New Year’s in New Jersey

This post is going to be a study in contrasts. We’re on the northern New Jersey shore visiting my husband’s family, hearing storm stories and seeing lots of storm damage. Superstorm Sandy is very much in evidence, two months after its arrival. Some areas in this region emerged relatively unscathed, while others were hit hard:  two cases in point are Allenhurst, where my husband’s family home is located, and Sea Bright, where our niece lives. These boroughs are located just a few miles from each other on the shore, but their present environments could not be more different.

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Crossing over into New  Jersey on the George Washington Bridge on a stormy day.

Allenburst is a wealthy little enclave right next to the storied Asbury Park. The train to New York runs right through its little village center, offering wealthy urban dwellers an escape from the sweltering city a century ago and a relatively easy commute now. In some ways Allenhurst reminds me of my hometown, York Harbor, Maine, which also developed as a summer community, but there are notable differences:  the village is laid out in a grid pattern, the architecture is on steroids, and of course, this being the Jersey shore, there is a boardwalk.  The cabanas of the Allenhurst beach club (they build these private clubs right on the beach here; I don’t really understand how that can happen on a supposedly-public beach, but there it is) were washed away by Sandy, and a little section of its boardwalk, but I couldn’t find much more serious damage in evidence. The houses of Allenhurst, are stately: grand Victorians, Tudors, lots of Spanish-styled, tiled-roofed mansions from the teens and twenties. From my New England perspective, I notice an absence of the simple Shingle style, and the presence of lots and lots of stucco. I am sparing you the huge tacky modern houses that have been built right on the ocean; the more charming houses are on the side streets of Allenhurst.

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Shots of Allenburst:  an oceanside mansion and  “smaller” houses along the side streets, one closed-off street section, pink iron deer!

Traveling up the coast to Sea Bright through Long Branch I stopped by the Church of the Presidents, which is undergoing a major renovation. Seven Gilded Age presidents, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson, vacationed in this area and attended this church; James Garfield died just across the way after several months of suffering after he was shot in the early summer of 1881.

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You can see piles of wood and sand and boarded-up houses along this road, although major development has occurred in this area and the large multi-story buildings (which have wiped out any trace of those associated with the seven presidents) look like they could withstand any storm, but maybe not.

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Among the melee, these column sections certainly give one a “fall of the Roman Empire” feeling–not quite sure where they came from.

And then to Sea Bright, a barrier beach town that was really devastated and remains so. Displaced residents, boarded-up storefronts, condemned buildings, and what many say is an unrecognizable beach constitute the aftermath of Sandy, but also a very vibrant spirit focused on recovery. The municipal government seems very responsive, there’s been all forms of outside help, and an organization called Sea Bright Rising seems poised to will that to happen in the New Year.

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Sea Bright, New Jersey, two months after Sandy: the pictures speak for themselves except for the last one, which is of an island in the Shrewsbury River behind the borough, where all the boats from a nearby mainland marina ended up.


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