The city of Asbury Park itself was founded in 1871 by James A. Bradley, a New York City-based industrialist and devout convert to Methodism. Inspired by the teachings of Bishop Francis Asbury as well as the Methodist camp community established at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, Bradley purchased a large tract of unincorporated and sparsely-settled coastal land that had once been home to the indigenous Lenni Lenape tribes. Mapping out a meticulously detailed layout of residential lots, parks, and streets. Bradley marketed his planned development as a place of healthful relaxation and quiet reflection. It attracted many of his first seasonal residents from such regional cities as New York City, Philadelphia, Newark and Jersey City. Asbury Park would incorporate in 1874 but would not become a self-governing city until 1893. Even so, the summer resort would quickly transform into a year-round community whose seaside hotels and beachfront boardwalk were augmented by a thriving business district, full rail service, grand houses of worship, and numerous Victorian cottages. By the time that Bradley sold off the last of his real estate holdings in the early years of the 20th century, his vision for a pious seaside retreat had ended. It was superseded by the attractions of a place of popular entertainments, major amusement facilities, department stores, colorful pageants, and ever grander hotels.
At the same time, the people who played such a crucial part in building and operating these attractions were often barred from enjoying them. They were unable to make their homes within the neighborhoods whose homeowners had been exclusively white and Protestant. Many of the grand hotels and Victorian homes were constructed by the Sand Hill Indians, a locally based Native American tribe descended from a Cherokee clan that had migrated north in the early 18th century. Those who helped build and work in the huge hotels, fine restaurants and entertainment venues of the East Side included a large community of African American families escaping the Jim Crow conditions of the southern states. Others were immigrants of Italian and other Southern European descent, who escaped impoverished conditions in their native lands. Together with Jews, Germans, and other immigrants, these populations were relegated to the West Side or “West Park” area. This was an unincorporated “separate city” of small neighborhoods that expanded from holdings originally developed by northern New Jersey attorney Frederick Burnham.
The West Side, which was officially annexed as part of Asbury Park in 1906, was often short-changed when it came to such services as the city’s electric trolley line and celebrated water and sewer system. It would come to develop its own businesses, stores, churches, fire departments and entertainment venues along its main thoroughfare, Springwood Avenue. Running through the city’s history is this entrenched segregation of the early years and its long-term effects on the city. These effects include civil unrest that devastated the economic life of the West Side in 1970.
Nowhere are the cultural differences of the “two cities” more evident than in its music. East Side and West Side music styles developed independently, with each having separate but major impacts on American popular music. Yet, the close proximity of Asbury Park musicians did lead to cross-fertilization of music styles between both sections of the city.