By Jeannamarie Halleran, Introduction to Public History, Spring 2018
Did you ever wonder where nearby Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park and Seven Presidents Church got their names?
Monmouth County, New Jersey has a colorful history. This particular part of New Jersey served as a center for arts and culture, and a vacation destination for the nation’s elite, in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s (see our page, "Gilded Age in Monmouth County"). As the George H. Moss, Jr. collection reveals, even Presidents frequented the area.
In 1869, President Ulysses Grant publicly recognized Long Branch, New Jersey as “the nation’s summer capital.” In doing so, he really helped to popularize Long Branch as a desirable vacation destination. After President Grant, other Presidents succeeded him in vacationing in Monmouth County, including Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson. President Garfield even traveled to Long Branch to live out his final days after being shot in 1881 because, during that time period, many believed that the, “sea breezes had medicinal properties.”
These Presidents, when visiting the Shore, all worshiped at St. James Episcopal Chapel, located on Ocean Avenue in Long Branch. Sources tell us that “The Carpenter Gothic-style church was first consecrated in 1879 and was used as a summer resort church for over 75 years.” This church was scheduled to be demolished in 1953, however it was rescued and is today preserved by the Long Branch Museum Historical Association. It is now known as the “Church of the Presidents.” The church and surrounding property contain numerous historical artifacts that relate to the seven Presidents, such as the flag that covered President Garfield's casket, President Grant's gun cabinet, and several of the chapel’s guest books, signed by the presidents. The church is also home to a small cottage that was built out of the remains from the dismantled railroad that was built to carry President Garfield to his own private cottage deathbed.
Sites such as Seven Presidents Park and the Church of the Presidents were both named after the seven aforementioned Presidents who graced the shore and to acknowledge all of the attention and history that these Presidents brought to Monmouth County, New Jersey. You can find numerous items related to this unique piece of Monmouth County history in the George Moss Collection, such as the postcard below.