CAPE MAY COUNTY, N.J. (CBS)–While Stone Harbor and Avalon are very different shore destinations, they have common roots–sharing Seven Mile Island and a robust history between them.
Those who call the popular summer family resort destination on Seven Mile Island home say they move at a different speed.
“It’s very peaceful and very healing. I’ve heard people who have been ill come here and they find that this is a very healing atmosphere,” said Terri Cwik, president of the Stone Harbor Museum.
At a little more than 100 years old, Stone Harbor is one of the younger shore towns, but unlike many of the vacation destinations along the water, you won’t find a boardwalk here.
“In 1944, a hurricane wiped out the whole boardwalk, the lamp post — a lot more, the casinos, everything that were up on the boardwalk, the fishing pier,” said Bruce Bell, director of the Stone Harbor Museum.
Once built to accommodate the tourists, the boardwalk was decimated by the storm. It was never rebuilt and nobody complained.
“After that storm they had a referendum and the people decided not to restore the boardwalk because they didn’t want the place to become ‘honky tonk’ and those were the words they used, ‘honky tonk,’” said Cwik.
But Stone Harbor wasn’t the first resort town on the island. Twenty years before Stone Harbor, Avalon was already buying, selling, and building with their slogan: “Cooler By A Mile”.
“Avalon is cooler by a mile and it has been — it’s a little bit of lore,” said Nina Ranalli, director of the Avalon History Center. “It was around the 1940s that it became that and it’s because of our unique geography. We extend out a bit farther into the Atlantic Ocean than most of the other barrier islands so we’re picking up that nice ocean breeze and it makes us ‘Cooler By A Mile.’”
Fueled by the popularity of the railroad, the town boomed in the early 1900s.
Construction of the rail line that would eventually include Stone Harbor was difficult, falling into the sea three times before it was completed.
“In the same year—1888–they brought the railroad down from Sea Isle City, over Townsend’s Inlet, and they built the Avalon Hotel,” said Ranalli.
In addition to being the social hub for the island, in the 1940s the Avalon hotel served as a place to house the United States Coast Guard who were on alert for enemy submarines during World War II.
Later on in the 1970s, many people remember dancing the night away at the Bongo Room nightclub.
“The idea was, we have to have a way to get people here, and then they have to have somewhere to stay. So until that time, the only way that visitors — or anybody — were getting on the island was a ferry boat,” said Ranalli.
While many pack up the car and head to the shore for the sand, both Avalon and Stone Harbor offer more green space than most other shore points.
“There still are large pieces of maritime forests remaining in Avalon. And we are one of the only ones on the whole East Coast,” Ranalli said.
In Stone Harbor, it’s hard to miss the more than 5,000 acres of wetlands, studied and carefully preserved by the Wetlands Institute since the 1960s.
In the end, both shore points share a love of community, even if a healthy rivalry still exists between them.
“I think it’s, when you live in that town, that’s the best town, our beaches are the best, the stores are the best, the people are the best–it’s a loyalty thing,” said Bell.