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

Ebenezer

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,

and Mooncussers.

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

regional

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

organizations

from Cousteau National Estuarine Reserve and New Jersey Commerce and

Economic Growth to Connectiv (Atlantic Electric) and Casino

Reinvestment,

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

Jersey

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

19th-century

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

accounts.

In 1809, Sarah Thomson’s overnight stagecoach journey from

Philadelphia

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

Tuckerton’s

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

significantly:

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

Lighthouse.

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

evidence

of this disaster, in enormous and chilling black and white mural

photographs.

Inside, you can study the history of French lenses and American

lighthouse

keepers, male and female. There are exhibits of our native Lenni

Lenapes

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,

within

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

already

insisted that the Shell Mound hearkened back to a culture more remote

than their ancestors. Other stopping points along the Little Egg

Harbor/Little

Egg Inlet trail include Maritime Forest, Coastal Dune Thicket,

Bayman’s

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

sneakboxes

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

shows.

The decoy shops make a point of honoring "the Barnegat Bay

tradition."

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

lighthouse,

and they’re New Englanders. Nonetheless, that was then; this is now.

Baymen are known for their ingenuity, flexibility, and, frankly,

quirkiness.

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

shallow-drafted

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

multifarious

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

Seaport

($20) brings free admission and discounts in the already reasonable

shop.

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

best-held secrets.

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

prehistoric,

and you want more. There’s enough gold in the marsh grasses to satisfy

a Midas.

— Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Tuckerton Seaport, 120 West Main Street, Tuckerton,

609-296-8868.

Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Website:

www.TuckertonSeaport.org.

$6; seniors $4; children $3. For paddle wheel ferry excursions

information

and reservations, call 609-492-0333.

Spring Wing Fling, the second annual day devoted to birds

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.

Upcoming Events

June 16. Ninth Annual Clambake, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

June 30. All day LBI Woodcarver’s Decoy Show.

July 21. Down Bay Fundraising Gala, $125.

August 4. Annual Juried Art Show, all day.

August 18 & 19. Annual Classic Boat Show Weekend.

August 25. LBI Woodcarver’s Decoy Show all day. Tuckerton

Seaport’s Annual Boat Parade begins at 6 p.m.


Previous Story Next Story


Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments