These days, Cliffwood Beach serves as a quiet section of Aberdeen, NJ with beautiful views of Raritan Bay.
Locals will tell you it’s not – I repeat – not the same as neighboring Cliffwood. The two are separated by Route 35.
As nice as Cliffwood Beach is, especially if you’re a New York City commuter, it doesn’t jump out at you when you plan to visit “beach towns” along the Jersey Shore. It’s hard to imagine a Jersey Shore environment when you have Tottenville, Staten Island staring back at you.
But not so long ago, Cliffwood Beach was a popular resort town. Until late summer 1960, the area included a promenade with entertainment, a saltwater swimming pool and a sports recreation area including tennis and handball courts.
At night, visitors go wild at a popular restaurant, cocktail bar, and lounge called The Cat ‘n Fiddle.
The area has drawn comparisons to Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY.
For decades, people flocked to the Raritan Bay Shore destination, but it all came to a screeching halt on September 12, 1960. That’s the day Hurricane Donna swept through New Jersey.
The National Hurricane Center calls Donna one of the all-time great hurricanes.
As they describe it,
A northwesterly turn on September 9 (September 9) brought the hurricane into the middle of the Florida Keys the following day at Category 4 intensity. Donna then curved northeastward, crossing the Florida Peninsula on September 11, followed by eastern North Carolina (category 3) on the 12th, and the New England states (category 3 on Long Island and categories 1-2 elsewhere) on the 12th and 13th.
50 people have been reported dead in the United States because of Donna, and damages have amounted to millions. To date, Donna is the only hurricane to affect all East Coast states with hurricane-force winds.
Subsequently, the devastating impacts led to the retirement of the name “Donna” and will never again be used for an Atlantic hurricane. The name was changed to “Dora” in 1964.
When Donna traveled to Raritan Bay, she took the popular Cliffwood Beach waterfront from the present to the past.
From the September 16, 1960 edition of the The Journal of Matawan,
Waterfront areas of Matawan Township were hard hit by Hurricane Donna, particularly sections bordering Matawan Creek and parts of Cliffwood Beach. At the worst of the hurricane, water was nine to 10 feet deep on the streets of Cliffwood Beach, police said. Damage in the beach area was estimated at over $150,000. Ten families were evacuated from the waterfront to the Cliffwood Fire Station. Flooding at Cliffwood Beach reached Greenwood Avenue. The storm whipped up bay waters that completely covered the roofs of the 180-unit seacot colony facing the bay of Cliffwood Beach and crashed into the back of the Cat ‘n Fiddle restaurant, splitting the building into of them. Police were stationed at the restaurant after looting was reported.
Only the saltwater pool remains today, but it is currently buried in a sand dune that supports part of the seawall.
The holiday retreat was never to be heard from again.
Efforts to revitalize the waterfront did not come to fruition until the last five years.
Now you can take a stroll down memory lane and imagine what the resort destination would look like today if it weren’t flattened, flooded and erased from history. In 2018 the Aberdeen Sea Walk at Cliffwood Beach was unveiled.
The half-mile trail along the Donna-damaged seawall features fishing stations, lookout points, benches, and a lookout.
They also opened the Veterans Park on the waterfront, which includes children’s playgrounds, a picnic area and multi-purpose courts.
It may not look like it used to, but Raritan Bay’s waterfront can still be a fun and scenic destination.
The above post reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 producer, writer and host Joe Votruba. All opinions expressed are his own.
Cliffwood Beach: New Jersey’s Lost and Forgotten Resort Destination
Before being devastated by a hurricane in 1960, Cliffwood Beach, NJ was a popular vacation spot that drew comparisons to Coney Island in Brooklyn.