The rich heritage of Brigantine Beach began in the 1500s when the Lenape Indians called our island their “summer playground” or “Watamoonica.”
The Dutch were the first Europeans to explore the Jersey coastline searching for a waterway through the New World to the Orient. The log book of Henry Hudson’s ship “Half Moon” recalls the first observation of Brigantine Beach on September 2, 1608: “This is a very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see…” The legendary pirate, Captain William Kidd is said to have buried treasure under Brigantine Beach sand.
The name “Brigantine” came from a type of 1600s ship; perhaps one of the first of over three hundred vessels wrecked on the notorious offshore shoals – during a two hundred year period.
In the 1700s several families, whose large landholdings were known as “plantations,” owned the island. During the American Revolution, American privateers (patriot – pirates) hid in our north and south inlets and would suddenly streak to attack unwary or disabled British ships. Shipbuilding and salt manufacturing (from sea water) became important industries during the war.
Whalers used Brigantine Beach to launch attacks on migrating whales from New England. (Today our Marine Mammal Stranding Center assists sick and injured Whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles. The Brigantine Wildlife Refuge on our north end is a state protected haven for birds, rabbits, and foxes.)
Turn of the 19th Century
Several attempts were made during the late 1800s to develop Brigantine on a significant scale. In connection with one of these attempts, made by the Brigantine Improvement Company, the island’s name was briefly changed to “North Atlantic City.”
During this period, a railroad was built to connect Philadelphia to Brigantine; 16 trolleys ran the length of the island; and steamboats carried people to and from Atlantic City during the “Gay Nineties.” Hotels sprang up and some served as getaways for important people including U.S. President Grover Cleveland. Hard times and harsh storms ended this boom in the early 1900s. In 1917 the City had only 54 full-time residents and an operating budget of $5,400.
During the 1920s, with the advent of automobile access to the island, Brigantine became the object of a large scale development effort by the Island Development Company, which had succeeded to title to most of the island from the Brigantine Land and Transportation Company. In 1924, a bridge was constructed linking Atlantic City and Brigantine, and a land boom ensued. A boardwalk, a school and a golf course became realities. The Brigantine Lighthouse was built as an attraction and landmark, not as a navigational aid.
The City also undertook a variety of infrastructure improvements, such as streets and sewage and water facilities, for which it issued bonds. With the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, the island experienced a cessation of demand for homes and the Island Development Company ceased operating, deeding its remaining properties to the City.
World War II to Present
Brigantine Beach bounced back again and again, and survived major storms in 1944 and 1962. The Brigantine Inn was the site of the Coastal Warning Service of the US Army during World War II when local citizens made extraordinary sacrifices.
After the war our island grew steadily, building up to our present day year-round population of 12,600. The maintenance of controlled, primarily residential, development of the City is mandated by the City’s 1992 Master Plan and by state control of types of development in barrier islands such as Brigantine. The advent of legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City (1978) has caused an increase in certain of these trends, but in the experience of City officials, the basic pattern of orderly growth has continued.