When I think of summer vacation, a clear memory is invoked. To me, summer is sitting on the worn, dipped steps of my back porch as the tepid evening heat settles into the earth. Fireflies offer a sporadic performance, working diligently to bring light to the dark corners of the early evening. Indigo-flooded shadows under leaves become momentarily awash with yellow light, flowers silently become suns. Against the cornflower blue sky, my neighbor sets off his own fireworks display, pyrotechnics rocking the neighborhood with booming sound. I like this memory.
The idea of vacation, a chance to stop working and simply take in your surroundings, is a rather new American invention. It wasn’t until after the Gilded Age that wealthy, upper-crest Americans decided that they (the most of all people?) needed the ability to take a break, which meant relocating to a scenic resort to escape the summer heat. Working class people here at Allaire were often busiest during the summer months, kept occupied by harvesting flux and shellfish from nearby beaches for both iron-making and dining. Farmers utilized the summer season to harvest New Jersey crops like tomatoes and strawberries, which could be sold in the General Store or shipped across the continental United States to be bought at a hefty price. The four hundred some-odd people who lived and worked in the village were likely unable to take vacations in the summer, though their children would have been let out of school in early June in order to help in the fields. However, wealthy people like Mr. Allaire would have likely taken advantage of Monmouth and Ocean County’s numerous seaside resorts, many of which were centered around a religious purpose.
Ocean Grove, for example, was founded in 1869 by a non-profit religious group that aimed to “provide opportunities for spiritual birth, growth, and renewal in a Christian seaside setting.” Resorts in Ocean Grove and nearby areas were born in order to provide wealthy families places to stay while on vacation in hopes of furthering a Christian agenda by attending church and religious services. However, vacation resorts were less of a chance to connect with God and more of a place where families could engage in familiar, upper-crest activities like sailing, swimming, and golfing, which was hugely popular around the year 1890. Women often did not engage in water-based activities because of the lack of available clothing, as their aquatic-centered gear was still hugely inconvenient and heavy. So golfing and croquet were both popular, as was an entirely different sport: gossip. Men and women from upper-crest circles were no strangers to the various social pressures that enforced the law of gossip, encouraged by having physical spaces reserved only for the upper class. But that’s not my business.
Middle class families eventually gained access to summer vacationing in the 1950’s in the midst of post-WWII prosperity, usually centered again around religion or a “healthful” experience, such as being outdoors or in a spa. Although at this time the Howell Iron Works would have been marketed as a “deserted” village, many middle class families would have spent time visiting the grounds as a part of their vacation to the Jersey shore. Allaire was hardly ever empty! The Village served as the grounds for a movie set, a French Restaurant, a Boy Scout camp, and so much more following the furnace’s closure in the middle of the 19th century. Nowadays, we are so happy that families from all over the world come to learn about New Jersey history as a part of their vacation.
Whether you’ve visited Allaire in the past or hope to in the future, we are so excited to offer many entertaining events this summer season. Coming up next week is our founder’s Mr. Allaire’s birthday. My recommendation is to see it all, and make some new memories this summer!