The Gilded Age in Monmouth County
By Nicole Miller, Introduction to Public History, Spring 2018
The extensive collection of the late Monmouth County historian George H. Moss, Jr. contains an impressive array of material that catalogs Monmouth County in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period sometimes known as the "Gilded Age." Postcards, newspapers, pamphlets and other items provide a unique look into this period of New Jersey’s history and, in particular, its glamorous shore towns like Long Branch, Monmouth Beach, and Red Bank. The New Jersey Coast was a popular getaway for those with money to burn during these decades.
During a period that stretched from the Civil War up until the 1920s, the accumulation of individual wealth thanks to new Industrial Revolution-era industries like railroading, factory building, and oil brought about what is now referred to as the "Gilded Age." In New Jersey, the development of shore towns had long been under way since the state’s inception, but more attention was coming now to the coast as wealthy figures of social and economic standing showed an interest in making these shore towns the landing point for their warm-weather travels and business ventures.
Monmouth County saw some of the most dramatic growth between the 1880s and 1920s thanks to investments made possible by this new wealth. One town in particular, Long Branch, was becoming especially popular amongst the rich elite and socially prestigious. Several presidents, including Ulysses Grant, James Garfield, and Woodrow Wilson, made Long Branch a summer residence for themselves, and wealthy New Yorkers from across the bay regularly came in by ferry to enjoy their afternoons in the town. Elberon, a magnet for the wealthy in Long Branch, was a community that flourished. Another town made famous in Gilded Age Monmouth County is Monmouth Beach, where Millionaire’s Row on Ocean Avenue saw a build-up of mansions as more people came into wealth. One such notable is George Fisher Baker, the most powerful commercial banker of the time, who made himself a home there in the 1880s. In addition to the ocean, the Monmouth Park Racetrack was a huge draw.
Today, the Jersey Shore, and in particular Monmouth County, is still a very popular conglomerate of places to visit by both locals and tourists alike. Although the Jersey Shore might not draw as prestigious a crowd as it did in the Gilded Age, reminders of this period in time (particularly in the form of stately homes) are all around us, as evidenced by the George H. Moss, Jr. collection. It is an era of Jersey Shore history that will not be forgotten.