This is the first part of a five-day series titled Revisiting the Jersey Shore After Sandy. In Part I we look at the history of the coast and find out what made the Jersey Shore such a summer hot spot.

Asbury Park's north end, date unknown (Wikicommons / Library of Congress)

From sandy beaches to Snooki, New Jersey’s shore is an iconic vacation destination with an equally rich history.  However that wasn’t always the identity of the Shore according to Ocean Grove historians Wayne “Ted” Bell and Darrell Dufresne.

“If you look at the Jersey Shore, its development occurred because of the transportation networks being more efficient,” Bell said.

After the Civil War, railroad technology began expanding rapidly. In New Jersey train cars carrying produce would go by the coast to Red Bank and Sandy Hook and would ferry passengers as well.

Railroads Established Shore Hubs

That led to places like Red Bank, Asbury Park and Sandy Hook becoming some of the earliest hubs for tourists taking vacations.

"Eventually this commerce was so intense that Long Branch developed into a major recreation,” says Bell, pointing out it was a much more lavish experience than the beach bungalows of today.

NJ Gov. Walter E. Edge inspects line of New Jersey's first Parkway Route 4, August 22, 1946. (NJ State Archives/ DOT Collection)

"It was high Victorian, they had race tracks and huge hotels that people would come down to.”

Dufresne points out even the term “vacation” didn’t mean then what it does now. Now a vacation involves the family going away for a week, “In those days you tended to go on vacation for the summer.”

In some situations the husband would continue working to finance his family’s vacation at the Shore and only come down to visit on weekends. Hotels were also full-service entertainment destinations, providing not only lodging but food and entertainment as well.

The next big change for the shore came after World War II, when the state saw another boom of transportation. This time it was automobiles.

“Once they extended the Parkway, the cars that were coming from North Jersey kept on going straight down to Ocean County. Ocean County was in the process of filling all the wetlands they had and selling houses and renting spaces.”

The Jersey Shore’s importance to the state cannot be undersold. Tourism is a major industry, generating roughly $40 billion dollars annually and supporting half a million jobs within the state according to the latest state tourism research information.

Look for Part II of this series tomorrow, when we examine how Sandy, construction or backups might affect your ride "Down the Shore" this summer.