Anderson Campanella Architects
The New Jersey Coast Heritage Museum at Sandlass House, Inc. (Whew! That’s a name for you!) is taking on an incredibly large but very exciting project that not only old-timers and historians in the area will appreciate, but also every single person who enjoys Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook will as well. The Association is going…and I say going because they ARE that determined……to let everyone know what life was like in earlier centuries at what is now the entrance to Sandy Hook.
One of the best folks to share happy memories of growing up there is Susan Sandlass Gardiner who is secretary of the newly incorporated non-profit. She and her four siblings grew up in “the Big House” in the 1940s through the 1960s when their father, Henry Sandlass was running Sandlass Beach, the 20th century version of what their grandfather, William Sandlass, Jr. started in the 19th century.
At the very beginning, the focal point of the original Highlands Beach Excursion Resort was the Great Switchback Railroad, a wooden roller coaster built in 1888, long before Asbury or Seaside parks were the go-to destinations for day timers by land or sea seeking some respite from city heat. The railroad only lasted five years, but the timbers from it were used to build the house the new organization is now working to save. The “Big House” as it was known because of the 25 bungalows that surrounded it on the Sandlass’ five acres adjacent to Fort Hancock, served as the Sandlass home and the office for the Resort for half a century, until Sandlass Beach Club ceased all operations in 1962. The building is the last remnant of the resort that still holds fond memories for thousands of visitors.
Susan loved living in what could be called an island, considering it was across the bridge from Highlands and a distance from the center of Sea Bright Village. She remembers that “we definitely had two families, our winter family, which was all of us siblings and our parents and ‘winter’ friends, and our summer family, when we could play, swim, and enjoy the company of the thousands of visitors who came to rent the bungalows and the 300 lockers for beachgoers.”
The Sandlasses went to Holy Cross School in Rumson, too long a distance for pre-teens to walk. So their parents, along with the parents of the few youngsters who lived in Sea Bright’s north beach, arranged for the gentleman who ran a limousine service at Shay’s gas station in Sea Bright to drive them every day to school. Even today, this charming lady with a spectacular memory of her early years laughs recalling “you should have seen the other kids when we pulled up in a limo every day.” Henry Sandlass worked in construction during the winter months, and in March began the annual ritual of readying the resort for its summer influx.
Summers were entirely different. “There were hundreds of people every day,” Susan reminisces, “we still had all our winter friends from Sea Bright and Rumson, but we could also renew all the friendships with summer families whose own traditions were to make Sandlass Beach the place to be. Many of the friendships formed in those days carried on through decades.”
Today, Susan is as busy as ever, working with the new corporation’s president Rick Geffken, vice president Jeff Tyler, and a Board of Trustees that’s getting bigger by the day, in drawing up by-laws, arranging meetings with the National Park Service and Congressman Frank Pallone to have their dream of a Heritage Museum established. There are fund raising events to plan, more meetings with Sea Bright’s Mayor Dina Long who agrees with their idea that the Museum, now officially outside the gates of Gateway National, but still under the ownership of NPS, be part of Sea Bright’s Master Plan.
Anderson Campanella Architects
Hank, Jr, Susan’s brother, is also on the Board of Trustees and has dictated his own memories of growing-up outside the gates of an army base during the Cold War for the National Park Service’s heritage audios. Hank is also the only Sandlass still living in New Jersey; Ann lives in Manhattan, Sheila in Delaware, and Susan in Maryland. Their sister, Duffy, died two years ago...
The next step in the undertaking is to convince the Park Service, with Pallone’s help, to halt plans for demolition of the building, now vacant, boarded up and inaccessible to the general public, to give the corporation time to raise the necessary funds to preserve a piece of American history in Monmouth County.
You, too, can be a part of this effort simply by following the progress of this hard-hitting group of preservationists, then supporting their efforts with letters to Congressman Pallone, Sea Bright and the National Park Service. Just for fun, Google Hank’s interview by the Park Service; enjoy a childhood many would yearn for.