Shore Acres’ History From Lagoonfront Cottages

Betty Jane France pointing to a picture of her childhood cottage on Paul Jones Drive. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

BRICK – Once billed by developers as the “Venice of the Jersey Shore,” the waterfront neighborhood of Shore Acres was originally planned as summer community of one-story cottages, built on man-made lagoons that were carved out of the marshland.

“The DEP would never allow that to be done today,” said retired high school math teacher, Betty Jane France (nee Tomlinson), 84, who spent her summers in Shore Acres from the time she was six years old, and who, many years later, would move into her childhood summer home full-time when she and her husband retired 1991.

Photo courtesy of the France Family Collection

Development of the original area of Shore Acres–the west side of Drum Point Road from Bayview Drive to Ward Drive–began in the 1930’s. Later, a second area, called the  “Colonial” section was developed, which included the area between Ward Drive and Paul Jones Drive.

The final section to be developed on more manmade lagoons was on the east side of Drum Point Road, and behind them, a section or homes was built on Long Point Drive and the Cedar Island Drive area, both located off Mandalay Road.

Before they bought their shore cottage, the Tomlinson family lived in the northeast section of Philadelphia, and France’s father, who was a dentist, “desperately wanted a place at the shore,” she said.

  “He sat down and drew a line east of where we lived, and at the same time Philadelphia newspapers were advertising that there were lots for sale in Shore Acres, so he went to see the lot,” France recalled. “When he came home he said ‘I found heaven on earth.’”

The summer cottages–which were “one step above camping out”–were second homes, mostly purchased by professionals. France said she doesn’t think they even had hot water in the first house her parents bought on Ward Drive in 1938.

While the developers did not say how much people had to spend on their homes, they did specify who would spend it, France said.

Photo courtesy of the France Family Collection

That’s true, said Donna Burslem, 64, whose late husband’s family has owned homes in Shore Acres since 1942.

“The realtor here was very picky about who they sold to,” said Burslem, who moved from Westfield to Shore Acres full-time in 2011. “In order to buy here, you had to be a married, white, Protestant man,” she said. “And the houses could be any color as long as they were white,” she joked.

The deeds to the homes said that the cottages had to be white with colored shutters. “The most popular colors were dark green, dark blue or black,” France recalled.

A couple of years after buying their first Shore Acres cottage, the Tomlinson family moved to a nicer house on Paul Jones Drive in the newly developed Colonial section, which was located at the mouth of Kettle Creek and Barnegat Bay.

At the time, the roads in Shore Acres were private, trash collection was private, and the bulkheads were sod. Residents had wells and septic tanks, France said.

People didn’t have two cars then, so the women and children would spend their summers in Shore Acres and the dads would come down on weekends, she said.

The former Colony Market on Mantoloking Road (which would much later become the Visitation Relief Center) had a produce truck that came around on Thursdays, and the families could buy groceries at “Elsie’s” — a store located behind what is now Bayside Auto Repair at the intersection of Drum Point Road and Mandalay Road. Elsie’s also served as the post office. “Plate’s Market” was located in the fork on Bayview Drive, which even had a soda fountain, France said.

“We crabbed and fished and did water activities; it was safe for everybody, we entertained ourselves,” France said. All the kids had sailboats and they would sail over to Lavallette and walk to the ocean.

World War II had a great influence on everyone, France said. Gas was rationed, so trips to the shore became less frequent. Motorboats remained on blocks in yards since there was no gas to run them, and everyone had blackout curtains on their windows at night so the enemy wouldn’t see light, she said. “And the enemy was out there, too,” she added.

France and her husband, Bob, took over her family’s cottage in 1983 and completely renovated and enlarged it. The couple moved from Bucks County, PA to Shore Acres full time in 1991, and they lived there until Superstorm Sandy hit.

“We didn’t know whether to evacuate or not because there was never even a drop of water in the house since 1940, even though there was water all around us,” France said.

“We debated…this storm seemed different. Bob was having health problems so we decided to go to a hotel,” she said. “We didn’t take much with us because we figured we’d be back in a few days.”

When the storm surge came through, the house was hit with a tremendous force that caused the room facing the bay to be completely shorn off and washed away. The rest of the house had four feet of water and became covered in black mud.

“The original cottages were not that well built, and when they examined our house, they said it was not properly on the foundation anymore,” she said.

The couple did not carry flood insurance, and they were one of the first in the area to have their house demolished.

France has since moved to a local adult community, and she still owns the lot, which is not for sale, she said. Her husband Bob died three years ago.

She said she does not plan to rebuild.