Utter the words “Atlantic City” and they conjure a wealth of imagery, from sandy beaches to the iconic boardwalk to towering casinos and more. Long loved for its proximity to the ocean and the cooling breezes that ease the swampy summer heat, Atlantic City has been a destination for tourists and holiday travelers for centuries. The city continues to evolve today, reshaping itself as a destination with much more to offer than simple day trips to slot machines. Despite a difficult economy, new restaurants and shops have sprung up, enticing more and more people not simply to visit but to stay.
How it All Began
The island upon which modern day Atlantic City is located was originally known as Absecon and was settled by the Lenni-Lenape Indians who traveled there in the summertime from the mainland via the Old Indian Trail, located along roughly the same route as today’s Florida Avenue.
The first owner of Absecon on record was an Englishman named Thomas Budd, who took possession of the land as part of a settlement with holders of a royal grant in the late 1670s. Although he was the first owner, Budd was not the first non-Native American resident of Absecon. That honor went to Jeremiah Leeds and his family, who built the island’s first permanent structure in 1785. The Leeds family went on to transform the island, growing crops, raising cattle and opening the island’s first boarding house, known as Aunt Millie’s, in 1838.
Atlantic City was incorporated in 1854, the same year train service began from Philadelphia. The rail service was the brain child of Dr. Jonathan Pitney, an Absecon doctor, and Philadelphia-based civil engineer Richard Osborne. The two decided that championing the creation of a train route from a major city such as Philadelphia would improve the island’s prospects as a resort town. And – true story – Osborne is credited with giving Atlantic City its name while Pitney is credited with naming and placing the city streets, naming the streets that run parallel to the ocean after the world’s oceans, i.e., Pacific, Atlantic and so on while the streets running east to west were named after the U.S. states. Which means we have them to thank for all those memorable place names in Monopoly.
In the hot summer months, Atlantic City was a refuge for families and tourists in search of cooler ocean breezes and beaches that seemed to stretch on for miles. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Atlantic City averages more than 200 sunny days a year. Visitors loved the beaches so much that tracked-in sand became a major nuisance in hotel lobbies. To solve the problem, the city build its most iconic structure – a world-famous boardwalk that stretched seven miles before a hurricane destroyed most of it in 1944. Today, according to the city's tourism office, the boardwalk extends six miles and is 60 feet wide.