Gone Too Soon – Mark MaglienteSeptember 3, 2023
Spring Mill Fire Company Community Carnival – Returns soon!September 7, 2023
Revisiting Wildwood’s Grassy Sound
It’s Been A While
By Jack Coll
8-25-23 published 9-4-2023
Enjoy the photographs. The Good, The Bad and the ugly:
This is Grassy Sound
It’s been a few years since I visited the very private Grassy Sound section of Wildwood, New Jersey. The village of Grassy Sound is located along both banks of Grassy Sound Channel in Middle Township, Cape May County. It seems to me that you might have to be of a certain age to even know about Grassy Sound unless you live, or have stayed in Grassy Sound.
Pre 1994, when you exited the parkway at exit 6, to go into Wildwood, your final leg of the journey was to drive thru Grassy Sound. The road into Wildwood on Route 147, (But pre 1971 the road was simply known as Old North Wildwood Boulevard,) the undivided road was a narrow, pot-holed, two-lane road without street lights, and at night, it felt like you were driving into the abyss.
It was a road full of summer cottages, many of them were run down and vacant, it almost felt like you were driving through a ghost town, while other cottages were alive, well landscaped, with residents and activity, it was a strange place. At the end of the road was this wooden draw-bridge, or what we called a “tickle Bridge.” Once you crossed the bridge you rounded the bend and the bright lights of Zaberers Restaurant lit-up the night sky like Disney Land , and you knew you arrived in Wildwood.
The village of Grassy Sound had been in peril a number of times over the years including the Jersey Shore’s great nor’easter of 1962. It was the storm of the century and it changed a lot of the shore’s topography. It hit hardest in Cape May where area’s of the county lost up to a half mile of beach front property taking dozens of, if not hundreds of houses and other structures. Overall resort towns from Bay Head to Seaside Heights to Cape May, roads became rivers, boardwalks were completely demolished and more than 45,000 buildings were leveled. The death toll in New Jersey was 32, President John Kennedy dispatched the military to help with disaster relief.
The state of New Jersey at that time decided to discourage people from living or buying a structure in Grassy Sound. The state also passed a law forbidding homeowners along the 147-causeway known as “Grassy Sound” not to make even minor repairs and forbidding the residents from making any up-grades to the property or docks. I said it before and I’ll say it again, “How strange is that.”
Fifty years after the shore’s 1962 nor’easter, Hurricane Sandy, referred to as Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey coastline in October 2012. It was the largest Atlantic Hurricane on record and carried 115 mile per hour winds causing more than 70 Billion dollars in damage, killing 233 people. In New Jersey Hurricane Sandy brought wind speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour causing 30 Billion dollars in damages and killing 38 Jersey residents. Two million New Jersey homes lost power while 346,000 homes were damaged or lost.
The Grassy Sound community took a hit, lifting homes off their foundations and laying them harshly in the roadway and beyond causing complete havoc in the community. One might think these types of storms would discourage the average resident. Grassy Sound residents are a different breed, a tougher breed. On my recent visit I learned that one of the houses that was lifted off the foundation laid on the side of the road for ten years. Just this past year a new set of stilts were planted on location and the house has been reinstalled on the stilts and is currently well under reconstruction.
After nearly 30 years of neglect by homeowners under the 1992 state rule, the state of New Jersey in 1990 declared the area “Unfit for human habitation.” Although many of the shacks were demolished in the early 1990’s, many of the homeowners vowed to stay in their homes. In the early 1990’s the state highway department constructed a four-lane concrete highway, forcing commuters to by-pass the Grassy Sound community.
A major part of the Grassy Sound community problem was the fact that the community had no sewer system. I believe in the early years when the houses had access to a vibrant waterway behind, and in some cases had inlet water under their houses that buckets or other containers were used as potty containers and dumped into the waterways. In later years the county provided dumping stations where the household waste could be disposed of and eventually provided holding tanks.
Over the past decade or so the county along with the Grassy Sound Civic Association have come to an agreement to discontinue the use of a holding tank as a method of wastewater disposal and connect to the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority’s Middle Township sewer system.
All of that information leads me to talk about my recent visit to the Village of Grassy Sound, or what I call “The Forgotten Village of Grassy Sound.” Part of the strip I traveled all those years ago looks like the same old-same old. However, there are still a number of beautiful cottages that really stand-out. But more than anything I noticed the rebirth with lots of construction going on, and a fine sight to see. Then there’s the little-known section called, “The Village of Grassy Sound Boardwalk” where the cottages and houses are beautiful.
I parked my car and walked the strip I used to drive on at 100 miles per hour, the street is still a rough gravel road dotted with patchwork here and there. I noticed a lot of new pilings installed with and without houses on top and there seems to be an air of excitement about the community.
I talked to one new resident who had recently purchased two-lots where he’s rebuilding one house and plans to build a second new house. He was rather excited about his rebuild sitting on the new pilings. He salvaged the original house that sat on the site for I don’t know how many years and will rebuild the entire house. The highway 147 Grassy Sound strip is still standing considering that the state of New Jersey declared the area “Unfit for human habitation” back in 1990.
During my walk I stopped amongst the high grass and waited for the breeze, just to hear the light clacking sound that the high grass made, it was like music to my ears. It took me back 50 years when in the midnight hours, I would race along what seemed to be a haunted highway.
On our recent visit to the shore, Donna and I spent three days and stayed plenty busy, we made a lot of stops and visited a number of interesting places. But for me, my visit to Grassy Sound was the most enjoyable part of our outing. I never lived there, I never stayed overnight there, heck I never even visited anyone there, and yet I feel at home every time I visit Grassy Sound.
If you’re familiar with Grassy Sound, enjoy the photographs.