Sea Bright, New Jersey, October 24, 2016 – A group of prominent Monmouth County citizens has recently incorporated as the Jersey Coast Heritage Museum at Sandlass House (JCHM). The mission of the non-profit JCHM is to save the historic William Sandlass House from the threat of demolition in order to create a museum and cultural center celebrating the House’s history as the first built, and only remaining structure, from the grand Highland Beach Excursion Resort on Sandy Hook.
Rick Geffken, President of the JCHM, notes, “The Highland Beach Excursion Resort, founded by William Sandlass, Jr., opened in the summer of 1889. William Sandlass Jr. built the ‘Great Switchback Rail Road’ modeled on designs by LaMarcus Thompson, an early builder of roller coaster rides. It was an immediate success, drawing crowds and helping launch the new resort.
“Four years later, Sandlass dismantled the Gravity Rail Road and used its timbers to construct the house. It served as his residence for the next 50 years as well as the headquarters for his Highland Beach Resort. The building is the last remnant of the resort, later known as Sandlass Baths, which finally ceased operations in 1962.”
Susan Sandlass Gardiner, granddaughter of founder William Sandlass, Jr., and Secretary of the newly-formed JCHM, states: “I grew up living in the house when Sandlass Baths was flourishing under the direction of my father, Henry Sandlass. After almost 75 years of success, during which hundreds of thousands of people visited our resort, the State of New Jersey acquired the property in Eminent Domain proceedings in 1962. The property and the house were transferred to the United States Department of the Interior in 1979. After Superstorm Sandy, the National Park Service (NPS) determined it no longer needed the historic house and has applied for demolition funding to knock it down.”
Jeff Tyler, Vice-President of the JCHM and a member of the Fort Hancock 21st Century Advisory Committee (FACA) since 2015, first learned about the historic importance of the Sandlass House at FACA meetings. Tyler recalls, “As a career real estate professional, I immediately recognized how a restored and repurposed Sandlass House could draw attention and interest to Fort Hancock. Unfortunately, the National Park Service disagreed. They basically said ‘Move it or lose it.’ It’s clear that for the same amount of money NPS has budgeted to demolish it, the Sandlass House could be renovated as the Beacon of Welcome to Sandy Hook and the Jersey Shore it once was.”
Geffken added, “With all due respect to Asbury Park and Atlantic City, the Highland Beach Excursion Resort was the first day-trip fun destination for everyday people looking to escape the heat and crowds of New York City and northern New Jersey. They came by steamship, train, and later on by automobile, to enjoy a day at the river and ocean beaches and the many amusements William Sandlass provided for them.”
Dina Long, Mayor of Sea Bright where the Sandlass House stands, suggested to representatives of the JCHM that the house would be a wonderful addition to the town’s Master Plan. Her suggestion to turn it into a museum/cultural center galvanized the group into action.
The JCHM group hopes to meet soon with Rep. Frank Pallone (D, NJ 6th District) to enlist his support requesting the United States Department of the Interior desist in their plans to bring the house down. Geffken also said “I’m sure Congressman Pallone will help us once we show him our plans to save and renovate the Sandlass House. Highland Beach is part of our shared cultural history, a place so many people loved. Just as importantly, the resort influenced the development of our beloved Jersey Shore, bringing visitors who would later decide to move to Monmouth County to work and live. We want everyone to see and understand it’s absolutely central role in this.” Geffken added, “We hope Senator Cory Booker (D, N.J.) will take a similar interest and help us, too.”
Chris Brenner of Fair Haven, another of the Trustees of the JCHM, created a documentary video on Highland Beach Excursion Resort. It’s at his website www.destinationspast.com, or via YouTube, by searching for Highland Beach.
Brenner has shown his film at many local venues recently. “The response has been surprising and, quite honestly, overwhelming,” he says. “Everyone who sees this wants to know what we can do to save this wonderful artifact from the golden days of the Jersey Shore. We’ve lost so many other historic buildings in Monmouth County; we have to save this one.”
The Officers of the Jersey Coast Heritage Museum are Rick Geffken (President); Jeff Tyler (Vice-President), and Susan Sandlass Gardiner (Secretary /Treasurer). Founding Trustees include Jay Anderson (Rumson); Chris Brenner (Fair Haven); Sean Moran (Rumson); Hank Sandlass (Rumson); and Frank Smith (Stamford CT). The organization welcomes inquiries, volunteers, and tax deductible donations from all who will assist helping to preserve this symbol of our shared heritage.