You are here

On Exhibit at Robeson Library: Boardwalk Empires

August 3, 2017
Boardwalk empires

Boardwalk Empires: The Historic Planks of Atlantic City, Ocean City & Cape May is on display at the Paul Robeson Library now through August 31, 2017.

Boardwalks have long been synonymous with summer fun in many South Jersey beach towns and can be traced back to 1870 when the innovative duo of railroad conductor Andrew Boardman and hotelier Jacob Keim teamed up to stop tourists from tracking sand from the Atlantic City beach into their train cars and carpeted hotel lobbies. The first incarnation of their boardwalk consisted of eight-foot-wide planks and was small enough that it could be stored away in the off-season. Within the next 20 years, the tiny boardwalk transformed into a permanent structure and helped cement Atlantic City’s reputation as “America’s Playground” during the Gilded Age. Numerous piers were added to the boardwalk over the years, including the Heinz 57-themed Heinz Pier and the Steel Pier, famous for its musical acts, water circus, and diving horse show. 

In addition to iconic images of Atlantic City of yore, the exhibit highlights the early boardwalks of Ocean City and Cape May. Work on Ocean City’s boardwalk, which originally ran from the Second Street wharf to Fourth Street and West Avenue, began in 1880. By 1885, plans were underway to extend the boardwalk along the entire beach as vacationers began flocking to the city’s first amusement parks. Following a catastrophic fire in 1927, the Ocean City boardwalk was rebuilt entirely and moved 300 feet closer to the ocean.

The Cape May promenade, which spans nearly two miles, was initially constructed from wood like its northern counterparts. The wooden promenade was rebuilt after suffering extensive damage in a 1944 hurricane only to be destroyed completely in a 1962 nor’easter. The decision was made to forgo using wooden planks and instead pave the surface of the promenade after the second storm.