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Atlantic City Area Offers A Wealth of History, Culture and Art

A brief look at Atlantic City's history is all it takes to see that the resort was always a must do.  "Oceans of promotions" and high-handed hyperbole reigned supreme, almost from the day the city was founded.   

In September 1921, King Neptune crowned a beauty queen as a publicity stunt, in order to extend the summer season of a popular beach resort.  The place was Atlantic City.  The winner was 15½-year-old Margaret Gorman, the first Miss America.

The Miss America Pageant became as synonymous with Atlantic City as its sandy beaches, famed Boardwalk and fresh sea air.  Yet, Atlantic City's salty history is much more than a parade of Miss Americas passing through.  Now celebrating 150 years of hospitality and hype, it's time to take stock of the origins of this vibrant town.  It's a unique past that includes a high diving horse and a confection created by a storm, and also includes some of the most innovative artwork and craftsmanship you can find.  

Early History

The early 1800s saw Atlantic City as a desolate island known then only as Absegami, the Native American word for “Little Sea Water.”   It was nothing but sand, marshes and wilderness. The earliest settlers were two “less than neighborly” hermits: Jeremiah Leeds, grandfather to the famed Jersey Devil, and an early entrepreneur from Philadelphia, civil engineer Dr. Jonathan Pitney.  Dr. Pitney saw the potential of the area and started talking it up as an ideal spot to recuperate from the woes of the city, by taking in the healthful salt air.  The route of a proposed railway from Camden to the yet unnamed resort in the 1850s fascinated investors, who stepped right up with their money in hand.


In 1853 the final plans for the railroad included the decision for the city’s official name.  “Atlantic City” met with unanimous approval against early favorites such as Bath, Seabeach, and Surfing.  In 1854 Atlantic City’s first municipal charter was approved and July of that year saw the first two and a half-hour train ride steaming out of Camden, with much celebration and hoopla.

The rest is history.  Grand hotels grew from small cottages, a walkway of boards to keep the sand out of the hotels became a world-famous Boardwalk, giant entertainment piers gave birth to publicity stunts and the city kept evolving into one of the world's best-known seaside resorts.  

Step into any historical museum throughout Atlantic and Cape May Counties and be instantly transported back to the times of “ocean madness,” thrilling mechanical marvels on the bustling Boardwalk, the evolution of Miss America, early life and myths of the Pine Barrens, gala dances in seaside hotel ballrooms and Victorian life on the Cape.  

Visitors and residents can learn the history and culture of African-Americans at the Atlantic City branch of the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, located in the Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University.  The museum is 2,000 square feet of unique artifacts including graphics, drawings, paintings, books, music, films and manuscripts, all depicting African-Americans in a historical context.


Monuments & Memorials


Southern New Jersey is home to some of the most unique memorials dedicated to the continuing struggles of mankind.  These jewels include a one-of-a-kind tribute honoring the long journey of African Americans towards civil rights and an eternal flame dedicated to New Jerseyans who fought and gave their lives in the Korean War.


One of Atlantic City’s most breathtaking spots, The Civil Rights Garden, is located a block off the Boardwalk at Pacific Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.  This sanctuary of nature commemorates the bloody marches toward freedom from slavery and respect for the rights of every human being.  A new must-see of Atlantic City attractions, the garden symbolizes the passion of the human spirit.  Designed by nationally renowned artist Larry Kirkland of Washington, D.C., the garden features a brick path through a garden of seasonal plants, flowers and gingko trees.  Eleven black African granite columns are etched with quotes from great Americans.  The central column features an upraised hand and a large, bronze bell hovering over a reflecting pool.


The New Jersey Korean War Memorial, another famous memorial on the East Coast, is located in Brighton Park where Park Place meets the Boardwalk.  The back wall of the Memorial, beneath an eternal flame, is engraved with the names of the 822 New Jerseyans who were killed or are still missing in action.



Area art museums house a plethora of unique artwork, historical exhibits and memorabilia.  Art museums take on whole new meaning here.  All year round these cultural meccas showcase unique exhibits by artists from around the world, and offer workshops, group tours and lectures.

The Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University is 16,000 square feet of arts retail space and studios as well as home to the Atlantic City branch of the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey.  This unique facility houses a variety of artists and craftsmen including The Art of Kuzma, Blockhead Customs, Ron Ross Cohen Art and Sea Shore Photos. The Arts Garage is located on the ground level of The Wave Garage at Fairmount and Mississippi Avenues.


The Ocean City Arts Center on Simpson Avenue in Ocean City offers a casual, intimate setting for monthly gallery exhibits.  The Center also sponsors annual events such as a Boardwalk art show, a craft show and a juried art show.


Historic Villages


Where else can you unwind on the beach, then step back in time to the days of traditional glassmaking deep in the Pine Barrens, or Victorian life complete with ice cream parlors and general stores, all in one day?  Southern New Jersey, of course.  Atlantic City is a neighbor to some of the most unique and beautifully preserved historic villages on the East Coast.  Visit living history museums with horse-drawn carriages, blacksmiths and bakers, whalers and ship captains, antiques shopping and glassblowing, boating, and old sawmills and mansions.       


One of these cultural meccas, Batsto Village, is located deep in the rustic Pine Barrens of Southern Jersey on Route 542, and provides a taste of New Jersey’s 18th century bog iron and 19th century glassmaking industry. 


Visitors can take a guided tour of the ironmaster’s mansion, see charcoal kilns of the period and watch the old sawmill in action.  Children of all ages can enjoy the village’s nature center, old post office, general store and workers’ cottages, as well as take advantage of picnic areas and hiking trails through the woods along Batsto Lake.  This historic treasure is the perfect day trip for visitors looking for a unique and historical experience.


A stroll through the Towne of Historic Smithville and Village Greene in Galloway Township on Route 9 provides a quaint setting for shopping and dining, plus train rides and a carousel for the kids.  It includes four restaurants, over 60 shops, and boating on Lake Meone. Keep on the lookout for special events including the annual May Fest, Irish Festival and Oktoberfest celebrations.


While you’re there, take the time to enjoy several local attractions including antiquing in nearby specialty shops. Also down the street from Smithville is The Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge and The Noyes Museum of Art in Oceanville.


Tuckerton Seaport, about 30 minutes north of Atlantic City, is an authentic working seaport village, bringing to life the rich traditions and heritage of the New Jersey shore region.  On this 40-plus acre site, visitors can meet whalers, shrimpers, oystermen, clammers, lighthouse keepers, boatbuilders, decoy carvers and ship captains.


Wheaton Village, located in Milville, was once a thriving glass-making village and is now a center dedicated to the preservation of this and other American crafts.  The Museum of American Glass, modeled after the original 1888 glass factory, has over 6,500 pieces on display. 


Visitors can watch glassblowing and craft demonstrations, visit the museum stores and the stained glass studio, take a train ride or enjoy special events the village has year round. 


Cold Spring Village, located in Cape May, is a thickly settled agricultural neighborhood, containing about 40 houses within the circle of a mile.  It derives its name from an excellent spring of cold water flowing up through the salt marsh. 


Historic Wineries


Wineries and vineyards are located only minutes away from Atlantic City, including the Renault Winery in Egg Harbor City, the oldest working winery in the country.  Stop in for a tour and wine tasting, and don’t forget to visit the shop, featuring fine spirits and the ever-popular blueberry champagne, a must for special occasions.  While there, enjoy fine dining at the Renault Winery Restaurant featuring a six-course menu prepared in creative American style.  The site is also popular for weddings, receptions and bridal showers.


Balic Winery in Mays Landing was established in 1964 and features a distinctly European accent.  Balic produces more than 30 different varieties of wine.  The winery offers guided tours, wine sampling and a store on the premises. 


Tomasello Winery is the largest in New Jersey for grape production and has been part of southern New Jersey history for three generations.  Based in Hammonton, Tomasello also has two outlets in Smithville.  The Hammonton location offers wine tasting, tours, a gift shop and banquet facilities.











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Photo Credit: Photos Courtesy of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Civil Rights Garden

Civil Rights Garden
The Civil Rights Garden commemorates the marches toward freedom from slavery and respect for the rights of every human being.

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