By Sean Moran, Rumson
I don’t remember the first time I saw the Sandlass House, but I clearly remember how it made me feel. I was instantly fond of it, though I didn’t know why. Was it the house’s solitary location under the bridge leading from Sea Bright to the Highlands? Did its unique and simplistic design remind me of railroad buildings I had seen throughout my early 20’s travels Europe? The building just spoke to me.
Like a quiet elderly person you pass on the same street corner bench every day, the house assuredly held many more stories and dynamic life moments than its facade suggested. Was it a part of the good old days at the Shore – the days the railroad came through Highlands, and then pushed into and beyond Sea Bright? Was it somehow connected to the new concept of “leisure time” – that movement of masses of people looking for relief from their city homes and jobs? I wasn’t sure, but it turns out I was right.
A few months ago I somehow stumbled upon a fantastic documentary on YouTube, called Highland Beach. It was a historical look at what is now the northern most part of Sea Bright but was then known as Highland Beach. This film was mesmerizing and so well done. It revealed that one of THE first seaside resorts ever in this country was created right in our own area. The pictures, video clips and ancient film footage are priceless. And I learned that the house was called the Sandlass House. And I was shocked to see it is scheduled to be knocked down by the National Park Service.
While I am a relative newcomer to the Shore, my wife is a true Jersey girl from Spring Lake who practically grew up on the beach. In the 13 years I’ve lived here and in all of the conversations I’ve had with locals, I never once heard the story of how Highland Beach was started in the last years of the 19th century. I was amazed to see that the Switchback Ride – one of the first ever antecedents of the modern day roller coaster – had existed on our beach site where the Sandlass House now sits.
Growing up in New England, I’d always been a fan of history and nostalgia. And a fan of preservation – especially if it helps to create a deeper appreciation for the current as a result of understanding the richness of the past. I am by no means unique in these feelings. Whenever I talk to people about what Sea Bright used to look like or about the great Victorian structures lining the roadways and great hotels that people visited for summer holidays, I hear the same thing – “Isn’t it too bad more of that wasn’t saved?” It’s the same thing people said after New York City’s original Pennsylvania Station was demolished. That is now seen as the catalyst for the public joining like-minded philanthropists to make sure the same fate did not befall Grand Central Station.
I realize comparing the Sandlass House to these iconic structures is a stretch, but shouldn’t we be talking about the preservation of this historic Jersey Shore structure? How many know the story of Highland Beach? Do they realize that this building is the very last tie to an amazing long-gone era? If you watch the documentary and look at the Sandlass House as you enter Sandy Hook, or perhaps from Bahr’s Restaurant across the river, you might just wonder, “Do we have to lose this, too?” In this post-Sandy era shouldn’t there be a physical reminder of the history of the Shore, its storied and celebrated past, while we embrace the future of Sea Bright?”
Let’s start that important conversation now.
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