Sea Bright

RECORD GROUP: Municipalities
SUBGROUP: 8600.11
SERIES: Sea Bright
DATES: 1896-2007
VOLUME: 99 volumes, 18 microfilm reels

Historical records from Sea Bright were placed on deposit in the Monmouth County Archives and Records Center in September 2008, pursuant to a municipal resolution and a depository agreement that provide that Sea Bright retains ownership of the records and that the Monmouth County Archives can provide access to them. A supplement was deposited in August 2009.

The following historical narrative about Sea Bright is adapted from an article, “My Home Town: Sea Bright,” by Jim Bishop in the Red Bank Register, August 25, 1960. [1]

Sea Bright is about four feet above sea level and is protected on the seaward side by an 11-foot-high stone wall along the sand dunes. Long ago, the Indians called it Nauvoo, which means bright sea. [The late Monmouth County historian, George H. Moss, Jr., in his book Another Look at Nauvoo to the Hook (1990) stated that Nauvoo was not an Indian word but Sephardic Hebrew, meaning “beautiful or pleasant place,” and that it might have been named by Mormon leader Joseph Smith who visited Monmouth County in 1839 and used the same name for the town he founded in Illinois.] After the Battle of Monmouth, the British retreated this way and fled on ships anchored in Sandy Hook Bay. One of their sloops foundered in a storm. It had 100,000 pounds sterling aboard and, in the 1930s, a little girl digging in the sand came up with six gold coins in the image of George III.

In 1870, Swedish fishermen began to use Sea Bright in their work. It was a long, lumpy sandy bar and, to get out to sea, they put their boats on rollers and pulled them up out of the Shrewsbury and across the dunes to the big green breakers. This saved eight miles of down-river travel.

In the same year, a man built a house in Sea Bright. However, the big northeasters in winter made him quit after a while, and he put his house on barges and floated it across to the other side of the river. That town is called Rumson and, before the ranch houses came into vogue, it was a place of beautiful estates, matched carriage houses, and Irish maids in white uniforms and puffy caps.

Still others came to Sea Bright. The Swedes made the village and they rolled their two-man dories through the surf at dawn and, if the blues were running good the Swedes lived well. If the fish were away, the Swedes owed everybody all winter.

The village had a sand-scoured look and, in the 1880s and 1890s, big hotels were built in the main part of the village. President James A. Garfield owned a place two miles down the road, and Diamond Jim Brady and Jim Fisk had showplaces, too.

Sea Bright Lawn Tennis came into vogue and a brokerage office was set up at the beach. Beautiful women in huge hats strolled the beach in foaming skirts and rich men in sports shoes sat on camp stools and smoked black cigars and talked about the market. The village had money; it despised the rich tourists but it took their cash.

In the 1920s, Prohibition came to Sea Bright and the fishermen began to put airplane engines in their dories. They fled to sea in fog, and came back laden with scotch and rye. There were stills in some of the big houses and, late at night, big trucks pulled away, loaded with liquor and cash to pay off policemen on the way to New York.

For a time, the village died. It became sun-bleached and the fishing died off and the second generation Swedes took jobs on road construction gangs. The Axelsens remained. So did the Thompsons, the Fowlers, the Ryans, the Perottis, the Keenans, the Bowswers, and some of the African Americans who used to work in the big hotels.

In the 1950s, the Garden State Parkway was built. Suddenly, Sea Bright was only 70 minutes from Times Square, and beautiful motels began to build on sand. The Ship Ahoy, the Shore Hills, Keeler’s Guest House, the Sea Bright Motel—even the old Peninsula House began to come to life. Harry’s Lobster House, Fox Food Town, the Driftwood, all began to do big business.

Boats and marinas dot the river. All summer long, Ocean Avenue is choked with traffic. In the winter, the village is quiet and, on stormy nights, salt brine crackles blue in the electric wires and the slow pulse of the sea hits the sand with thunder.

It isn’t exciting. But it’s my town. . .

[1] The Archives acknowledges Elsalyn Palmisano for bringing this article to our attention.

Scope and Content

The records consist of 31 volumes of Borough Minute Books, 1896-2006; 3 volumes of Ordinance Books, 1896-2004; and one Board of Trade book, 1909-1915. These records are available in both originals and microfilm. The 2009 supplement consisted of 64 Tax Duplicate Books, 1906-1975 (except 1907-1909, 1911-1914, and 1916).

There are no restrictions on the use of the material. Reference use will be by the microfilm copy, if available, unless there is a justifiable need to examine the originals. An index to the microfilm is provided below:

Reel Contents
1 Minutes, May 2, 1896 to Sept. 5, 1911 (see also Reel 4)
2 Minutes, Oct. 3, 1911 to Dec. 4, 1923
3 Minutes, Sept. 16, 1909 to Dec. 31, 1938

Book of Trade, Sept. 16, 1909 to July 22, 1915, 10 pages

4 Minutes, Apr. 27, 1896 to July 5, 1918 (overlaps in content with Reel 1)
5 Minutes, July 19, 1918 to Dec. 20, 1935 (for 1936 to 1938, see Reel 3)
6 Minutes, Jan. 3, 1939 to June 9, 1950
7 Minutes, June 23, 1950 to Dec. 27, 1960
8 Minutes, Jan. 1, 1961 to April 21, 1970
9 Minutes, May 5, 1970 to Mar. 30, 1976
10 Minutes, Apr. 6, 1976 to Oct. 14, 1982
11 Minutes, Oct. 25, 1982 to June 19, 1989
12 Minutes, July 17, 1989 to April 18, 1995
13 Minutes, May 2, 1995 to May 18, 1999
14 Minutes, June 1, 1999 to Aug. 20, 2002
15 Minutes, Sept, 3, 2002 to Mar. 15, 2005
16 Minutes, Apr. 5, 2005 to May 1, 2007
17 Ordinances, partially hand-written book, 87 pages, 1896-1917, Book 1A
18 Ordinances, May 16, 1896 to Sept. 7, 2004, Books 1, 2, and 3

There is no microfilm currently available for the Tax Duplicate Books. A list of these is provided below:

1 1906
2 1910
3 1915
4-29 1917-1942
30-31 1943 (two books)
32-38 1944-1950
39-40 1951 (2 books)
41-64 1952-1975


10/16/2008; rev. 9/2/2009