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Surf House, Atlantic City

The Surf House circa 1875. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

In the early days of the resort, before the shoreline was dotted with the palacial hotels and exotic architecture commonly associated with Atlantic City, luxury hotels on the island were much more demure.  In the resort’s youth, there were four principle first-rate hotels on the island. These were, according to a publication from 1868, the United States Hotel, The Surf House, Congress Hall and Mansion House.

Comfort, tranquility and seaside elegance, can be found in abundance at the Surf. The combination of pleasure, comfort and luxury of a shady park, awaits the guest of the “United States;” while at Congress Hall, gaiety, hops, jolly life and all the sweets of good digestion wait upon the visitor. Those, for who the real pleasure is to be derived from nightly hops, card parties and social amusements, usually patronize the whole-souled, whole-hearted Mr. Henckle, who, during the past season, has improved Congress Hall, at an expense of several thousand dollars. The Surf [House], too, holds out all the inducements of a first class hotel, as well as the happiness of a house. (Carnesworthe, 70-71)

Below is a hotel directory from “A Complete Guide to Atlantic City” published in 1885 containing information such as hotel size and rates — the United States Hotel and Mansion House are both included. Absent is Congress Hall which was closed for remodeling.

Shopping Guide Hotel Directory 1885

Hotel Guide from an 1885 guide, "For things you ought to know inquire within, where you will find valuable and useful information, and a reliable shopping guide," located online courtesy of the Library of Congress.

An advertisement for the remodeled Congress Hall published the following year (1886).

Congress Hall 1886

Advertisement from the 1886 edition of "A book of facts, containing valuable and useful information, and a reliable shopping guide," located online courtesy of the Library of Congress.

According to Heston’s Handbook from 1900, The Surf House disappeared in 1880, and eighteen years later, in 1898, Congress Hall followed the same fate.  The Mansion House, which had been located at the corner of Atlantic and Pennsylvania Avenues, was purchased by Atlantic City National Bank and torn down in 1899.


Advertisement for Congress Hall from an 1873 guidebook, Atlantic City, New Jersey. Also on the page is an advertisement for "the portable Babcock Exinguisher." Fires were of frequent and legitimate concern to hotel proprietors and guests alike. Complete guidebook available online here. Courtesy of HathiTrust.

Carnesworthe, pseud..Atlantic City : its early and modern history.Philadelphia, 1868. 95pp. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. University of Texas at Austin. 27 December 2012 http://galenet.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/servlet/Sabin?af=RN&ae=CY3800343288&srchtp=a&ste=14

Heston, Alfred Miller. Heston's Hand-book: Being an Account of the Settlement of Eyre Haven, And a Succinct History of Atlantic City And County During the 17th, 18th And 19th Centuries; Also Indian Traditions And Sketches of the Region Between Absegami And Chicohacki, In the Country Called Scheyichbi. [Twentieth century souvenir ed.] Atlantic City, N.J., 1900.