Hankins Island: The Story Of One Family’s Private Island In The Barnegat Bay

Today, the house on Middle Sedge Island has fallen into disrepair. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

MIDDLE SEDGE ISLAND – Anyone who has ever been on a boat between the Mantoloking Bridge and the Seaside bridge in Barnegat Bay has probably noticed “The House on the Island” located off Chadwick Beach Island in Toms River Township, and visible from the mainland in Brick.

The island’s real name is Middle Sedge Island, and while there is very little documented history about the original house – a two-story colonial built sometime in the late 1960s – the present home was listed for sale in 2006 for $8.5 million.

The sign for the Hankins business still exists. It’s on the back of a sign by Lava Java in Lavallette. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

Now in foreclosure, the home is a shadow of its former self since Superstorm Sandy hit, which flooded the island, uprooted the built-in pool and damaged the house. Every window is broken, the roof is covered in bird droppings and even the bulkhead is giving way.

Long-time locals call the island “Hankins Island” after Charles Hankins, who inherited his father’s boat-building business. It was established in 1912 in Lavallette, and was located on Reese Avenue fronting the bay, but later moved to Grand Central Avenue.

The Hankins family boat-building business produced award-winning Jersey Sea Skiffs – also called Sea Bright Skiffs – and other small crafts for almost a century. Two Hankins boats are on permanent display at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

Ocean County Historical Society President Brian Bovasso, 68, grew up in Silver Beach next to Chadwick Beach, and he remembers Middle Sedge Island from his youth.

Today, the house on Middle Sedge Island has fallen into disrepair. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

“As kids we had prams with 2- to 3-horsepower engines and we explored all the sedge islands,” he said from the Historical Society building on Hadley Avenue in Toms River.

Hankins built every lifeguard boat along the Jersey Shore, Bovasso recalled.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Hankins bought the acreage on Middle Sedge Island, and he also purchased the most westerly residential lot on the mainland where he could park his car. His boat was there so he would leave his car and motor to the island with his wife, Anna Ohlau Hankins, on the weekends.

“After he built the house on the island, the federal government passed the Wetlands Act which said no one would be allowed to build anything else on the sedge islands,” Bovasso said.

“So they would be out there by themselves, which Charles liked. He had a generator and his own well,” he said.

“Somewhere along the line, he sold the house and the people who bought it immediately moved the two-story colonial house off the island by barge.”

That’s true, said Patsy Tomlinson, whose bayfront home in Brick faces Middle Sedge Island. Tomlinson has lived in her Seawood Harbor home since 1973 and remembers seeing lights go on in the Hankins home every Friday night.

“One day I was laying on my couch, looking out the front door and the house on the island didn’t look right,” she recalled.

The house had been displaced to the edge of the island because it was being moved onto a barge.

“Next thing I know, the house was moving downbay on a boat, and then we were told that they were installing underground utility lines for a new house, but it was all just chit chat.”

The new home was built in 1991 and was owned by Dell Construction. In 2006 it was sold to Zero Barnegat Bay, LLC. Foreclosure documents were filed in 2012.

“The new owners built a complex, an elaborate house. They had the utilities run down there, they had all the luxuries of life out there,” Bovasso said. “Prior to Sandy, it was for sale and urban legend says that Robert De Niro was looking at it.”

The utilities were run out to the island from the end of Strickland Street in Chadwick Beach. When the township of Toms River replaced the bulkhead there, they had to make allowances for the utility lines, which run out about 3,000 feet to the house, said township engineer Robert Chankalian.

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

In 2015, Middle Sedge Island was listed for sale on PrivateIslands.com (an online private island brokerage website) for $6.5 million.

The ad read, “Although it sits in the middle of a highly-populated beach community, Middle Sedge Island offers complete peace and seclusion from its next door neighbors who are at least a quarter mile away.”

The property included 14.4 acres of a 25-acre island, accessible only by boat. Two Parker launches were included in the asking price, and secondary access by helicopter was possible since the island had a licensed helicopter pad.

The 4,866 square-foot house had a pool room, rec room, wet bar, sun porch, built-in heated pool, a bocce court, a 1,200-square foot guest house and much more.

According to the Toms River Tax Assessor’s office, bankruptcy was filed on August 8, 2016 in Towaco, NJ. The land value for 2018 is $2,053,700 and the house value is listed as $46,800.

The mortgage company has paid taxes in full since the foreclosure. In 2017 they paid $49,025.68, and they paid first quarter taxes this year of $24,512.84, according to the Tax Assessor’s office.

This is part of an ad brochure to sell the property. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

The Hankins family was prominent in Lavallette. Charles’ father was mayor of Lavallette from 1927 to 1930, and a bay front park in the borough bears his name.

Charles’ brother James was also mayor of Lavallette from 1961 to 1964; and Charles’ wife, Anna, worked for the borough from 1956-1985, and Route 35 South in Lavallette is named after her.

Charles Hankins died in 2003 and Anna Ohlau Hankins died in 2006.