Former Mayor Dick Stryker is probably one of the most astute collectors. And savers…of stories, photos, memorabilia, and facts about Atlantic Highlands and frequently shares bits of information with historians to help keep both residents and visitors aware of just how very special this community is.
Towards this end, Dick recently released a full newspaper page-length account of the story of the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Harbor. The account was told by Commission Chairman Joseph P. Dender in 1958, the 20th anniversary of the building of what has been called the most beautiful harbor in the state of New Jersey…and Beyond!
The history shows the warm working relationships between the Harbor and its tenant, the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club, as well as the communications and activities shared by the Harbor, borough residents and property owners, as well as visitors, and the governing body. The Harbor Commission has always answered to the Mayor and Council but acts independently collecting fees for anything from boat launching and mooring to dock space and fuel. The Commission, in turn, presents the borough with a check every year to be used for municipal costs.
Names of the Commissioners in 1958 are still names remembered with affection by longtime residents: Andrew Lynch, Harvey Bowtell, John Gawler, Dominick Caruso, Everett Curry and Edward Walder, the last two of whom were also among the most revered mayors of the borough.
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1958 was before the Shore Casino became a leaseholder in the building where the Yacht Club leases the second floor. At that time, it was Michael Stellas who was a tenant. Stellas, like the Yacht Club, paid $2,000 a year for his lease, and, also like the club, was responsible for all interior maintenance and utility charges. Mr. Stellas operated a luncheonette and restaurant in part of the ground floor, but through his years there, made considerable improvements to the facility, including an extensive addition to the building, work and materials at his expense and with the understanding it then became the property of the harbor.
The story also recalls it was a very new harbor in 1941 when World War II broke out, and the harbor could not be operated as a public facility under the mandate of the federal government. That meant there was no income to speak of, and storms had damaged piers and bulkheads.
It had cost something over $900,000 to build the harbor, with the borough putting in $53,000, including the $9,000 it cost to acquire riparian rights from property owners. Bonds were sold by the borough to meet the rest of the construction costs. After the war, bonds were issued once again to make $30,000 worth of pier repairs, another $7,000 bonds were issued to install utilities at the harbor, and in 1948, another $4,000 was issued in bonds for more bulkhead repairs.. The total of those bonds was $94,500. At the time of Dender’s r report to the residents in 1958, only $18,500 remained to be paid off.
Even though the harbor commission could operate the facility publicly after the war, it still took some time to make a profit, since people couldn’t purchase boats right away. But again, the commissioners worked hard to keep expenses down, keep bills paid and continue to be a borough asset. So much so that between 1953 and 1957, the harbor contributed $43,600 to offset borough taxes. Today, the Harbor Commission gives a million dollars back to the borough every year.
Harbor Commissioners were grateful for the Yacht Club and the role its members, most of them borough residents, many others boat owners who leased space in the harbor, played in benefitting Atlantic Highlands. Every year, the club had its Sea Explorer Ship, its club open to any boy in the area at least 14 years of age; the club had an annual fishing contest, and several major sailing events every year, a program that borough enthusiasts from up and down the Atlantic seaboard as well as inland as far as the mid-west. And even back in 1958, as it does t today, the Harbor Commission noted the yacht club “has considerable influence in attracting new residents to the community.”
Today’s Harbor Master Lou Fligor, himself a former councilman, continues to maintain the high standards the Harbor Commission has always insisted upon. He continues to oversee and manage a Yacht Harbor which has won accolades consistently, responds to a Commission still represented by local residents dedicated to keeping the borough the highly recognized, appreciated, and sought after community it has always been.