The Borough of Island Heights is a unique archaeological site, being the second highest point of land on the entire Atlantic seaboard south of the Highlands, which is located opposite Sandy Hook in Monmouth County. The bluffs, which are formed on the south side of the Island, were frequented by the Lenni-Lenape Indians, who are known to have frequented Island Heights and to have lived in caves on the south side of the island. Numerous remnants of Indian habitation have been found on the Island including arrow heads, shell mounds, and other artifacts.
The first recorded European to own the island area was Dr. Johnson, who received the island as part of a patent grant given to him on June 24th, 1690. The area was known as Dr. Johnson's Island until approximately 1745 when it was renamed Toms River Island.
In the 1700s, James Dillon possessed the area but was forced to flee to Canada during the Revolutionary War since he was a Royalist. Another member of the Dillon family took over ownership of the island. On the East end of the island is a home built in pre-revolutionary times called "The Dillon House." Dillon’s Creek which extends through the North central portion of the Borough is also named after the Dillon family. The island was also commonly referred to as Dillon’s Island.
The island was sold and resold through the years, but remained in a natural state through the mid-1800s.
Island Heights Association
In 1877, Reverend Jacob B. Graw, then President Elder of the New Brunswick District (Methodist Church), was impressed with the idea that the Toms River Island would be an ideal location for a camp meeting and summer resort. In conjunction with 25 or 30 other persons, Reverend Graw formed the Island Heights Association which was incorporated on July 1st, 1878. The Association purchased 172 acres of land, and 10 acres were cleared for a campground, a pavilion, 30 camp meeting cottages, and a wharf for transporting persons to and from the island. On August 20th, 1878, 100 lots were sold producing $10,000 in revenue, all of which were utilized for improvements of the campground itself.
In founding Island Heights, Reverend Graw intended to establish a Christian family resort under temperance influences, and as a result, the Association included in every deed of sale a clause prohibiting the use of liquor. Many of the deeds in Island Heights today contain this restriction.
An early permanent house on the island was built in 1879 by Reverend Samuel Van Sant. Other buildings were also erected in conjunction with the camp meeting ground, and in 1882 the cornerstone of the First Methodist Church was laid. One of the early problems confronting the Island Heights Association was transportation to and from the island and also provision of food. While a hotel, Island House, was erected, it was not able to serve the public for some time due to the difficulty of obtaining food stuffs. Access to and from the Island was restricted to boats along the Toms River and all freights shipped to and from the island were transported in scows on the river. The first general store which was constructed is located on the corner of Central and Ocean Avenues, and the building is now occupied as a residence.
In 1883, the Pennsylvania Railroad built a branch to Island Heights from their main line from Camden to Seaside Park, and in 1888 the Island Heights Hotel Association was incorporated to construct guest facilities.
In keeping with the original intent of the founding fathers, Sunday sailing and bathing were prohibited, and vehicles of any type were denied access to the community by gates, which were locked from midnight Saturday to Monday morning. Deliveries were halted and no Sunday papers were distributed. Even trains were not permitted on the Sabbath in Island Heights.
Island Heights Borough
The Island Heights Post Office was founded in 1887. The first Island Heights School District was formed on March 4th, 1889. The Island Heights Yacht Club was formed in 1898 and was incorporated on April 7th, 1900. Riparian rights were purchased at the foot of Oak Avenue for $100.00, and the Yacht Club and a clubhouse was constructed that year.
The Island Heights Volunteer Fire Company was formed on February 14th, 1895. The original fire house was a car garage on Jaynes Avenue, and in 1923 the Fire Company moved to a new house on the corner of Van Sant Avenue and Simpson Avenue. That building served as the Fire Company until the present fire house as completed in 1963, located at the corner of Lake and Maple Avenues.
In 1902, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia constructed a vacation spot for his "Wanamaker Cadets," who were cash boys and girls employed in Wanamaker department stores in New York City and Philadelphia. The Wanamaker Complex was used during World War II by the army, and in 1949 the camp was purchased by the Presbyterian Church and operated as a summer camp. The Church built nine sleeping cabins, a chapel, and recreation hail, an infirmary, a shower building, and a maintenance shop and garage. The Borough subsequently purchased the property in 1975 and converted the recreation hall into the Borough Meeting Hall. The infirmary was converted into the Municipal Clerk and Tax Collector’s Office, the chapel was modified to house the Post Office, and the sleeping cabins were relocated through the town with one of them now serving as the headquarters for the Borough Police Department. The campgrounds are also used as a recreation site.
The Island Heights Library was formed in 1907 as the Island Heights Improvement Society, which changed to the Community Center and Library. In 1956, the corporation was dissolved and the library was taken over as a municipal function. In January, 1978, the Island Heights Library joined the Ocean County Library System.
The Island Heights First Aid Squad was incorporated on November 22, 1949. In 1957, the Ocean Arts and Crafts Club was formed by Mrs. Edna Thompson Feerick, and was changed to the Ocean County Artist Guild in 1960, which was incorporated as a non-profit organization. The Headquarters of the Guild is located on the corner of Ocean and Chestnut Avenues in a Victorian home, which was deeded to the Guild in 1974 by Mrs. Edith M. Grace. In 1960, the Ocean County String Band was founded in Island Heights, and the Band leased the former Borough Hall at the intersection of Van Sant and Simpson Avenues.
Saint Gertrude’s Roman Catholic Church was established as a mission by Saint Joseph’s in Toms River in 1908.
“The Island Heights Library, located at the corner of Summit and Central Avenues, has a long history of service to the community. It came into formal existence around 1907 as the Island Heights Improvement Society, and later changed to the community center and library. Old records show a membership roster of 33 ladies in the group, and according to the by-laws, each was "required to pay monthly dues of $.10, preferably in advance." This group was a completely independent organization, supporting and maintaining the building, buying books, etc., and met expenses by dues and extra donations among themselves. When the corporation was dissolved in 1956, it was noted that Mrs. Fannie Ware had served as volunteer librarian for 29 years. The library then became a municipal holding, with expense and maintenance of its function absorbed in the town budget and Mrs. Lillian Montgomery was hired as librarian.
The Island Heights Library joined the Ocean County Library system in January 1978. Mrs. Bette Smithbauer was in charge of the Island Heights branch. Services included loaning cassettes, art prints and magazines, and the use of a photocopy machine.”