Seaside Heights Boardwalk History

Boardwalk History

Some Seaside Heights' Firsts

three ladies in front of the carousel, Seaside Heights, NJ

This picture was taken in 1926 and is one of the earliest photos of Freeman's carousel.

A Carousel on the Beach

In 1915 the Senate Amusement Company of Philadelphia constructed the first "boardwalk-like" attraction in Seaside Heights - the Dupont Avenue Carousel. We must say boardwalk-like because at the time the boardwalk was just a dream and not a reality. The town council did not make its first commitment to build a boardwalk until 1916.

Joseph Vanderslice, the person behind the Senate Amusement Company, thought Seaside Heights was a promising area for building his tourist attraction. At the time carousels were popular entertainment diversions, typically serving as the centerpiece of small amusement areas called trolley parks.

While the train had been going through town for many years prior to the carousel's arrival the town was still not well developed. The only tourism facilities on the Barnegat Peninsula were a few boarding houses and sportmens hotels that were scattered about the local area. One recent positive change was the opening of the Toms River Bridge. Seaside Heights could now be accessed directly from the mainland without the need for taking the train. It was expected that this would bring many more visitors to the beach and into town.

The gasoline powered Dupont Avenue carousel was housed in pier building built to enclose the amusement ride. It would seem though that Vanderslice's ambitions and hopes were bigger than his bankroll. He did not reopen for business in 1916. The carousel and building were then sold to Frank Freeman. He replaced the gasoline powered carousel with an electric model. This was a Dentzel carousel that contained figures carved by Daniel Mueller.

one of Seaside Height's earliest boardwalk attractions.
This picture above shows the pier that housed the carousel, and this was likely after it was bought by Freeman. Electric lines and a utility pole are visible and to the left is the edge of a boardwalk. Presumably the boardwalk seen here is one end of what we can see in the picture below.

The Boardwalk

The town council's 1916 commitment to building a boardwalk took time to pass from being a mere plan to a completed project. The boardwalk was built in stages and completed in 1921. The photo below was taken in or around 1920. To put this scene in perspective, the northern end of the boardwalk (the right edge of the photo above) would end just a block before the Casino Arcade. It would not be until 1932 that the Casino carousel began its operations. The left side of the boardwalk ends at the Freeman carousel building. This same location is still host to a carousel today. aerial view of Seaside Heights circa 1920 Freeman began to add more and more attractions around his carousel and pier. Through time it became what would have been considered a full fledged trolley park. The amusements grew to include an indoor dance hall, a skating rink, a fishing pier, and arcades.

Unplanned Changes

The original carousel building and the Dentzel carousel were destroyed in a catastrophic 1955 fire. The fire in 1955 was not the first time trouble had come to Seaside Heights' boardwalk. Sections had been torn apart by a storm that came to be known as the The Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944.
the Funtown Pier Illions carousel.

The Freeman’s carousel that turned on the boardwalk from 1917 until the 1955 fire. Photo contributed by Dr. Floyd Moreland.

At the time of the 1955 fire one of Seaside Heights most famous inhabitants, J. Stanley Tunney, owned what had been the Freeman enterprises. Tunney had built up his boardwalk holdings to include skee-ball arcades, a ferris wheel, bathhouses and concession stands. After the fire the tenacious Tunney immediately began to rebuild. The burned boardwalk facilities reopened the next summer and eventually included yet another carousel. The replacement machine was a classic Illions model that was purchased from a Coney Island establishment.
the Funtown Pier Illions carousel.

A picture of the Illions carousel. This photo was taken, and contributed here, by Pat Small. She says "I enclosed a photo of my favorite carousel, the OLD one on the Funtown Pier, which had beautiful artwork of ocean scenes above, and the horses had real horsehair tails. I took the photo in 1985 and the boy on the horse on the right facing my camera is my son Jeff Clifford.

The Illions carousel was sold off in the 1980s. Hand carved horses from the classic carousels fetched high prices then, and still do today. The current carousel in the Freeman building contains molded fiberglass animals. Most people that have fond memories of the Illions carousel and sees the new model is usually unpleasantly surprised. In comparison the current version is like a cheap knock off of an expensive fashion piece. A lot has been lost in trading a piece of history for a lower priced contemporary carousel. the modern version of the Freeman's carousel


Return to the top of the page