"Asbury Park's Early History - James A. Bradley"James A. Bradley was born on Valentine's Day, 1830, at the Old Blazing Star Inn in Rossville on Staten Island in New York. He was the son of Adam and Hannah Bradley. He was baptized a Catholic.When he was only five, his father died from alcohol related problems. Two years later, his mother married Charles Smith and moved to Cherry Street in the Bowery. In those years before the Civil War, the city's population was exploding. The lower east side was the first stop for tens of thousands of immigrants to America. The original buildings had no heat, light, or running water and few windows until the late 1960's when the state enacted laws that forced landlords to improve living conditions. On hot nights, you could see tenants sleeping on fire escapes to get relief from summer heat. In 1837, the year they moved, a general economic panic had taken over the city. In that year over 100 firms went under, railroads fell, banks collapsed and building construction stopped. The city's working class crowded into tiny tenement apartments. The poor sewer system and primitive health services led to massive outbreaks of typhus and cholera.Bradley's stepfather set up a notions store selling groceries, meat, clothing, shoes and other items. Bradley was only seven years old at the time. He and his stepfather had a peddlers wagon, their favorite spot was down on Catherine Street outside the new specialty store, Lord & Taylor.Bradley obtained his early education in the New York public school system, and in later life continued his education through self-directed reading.At twelve, Bradley worked as a laborer at William Davis's Paper Mill in Bloomfield, New Jersey.As a teenager, Bradley hung with a rowdy immigrant crowd. He soon developed a fondness for wine. By the early 1840's the Bowery became more of a pleasure zone. Small hotels offered free "vaudevilles" to attract customers including ventriloquism, dancing, circus acts and comics. Young Bradley loved the shows, he tried to attend at least three a week. At thirteen, he witnesses the development of one of the most popular styles of the day; the minstrel show. They played reels, jigs and told down-home plantation jokes. Negros were barred from Bowery theaters, but minstrel shows became the rage.Bradley's mother decided that her teenage son was learning too much too last. She sent him to Bloomfield, New Jersey where a friend from her childhood owned a farm. He spent a year in Jersey milking cows and feeding chickens. He disliked it intensely. Twice he ran away and was caught trying to catch a ferry back to the city. Finally, at age sixteen, he returned to the lower East Side.Upon returning, he apprenticed as a brushmaker in Francis R. Furnold's factory in New York City. He was made foreman at age twenty-one and remained for seven years. It was hard work in a cramped space that stunk of hog bristle and glue. The animal hair had to be washed by hand, dried in a hot room, bleached, sorted for length, shaped, tied, glued and inserted into a handle. Depending on the type of brush, a man might make six to eight dozen a day. The hours were long and when work was over, Bradley had to return to his crowded, narrow tenement apartment.During this period, Bradley married Helen M. Packard, daughter of Lewis Packard from Boston. Helen was an educated Rutgers student and a staunch Methodist. The two of them resolved to start their own business and through self-discipline, managed to save one thousand dollars. In 1857, they completed payment on a lot uptown. Then, borrowing the capital, the twenty seven year old Bradley launched his own brush company, Bradley and Smith, located in Pearl Street in New York City. It became a very successful enterprise.Bradley was a vigorous, large built man, rough in appearance, but full of energy. While his wife kept shop, he was upstairs cutting, shaping and gluing brushes. Later in life, Bradley would reminisce about the "good old days" when a slice of bread coated with molasses would comprise his lunch for the day. By the end of his second year in business, Bradley had cleared his losses. The main reason was the war. When the South seceded from the union, the North passed tariffs to protect its manufacturers. New York's economy took off, creating an enormous demand for, among other things, brushes: to clean cannons, curry horses, groom officers uniforms. When the Civil War ended, Bradley's firm had sales of $400,000 a year.The war put the Bradley's into a new class of American capitalists, not as wealthy as John D. Rockefeller or Diamond Jim Brady, but full-fledged participants in what would become knows as "The Gilded Age." The Bradley's bought a fine house on Brooklyn's Bedford Avenue.When Bradley's sister died, the funeral service was held at a Methodist camp meeting outside Brooklyn. It was at this time that Bradley saw the light, he converted to the Methodist religion. By leaving behind his immigrant religion, he was about to move on. He became the superintendent of the new Central Methodist Church in Williamsburg.At age forty, Bradley began to find himself exhausted. He decided to purchase the first lot in Ocean Grove from his friend, David H. Brown, Treasurer of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in 1870. Back then, the land was considered a wilderness, but Bradley saw promise in the area.One day he decided to explore the large undeveloped area just north of Ocean Grove on the other side of Wesley Lake. This stretch of beach was unpopulated in 1870. Bradley paid $90,000 for 500 acres. Anxious that someone unsympathetic to the Ocean Grove way of life could buy the land, Bradley bought it for himself. He called this vast stretch of land Asbury Park after the great Methodist Bishop, Francis Asbury, who was the first Methodist Bishop in America. He found this wilderness area most beneficial to his health.
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September 17, 2008
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