History of Wildwood: Fun Facts & Hidden Gems to Explore

Soak in the history of Wildwood NJ

North Wildwood, New Jersey — the name itself conjures images of sun-drenched beaches, vibrant boardwalks, and classic American fun. But beneath the neon lights and bustling crowds lies a rich story. Today, we embark on a journey through time, uncovering the fascinating history of Wildwood. We’ll explore its humble beginnings as a quiet island and its transformation into a beloved Jersey Shore destination.

From Untamed Island to Picturesque Resort

Wildwood NJ beach

Imagine a time before the iconic Wildwood Boardwalk stretched along the shore. In the early 1600s, Wildwood was a sparsely populated barrier island. The Lenape Native American tribe called part of Wildwood “Five Mile Beach” for its impressive stretch of coastline.

Wildwood’s transformation continued with the arrival of European immigrants in the late 19th century. While experts debate the date, most accounts place their arrival sometime after the American Civil War (1861-1865). These immigrants from Norway and Sweden were skilled fishermen who used Wildwood as a seasonal base for fishing.

Drawn to the abundant fisheries off the coast of New Jersey, these seamen built small fishing communities. This newly established fishing industry marked Wildwood as a thriving coastal town.

The name “Angelsea” did appear briefly in Wildwood’s early history, although its usage wasn’t widespread or long-lasting. For a bit, European immigrants called the island “Angelsea” because they thought it looked like a place in Wales. However, the name never officially took hold; by the late 1800s, the town’s name was “Wildwood”.

Overall, the island remained largely undeveloped. Then, in the late 1800s, Phillip and Latimer Baker recognized its possibilities.

Wildwood’s status as a tourist haven emerged in 1892 when entrepreneur Phillip Baker purchased a tract of land. Baker envisioned transforming the island from a quiet fishing outpost into a bustling seaside resort. His vision materialized with the formation of the Wildwood Improvement Company in 1893.

The company spearheaded the construction of the iconic Wildwood boardwalk, the first section opening in 1894. Hotels and guesthouses soon followed, attracting a growing influx of tourists seeking a refreshing escape along the Jersey Shore. Wildwood’s transformation from a sleepy island to a tourist destination was well underway.

The Rise of the Boardwalk and Doo-Wop Era

The early years of Wildwood saw the construction of the iconic boardwalk. Indeed, this defining feature continues to attract visitors today.

The town dedicated its first boardwalk in 1870. By 1920, the boardwalk boasted a delightful mix of shops, restaurants, and amusements. Hotels and guesthouses soon followed, catering to a growing number of tourists seeking a coastal escape.

In the early 20th century, there was a boom in Wildwood’s development. Building a trolley line made it easier for people to travel to the growing resort town. However, the mid-20th century marked the real golden era of Wildwood. The post-war economic boom ushered in the “Doo-Wop” era with its vibrant music and architecture.

Signs of major transformation were evident up and down the Wildwood NJ beach. Hotels popped up on the horizon, many featuring bold geometric shapes, neon signs, and pastel colors. Many of these motels, now considered historic landmarks, continue to lend a nostalgic charm to the Wildwood experience.

A Legacy of Family Fun in Wildwood NJ

For decades, Wildwood worked hard to preserve its unique character. The iconic boardwalk remains the heart and soul of the town, bustling with activity from morning to night.

For instance, visitors can enjoy thrilling rides at Morey’s Piers or wander through quaint shops, hunting for unique treasures. Visitors can also savor classic boardwalk foods hot dogs, pretzels, curly fries, caramel corn, fudge, and saltwater taffy.

Yet, Wildwood has more to offer beyond the boardwalk. Families can frolic at Splash Zone Water Park, check out the Doo-Wop Museum, or catch a show at the local theater. History lovers can visit the Heritage Museum of Cape May County, and nature enthusiasts can explore the beautiful surroundings.

Include a Culinary Journey along the Wildwood Boardwalk

Beyond the rides and nostalgic games, the Wildwood boardwalk is a haven for foodies. Image the aroma of freshly squeezed lemonade and salty fries mingling with the sweet scent of cotton candy.

For seafood lovers, Wildwood offers an abundance of options. Grab a classic boardwalk staple — a deep-fried fish sandwich piled high with crispy fries and tangy tartar sauce. Sample plump, locally caught clams or juicy shrimp cocktails. For something more substantial indulge in a steaming lobster roll or a platter overflowing with fresh-off-the-boat seafood.

Not in the mood for seafood? The boardwalk caters to diverse palates. Why not grab a juicy cheesesteak sandwich? Plant-based options are becoming increasingly available, with stands offering veggie burgers, veggie dogs, and colorful fruit cups.

Then, enjoy a local craft beer or fruity frozen cocktail to complete your boardwalk experience.

Summertime Fun: Wildwood’s Calendar Comes Alive

Summer explodes with life in Wildwood! The iconic boardwalk transforms into a vibrant stage for various events that cater to all interests. From family-friendly fun to exciting concerts, there’s always something happening.

Weekends feature themed events that transport you to different worlds. Dive into the 50s with classic car shows, featuring vintage automobiles and nostalgic music. Or, witness the creativity of sandcastle building competitions, where towering sculptures emerge from the beach.

Feel the rhythm of live music at outdoor concerts featuring local and national acts. Wildwood’s concert scene includes open-air performances, ranging from nostalgic boardwalk acts to nationally touring artists. Relive the golden age with Doo-Wop tributes or experience the energy of today’s top pop and rock bands.

For those who thrive on competition, there are volleyball tournaments and wacky human pyramid contests on the beach. Foodies can delight in food truck festivals showcasing diverse cuisines. Likewise, art enthusiasts can peruse vibrant displays at local craft fairs.

Wildwood bursts with energy, offering a calendar with events that promise happy summer memories.

More Fun Wildwood FAQs:

Is Wildwood a family-friendly place? 

Absolutely! Wildwood offers several kid-friendly activities, from amusement parks and water parks to mini-golf and go-karting. Wildwood is perfect for a family vacation.

If the weather is sweltering, opt for a gigantic ice cream cone from one of the boardwalk’s famous vendors.

What are some things to do in Wildwood besides the boardwalk? 

Visit shops on Pacific Avenue, see Hereford Inlet Lighthouse or take a boat tour to see marine animals. Rent a car and drive 30 minutes in nearly any direction for spectacular views. The Cape May Court House is a treat. After a full day of sightseeing, head to The Inlet for a delicious meal and a refreshing drink.

What’s the best time to visit Wildwood? 

The peak season runs from late spring to early fall. However, shoulder seasons (spring and fall) can be a good option for those seeking a quieter experience. You can also find great deals on hotels in Wildwood during the shoulder season.

What are some hidden gems in Wildwood? 

The Doo-Wop Experience Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into Wildwood’s history. Stroll down quieter residential streets to appreciate the town’s unique buildings.

Is Wildwood far from other attractions? 

Wildwood is close to other popular Jersey Shore destinations, including Cape May and Atlantic City. This proximity makes the Wildwood beach and boardwalk great bases for exploring the region.

Ready to experience the magic of Wildwood for yourself? 

Explore the fascinating history of Wildwood NJ and create lasting memories. Discover why Wildwood has captured the hearts of generations. 

When you visit, drop by The Inlet and enjoy delicious beachfront dining! Nestled on the Wildwood boardwalk, The Inlet’s menu features fresh seafood, juicy steaks, and mouthwatering cocktails. Savor breathtaking ocean views while indulging in culinary delights, making your Wildwood experience unforgettable. Make The Inlet your first stop for a taste of Wildwood!




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