The Story of Jones Beach
September 18, 2020
Living on Long Island it’s likely you’ve been to Jones Beach at least once. Jones Beach State Park in its present use has a long history stretching back almost a century. One could find its origins in 17th century colonial New York from the settlement of the park’s namesake, Major Thomas Jones. The land that would eventually become Jones Beach was first developed by Thomas Jones, a privateer and local militia leader. He set up the first whaling station of the area in the vicinity of the modern property.
The land was eventually ceded to the Long Island State Park Commission through aggressive acquisitions from local townships on Long Island. The actual development of the land was a major public works project that required dredging sand from the now State Boat Channel. The park was considered swampland and would normally become submerged during storms. The dredging lifted it to 14 feet above sea level making it suitable to build upon. Beach grass was also planted in massive quantities to stabilize the dunes preventing wind from blowing sand onto people.
Jones Beach State Park opened to the public on August 4, 1929 with great fanfare in the presence of the lead developer Robert Moses and future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt who was the current governor of New York. The intention was to create a public space for the people to use as opposed to the preponderance of private beaches for the wealthy and elite.
Some prominent features found at Jones Beach include the central water tower located in the middle of the traffic circle terminus of the Wantagh State Parkway, two main bathhouses, a two-mile boardwalk, and an amphitheater concert venue. The beaches cover over six miles on the Atlantic Ocean as well as Zachs Bay in the shadow of the amphitheater for still water bathing.
Unusually for its time, no carnival attractions were permitted, but it does contain numerous athletics fields and courts. Annual events like the Memorial Day air show or 4th of July fireworks always draw crowds. The park boasts over six million visitors a year, mostly during the summer, making it the most popular and visited beach on the east coast.
Do your summer plans include visiting Jones Beach?
Check out these resources about Jones Beach State Park:
He Put the Jones in Jones Beach by Gwen Young
Jones Beach by Theodosiou E. Constantine
Jones Beach State Park Historic Structures and Cultural Landscape Report
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation