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The History of South Belmar

(Lake Como)

as reported by the Asbury Park Press in 1962

In 1924, the Borough of South Belmar was formed out of the boundary of old Wall. It is a small , interior municipality, bounded on the west by the railroad, on the north by Sixteenth Avenue, on the east by "B"street, and in the South by Lake Como and Polly Pod Brook. One of the original settlers of the area now making up South Belmar was Jeremiah Newman, who was born in 1798 and died in 1828. His gravestone, at the Newman Family Burial Ground on Leslie Street, Belmar Gardens, is still legible. Mr. Newman arrived in the area around the 1817, and as with most early residents, devoted his original efforts to farming. But this not always successful, and he and his neighbors soon began to turn to the sea to make part of their living. The farmlands were eventually divided into smaller tracts, and later were developed under numerous subdivisions according to a much less regular pattern than is evident in the neighboring Borough of Belmar. It is interesting to note that the Lake Como was known as Three Cornered Pond in the early days, and the area immediately to the west was known as Polly Pond Bog.

When the borough's first mayor, Claude W. Birdsall, a municipal engineer, presented his first message to Council June 3, 1924, he outlined three main areas in which the community needed improvement.

They were sanitation, street repairs, and the parks, Mayor Birdsall put sanitation at the top of the list, because there was no garbage or sewage disposal in the borough.

He also considered street repairs as an immediate need, since auto traffic was increasing and the gravel roads were inadequate.

Parks were at the bottom of the mayor's list, although he regarded Lake Como as the Borough's chief asset

Voters Were Divided

When Mr. Birdsall presented his message, the borough was little more than a month old. it had been created May 6, 1924 by a referendum in which 152 voters favored the separation of Wall Township and 115 were opposed.

However, once the borough was founded, its citizens became fiercely proud if their new identity and have strong supporter of local government since.

The mayor’s improvement plans were soon put into actions. Bids were asked for trash and garbage disposal, and a pickup system was organized. Streets were graded and widened to the proper standards, and confusing dead-end road were extended.

Police Force Expanded

Police protection had been scanty up until this time. Borough Council too speedy action by appointing five special policemen to serve without pay until December of that first year.

In June, Borough Clerk Mrs. Grace B. Hoff was instructed to inform Coast Cities Railway Co., which operated the trolley system, that the roadway adjacent to the tracks on F Street needed gravel. The line then ran between Long Branch and Sea Girt and was one of the bigger financial enterprises at the Shore.

In the summer open trolley cars were used, and on busy days riders taking the air hung from the cars in clusters. Fleet conductors had to be contortionists as well to collect fares, especially on the shorter runs.

During the first month of the borough’s life, a disorderly person ordinance was adopted to cope with intoxication, loud and abusive language, alms collectors, indecent or immodest pictures, gaming places, and other violations of public property.

Another measure was adopted to prevent dogs from running at large. They were required to wear muzzles during the warmer months when rabies was usually more prevalent. Licenses were set at $1.00 for male and $2.00 for a female.

Rich in History

Although the borough is only 38 years old, it is by no means young in history. The land was originally a part of Shrewsbury Township, formed in 1693 by an act of Provincial Assembly.

The township then encircled all the eastern portion of Monmouth County from Navesink River to Little Egg Harbor, including the greater part of what is now Ocean County.

Congregationalists from Connecticut and Quakers and Scotch Presbyterians from New York and New England settled it.

In 1879 Neptune Township was carved out of Shrewsbury Township and comprised all of the land between Asbury Park and Manasquan.

One of the early settlers in the immediate area here was Jeremiah Newman. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, he built a cabin on the north shore of Lake Como and made his living by farming, fishing and hunting.

Family Had Burial Plot

He was buried in the family’s cemetery on Leslie Street, Wall Township, at a site once used by the Leni-Lenape Indians for burials. The cemetery is still owned by the family, but laws prevent any more burials.

The Newman family flourished and eventually owned most of the land known as the greater Belmar area. Some of the family took to the sea, as did George Newman, born in 1849. Others took up trades or farming.

By the middle of the 19th Century Issac Newman was selling Belmar beachfront property for a dollar an acre. The land was gradually divided and drifted out of the family. Today the Newman Street here is a landmark that testifies to the family’s early importance in the community.

In 1856, the Newman children were attending Pleasant Hill grade school in Wall Township for about 1 ½ cents a day. They paid an extra penny a day for janitorial services, and another penny for firewood, unless they brought their own.

Houses Still Stand

Members of the Newman family once owned some of the oldest houses here. The house at 504 18th Ave., about 150 years old, was built from sea timbers found on the beach by a Newman.

Another house at 814 Oak Terr. is some 110 years old, and the one at 398 New Bedford Rd., is more than 100 years old.

In more recent years, Capt. Jordan Newman, a retired carpenter, with an inventive knack, built a houseboat and docked it in Shark River. The craft included a special hatch through which he fished on rainy days. He boasted that the trap door was right next to the stove and skillet.

During the hurricane of 1938 the boat broke its mooring and the captain was barely rescued as the craft swept down the inlet toward the open sea.

Before the turn of the century, people began "discovering" the Shore and flocked here in droves. Low priced living quarters were in demand, and tent colonies bloomed as the answer to the shortage.

Tent Colony Founded

The Parkway Association, a group of city residents, who banded together for common interests, founded a tent colony at Lake Como on land bought for $3000. It is harder to imagine a choicer Shore spot, with the sea a few miles to the east and the lake sparkling under the bright sun.

Many residents still remember the fire ring and sledge hammer on White Street that was once used as an alarm. It was later moved to 18th Ave. in front of a building that formerly served as borough hall and is now occupied by Gallegher’s Tavern.

Still later, a fire bell was installed and, in June 1924 the volunteer fire company was formed. Today, the company has two fire trucks and about 40 members headed by Chief Henry Poland. It is located in its own building on F Street nest to the Borough Hall. Built in 1935, the present Borough Hall contains five rooms and the police Department.

The regular four-man police force was organized in 1938, and now is directed by Chief Bradford Behrman who has been on the force 30 years.

Donald E. Newman, a descendent of the pioneer family and a member of the police force is captain of the first aid squad. The volunteer group was founded in 1938 and has its own building on 18th Ave. off of F Street. It has 25 members and two ambulances.

Playground Created

Four years ago the South Belmar Youth Center built the playground on the south side of Borough Hall. The borough owns the land, but the center is charged with keeping it in shape.

Chief Behrman, the center’s president, relates that the group gives a barbecue each year to raise money for the playground. After its expenses are met, the extra money goes to local civic groups.

Mayor Walling, who is chaplain for the police force and Fire Company, served as councilman for five years before coming mayor. Before that, he was active in the First Aid and Fire Company.

He sees little expansion for the borough, with its year – around population of around 1,500 persons.

The community is pretty well built up now, Mayor Walling says, and there is little vacant land left. Mayor Walling says, "I would say we have just about reached out limits here."

But the community – often called the "Little Borough" – will probably continue its way of life for years to come in the tradition of American independence.

Report Discouraging

In September 1924 Norris J. Wolley, borough collector, gave his first official report. It was discouraging, to say the least, for a new borough intent on improvements. The cash balance was 141.03 and outstanding notes totaled $500. It was necessary for the Council to authorize a $500 emergency note to pay the bills.

It was not until July 1926 that the borough was ready to float a $20,000 bond issue for sewage disposal, and a $75,000 issue for improving the water supply.

Residents had been using cesspools and wells, and the bond issues provide them with sewage and water services from Belmar.

Wait 26 Years for a Park

The shore of Lake Como, the last goal on Mayor Birdsall’s initial list, was not made into a park until 1950. World War II had been over five years and it was dedicated as the Denman, Fisher, and Perkins Memorial Park in honor of those who died in service.

Mayor Leroy F. Walling, who had held his office for the past 10 years, observes that through the years Mr. Birdsall has witnessed the fulfillment of the pro-proposals made in that initial message. It was just this year, continues Mayor Walling, that Mr. Birdsall designed the storm drains laid in F Street to carry off water from flash rains, and the mayor expects that Mr. Birdsall will continue to play a significant part in the borough’s development in years to come.

Your elected officials and borough administration are here to help serve and assist all residents of Lake Como with their immediate concerns. You will find useful information on our web site. If you are unable to find what you need please contact the Borough Offices at (732) 681-3232.

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Lake Como, NJ
Borough of Lake Como
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