Strolling Through Time: The Enchanting History of Atlantic City’s Boardwalk and Beach

As the summer sun glistens on the Atlantic City shoreline, visitors from far and wide are drawn to the iconic Boardwalk and the inviting beaches. A trip to this seaside haven has been a timeless tradition, but the origins of Atlantic City may surprise many. Originally envisioned as a health resort, this bustling destination has evolved over the years, yet still retains the charm of its early days.

From Health Resort to Summer Escape

Long before the bright lights and casinos, Atlantic City was conceived as a health retreat. Encouraged to escape the crowded cities, visitors would embark on a train journey to breathe in the fresh sea air and indulge in saltwater baths. To ensure their safety, the Atlantic City Beach Patrol was established in 1892, closely watching over early bathers. Constables from the police department had previously taken on this role.

Atlantic City Boardwalk, 1920s

Modesty and Fashion: The Early Bathing Suit Era

As beachgoers began to flock to the shores, bath houses played a vital role in providing essential amenities. Since many visitors did not own bathing suits, these establishments rented out costumes and changing rooms. In the early days, bathing suits were far from skimpy; modesty and the law dictated that the whole body must be covered. For women, this meant wearing stockings until the 1920s, while men were required to wear shirts until at least 1940. Wool was the fabric of choice for these bathing suits, as it effectively repelled water and maintained its shape better than cotton.

The Birth of an Icon: The Atlantic City Boardwalk

Overlooking the picturesque beaches, the Atlantic City Boardwalk came into existence as a practical solution. It was constructed to prevent sand from being tracked into the lobbies of hotels and resorts. In 1870, after a petition by hoteliers and businessmen, the council approved $5,000 for the construction of a footwalk made of boards. On June 26, 1870, the original boardwalk opened to the public, stretching one mile long, eight feet wide, and standing approximately one foot above the sand. At the end of each year, this initial boardwalk was removed and stored.

Atlantic City Boardwalk crowd in front of Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel, 1911 (retouched)

The Evolution of the Boardwalk

As Atlantic City flourished, the boardwalk underwent several transformations. Later versions were made more permanent, with the final one built in 1896. It was officially designated as a street in 1895 and has remained an iconic symbol of the city ever since. Today’s Boardwalk stretches over 4 miles, measuring 60 feet at its widest point and rising 12 feet above sea level at its highest.

Piers of Past and Present

A stroll along the wooden way is an invitation to explore Atlantic City’s history and amusements. While the Absecon Lighthouse, dating back to 1857, may no longer stand directly on the Boardwalk due to sand accretion, it remains the city’s oldest structure. The Boardwalk’s landscape has been adorned with piers, some of which have come and gone over the years.From the West Jersey Pier, opened and destroyed in 1880, to the Steel Pier that still graces the shoreline, these piers have been witnesses to generations of joy and laughter. Young’s Million Dollar Pier, later known as Ocean One and now The Playground, tells a tale of time and transformation.

1930s Atlantic City by Edward Mason Eggleston

A Timeless Destination

As Atlantic City continues to welcome visitors seeking fun, relaxation, and a dash of nostalgia, the Boardwalk and the beach remain the heart of this vibrant city. Evoking memories of a bygone era, they stand as a testament to the enduring allure of this coastal gem, where the past and present gracefully intertwine in harmony. So, whether you’re riding in a rolling chair or simply taking a leisurely stroll, the Atlantic City Boardwalk promises an enchanting journey through time.

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