(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)
The first structure on the ocean side of the Boardwalk, known as No. 1 Atlantic Ocean, was constructed in 1908 as a cottage. This "cottage" was erected by Captain John Young on the Million Dollar Pier in the Italian style . It was a nine-room villa with hot and cold salt water baths where you could actually fish out of the windows. In 1911, President William H. Taft was a guest while he was in Atlantic City to address the Christian Endeavor Convention and was pictured eating in the dinning room.
The first pier on iron piling was erected at the foot of Massachusetts Avenue and opened in 1886. A large theater was located at the ocean end, where many performances were featured. In 1898, the pier was sold to the H.J.Heinz Co., who erected a large sign reading Heinz 57 varieties, and from that time forward the pier was known as Heinz Pier. Lois Miller, the famed organist, gave concerts in the summertime and visitors would come home with a treasured Pickle Pin.
Steel Pier, probably the most well known pier, was opened in 1898 and provided all types of entertainment. For a single admission, one could spend the entire day viewing movies, vaudeville shows, Tony Grant children shows and the water circus with the famous high diving horse. The most popular entertainers of the day performed on the main stage while noted big bands performed in the large ballroom at the far end of the pier. In between were many games of chance as well as the famous and scary Diving Bell, now in place at Gardner's Basin.
Garden Pier opened a few blocks north of Steel Pier in 1913, where musical shows and all types of entertainment were provided. The name was given because of the flower gardens that decorated the center of the area. The structure was severely damaged in the hurricane of 1944, was never repaired and was eventually torn down. More recently the Atlantic City Museum and the Art Museum was located on the site. They also have been relocated. The expanded museum is now known as the Atlantic City Experience and welcomes visitors in the lobby of the Jim Whalen Boardwalk Hall, formerly known to the old timers as Convention Hall.
Going down the Boardwalk and near Convention Hall was the afore mentioned Million Dollar Pier, which opened July 26, 1906. Vaudeville acts, moving pictures and other amusements made it one of the most popular spots on the Boardwalk. In later years, the Italian Village was added. A giant slide where kids would ride down on a carpet as well as other unusual activities provided entertainment for hours.
The most exciting pier, especially for kids, was the Steeplechase, where there were rides for all ages, from small fire engines to the Ferris wheel and bumper cars. In 1904, George Tilyou purchased the pier and remodeled it after a pier on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. After many fires it was eventually demolished and is just a memory today.
The piers provided so much enjoyment and are sorely missed.
Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is at 907 Shore Road in Somers Point. More information is available at www.atlanticcountyhistoricalsocietynj.org and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.