Atlantic City History

Long before the white man ever ventured across the narrow straits to Absecon Island, the site of the modern Atlantic City, Lenni-Lenape Indians would trek over the Old Indian Trail to spend the long, languid summer days on the coast, helping themselves to the abundant seafood.

Their idyllic sojourns were rudely interrupted when Englishman, Thomas Budd was effectively ‘given’ the island in 1670 as settlement of a claim he had against the holders of a royal grant. In those days his beach front acreage was valued at a paltry $0.04 per acre – quite astounding, when the very same property will now fetch in the millions of dollars per acre!

It was well over a century before the a permanent abode was built on the island, and a certain Jeremiah Leeds became the first official resident of what would eventually become the second biggest gambling destination in the United States. He grew rye and corn, and raised cattle, but it was his second wife who proved to be the astute businesswoman – she successfully applied for a licence to run the very first tavern, Aunt Millie’s Boarding House.

Atlantic City History Beginnings

Life went on for the Leeds family and their progeny until the 1850’s when a prominent Philadelphia physician saw in the island a potential health resort. Dr Jonathan Pitney quickly realised that there were certain constraints which had to be overcome for his idea to succeed – the major of these was the difficulty of getting to the island.

He enlisted the aid of Richard Osborne, and together they financed the construction of the railroad from Camden, New Jersey to what is now Atlantic City. The first train took over 2and a half hours to reach its destination, but from then on in it was boom time for the newly conceived city.

Twenty years later the transport infrastructure to Atlantic City had to be improved to accommodate the thousands of Americans who would descend on the island each summer, and a narrow gauge line was built between Philadelphia and the expanding vacation resort. This in turn was responsible for the advent of the massive hotels which sprang up all along the coastline – the United States, Surf House and the Belloe Hotel, to name but a few.

The Boardwalk

There was one insoluble problem though, and that was the darn sand – it seeped into the railroad carriages, and snuck right into the hotel lobbies, creating really unpleasant conditions, especially when the wind blew. A clever fellow named Alexander Boardman, together with hotelier, Jacob Keim, came up with the idea of a boardwalk. The city fathers leapt at the idea and within a very short time an 8ft wide wooden foot path was constructed from the beach into town.

The Boardwalk was a huge success and soon amusement piers were popping up all over with names like Million Dollar, Iron and Steel and each of these piers had their own special brand of entertainmentthe Diving Horses, dance contests and the ghoulish Dr Couney’s Premature Infant exhibit – anything to bring in the crowds.

Atlantic City history caught the imagination of the American public and it enjoyed unprecedented success all the way up to the end of World War 11, when, with the advent of flying, the city lost its shine and soon became a city verging on desperation. The legalisation of casino gambling would, however, change all that!