The Jersey Shore. If nothing else, after five years of this blog, hopefully those words do not bring to mind drama-filled reality TV celebrities. Instead, I hope my readers think of beautiful, rustic seascapes. Great seafood at fantastic restaurants. Gorgeous sunsets. Awesome wildlife. A terrific region for wine-growing. Historic buildings. Sites of famous battles. And so much more.
My wife and I are currently in the midst of a two-week vacation with family in the seaside town of Sea Isle City at the Jersey shore. Although much of our time has been spent walking along the beach, watching the ocean, and eating great food, we have also taken the opportunity to play tourist and learn more about my home state. On a lazy Saturday afternoon my wife and I discovered a new winery, visited a cool military history museum, stumbled across an abandoned glass factory, and brought home some great food.
Rather than saving all of the events of our vacation for one mammoth blog post, I thought I’d break them into smaller segments, shared through multiple posts. Come along, then, to the first installment of our visit to the real Jersey Shore!
Mays Landing and Tuckahoe
Departing from our rental home in Sea Isle City, we ventured inland to the towns of Mays Landing and Tuckahoe.
Our drive on Route 50 would take us through a rural section of the state. Built upon what was once a Native American road, this 26-mile highway was created in 1910 to provide a route to Cape May from the north. With the advent of the Garden State Parkway, Route 50 now mostly serves local traffic (via Wikipedia). Balic Winery
Our first stop was Balic Winery in Mays Landing. Balic was founded in 1966, the vision of a European immigrant who wanted to bring a “European flavor” to American wine (via the Press of Atlantic City).
Although Balic has been in operation for 55 years, this land has been a vineyard since the early 1800s. Descendants of the earliest settlers of this area recognized the potential for grape cultivation long before the current explosion of vineyards throughout this section the state.
Balic makes 27 different wines, including a wide selection of whites, reds, and fruit wines. Tastings at Balic are free, and although you can’t order wine by the glass, you can purchase a bottle to enjoy on the winery’s beautiful grounds.
Balic does not serve food. Instead, guests are encouraged to bring their own food for a picnic, spread out at one of the numerous patio tables, and enjoy some wine! I would recommend the Napoleon Bonaparte (a dry white wine) or the Red Velvet (a red Bordeaux blend).
Not a bad way to pass a summer afternoon! After an enjoyable hour at Balic, we were off to our next destination… Estell Manor Park
Our next stop was to a historic home that now serves as a museum for an important cause: Estell Manor and the Atlantic County Veterans Museum.
Estell Manor was built in the early 1800s as a wedding gift from Joseph West for his sister Maria, who married businessman Daniel Estell. Maria passed away after only two years of marriage, and Daniel remarried. His new wife, Rebecca, gave him two daughters. His youngest daughter, Anna, married and gave birth to a daughter who she named Rebecca, in honor of her mother. Among other accomplishments, Rebecca was the mayor of her town, making her the first female mayor in New Jersey history. Since 2017, Estell Manor has served as the home for the Atlantic County Veterans Museum (from the Atlantic County Veterans Museum Self Guided Tour Book, 2020).
Filling two floors of the building, the Veterans Museum is small, but jammed with cool exhibits. In the center of this room on the first floor is a Civil War “wedge tent.” This small tent usually held four soldiers, but it was capable of accommodating up to six soldiers, with one small caveat – it would be so tight, that if one soldier wanted to roll over, they would all have to turn over at the same time!
The World War II room was thorough – from the authentic uniforms on display, to 75-year old newspapers telling the events of the war, to cases of equipment carried by American soldiers, the exhibit is fascinating.
In the World War II Room, there was also a display of Nazi and Imperial Japanese artifacts, captured by American service personnel and brought back to the US after the war. I took one look at this display of Nazi memorabilia, turned to my wife, and quoted Indiana Jones: “I hate these guys.”
One of the aspects of the museum that I most appreciated was the way it connected larger events in history to the individual lives of New Jersey soldiers, sailors, and pilots. For instance, this US Navy uniform was worn by Fred Bartholf, a sailor who served in World War I. A newspaper clipping shares the story that Fred missed the departure of his ship from port and immediately turned himself in at a local police station. This action prevented him from being jailed and dishonorably discharged as a deserter, as his service record was otherwise outstanding. Quick thinking!
One of the smallest, but most moving, exhibits: sand that a US Marine brought home from Iwo Jima. One of the most grueling battles of the Second World War, American forces invaded the island of Iwo Jima in February of 1945, and it took over a month of fighting for US Marines to prevail in battle against Japanese forces. Of 110,000 American service personnel involved in the fighting, over 26,000 were either killed or injured. Casualties on the Japanese side were far worse: Of 20,000 soldiers, over 18,000 were killed. I was touched by the simple act of a Marine taking a handful of sand with him 76 years ago as he left the island. Given that my own grandfather served in the Pacific Theater in the Army Air Corps, supporting the fighting of Marines during WWII, this small exhibit hit home.
New Jersey has been well represented in all of the wars of the United States. Nearly 200,000 citizens of my home state served in the Korean War.
On the second floor, much of the “Naval and Aviation Meeting Room” is dedicated to scale models of aircraft and warships. This model of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was my absolute favorite. After a well-spent hour touring the museum, it was on to our next stop…
Nearby, in the same park, are the ruins of the Estellville Glassworks. Operating in the mid-19th century, the factory buildings closed in 1877 and have been decaying into the surrounding forest ever since.
To make glass in the 19th century, glass workers would require clay vessels to hold the raw materials in the intense heat of the furnace. These clay vessels, called pots, would be worth $100 each in 1850… approximately $3500 today. The construction of these pots was the most demanding of any job at the glass factory, and they worked in this building, called the “Pot House.”
At the center of this building would have stood the furnace, where master glassworkers plied their craft. A glassblower was paid for how much usable glass was created – glass with imperfections would mean the worker would not receive compensation. After exploring the ruins, we set off to our next destination… Tuckahoe Station
“Want to check out a historic train station? Turn right now!” my wife exclaimed. A short distance from Route 50, we came across Tuckahoe Station. Built in 1894, this station served rail lines that offered passengers transport between the city of Camden and southern New Jersey shore towns.
At the height of the station’s life in the 1920s, twenty trains passed through Tuckahoe Station on their way to and from the shore (via The Santa Express).
Passenger train service operated in Tuckahoe through 1981.
GE: We bring good things to life. I’m fascinated with the myriad of small parts that go into making these enormous machines.
Tuckahoe Station has found a new lease on life. Every November and December, the Cape May Seashore Lines operates “The Santa Express” between Richland and Tuckahoe stations, bringing the magic of trains to a new generation. The hour-long journey culminates with a meeting with Santa Claus for every child!
We enjoyed our visit to Tuckahoe Station, but it was time for some stops to please our stomachs… Cheesecakes and Farm Stands!
Our next destination was for one of my favorite desserts… cheesecake! Established in 1981, Tuckahoe Cheesecake has been serving this tasty confection to the NJ shore area for nearly forty years.
What flavor would you choose? We tried several pieces – chocolate chip, amaretto, and coconut cream. How were they? Yum! Yum! Yum!
One of the most underrated aspects of living in New Jersey: we have a rich tradition of roadside farm stands. They don’t call this the Garden State for no reason! There are at least 700 roadside farm stands and markets throughout the state (via nj.com).
We stopped at Andy’s Countryside Farm Market in Petersburg on the way home. Andy and his wife Maria have been operating their farm for over half a century, and the market is a great place to purchase fresh produce. We definitely took home some of these ripe tomatoes!
That’s it for the first installment of “The Real Jersey Shore.” Join us next time for a cruise through the coastal wetlands, a visit to a favorite nature preserve, a classic car show, beautiful sunsets, amazing sunrises (pictured), and more delicious food! Returning to the Family
Before closing this post, I wanted to end with an automotive update from a family member. After owning a Toyota Matrix for the last decade, my Mom decided it was time for a new vehicle. She wanted something small, maneuverable, reliable, and equipped with all-wheel drive. She was impressed by the Honda HR-V I had as a loaner a few months ago while my car was being serviced at the dealer, and thought she’d take one for a test drive. Mom asked me to join her at the dealer, and that test drive turned into a new ownership experience!
Mom and I headed over to Burns Honda in Marlton, New Jersey, to see if it was time to write a new chapter in her vehicle ownership story.
After nearly 10 years of owning her 2009 Toyota Matrix, Mom was ready for something new, and wanted to have a vehicle with some of the latest safety driving aides. The Matrix was a great car for her, but its time had come (keen-eyed readers should be able to spot my 2012 Honda Accord coupe parked next to the dealership building).
My parents owned a succession of mediocre American-made cars in the 1970’s, culminating in their 1978 Ford Thunderbird (a car that still gives my Mom nightmares). She researched new vehicles and insisted that she and my Dad’s next vehicle be a car from a small Japanese company that was just making inroads into the American market: Honda. Their 1980 Accord hatchback is one of the best cars either of them ever owned. So I thought it fitting that Burns Honda has this first-generation 1970s Honda Civic sitting on the lot.
Stating that she didn’t want leather (despite my attempts to sway her), Mom initially test drove a cloth-interior EX model. While she liked the way the car drove, she found the drivers seat uncomfortable. Those concerns faded, however, when she next sat in this beauty: a 2021 Honda HR-V EX-L in Crystal Black Pearl. The car was so new, it even had the plastic protective wrap still on the wheels!
The leather seats definitely solved the comfort issue. The EX-L includes the Honda Sensing Suite of safety systems, electronic climate control, smartphone integration, a power moonroof, and a camera in the passenger side mirror that shows a view of objects in the vehicle’s blindspot.
After a brief negotiation with the salesperson, we came to a figure that Mom felt was a fair price for her new car. The car was prepped and detailed, and then Mom got her new ride.
Mom was most interested in the latest safety features from Honda, including Road Departure Mitigation, which shakes the steering wheel to alert you when you are drifting out of your lane. Also, check out that odometer – I can’t remember the last time I saw so few miles on a car!
Congratulations, Mom! Here’s to wishing you many happy years (and miles) with your new car. And welcome back to the Honda family! Wrapping Up
While it is always fun to simply sit on the beach in the summer, there is plenty more to do! From wineries, to fascinating museums, cool parks, and historic buildings, you can always find things to do if you are willing to explore the hidden gems in and around the Jersey shore. I will look forward to sharing more of our vacation’s highlights in an upcoming post.
Thanks for coming along on this summer adventure on the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.