Long Branch is five square miles of diversity, from wealthier summer enclaves to grittier downtown locations. But it is in the midst of a resurgence brought on by ambitious redevelopment.
Location: On the Atlantic Ocean, sharing boundaries with these municipalities (clockwise from south to north) Deal, Ocean Township, West Long Branch, Oceanport and Monmouth Beach
Size: 5.2 square miles
Population: 31,340 (2000 Census)
Long Branch got its name when the first English settlement developed south of the long branch of the Shrewsbury River about 300 years ago. By the time of the Civil War, Long Branch had acquired a reputation as the preferred location for the fashionable and those in the entertainment business.
In the 1880s and 1890s, enormous homes and 30-room "cottages" were built. Parisian dress designers flocked here to copy the latests styles. Millionaires built houses along Ocean Avenue. Magnificent hotels also were built, including the Continental, with 600 rooms.
Long Branch became a destination for such people as Jim Fisk, Diamond Jim Brady, Lillian Russell, Horace Greeley, Lily Langtry, Henry Ward Beecher and Gens. Phil Sheridan and George Meade. The town welcomed presidents including Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson.
They worshipped at St. James Chapel, which has come to be known as The Church of the Presidents, home of the Long Branch Historical Museum Association.
On July 2, 1881, Garfield was shot in Washington by Charles Guiteau, a disappointed office seeker. Almost overnight a railroad spur was built to carry the wounded president to the door of the Francklyn Cottage on Ocean Avenue, Long Branch, where he died on Sept. 19.
The first city racetrack, called Elkwood Park, opened in the late 19th Century and West End boasted half a dozen casinos. In the 1890s, Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell could be seen watching horse racing. Gambling and horse racing were made illegal in the city around the turn of the century, signaling the end to an era.
The city fell into decline and experienced civil unrest during the 1960s and early 1970s.
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Now the city is pinning its hopes on redevelopment, and it isn't just summer vacationers or boardwalk-style amusements Long Branch wants to draw, but year-round residents and businesses as well.
Long Branch has a long history of ethnic and racial diversity and a growing Hispanic population, which now stands at about 20 percent of its population. Portuguese and Spanish are spoken in the schools. The Monmouth County Planning Board said that 18.7 percent of the city population is African-American and 13.3 percent is Asian.
Monmouth Medical Center is located here and Monmouth University is moments away in West Long Branch. Both are significant employers and the university is a significant cultural center as well, home to theaters, art galleries, exhibits and lectures, almost all of which are open to the public.
Long Branch officials envision new neighborhoods with 1,300 housing units, and village-style streets peppered with shops, restaurants and services. Recreational attractions ??? including a new Long Branch ocean pier ??? are in the plan.