Is this term “Benny” familiar to you? Does it make you roll your eyes and sigh heavily, your thoughts immediately drifting to traffic jams, polluted beaches, and obnoxious crowds? No? Then you’re probably not a resident of the Jersey Shore. Since the turn of the century, “Benny” has been a derogatory nickname used by Shore locals to describe the annual hoards of New Yorkers who flock to New Jersey beaches. So while the Shore is across state lines and a world away from the Lower East Side, visitors from New York have created strong historic (and economic) ties to this much-loved summer destination.
No Jersey Shore town exemplifies this history as much as Asbury Park. Now one of the most iconic New Jersey cities, Asbury Park was the creation of a wealthy New Yorker named of James A. Bradley. After amassing a fortune as the founder of a brush manufacturing company, Bradley turned his attention towards developing his ideal New Jersey resort community. In 1873, Asbury Park was founded – marketed by Bradley as a destination for New Yorkers looking to escape the city’s suffocating summer heat. With the opening of the New York and Long Branch Train Line in 1875, the Shore became more accessible, and Asbury Park became the perfect weekend destination for New Yorkers of all socio-economic classes.
Working class New Yorkers, like those who lived at 97 Orchard, found refuge in the town’s beach bungalows, which offered an affordable alternative to the Lake Avenue Hotel and other posh destinations at the turn of the century. A mere $10 was needed to rent a summer weekend bungalow in 1901. More than a century later, Ocean Grove New Jersey is still home to a community of summer bungalows and tents occupied by New Yorkers in the warmer months.
The boardwalk has always been central to life on the Jersey Shore. The first modern boardwalk opened in Atlantic City in 1870, and soon Asbury and other Shore communities copied its design. Lined with theatres and seaside amusements, the Asbury boardwalk opened in 1877 and has operated continuously ever since.
For immigrants like those living in the tenements of 97 Orchard Street, the Jersey Shore was often their first glimpse of American life outside the Lower East Side. Not surprisingly, today’s Shore residents are comprised mainly of Jewish, Italian, and Irish Americans; in many cases the descendants of the very New York visitors who ultimately came to call the Shore home.
This weekend, as Labor Day marks the unofficial end of the summer, the Bennys will once again go home to New York City as they have for a hundred years. That is of course until Memorial Day, completing the age old ritual that has made the Jersey shore what it is today! — Posted by Michael Stallmeyer