The Christmas rush is on, but in Lavallette, a different type of party was being held Thursday night.
Local residents gathered to celebrate the borough’s 136th anniversary with a party to mark the establishment of what has become one of New Jersey’s most notable beach towns. It was in 1887 that a group of residents decided it was time to break away from Toms River (then, of course, known as Dover Township) and form their own incorporated island community. A referendum was held on Dec. 19 of the same year, and two days later, the incorporation documents were filed with the state.
The residents gathered at St. Pio’s parish hall for the celebration, with Christmas caroling and a dinner catered by local staple Lenny’s Italian Grille.
A Grand History
The borough’s history includes a few names that are still familiar to residents today. According to the official published history of the borough, what eventually became “Lavallette” had been a swath of land owned by Michael W. Ortley, for whom the neighboring community of Ortley Beach is named.
Contrary to what is sometimes believed in modern times, inlets on Ocean County’s northern barrier island have not historically opened during strong storms. In fact, they often left them closed. Even Manasquan Inlet became a sand bar for years before it was cut back open when modern equipment allowed. Michael Ortley was best known for his efforts to reopen Cranberry Inlet after a storm closed it up, effectively ending Toms River’s direct link to the Atlantic Ocean. The land above what was the inlet did not have a great deal of use or activity, and it was eventually sold to the Barnegat Land Improvement Company in 1878.
The land needed a name, and the town fathers of the day used the opportunity to honor a naval hero whose son was among the first residents.
Lavallette is named for U. S. Navy Admiral Elie A. F. LaVallette, “who distinguished himself as a young lieutenant aboard Commodore Thomas McDonough’s flagship in the battle of Lake Champlain,” according to the borough’s official history account, and later commanded the U.S.S. Constitution. Of French descent, the admiral legally anglicized his name to “Lavallette” in 1830. His son, A. T. Lavallette, was secretary of the Land Improvement Company.
During World War II, a destroyer the USS La Vallette (DD-448) was also named in honor of the admiral. The destroyer, which was decommissioned after the war, was kept in the navy’s “ghost fleet” until 1976, when it was sold for parts to the Peruvian navy. La Vallette received 10 battle stars for World War II service. A scale model of the ship current sits on display in borough hall.