Corrections or additions?
This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann were prepared for the May 16, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Tuckerton Olde and New
When was the last time you said to a friend, "Let’s
take a ride down to Clamtown"? Probably never. Yet there was a
time when a great number of our citizens did just that.
In 1791, this South Jersey town served as our young nation’s third
seaport. These days they call it Tuckerton, after astute Judge
Tucker. What’s more, this burg is now coming to life in ways that
would surprise the feisty baymen who lived hard and died easy where
Tuckerton Creek meets Little Egg Harbor Bay. And now Tuckerton is
celebrating those who made her fame, such as Redmen, Whalers, Pirates,
What’s "olde" about Tuckerton is its idyllic setting; whales,
clams, shrimp, and oysters; wild ducks and geese beyond counting;
a strong sense of individuality and exorbitant versatility in the
residents; catboats, garveys, and sneakboxes (all words for local
boats); and a legendary independent streak in the inhabitants. Without
this last quality, some say, our 13 colonies would have remained just
that. Bog iron was culled from the Pinelands by savvy locals. It was
smelted at Batsto, then rowed with muffled oars to the Mullica River
and on to the Delaware and General Washington at Valley Forge. Without
this iron brigade, our troops would not have had cannonballs or wagon
wheels to carry supplies to the two Battles of Trenton and on to the
Battle of Princeton. And where would our perilous cause have been
without those victories?
What’s new is Tuckerton Seaport (www.TuckertonSeaport.org),
New Jersey’s historic maritime village. The intriguing restoration
opened last spring and has earned high marks from visitors and
publications. Follow signs from the Garden State Parkway’s Exit 58
to Route 9. Pull into a parking lot of crushed clamshells. Around
you rise quaint frame and shingle buildings about the color of those
shells. You’re in the middle of 40 acres dedicated to bringing back
to life the area’s maritime history. Aromas of simmering chowder waft
from Skeeter’s Seafood. They mix with the spiciness of local cedar
— green and growing — as well as knowingly crafted within
the Perrine Boatworks. Overhead, gull cries blend with the killdeers.
The very birds remind us that the town’s legendary harbor has silted
over into meadows and fields required by these inland plovers. There’s
salt tang on the air, and a welcome breeze from the waters even on
the hottest days.
Tuckerton Seaport is a vibrant work-in-progress. Supported by
from Cousteau National Estuarine Reserve and New Jersey Commerce and
Economic Growth to Connectiv (Atlantic Electric) and Casino
the Seaport’s mission is "to entertain, educate and train young
and old, lay and expert, in the priceless heritage of the New Jersey
shore." To this end, they have strung the plain buildings (and
a houseboat) like pale beads along a wooden necklace, a true New
boardwalk. Your feet are carried over the lapping waters that made
Tuckerton’s maritime and gastronomic fame in olden times. You stroll
from one oyster house to another, past decoy shops where the fragrant
pile of woodchips on the floor grows before your eyes. On a rise,
a faded lobster boat awaits resurrection.
Among this year’s innovations are daily excursions from
the Seaport to Beach Haven offered aboard the Crystal Queen, a
paddle wheel river boat for 149 passengers ($20, includes Seaport
admission). A one-hour cruise on Tuckerton Creek is also planned for
visitors ($6). Both cruise offerings will begin to begin around June
15 and reservations are recommended (call 609-492-0333).
In "Shore Chronicles, Diaries and Travelers’ Tales from the Jersey
Shore" (Down the Shore Publishing, 1999), editor Margaret Thomas
Buchholz lets us look over the shoulder of reporter Joseph Horner
on his 1828 journey across the state ("We took stage at Camden
before daylight"). Horner is headed for Long Beach, noting that
it "can be approached only by water, across the bay, seven miles
from Tuckerton (the emporium of the Egg Harbor world)." Later
in his trip, Horner reports drinking with a clamshell from a cedar-y
stream; and then, "emerging from the pines, a change of atmosphere
was perceptible and we were informed that now we sniffed the ocean
air." "Now for Clamtown!," exults a fellow voyager.
Rumor has it that the village earlier answered to "Little Egg
Harbor," as well as to "Oystertown". By any name, its
current incarnation remains palpably similar to these antique
In 1809, Sarah Thomson’s overnight stagecoach journey from
transported her to the home of Judge Ebenezer Tucker, of Tuckerton,
"in whose honor the seaport had been named 23 years earlier."
This Ebenezer — in addition to throwing the party for politicians
which occasioned said name-change — was "merchant, ship-owner,
real estate agent, surveyor, collector at the Customs House, district
judge, postmaster, member of the House of Representatives, and
wealthiest citizen." He fathered Aaron, a "physician, who
married Elizabeth Carroll, granddaughter of Charles Carroll, a signer
of the Declaration of Independence." Diarist Sarah spends a lively
summer in Tuckerton, with "beaus" on all sides (some were
more equal than others), and picnics and dances many times a week.
"Went rideing (they’ve kept Sarah’s quirky spelling) in an ox
cart; hunted birds’ eggs." Some things haven’t changed, as the
girl bemoans "woeful insects." Some have altered
wreckers and "wreck sales at sea" are now relegated to memory
along this once infamous coast.
The Seaport’s current jewel is the recreated Tucker’s Island
Crafted to honor New Jersey’s lighthouse tradition, this building
eerily echoes one which fell dramatically into the ocean during an
autumn storm in 1927. At entry, you come face-to-face with documentary
of this disaster, in enormous and chilling black and white mural
Inside, you can study the history of French lenses and American
keepers, male and female. There are exhibits of our native Lenni
in their summerlands; and of swashbuckling pirates who considered
Tuckerton home port. Her meandering creeks made ideal hidey-holes
when any form of law and order reared its mettlesome head. A treasure
chest glitters and gleams, a reminder that legends of buried treasure
on nearby islands abound to this day.
True buried treasure does exist and can be contemplated — though
not visited, out of respect — at item No. 10 on Tuckerton’s new
walking trail. The trailhead begins in the Tuckerton Yacht Club,
the Seaport. Its most evocative feature may well be the Shell Mound,
first noted by historians in 1888, when it stood 100 feet long, 20
feet wide, and 25 feet high. This occurs about one mile south of the
mainland. When settlers first arrived in 1699, Native Americans
insisted that the Shell Mound hearkened back to a culture more remote
than their ancestors. Other stopping points along the Little Egg
Egg Inlet trail include Maritime Forest, Coastal Dune Thicket,
Hunting Shack, and the Fish Factory (slowly declining on a distant
island, evocative ruin from a fishier time).
At the other end of the architectural spectrum is the Skinner/Donnelly
houseboat. Currently under restoration, the public will eventually
be invited to "step aboard and glimpse a way of life now almost
forgotten." Rickety, shingled, this structure was typical of the
living situation of many illustrious baymen in other days. It was
recently moved from a small island behind Island Beach State Park.
In Parson’s Clam and Oyster House, where sun glints off harbor waves,
you’ll be taught the difference between clams and oysters, and could
luck into a lecture on the increasingly scarce horseshoe crabs. You’ll
discover that there are three Barnegat methods for clamming: treading,
raking, or tonging; and see the utensils in question. This is one
place where illustrations and live models of Tuckerton’s legendary
trinity of sailing craft can be studied: catboats, garveys, and
will lure your attention.
Two decoy shops celebrate artists living and dead, who originally
took up this craft to put meat on the table. Before decoys, hunters
tethered birds to lure others to their guns. Carved wooden birds were
a humane (and an artistic) step up. There are four schools of Barnegat
Bay decoy carvers. In their day, most of their work went for under
a dollar. Today, it is nothing for them to pull in thousands at major
The decoy shops make a point of honoring "the Barnegat Bay
But, in effect, every structure does exactly this. Each craftsman,
whether he’s talking about clams "walking along the floor of the
sea," or garveys left high and dry in Tuckerton trees — whole
despite hurricanes — celebrates the nobility of the baymen. Yes,
it’s annoying that there’s no reference to women, save in the
and they’re New Englanders. Nonetheless, that was then; this is now.
Baymen are known for their ingenuity, flexibility, and, frankly,
The Seaport honors their "hard work, self-reliance, spirit of
unity with this maritime region."
In each Tuckerton restoration, the visitor learns anew of baymen’s
pride in their region and their many crafts. When the clams gave out,
they turned to cranberrying. After the harvest, they carved decoys.
At all times of the year, they could build and repair the
garveys, sneakboxes, and catboats designed to shine in low tide or
high wind. Every man and every craft of early Tuckerton exemplified
"harmony with the Barnegat Bay Tradition."
There is a gift shop whose wares are sturdy, seem local, and fairly
priced. Both books and craft sets celebrate the spirit and
skills of the baymen. It’s daunting to consider the complexities that
they seemed to master so effortlessly. The really courageous can bring
home a kit to try to match wits with these legends. Joining the
($20) brings free admission and discounts in the already reasonable
When all is seen and done, there’s still another treat which Tuckerton
Region holds in store — Great Bay Boulevard. Go left out of the
Seaport onto Route 9, and take the next left. This over-marshland
route to one of our Land’s Ends, this road may be one of New Jersey’s
First, you’ll pass roads whose names evoke the famous and/or infamous
radio tower, for which Tuckerton was formerly celebrated. Then the
road (which is only an anonymous long gray line on your New Jersey
road map) straightens and flattens, begins its magic. In wintertime,
when the surrounding waters are bleached almost white, the inlets
are peppered with a tremendous variety of exotic wintering ducks.
There is a silence on Great Bay Boulevard like nowhere else I know,
an absence of sound and of affronts to the eyes that cleanses to the
depths. This is a shimmering ride, especially in late light. Long
smoky shadows of great herons and egrets ripple over your car, over
your very soul. You have driven from the merely historic to the
and you want more. There’s enough gold in the marsh grasses to satisfy
— Carolyn Foote Edelmann
Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Website:
$6; seniors $4; children $3. For paddle wheel ferry excursions
and reservations, call 609-492-0333.
presented by Ocean County Parks & Recreation, NJ Division of Parks
& Forestry, the Tuckerton Seaport, New Jersey Audubon Society, and
Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Programs include nature
walks, small boat trips, kayaking, van tours, demonstrations and guest
speakers, and family hands-on activities. Rain or shine. Pre-register;
small fee for some programs. Sunday, May 20.
Seaport’s Annual Boat Parade begins at 6 p.m.
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