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Atlantic City Visitor Information

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About Atlantic City

Casino gambling has stimulated development in a city whose halcyon days were further back than most citizens cared to remember. Since 1978 nearly a dozen casino-hotels have opened, primarily situated along the Boardwalk area. The marina area, which opens onto the Absecon Inlet northwest of the Boardwalk and casino-hotel strip, also has felt the effects of the city's revitalization.

What was to become a leading East Coast resort during the late 1800s began as a fishing village at the north end of Absecon Island, a swath of sand separated from the mainland by a maze of bays, inlets and salt marshes. It probably would have remained so had not someone noted that the configuration of the coast spared the island some heavy storms, and that the nearness of the Gulf Stream tempered its climate.

The Camden & Atlantic Railroad simultaneously began to lay track and promote the area. When the first train arrived in 1854, Atlantic City was incorporated, the railroad's land company was selling lots and a hotel had been established. By the 1880s two rail lines were carrying streams of passengers to the many hotels of a town that had assumed the shape and character it was to exhibit until the casino law was passed.

In 1870 the first 8-foot-wide lane of planks was laid directly on the sand to keep hotel lobbies and railroad cars free from sand. Since then the Boardwalk has been the city's best-known attraction. Four-and-one-eighth miles long (6 miles long if you include the adjacent towns' footage) and 60 feet wide, the current steel and concrete structure is surfaced with planks arranged in a diagonal pattern. It is a foundation for stores, amusements, concessions and thousands of adventure-seeking visitors.

The Boardwalk's success spawned such now familiar forms of entertainment and promotion as the picture postcard and the rolling chair, which is still a popular mode of transportation. Probably the best known innovation, however, was the amusement pier, the first of which was built in 1882.

Applying the same principle as the skyscraper but in a horizontal direction, each pier occupied as little space on the Boardwalk as possible, yet packed as much entertainment as would fit behind its entrance.

Atlantic City's reign declined as the automobile's increasing popularity and the introduction of air transportation freed people to travel farther from home. Age and neglect took their toll on the city until the arrival of the casinos, which became the successors to the entertainment piers. The casinos have built on—and in some ways surpassed—their predecessors' tradition of opulent entertainment.

While some of the Boardwalk's new palaces reflect the gracious past, others, such as the $1 billion Trump Taj Mahal, have razed several city blocks and erected dramatically modern commercial castles. Saltwater taffy, palm readers and rolling chairs are a few threads of continuity that have remained during this transition from frayed resort to glossy playground.

Visitors can wander away from the Boardwalk and the fast-paced casinos for a view of Atlantic City life under the ocean. The Ocean Life Center on New Hampshire Avenue at Gardner's Basin features a live coral reef and such marine creatures as octopuses, moray eels and colorful tropical fish as well as ocean-related exhibits. For information phone (609) 348-2880.