and export of alcoholic beverages. The islandıs northern section, Anglesea, was a key port for the eraıs rum runners.
Speakeasies, where thirsty and bored citizens could enjoy -- albeit illegally -- a few drinks, gamble, dance, and listen to music, were commonplace in the Wildwoods. One of the areaıs more famous importers was Louisa ³Lou² Booth, who operated a speakeasy. Legend has it that Booth took the name ³Lou² because importing the contraband booze was a ³manıs business,² and her operation ran smoother if those she did business with believed they were dealing with a man. Besides Lou Boothıs, there were numerous other speakeasies in the resort of the Wildwoods, which by the 1930s had gained quite a reputation as one of the premier entertainment centers on the East Coast.
The resort hit full stride after the end of World War II, when the country began its return to normalcy. With the economy once again flourishing and ³Happy Days Here Again, the atmosphere throughout the nation and perpetuated in the Wildwoods, was one of happiness and good times. The Baby Boom brought about a need for vacation spots that families could enjoy, and the Wildwoods fit the bill. The popularity of the resortıs Boardwalk in the preceding decades, during which amusement rides and games flourished, coupled with the aesthetic beauty of the islandıs beaches and ocean, brought families from the greater Philadelphia area to the resort in droves. It was common in those days for a family to rent a seashore home for a month or even the entire summer season, during which Mom and the kids lived at the shore, and Dad spent the weekends.
During that period, now recognized as the Wildwoodsı heyday, top-name entertainers vied for gigs at the resortıs many fine and popular nightclubs.
In 1948 Louis Armstrong was appearing at the Martinique, a club that still exists at Oak and Ocean avenues today. The 50s were good for entertainers and the Wildwoods alike, and the resort was loaded with the top acts in the country. Names like Liberace, Danny and the Juniors, Frankie Lane, Spike Jones, Martha Raye, Eartha Kitt, Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Tony Bennett, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Wayne Newton, Bill Haley and the Comets, Chubby Checker, and Little Richard graced the marquees of clubs throughout the island from the 40s, through the birth of Rock n Roll, and into the 1960s. Places like the Bolero, the Manor Supper Club, the Beach Club, Phil and Eddieıs Surf Club, the Riptide, the Hurricane, Starlight Ballroom, and the Beachcomber carried national headliners during the summer months in those three decades.
For many people who enjoyed the 50s and60s as teenagers and young adults, the Wildwoods was the place to be. The country prospered with Eisenhower in the White House, and families planned their summers around vacations in the Wildwoods. A rented house or motel room for two weeks was utopia for most. Families with a bit more expendable income, however, often opted for a rental that lasted the entire summer. Today, may of those ³Baby Boom² children now fondly recall spending their summers in the Wildwoods. Some of those who grew up summering in the Wildwoods yearned to become ³big-name² entertainers the likes of people whose names they saw in lights in the Wildwoods, including Sammy Davis Jr., Connie Francis, Johnnie Mathis, and Eydie Gorme. And some of those young entertainers went on to attain the fame and fortune they sought. South Philly kids Bobby Rydell, Fabian, and Frankie Avalon all played the Wildwoods clubs, and Rydell even put his affection for the resort into the ever-popular tune, Wildwood Days.
By the mid-ı60s, the country was involved in Vietnam, and psychedelic rock had taken the place of the more wholesome music that thrived in the resort for the preceding 20 years. Big-name entertainment was still a feature in the Wildwoods, but there was nowhere near the volume of top-rate acts the resort had become known for. Entertainment of a more regional and local nature became more commonplace, with occasional national celebrities making appearances throughout the late 1960s and 70s.
Nightclubs continued to thrive in the 1970s, but the audiences were predominantly comprised of a younger set since the drinking age in New Jersey was lowered to 18. The Wildwoods became the place for college students and post-high school-aged adults to spend their summers. Among them was an aspiring actor and musician named Bruce Willis, who spent several summers working and playing in the Wildwoods while putting himself through acting school.
National events and occurrences like the 70s gas shortage, the recession of the 80s, and the changes in the traditional family had a significant impact on resorts throughout the region, including the Wildwoods. Families found that extended vacations, much less renting a house for the entire summer, were an unnecessary extravagance. Vacations became shorter. When families were able to take vacations, they were closer to home, more of the meals were prepared in motel units, after which they watched television, and fewer nights were spent ³out on the town.
The mid-to late-ı80s brought with them devastating reports of pollution washing up on New Jersey beaches, resulting in yet another decline in tourism. While corrective measures, such as strict legislation banning ocean dumping, environmental education, increased recycling efforts, and diligent beach cleaning were quickly put into place, there was little seashore resorts like the Wildwoods could do to put a halt to the trend of waning tourism.
The Wildwoods, over the past two decades, have been tirelessly pursuing ways to recapture their share of the tourism market. Because there is no other industry to sustain the islandıs 12,000 year-round inhabitants, the businesses, residents and elected officials in the resort are fully aware that meeting the specific needs of the tourist is the only way the resort will thrive. Although the Wildwoods are crowded with visitors during the 10 prime weeks of summer -- from Memorial Day to Labor Day -- Herculean efforts have been put forth to extend the season to include the spring and fall.
For the past several years the resort has significantly increased the number of special events produced in the Wildwoods, and campaigns have been launched to bring families back to the resort for their vacations.
So intent are the resident of the resort to improve their stake in the tourism industry that in 1993 the people of the Wildwoods chose to impose a tax on themselves, in the amount of 2 percent of all sales, to fund an authority established for the sole purposed of improving tourism and development in the resort. One of the main goals of the Greater Wildwood Tourism Improvement and Development Authority is to construct a new civic center to attract large conventions and to house large-scale events.
Other recent developments in the resort include plans to construct a baseball stadium in North Wildwood to be home for a minor league professional baseball team; and the intent to open a native American gaming casino, under the auspices of the Delaware Nation, in the center of Wildwood.
Throughout the history of the Wildwoods, from its infancy in the early part of the century, through the resortıs heyday in the middle of the century, and as we enter the 21st century, the Wildwoods have maintained the attractions that have always attracted visitors the world over, and which cannot be compared with any other resort on the planet: the Wildwoodsı Boardwalk, and the Wildwoodsı huge, free beaches.