A Look Back At Berkeley’s History

Artifacts on display at the Berkeley Township Historical Society on Route 9. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

BERKELEY – Today, it could easily be said that most of Berkeley’s businesses are on Route 9. Decades ago, though, most of the action happened east of Route 9, where the Barnegat Bay hosted a wealth of fishing industry and recreation.

About three dozen people listen to Al Stokley’s presentation at the Berkeley Township Historical Society. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

Al Stokley, long-time member of the Berkeley Township Historical Society, presented a discussion of his experiences to that group, as well as interested members of the public.

Much of it was recorded in his book, “Images of America: Berkeley Township,” by Arcadia Publishing. It was on sale as a benefit for the historical society.

He showed people where he grew up in the 1940s, in a house his father had built. He spoke of some of the notable names of the area, like Larry Thompson, better known as Whitey, or the companies that made huge developments on the water.

Artifacts on display at the Berkeley Township Historical Society on Route 9. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

He peppered his lesson with some humorous commentary. For example, while showing a photo of the Cedar Creek Sailing Association, he made it a point to state that his friend cheated to win a competition all those decades ago.

Part of the difficulty in presenting history is that not very many photographs exist from back then. Today, it is much easier to take a picture of something. Back then, it wasn’t really on anyone’s mind.

Stokley said that during the entire time he worked at Bob Cuddy’s fishing camp, located west of Berkeley Island Park, he never took a picture. So, he had no record of that area during that time.

However, he had photos of other landmarks in the area, including local watering holes and other entertainment venues.

Artifacts on display at the Berkeley Township Historical Society on Route 9. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

“If people hadn’t donated pictures, how would we know now what used to be there?” he asked.

When he would discuss locations and people, like the Bay View Gun Club or Ben Mabie, people in the crowd chimed in with some of their own recollections, or just nodded in agreement.

It was certainly a different time. A runway in the Berkeley Shores area was the staging ground for an airplane that would fly over the shore, trailing advertising banners. People would go to bars and be entertained by call and response songs played by nothing more than an organ player and a drummer.

The phone number of the first phone in Berkeley is listed: Diamond 9-43. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

Lots of people made a living off of the Barnegat Bay, he said. There was weakfish and kingfish. He used to steer (and sometimes race) a shrimping boat. People could harvest grass there.

However, as more lagoons were dug, and the temperature changed, the industries disappeared. While there are still a few marinas and restaurants east of Route 9, most of what you’ll find now is residential real estate.