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Early Brigantine: Days of pirates and shipwrecks — A look back at Atlantic County history

Brigantine is a far cry from its romantic past of pirates, brawling whalers and shipwrecks. Legend has it that the beach was the scene of savage duels to the death, treasure burials and international wrecks caused by roaming bandits and their false beacons.

History states that the famous Captain William Kidd (1645-1701 ) haunted the sea lanes off Brigantine and used the Absecon Inlet to hide when the pursuing ships of England, Spain and Holland drew too close for comfort.

Romance then took a turn among the sand dunes when Kidd fell in love with a girl from Sandy Hook and decided to abandon the life of piracy.

Brigantine was noted in the early 1700s for another kind of pirate, the beach pirate who preyed upon sea merchant marines temporarily lost in the fogs of the Atlantic and lured them onto the off-island shoals by means of false lights. Once the beached ships were helpless, the pirates attacked, sacked and killed.

During the 1800s, Brigantine was approachable by boat only and in 1881 a bridge was planned, however it was not built until many years later and was completed in 1924. This bridge was constantly destroyed by storms, especially the hurricane of 1944. The current bridge was built in 1972 of a modern concrete construction and was partially rehabilitated in 2007.

The bridge was named the Vincent C. Haneman Memorial Bridge in honor of Justice Haneman of the New Jersey Supreme Court, who was a resident of Brigantine.

Once the bridge was constructed, golfers from the region would wend their way around the town to enjoy a highly rated golf course.

On Aug. 7, 1889, the Brigantine Beach Railroad was incorporated to build tracks from Pomona on the Camden Atlantic Railroad to Brigantine Island and was in operation until Oct. 9, 1903

During those years, a trolley operation ran with sixteen cars and even had a double-decker sightseeing bus, the type used in London today. Boatloads of visitors would arrive from Atlantic City just in time to take a ride along the dunes of the island until it was dismantled in 1908.

The first hotel on the island was built in 1838 and was replaced and rebuilt several times due to fires. The latest Brigantine Hotel was built in 1927 and still stands at the edge of the ocean.

Since the city had become primarily a fishing community, housing consisted of small fishing shacks existing well into the 1960s, but they have now been replaced by single homes and many condominiums. Driving to Brigantine today, one would pass several casinos and the municipal marina and continue into the city to enjoy fine restaurants.

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