Memorial Day 2019
The Man Who Named Avalon: Rev. Bond Was a Seven Mile Pioneer, and a King Arthur Fan
By Linda Dougherty
Rev. Charles Henry Bond
His name might not be familiar to most Avalon residents or vacationers, but Rev. Charles Henry Bond played an important role in the development of the Seven Mile Beach town … and even gave it its name.
Enamored with the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Bond suggested the name “Avalon” to his comrades in the Seven Mile Beach Company in the late 1800s. To Bond, the forests, dunes, ponds and marshes of the island, which featured a wide variety of flowers, shrubs, and enormous cedar and oak trees, evoked images of the Isle of Avalon, near Glastonbury, where King Arthur was purportedly buried after his death in medieval Great Britain.
“My mother said she was never sure what denomination he was, although he always called himself ‘Reverend,’” says his great-grandson, Christopher “Kit” Vernon, a retired advertising executive who lives in Milwaukee. Vernon’s mother, Ruth Wells Bond Vernon, was the granddaughter of Bond and his wife, Lydia.
According to another family member’s research – Tim Bond of Point Pleasant – Rev. Bond was minister of the Christian Church in Germantown, a section of Philadelphia, as well as the head of the Chinese Mission in that city.
His religious affiliation and titles notwithstanding, Bond lived an interesting life before and after his work with the fledgling Seven Mile Beach Company, a life that has been chronicled by Vernon.
Group of Seven Mile Beach Co. stockholders pose on the beach.
The Bond family traces its roots to England in the 1500s. Bond’s grandfather, John Bond, an English Quaker, immigrated in 1721 to Pennsylvania’s Bucks County, where he was a farmer and cordwainer, an old-fashioned word for a shoemaker. Generations of cordwainers and shoemakers followed. Finally, Bond’s father, Adam, made the transition from shoemaker to shoe manufacturer, around 1850.
While Bond didn’t follow his grandfather and father into the shoe business, he did become a bookkeeper and became involved in a number of ventures with Joseph Wells, his next-door neighbor. The Bond and Wells families were closely intertwined: In 1866, Bond married Lydia Wells, Joseph’s sister, and Joseph married Bond’s sister, Margaret Bonds.
In April 1887, Wells and Frank Siddall, also of Philadelphia, formed the Seven Mile Beach Company to raise capital for the purchase of the island for $125,000 from George Tatham and then for its development. Incorporated May 2, 1887, the company offered investors 100,000 shares at $10 each, for total capital of $1 million.
In 1888 and 1889, Wells, Siddall and Bond made several winter excursions to Avalon, and Bond reportedly fell in love with the untamed seashore landscape. The trio planned the location of buildings and a new hotel, and Bond later became the corporate secretary of the Seven Mile Beach Company.
Bond wrote about one of several trips to island on Jan. 28, 1888, to select the site for the Hotel Avalon. The trip was comprised of all the directors of a new corporation called The Townsends Inlet Hotel Company of Seven Mile Beach, which would build and operate the Hotel Avalon. Bond’s wife also made the trip. They arrived in Sea Isle City bound for Townsends Inlet, but because of a snowstorm that day, and the fact that the inlet was filled with ice, the group had to enlist the help of the local Life Saving Station to make the crossing in a big surf boat. In “A Trip to Avalon in a Blizzard,” for the Star of the Cape newspaper, Bond wrote:
“After a cautious walk on the ice which heavily fringed the shore, the whole party was safely seated [in the surf boat] and at the word the oars were pulled by powerful arms against the stubborn tide … the boat, like a cradle, rocked in the sea, until she was carefully and skillfully landed east of the mouth of Beach Creek [which flowed through the center of the island and emptied into Townsends Inlet] and the delighted and grateful voyagers were transferred to the sandy shore.”
A view of Hotel Avalon from the dunes, circa 1890.
Bond reported that another director, John W. Dixon of Philadelphia, “was so infatuated with Seven Mile Beach that he has conceived the gigantic scheme of erecting a monster hotel at Avalon City on the style of the United States [Hotel] at Saratoga.”
Before the wind and the cold sent the group back to the local hospitality spot, the Tatham Farmhouse, the members drove stakes into sand for the placement of the Hotel Avalon. It was on the beachfront, between the current locations of 7th and 8th streets, southeast of First Avenue.
Construction soon commenced, and on April 3, 1888, a flag-raising ceremony for the new Hotel Avalon was held, although the hotel was not yet completed. More than 100 people gathered on the beach, and Margaret Wells (wife of Joseph Wells) hoisted the American flag while the crowd cheered. Bond said a few words, stating he was glad to see the flag raised in New Jersey, as the state was often referred to as not being a part of the Union. He stated “we must live worthy of a flag, which represents not license but liberty.”
The Round Table newspaper
Bond said the new Hotel Avalon, although built on sand, was “strong and storms do not prevail against it.” He remarked that there was no reason to be ashamed of New Jersey, as “she holds her own in the great family of States, and we now welcome Seven Mile Beach into the American Union.”
Bond was known to speak at the Sunday school adult evening service, located in the Avalon Post Office, with the first session taking place Feb. 10, 1889, with 13 people in attendance. He gave an “inspiring lecture,” according to reports. Bond brought a Baptist delegation to Avalon on March 12, 1889, and selected a location near 25th Street on which to build a new church. However, it would be a few more years before one was constructed.
Aside from giving Avalon its name, another major accomplishment for Bond was the creation of Avalon’s first newspaper, The Round Table, for which he served as publisher.
The Round Table commenced in the summer of 1890, and in its second issue Bond wrote, “We have been kindly received by our friends and especially by those who have forwarded the initiation fee and joined our society of subscribers. We are grateful for your words of commendation and encouragement and look forward to the time when the pioneer newspaper of Avalon will be the leading journal of a great city by the sea, visiting your inland homes in the winter and meeting you here again when you rest from your labor – abiding with those that remain and welcoming those that return.”
The Bond and Wells families on 5th Street, circa 1898.
In order to attract subscribers in Philadelphia, Bond made a special offer to every girl and boy residing in the city: “If you will get thirty subscribers to The Round Table for a year, at one dollar each, we will provide you a ticket to Avalon and return and entertain you at Hotel Avalon or Hotel Peermont, for one week.”
Bond also took the opportunity to advertise his own business on the pages of The Round Table. He owned a real estate exchange company both in Avalon and at 731 Walnut St. in Philadelphia, and in July 1890, he advertised cottages for sale in Avalon.
“They are bargains,” the ad stated. “They are well-built and good for all the year round.”
Several members of the Bond family built houses in Avalon, as well as Wells family members and friends and relatives from Philadelphia and Norwood, a borough outside of Philadelphia.
“Most of the houses were on the north end of the island,” says Vernon. “I’ve only been to Avalon twice, the first time in 1952 when I was 7 years old, and I spent several weeks there. My mother took me to see the houses. But the hurricane of ’62 washed them away into the inlet.”
This is how Ninth Street & First Avenue looked in early Avalon.
Vernon, who is now in his 70s, says his mother lived until he was almost 50 years old.
“She went to Avalon for long stretches most summers from her birth in 1906 until she moved to Chicago in 1933 or 1934, and told me about it often,” he says. “She knew Charles Henry Bond as a young girl but never knew Joe Wells, although he was a familiar figure to her and she always referred to him as ‘Uncle Joe Wells.’ Avalon was maybe her favorite place in the world.”
After their monumental achievement of starting the development of Avalon, Bond and Wells teamed up on a few other projects. But Wells died in 1891, and the Seven Mile Beach Company never recovered from his loss. The next year, Bond was one of the founding trustees of the Avalon Church, a nondenominational church on 9th Street that was later renamed Wells Memorial Presbyterian Church. The church, now 127 years old, has Sunday services from mid-May through October.
Also in 1892, Bond became superintendent of Westin & Wells Manufacturing Company in Philadelphia, which made wire rope for heavy industrial use, and later its president. Bond’s son, Charles H. Bond Jr., was vice president. Bond also served as a trustee for Norwood, along with Charles Lincoln Shaw, the other grandfather of Ruth Wells Bond Vernon.
Bond died in 1913, but his widow Lydia visited Avalon often. Described as a piano player and very lively, Vernon says she fell getting off the train in Norwood coming back from Avalon, which led to her death at age 96 in 1940. The Bonds are buried in Arlington Cemetery, located in Drexel Hill, Pa.