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History of Sanditon

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George Denham 1

George Denham attempting to pan for gold

The city of Sanditon was founded in 1854 by George Denham as a mining town at the tail end of the California Gold Rush. But by 1866, the town was already transitioning to a seaside getaway. The mines closed by 1868, and the first businesses dedicated solely to tourism sprang up by 1870. The famous Sanditon Boardwalk opened in 1911, bringing with it a prosperous sixty years, but in 1977 was badly damaged by a severe winter storm. Under the leadership of our new mayor, Tom Parker, Sanditon is redefining itself for the 21st century.

Early SettlementEdit

In 1853, George Denham (1828-1895) was approached by a stranger in New York offering to sell him a land claim on a "Sandy Beach" in California, on which the stranger claimed gold had been found. Denham was a well-educated man from a comfortably middle-class family, but his business interests had not fared well in the turbulent economy of the 1840s. He had already displayed some interest in the riches and adventure reported by those who had taken part in the California Gold Rush, so this land claim seemed to be too good to be true. Denham decided to purchase the land and travel to California to make his fortune.

Denham set out for California immediately. Along his journey, he spoke very effusively about the Sandy Beach land claim to everyone he met. A few men joined him along the journey, or followed later that year, becoming Sanditon's first settlers.  

Upon arriving at the area marked out on his map, Denham was dismayed to find that the deed he had bought was for a piece of land on an empty beach, far from any settlement. In addition, he had poor luck finding gold. However, his companions had little difficulty acquiring nearby land from the Spanish Mission that owned it, and the natural beauty of the coast attracted newly wealthy men as well as entrepreneurs. Attracting women to the isolated village was more difficult. Several men brought wives or sisters. Augusta Denham, George's sister, arrived in late 1858 with three of her friends. A few other men resorted to taking mail-order brides. 

Origins of the name "Sanditon"Edit

As Denham originally believed this claim to be near a settlement called "Sandy Beach," several of the early settlers took to calling their little group of tents and cabins "Sandy Beach Village." This was later elided to "Sandy Village." When the village began to take on a more permanently settled feel in 1855, George Denham officially proclaimed that "Sandy Village is now rightly Sandy Town." A few years later, some residents had begun spelling the name "Sanditown" in their correspondence, and in 1859 we have the first documeted usage of the name Sanditon, in a letter from Joseph Smith to his future wife: "There is little to recommend the sparse society of Sanditon."

Augusta denham 1858

Augusta Denham, ca. 1858

Transition to a tourist townEdit

While Sanditon residents had been trading goods and services for some time, the first official business was a general store, which opened its doors in 1864. Augusta Denham, recalling how pleasant the quiet seaside village had felt after the rush and bustle of New York (and mindful of the fact that women were still far outnumbered in Sanditon) first opened her house to visiting young ladies from San Francisco and other large cities in 1866. It was a smashing success, and it became common to see well-heeled young ladies painting watercolors on Sanditon's beach.

By 1868, George Denham had abandoned the idea of finding gold on his land and instead threw himself into his sister's tourism scheme. He wrote pamphlets and newspaper advertisements extolling the virtues of Sanditon's clean air, beautiful scenery, and respectable and civilized inhabitants. Besides tourists, this marketing scheme had the result of drawing new permanent residents to Sanditon over the course of the 1870s. Attracted by Denham's lyrical descriptions of Sanditon's beauty, these new residents were primarily interested in culture and the arts, and rejected the mass industrialization that was happening in other parts of the country. This remains the core of Sanditon's identity to the twentieth century.

Along with sharp-minded businessman Cornelius Parker, the Denhams managed to capitalize on the growing popularity of honeymooning in the 1870s and 1880s by portraying Sanditon (particularly its beach sunsets) as an ideal romantic getaway. But Parker's and George Denham's attempts to market Sanditon as a place where residents were committed to good character and physical health, in order to attract practitioners of Muscular Christianity , did not see as much success.

After George Denham's death in 1895, his son Alistair Denham dedicated himself to the improvement of Sanditon's waterfront. Alistair was one of the major forces behind the construction of Sanditon's noted boardwalk.

Boardwalk 1915

Sanditon Boardwalk, about 1915

Sanditon BoardwalkEdit

Construction on the boardwalk began in 1906, but numerous setbacks delayed the opening until 1911. At a length of 3000 feet, the boardwalk provided a pleasant way to take in the beach scenery without getting sand in one's shoes. A number of businesses opened out onto the boardwalk, including restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, and book stores.

From its opening in 1911 until its destruction in 1977, the boardwalk was the cornerstone of Sanditon's tourism industry.

See alsoEdit

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