Always a proud supporter and great lover of his hometown, as well as a great historian in his own right, former Mayor Dick Stryker is a great source of information with date, materials and collectibles about the town in the 19th century before it was separated from Middletown. One story, which was first published in the early part of the 20th century credits Ezra R. Osborne and others like him with beginning the town of Atlantic Highlands.
Ezra worked for Thomas H. Leonard, the man most often credited with conceiving the idea of the town and helping it every step of the way in its early progress. His “From Indian Trail to Electric Rail“ classic is often used for history, some not so inaccurate, but all fascinating. The book gives you an idea of how far reaching Mr. Leonard was in this thinking.
But back to Ezra. He made the first of what were many surveys of the town, some made by George Cooper, C.C of Red Bank, who later turned up at the borough’s official town surveyor.
Others attracted to the idea of a community separate from Middletown were William M. Foster and John J. Leonardo, along with Moses M. Babbington.
The Leonards were heavily involved. Thomas, R.A., James H, and a few others got together and formed the Bay View Transportation Co. and established steamboat communication with New York. The next logical step if they were to pursue growth of their new idea was to form an Atlantic Highlands Association to purchase some land. By 1881, the Association owned properties on the east side of Many Mind Creek. The Bownes, Edward and Miss Letitia, owned some more land west of Avenue D and favored the idea of expanding a bit to the east. D.R. Roberts was a contractor and built his residence on the Bowne trac, John M. Sharts had a cottage on South Avenue, and Mrs. Barrett and Mrs. A.E. Bennett had houses there as well. On the Highland avenue portion of the Bowne tract, both William Manning and Davis Smith built what were called cottages, all during the 1880s.
The town idea grew, more local gentlemen, ministers and businessmen alike, grew interested and by the mid-1880s, the Rev. James E. Lake was president of the Atlantic Highlands Association, the Rev. J.C. Nobles was president of the Citizens Association, and Dr. Edward C. Curtis joined the group, quickly taking over the presidency when the Rev. Lake’s term was up. The Leonards, Holmes Murphy, T.J. Roberts, John E. Foster, Jacob T. Stout, S.T. Champion and William Foster were still active, interested and helping the town grow.
In 1887, Mr. Foster led the move to organize efforts for a borough, and by the 1890s, there were five lawyers in town, along with as many architects, five grocers and three doctors. The schools in Atlantic Highlands were described as the best in all of Middletown and among the very finest in Monmouth County. There was a local bank as well, highly regarded among such institutions, with Thomas Leonard the president and Charles Van Mater the cashier and already there were six churches representing five different denominations.
Mrs. M.E. Allen headed the very strong branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union which was established here and which built a temple on Mount Ave, close to the railroad station, that could seat 500 people. Stories at the time said the Temple was used “for public entertainment of an unobjectionable character.”
The first newspaper of course was the Atlantic Highlands Herald with P.Y. Everett the editor. But by 1886, two Vassar College graduates Ella Leonard and Caroline Lingle bought the Herald and changed its name to the Independent, enlarged the paper and added a steam engine and a boiler for a successful printing and newspaper business. The name and owners changed several times in the next few decades and by the end of the 19th century, the original paper was challenged by a second paper, the Atlantic Highlands Journal, which eventually grew under A.C.Hart, a Freehold resident and skilled journalist. He was both editor and proprietor of the Atlantic Highlands Power Co.
[editor’s note: For more information about Atlantic Highlands history, visit Atlantic Highlands Historical Society. https://www.ahhistory.org/ ]