Located along the Jersey Shore, Ocean County, like its county seat in Toms River, is one of the fastest growing areas of New Jersey with an estimated Census population of 558,531. Ocean County was established in 1850 from portions of Monmouth County, except for Little Egg Harbor Township which seceded from Burlington County in 1891.
Ocean County is 50 miles east of Philadelphia, 70 miles south of New York City and 25 miles north of Atlantic City, making it a prime destination for residents of these cities during the summer .As with the entire Jersey Shore, summer traffic routinely clogs local roadways throughout the season.
While considered part of the New York Metro Area, its location in the southern part of New Jersey makes Ocean County’s many tourist attractions a frequent destination by Delaware Valley residents. These attractions include a myriad of beaches, such as Long Beach and Seaside Heights, along with resorts, such as Island Beach State Park and Six Flags Great Adventure. Ocean County is also a gateway to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens—one of the largest protected pieces of land on the East Coast.
On Feb. 15, 1850, Ocean County came into being. It was then comprised of the townships of Brick, Toms River, Jackson, Plumsted, Stafford and Union (Barnegat), which, in the aggregate, had previously been the portion of Monmouth County lying south of the Manasquan River. Little Egg Harbor merged into the new political subdivision in 1891. Over time, this vast geographic area was carved into 33 municipalities.
Toms River was selected as the “seat” of the new County government. On May 8, 1850, the first Board of Chosen Freeholders, consisting of two representatives from each of the six original townships, selected insignia to represent the public officials of the time. The sloop, schooner and steamboat are still the official seals of the Freeholders, County Clerk and Surrogate, respectively. The choice of these symbols reflects the rich maritime tradition of the area.
Most historians agree that the Lenni Lenape Indians were the first inhabitants of the Ocean County area. Annually, they migrated from as far away as Delaware to enjoy the shore and its plentiful food supply. Captain Cornius Hendreickson charted the New Jersey coast for the Dutch from 1614 to 1616.
By the end of the 17th century, whalers were at work off the coast. This opened the region to settlement. Soon saw and grist mills flourished along the streams and rivers leading into the bay. The whalers, turned smugglers in the first half of the 18th century, were the grandfathers and fathers of the privateers during the American Revolution. Ocean County endured 23 Loyalist and British attacks on its salt works, as well as other skirmishes during the Revolution. There were 77 naval battles off the coast.
As seafaring men sought peaceful pursuits after the Revolution, new industries evolved in the Pine Barrens. Forges and furnaces were built to smelt the local bog ore into pig iron. Thousands of acres of trees were cut to produce charcoal. Commercial fishing and boat building along the coastal region became primary industries in this fledgling county. By the mid-1850s, “cranberrying” and farming had expanded in the rural regions of the county.
The heavy loss of life from immigrant ships wrecked along the coast during the 19th century prompted Congress, led by Dr. William Newell of Manahawkin, to appropriate funding for the construction of lifesaving stations. Within a few years, the first station, built in 1849, was joined by many more, every five miles along the shore. This early Lifesaving Service became the forerunner to the United States Coast Guard Service founded in 1915. The U.S. Coast Guard Training Academy is located at Cape May, just south of Ocean County. Ocean County’s extensive water resources, boardwalks, parks and golf courses offer a special place where recreation and tourism flourish.
While Ocean County is home to many tourist attractions, including the Barnegat Lighthouse, Island Beach State Park, Long Beach Island, Six Flags Great Adventure, which is the home of the world’s tallest and formerly fastest roller coaster, Kingda Ka, its crown jewel is historic Tuckerton, home of the Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum
The one-of-a-kind, 40-acre maritime village in the heart of historic Tuckerton (in George Washington’s time, it was the third port of entry on the eastern coast, just behind New York and Boston), brings the Jersey Shore’s maritime traditions of the past and present to life through people, exhibits and hands-on activities. Tuckerton Seaport’s partner organization is the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve. Experience the rich traditions of the Jersey Shore and its Baymen through the Seaport’s recreated and historic buildings, lighthouse, demonstrations, interpretive exhibits, events, festivals, live aquatic displays and more. Decoy carvers, boat builders, basket makers and baymen entertain, educate and delight visitors of all ages. Renowned wildlife painter and bird artist, Tom O’Connell, displays his wood-carving techniques at the Seaport once a week.
The Seaport’s Lunch ‘n Learn Series, as well as boat-building and bird-carving classes, are reasonably priced. Stroll the 3/4-mile boardwalk and experience life on Tuckerton “Crik.” Identify birds and plants on the1/4 mile nature trail. Tour the site and view garveys, sneak boxes, cruising yachts and party boats on land and water.
Tuckerton is home to several excellent marinas that provide charter fishing excursions, eco-tours, ocean kayak rentals, boat rents and bait and tackle. The Visitor Center is at 120 West Main St. and the Seaport is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., all year, rain or shine. Call (609) 296-8868 or visit the Web site at http://www.tuckertonseaport.org.
With so much available, the Seaport Museum and its environs are worth a longer stay. Browse the attractive galleries, including the Watermark Gallery, 115 Water St., Tuckerton, owned by famous watercolorist, June Sullivan, and features South Jersey artists. Call (609) 294-3343 for hours.
Attend live plays at The Surf-Light Theatre, Engleside and Beach Haven Avenues, at nearby Beach Haven. This summer stock venue presents high-quality musical productions. Plays are staged during other seasons and a musical version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is produced each December. Call (609) 492-9477 for ticket information.
The area boasts good restaurants, including The Octopus Garden (609) 597-8828, The Grapevine (609) 296-7799, Tuckerton Pub and Tuckerton Beach Grille (609) 294-3600. The Seaport Museum has its own restaurant, Scojos (609) 296-5700, on its grounds and they also do nice picnic “to go” lunches.