Coastal Community is Great Getaway Year-Round
By Karen Rubin
Dotting the New Jersey coastal trail are more top-of-mind stops, like Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, but we recently discovered an exclusive, idyllic enclave: Spring Lake.
If you drive, you come off the Garden State Highway, and follow the road ever eastward to the coast, where you enter this pristine community of stunning Victorians, broad boulevards, picturesque vistas across three lakes, lovely parks with tennis, playgrounds, canoeing, and finally, to a two-mile long boardwalk completely free of any commercial clutter and powder white sand.
Once upon a time, this was known as the “Irish Riviera” – a popular spot for the swells of the Jazz Age to gather in top hats and tails at one of the large hotels like the Essex & Sussex. During the season, there would be balls and polo, and days spent strolling the boardwalk.
Over time, Spring Lake closed its grand hotels, and became an exclusive residential community, even for those who have vacation homes.
But 11 historic inns and bed-and-breakfasts remain, welcoming you as a guest.
Our destination was the Spring Lake Inn, a mere half-mile from where the train from Penn Station stops. Many guests come with their bike, a backpack, and a book and settle in.
All the coastal communities have their distinct personality, but Spring Lake, because it is so exclusive and residential, makes you think of that idyllic seaside village in “The Truman Show” (only without the creepiness).
This is probably true even in summer when the population nearly doubles – not with tourists, but with second-homeowners or renters.
But when we arrive, just days after the official close of “the season”, it is incomparably, palpably, perfectly peaceful, so delightful for biking along the two-mile long boardwalk, walking along the beach, and exploring the neighborhood.
And what a neighborhood. In the past few years, there has been a sort of renaissance, with homes refurbishing and rebuilt tastefully in keeping with Victorian or Cape Cod styles (beachfront cottages have been snapped up for upwards of $10 million).
Here though, the beachfront belongs to people – the homes are set off from the boardwalk by Ocean Avenue.
Staying in a bed-and-breakfast (BnB) is a distinct experience from a “commercial establishment”. It allows you to become a part of this community, even briefly, as if you had been an invited guest into someone’s home. In Spring Lake, it is easy to feel as if you slipped into the 1920s.
The very nature of bed-and-breakfast innkeeping, which is so personal, insures that you will feel like you are part of the family by the end of your visit, and probably making a reservation to return “same time, next year.”
Bed-and-breakfast is a cross between Barron Hilton and Martha Stewart – innkeepers take pride and pleasure in creating an atmosphere that combines the ultimate in hospitality and homemaking into an expression of their artistry and creativity. There is personal pride in the way the bed is made with extra pillows, to the freshly brewed coffee and baked muffins, to the choice of soaps in the bathroom.
More significantly, the inn reflects the personality and very often the life experience of the innkeepers.
That is particularly true at the Spring Lake Inn and innkeepers Andy & Barbara Seaman. Both are hospitality pros.
Andy is a “Jersey Boy” who ran many renowned hotel operations from The Inn at Reading (PA) and Tarrytown House (Tarrytown, NY) to acting as Regional Food & Beverage Director at the New Orleans Sheraton (Louisiana) and the corporate Food & Beverage office of Westin hotels. He worked in 26 US cities throughout his 22-year career in hospitality.
Barbara began her career with Hilton and met Andy as Hotel Manager at the Tarrytown House. As General Manager of the legendary Barbizon Hotel in New York City she juggled celebrity clients from the world of politics and Hollywood. Now she juggles raising her two young sons – 2 1/2 and 4 – while continuing to run the Spring Lake Inn.
Because of this, they approach the “bed and breakfast” concept from a somewhat different perspective than many who open their mansion home to commercial guests. With a background in five-star hospitality, the Seamans run the Spring Lake Inn like a small European hotel – there is even a front desk.
Because they have young children of their own, they are also family-friendly, which is unusual for historic bed-and-breakfast inns. The Spring Lake Inn has three of the 16 rooms which can accommodate families – mainly because of their location in close proximity to their room and set off from the rest of the guests. This makes for a special opportunity for families to experience the special ambiance and charm of a historic bed-and-breakfast inn.
Artwork and many of the furnishings are veritable souvenirs from Barbara & Andy’s career in hospitality, and the places they lived and worked – like photos of Amish from when Andy was at the Inn at Reading in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Wherever you look, there are beautiful and interesting things to see.
“We both came from a five-star background,” Andy says. “We wanted to make it comfortable, amenable. I like not wearing a tie, not being formal, being able to talk to guests.”
At breakfast, Andy describes how running a BnB also means you get to do things yourself. “The sense of satisfaction is like being a craftsman.”
The BnB experience is the very opposite of a “cookie cutter establishment.”
It’s all very personal. Andy says, “I hate ‘Press 1, Press 2’ so I have a human answer the phone” even if it means he picks it up at his bedside after midnight.
Andy brings his background in food-and-breakfast to the preparation of a sumptuous, “signature” gourmet breakfast served in a charming dining room.
Each day, fresh, seasonal fruits, juice, and delicious freshly baked breads, cakes and muffins, cereals and yogurts, accompany a delectable hot entr�e, like a vegetable frittata or an omelet freshly prepared as you like, fresh coffee served in specially designed mugs, as classical music plays in the background.
Each afternoon, there is complimentary coffee, tea or homemade lemonade; fresh seasonal fruit is always available for a snack in the dining room.
The Spring Lake Inn is one of the most spacious and gracious inns in Spring Lake.
It affords 16 rooms and suites, all with private bath, air conditioning, digital cable TV/HBO/Movie Channels, and refrigerator, some with gas fireplaces.
Our room, #14 on the third floor, is called Moonbeam. I love when you swing open the door and get that “ohhhh” feeling. The room was so beautiful – cranberry-colored walls with white trim, wood beams, light streaming in from windows, floral pattern sheets, a separate sofa and sitting area, gas fireplace, refrigerator (such a convenience), remote-control flat-screen TV with CD and DVD (there is a large collection in the parlor).
Other rooms (there are 16 rooms and suites) are named Sunrise, Nostalgia and the like, creating an instant feeling of tranquility and escape.
The inn provides beach badges (basically a ticket to use the beach, which would cost $8 a day), beach chairs and towels, private on-site parking (just a block off the beach), passes to the Atlantic Fitness Club, wireless network.
Besides the stunning 80-foot long Victorian porch, there is also a quiet parlor to sit in, and a lobby lounge.
The atmosphere at the Spring Lake Inn makes it ideal for a family reunion or a destination wedding (a wedding was underway as we arrived) or business meetings.
Preservation & Progress
One of the best aspects of historic inns is their story.
The Spring Lake Inn dates from around 1888, when it was erected by Timothy Hurley as ‘Timothy Hurley’s Grand Central Stables Carriage House, a stagecoach stop with hotel rooms on the top floors for the coachmen.
The building was moved at least twice – an 1889 map shows the original building constructed on Atlantic in the name of Maltby; an 1890 map shows the building in the name of Tim Hurley Carriage House and Livery, then located on Third and Salem. A 1905 map shows the building as Tim Hurley’s Carriage House, Livery, Trucking, Shed, and shortly after that moving to 104 Salem Street, where it stands today, just a block off the beach.
It was converted to a hotel in 1975 by Pat Giblin and Fran Allison, who rented out the kitchen and dining room to proprietors who ran a restaurant separate from the hotel. The last owners, Linda and Bill Polsney, added the porch and private bathrooms, and expanded the third floor, increasing the number of guest rooms to 16.
Barbara and Andy Seaman purchased the inn six years ago, and added luxurious amenities befitting a small European hotel – like the flat-screen TVs and fireplaces, and making the 80-foot long porch a model of Victorian charm.
There are other amenities as well, which complete the experience: the inn provides beach badges (basically a ticket to use the beach, which would cost $8 a day in season), beach chairs and towels, private on-site parking (a huge convenience), passes to the Atlantic Fitness Club, wireless network.
What struck me though is that with all this history and tradition, faithfully preserved, the Seamans managed to be progressive enough to introduce solar power – proving that these preservation and progress can properly co-exist.
The Seamans joined the CORE Program (Customer OnSity Energy Program), part of New Jersey’s Clean Energy program and the Federal initiative to reduce reliance on foreign energy sources.
Andy said that the decision was both to affirm the principle of renewable energy, as much as it was practical: energy costs have dropped while the inn now has is energy independent in the event electricity is cut off. What is more, the state of New Jersey helped pay for half the $80,000 cost.
Savvy innkeepers with two young sons, this is the Seaman’s small part in making the earth environmentally in synch with their children’s future…a future with alternative energy.
“We want to set a good example for our kids,” Barbara said. “The energy demand in Spring Lake is great, especially during the summer vacation season. Our electric consumption will be greatly reduced, hopefully saving us all from blackouts and brownouts.”
Enough to Do in Spring Lake
Spring Lake is a place to really lose yourself. There is just enough to do to be interesting, but not so much that you can’t completely unwind to a slow pace.
Be sure to stop into the Spring Lake Historical Society Museum, located in the Municipal Hall, a wonderful example of classical architecture. The museum explores Spring Lake’s history from Indian times through the Victorian era and Gilded Age to the present day.
The museum is located at the corner of Warren and Fifth Avenues, on the top floor of Spring Lake’s Borough Hall, which was built in 1897 as the town’s first public school. The space it occupies served as a Masonic meeting room in the 1950s.
The collection of photos, memorabilia and artifacts is befitting the Smithsonian, and tells the story of this place in a very personal way.
There are artifacts from the Lenapehoking Indians; an 1839 Almanac, a grammar school geography book, photos of a high school graduation, classified ads from the 1892 auction sale of lots. There are the evening clothes from the era of the great estates, in the 1920s to 1940s.
You can also take an online walking tour of the Third Avenue Business District (springlake.historical/walkingtour/index/html), and a Divine Park Nature Walk (springlake.historical/naturewalk/index/html).
The museum is only open Sundays, from 1:30-3:30 p.m., and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to noon (Located at the corner of Warren & 5th Avenue, 732-449-4811; admission is free).
Just a few blocks down from the Spring Lake Inn, you enter Sea Girt, where another boardwalk winds along the dunes.
The Sea Girt Lighthouse, dating from 1896 and restored in 1981, offers tours on Sunday, 2-4.
In Sea Girt, the Parker House, established in 1878, serves food and in season, offers live entertainment.
From the Spring Lake Inn, the quaint town center is less than a mile – a pleasant walk or bike ride over a charming footbridge across the lake, where the main street, Third Avenue, offers dozens of shops to explore.
We had lunch at “Who’s on Third,” a pleasant Deli & Grill loaded with baseball memorabilia (the menu has the complete dialogue from Abbott & Costello’s famous routine).
There are other pleasant places to eat – within walking or biking distance, or a short car-ride to other seaside towns with very different personalities.
Nearby is the Old Mill Inn, a Jersey Shore landmark for more than 60 years, serving classic American cuisine such as prime aged steaks and seafood.
A short drive, in Belmar, the Boathouse is a sports bar with a great atmosphere, good food, and a pool table.
We so enjoyed biking on the boardwalk and around the lakes in Spring Lake that we didn’t even get to the paved bike path that stretches some seven miles; in the cooler weather, though, because it is more sheltered, it would be terrific.
Biking around Wreck Pond and Spring Lake and into the neighboring villages is so much fun. You think you are in some southern town – quiet, tranquil streets, wide boulevards, porches and cupolas, lakes and ponds – not just the ocean and beach which are glorious. The sunset across Wreck Pond is gorgeous. People keep canoes and kayaks.
Spring Lake Inn makes a delightful retreat for a relaxing vacation getaway, reunion, wedding, or conference.
When we visited, in mid-October when the weather should have been chilly, there was still the prolonged Indian Summer, and we were so fortunate to have sunny days. But I could easily imagine how warming and welcoming Spring Lake and the Spring Lake Inn would be in colder or wetter weather, especially having the warmth of the inn to return to.
Spring Lake Inn, at 104 Salem Avenue, is a member of Preferred Inns of NJ, Professional Innkeepers Association, and Historic Inns of Spring Lake (732-449-2910, www.SpringLakeInn.com).
Historic Inns of Spring Lake, a collection of 11 historic inns and bed-and-breakfasts, are offering some wonderful packages during the fall and winter, and into the holiday season, such as Boomers Inn Love getaway, and a gals-getaway, to enjoy a pre-Christmas Shopping Spree, Wrapping Up the Holidays. There is also an annual Spring Lake Candlelight Christmas Inn Tour.
The 11 members of Historic Inns of Spring Lake: The Beacon House, Chateau Inn & Suites, Evergreen Inn, Ocean House, The Sandpiper Inn, Sea Crest by the Sea, Spring Lake Inn, The Breakers Hotels, Victoria House B&B, Villa Park House and White Lilac Inn.
For Reservations and Inn Rates, 732-859-1465, www.HistoricInnsofSpringLake.com.
For Spring Lake shops, restaurants and a calendar of events, visit www.springlake.org.
Thursday, 08 November, 2007
© 2007 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com