ORTLEY BEACH – It was ground zero during Superstorm Sandy’s slamming into the Jersey Shore on October 29, 2012. Ninety-nine percent of the homes and businesses in Ortley Beach sustained damage, most of if catastrophic.
Storms had battered the island before, but not quite like this.
News outlets reported that out of the 2,600 homes in Ortley Beach, merely 60 escaped damage. Two hundred homes vanished with Sandy. It’s location was front and center for the storm: an incorporated section of Toms River less than a square mile, nestled between Lavallette and Seaside Heights, between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay,
More than four years after that storm, Ortley Beach is transforming. Gone are the summer beach bungalows. In their place are large family homes being built on the requisite pilings. More year-round residents are putting down roots in Ortley Beach.
Those residents who stayed after Sandy not only want to see structures rebuilt, but also the community that lost so much.
To that end, Friends of Ortley Beach, a volunteer nonprofit organization, has formed to bring this community together. The group hosted its first event on May 6, the dedication of a plaque on the Lord House Lifeguard Station between Third and Fourth Avenues on the beach.
The location was originally the Ortley Inn in the 1880s. That structure was destroyed by a fire in 1922. The Lord family bought the property, with rights to the business and a single-family home. Its next incarnation survived a 1962 storm that destroyed surrounding homes, but the house was condemned. Dover Township, as Toms River was known then, bought the land and built a parking lot. The lifeguard station was built later. That station was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, and the township erected a new building.
The plaque details the history of the location, which likely was the spot of Ortley Beach’s oldest business.
“We want to remember our past, while also getting ready for the future,” Friends of Ortley Beach president Sharon Quilter-Colucci said. “After Sandy, we needed more than just rebuilding. We need our community to come together.”
Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher said other names were suggested, but the name will always be the Lord House, a name that is closely tied to the town.
Edie Segree of Annapolis, Maryland, and Barbara Biedenbach of Mount Holly, members of the Lord family, attended the dedication ceremony.
“This is an honor for our entire family,” Segree said. “We had some wonderful years living here.”
The community is coming back. Paul Jeffrey, president of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association, said about 60 percent of the community has rebuilt. Home prices, he said, are still 40 percent their pre-Sandy prices.
And this is just the first event the Friends of Ortley Beach has organized for the community. The group has other events planned, such as its Kites and Cones on July 15 at the Lord House.
For more information about Friends of Ortley Beach, visit friendsofortleybeach.org.