The Toms River Bridge
Prior to the building of a bridge into town the only way from Toms River to Seaside Heights was by boat or via the railroad. The railroad crossed Barnegat Bay at Seaside Park and connected back to the mainland at Point Pleasant.
The First Bridge
The first bridge into Seaside Park from Toms River opened on October 23, 1914. This wooden bridge cost $130,000, was 24 feet wide and had a 50-foot draw span. The latter was a bascule draw bridge, which was balanced by 125 tons of concrete and steel. The beauty of the arrangement was that it could be raised and lowered by one person.
The first horse team crossed the bridge on October 16th, and it took one hour and 15 minutes. The team was owned by Clarence Anthony and was driven by "Doc" Holland. Public access to the bridge began on December 5th. A staff was, by then, in place to guard the bridge, lift the draw bridge and collect tolls. Many New Jersey residents think tolls are a modern inconvenience. The rates for crossing the newly opened Toms River bridge are just one case in point that shows transportation tolls are not a new phenomenon.
- one horse carriage and wagons 15 ¢ + 5 ¢ per passenger
- two horse carriage and a driver 75 ¢
- automobiles 25 ¢
- pedestrians 5 ¢
- bicycle riders 5 ¢
- motorcycles 15 ¢
- livestock 10 ¢ per head
- one person and a hand cart 15 ¢
- children under 5 – Free!
The opening ceremony for the bridge did not come until Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) in 1915. The local paper, the Review, reported that 568 autos passed over the bridge that day. It was also said the bridge would likely be a financial success for its owners.
State Control of the Bridge
The state bought the bridge in the early 1920's, paying $168,000. Tolls were no longer charged. Some repairs and a rebuilding of the span took place over a number of years and cost almost $400,000. The rebuilt version opened on Decoration Day in 1927. By the end of the season (Labor Day) almost 7,000 cars had used the bridge. The new span also had a draw bridge that could be operated by a single person.
With car traffic comes the inevitable car accidents. In 1933 five people were killed in one tragic crash. A 2 A.M. opening of the draw bridge, for a sailboat, coincided with a car driving at high speeds over the bridge. The bridge tender reported that he saw a car shoot out of the dark. His attempts to warn the driver with his red signal lantern were in vain. The car drove off the bridge, smashed into a piling and split into many pieces.
A new concrete bridge was opened in 1950. This is the present day Thomas A. Mathis Bridge and was built at a cost of six million dollars. This is the shorter eastbound span and it was refurbished in the mid 80's. The second taller span, opened in 1972, is called the Tunney Bridge.