The Jersey Shore has received a lot of press in recent years, thanks in part to the popularity of MTV's reality show Jersey Shore. Many New Jerseyans find the TV show a mixed blessing, while the antics of Snooki, J. Woww, the Situation, etc. have made for great entertainment and certainly helped to infuse much needed cash into the local economy, most residents and annual visitors believe their hijinks do not accurately portray the true character, beauty and charm of the real Jersey Shore.
Just 35 minutes north of the Seaside Heights crash pad of the permanently-tanned MTV stars is the charming community of Manasquan. This historic little beach town has been a go-to destination for those seeking sea, surf and sand for generations. Manasquan consists of beguiling little 1950s beach cottages passed down from family to family; a nice marina and quaint neighborhoods just minutes from the ocean.
Located along the Atlantic Ocean at the southern end of Monmouth County, Manasquan has been a settled community for more than 125 years. Native Americans were the first to enjoy this land along the river, inlet, lakes, streams and brooks. The Unamis (“Turtle People”) branch of the Lenni Lenape fished and hunted from the Rartitan River south to Barnegat Bay, but these truly were the first people to summer on the Jersey Shore. It was from their presence along the Manasquan River that the name would be derived, although it would not be until 1887 that the name Manasquan would become the borough's official name. The Native American word for island is man-a-tah, squaw, meaning wife, han meaning stream, combined—Manatahsquawhan. Manasquan, literally meaning “stream of the island of squaw,” is the English pronunciation.
Until 1801, Manasquan was part of Shrewsbury, when Howell Township was formed. In 1850, Ocean County was created from the southern part of Monmouth County, and the following year, Wall Township separated from Howell. Soon after, Manasquan ceded from Wall to become its own community. Crude roads and homes were set up. Farming was also well underway by the early 19th Century. Soon stores, a tavern and an inn were established.
Becoming a Resort Town
By 1878 railroad service made Manasquan accessible to North Jersey and New York. The village was growing along with the beachfront. Wooden bungalows began to appear as summer visitors found Manasquan a wonderful place to relax, fish and sea-bathe. By the 1920s, a mix of Victorian homes, seashore cottages, and beach shacks dotted the shoreline.
In recent years, the number of vacationers declined, though the beaches are still busy with swimmers, sunbathers and surfers. Many families though still choose to make Manasquan their year-round home instead of just a summer getaway. The proximity of the parkway, ferry service to Manhattan from nearby Red Bank and a New Jersey Transit train stop in the center of town makes Manasquan a convenient commuter town.
Things to Do
Its downtown has many local attractions, including the Algonquin Arts Theatre, a 1938 movie house that has been converted to a professional performance space. Though somewhat overwhelming in the summertime, the local bar and party scene in the area between Brielle Road and Main Street is busy year-round especially with local establishments such as Leggetts and The Osprey.
Bar-hopping, restaurants and shopping aren't the only things to do. The main reason Manasquan is a popular destination is, of course, its proximity to the ocean. You can beach-comb or cast a fishing line in the surf. And speaking of surf, Manasquan’s natural inlet affords surfers some of the best surfing on the Jersey Shore. If surfing isn’t for you, how about a nice bike ride? The community’s bike path starts in Manasquan, just off East Main Street, and goes all the way to Allaire State Park. Historic Allaire Village celebrates the colorful history of the area and of the Howell Iron Works, which was an important employer during the 1830s.
With all that Manasquan has to offer it's no wonder that New Jersey Monthly Magazine ranked it as the 22nd best place to live in its 2008 “Best Places to Live” annual survey. So why not head on down to Manasquan this summer for a beach break—you may just decide to make this vacation destination your permanent address.
Liam P. Cusack is associate editor of The New Jersey Cooperator.