On-line Book




Chapter 1

Chapter 2
Urban Development

Chapter 3
Maritime Activity

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Appendix 1
Patterned Brick Houses

Appendix 2
Stack Houses

Appendix 3
Existing Documentation


Historic Themes and Resources within the
New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route
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AGRICULTURE (continued)

Salt Hay

Salt hay (Spartina patens) is a sturdy, narrow-leaved cordgrass that grows in the tidal marshes that fringe the Delaware Bay and River where the saline content is high. The area between Salem and Cape May counties contains 79,282 acres of the marsh—a critical environment for humans and wildlife alike—which today is largely protected.

The first mention of its value came in 1685 when Thomas Budd proposed diking and draining portions of the salt marsh to support crops and cattle, as well as to reduce mosquito infestation. Heretofore these lands were considered a barren wilderness good for little more than pasture. Farmers let cattle graze on this public land, but by the late nineteenth century they were so numerous that branding was instituted to identify ownership. Salt hay was used as animal bedding and occasionally food in the late seventeenth century; though it lacked many nutrients, it was cheaper than traditional hay. Farmers improved the salt-hay meadows by ditching, and constructing dikes and sluice gates, which allowed the introduction of domesticated grasses, and by the end of the next century, clover was added. Once farmers recognized that salt-marsh meadows could be improved, the land was more desireable. [20]

With the increase in private ownership of the salt meadows, protective measures were established. The New Jersey State Board of Agriculture's list of meadows laws allowed owners to dam creeks and keep out the tides. By the 1780s these laws encouraged property owners to appoint committeemen who were charged with ensuring that banks, dams, floodgates, and sluices were in good working order. Later, meadows companies hired men to build earthen dikes and drainage ditches. [21]

The Hackensack and Passaic Company of North Jersey used its salt marsh to raise grains, vegetables, hemp, and flax, as well as dairy cows. Other corporate and independent farmers harvested the hay and sold it for such diverse uses as feed, mulch, ice-house insulation, traction on sandy roads, and packing material for glassware, pottery and fruits, as well as for making wrapping and butcher paper. In South Jersey, the Cedar Swamp Creek Meadow Company of Cape May similarly operated from at least 1815 until September 1924. [22] The Abbott Meadow Company, established in 1895 in Salem County, combined three older businesses: Causeway Meadow Company, Denn's Island Meadow Company, and Wyatt Meadow Company. They consolidated to simplify the repair of banks/dikes that were regularly destroyed by the tides. Abbott Meadow continued a tradition of growing timothy and grazing cattle in the fields after harvest; it operated until the 1920s. [23]

In 1845 the twenty-room brick, Federal-style Tide-Mill Farm House (Fig. 49), about two miles from Salem, was erected by George Abbott, a prominent Quaker and dairy farmer. In 1872 his son, also George Abbott, used the farm as the foundation of Abbotts Dairies; the cows grazed along the river in reclaimed fields that have long since disappeared. Abbott realized the need to ship the milk without its spoiling, and through experimentation discovered that milk stored in an ice house would remain cool elsewhere by wrapping the milk cans with insulating jackets made from wool blankets. Thus the milk could be shipped as far away as Cape May and Philadelphia. Abbott also devised a system of cooling and aerating milk: placed in large concrete troughs, surrounded by ice, the milk was stirred with long paddles connected to a long board placed atop the trough. Evidence of apparatus such as this is found in the basement of the Tide-Mill Farm House.

Abbott Tide-Mill Farm House
Figure 49. The Abbott Tide-Mill Farm House (1845), replaced the earlier John Denn home, part of which may be enclosed in this three-story Federal block.

Once the refrigeration problem was solved, Abbott turned to preventing the theft of milk from the cans, and providing it in a continuous supply. The first was corrected by his invention of a safety top and seal. The latter improved when Abbott established a receiving plant in Mannington, where he sold his neighbor's milk as well as his own. In 1876 the Abbotts Dairies (Fig. 50) business expanded rapidly through exposure at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and his supplying of milk to Green's Hotel in Philadelphia. Abbott extended his dairy routes from Mt. Holly to Cape May in South Jersey, to Philadelphia; eventually divisions opened in Delaware. The company diversified to sell ice cream, butter, and other dairy products. In the 1960s it merged with Fairmont Foods of Omaha, Nebraska. The farmhouse and outbuildings at Tide-Mill Farm today are owned by George Abbott and Edward Abbott Jr., great-grandson of the founder, who is currently working to restore the property as well as a collection of company memorabilia. [24]

dairy trucks
Figure 50. Abbotts Dairies trucks were among the innovative techniques the family it merged with employed to modernize and expand the business. New Jersey: Life early 20th century.

Salt-hay farmers worked together during the annual, one-week period devoted to cutting and stacking the grass—despite independent ownership of meadows. [25] The oxen and horses that pulled the wagons (Fig. 51) were equipped with broad leather mud-shoes that enabled them to walk on the marsh more easily, though they were still mired often. Once the hay was cut and stacked, farmers loaded it onto flat-decked, shallow-draft scows that awaited on a nearby waterway. One type of scow was typically 33' long, 12' wide, and about 3' deep; at times they were pulled by men walking along the bank, or pushed in the tradition of canal boats by men using 15' poles. By about 1950, power motors propelled the scows, just as tractors and hay balers replaced animals. [26]

horse-drawn wagons
Figure 51. Horse-drawn wagons, as at Roadstown, hauled salt-hay loaders before mechanization; mired horses were often destroyed. New Jersey: Life, early 20th century.

By the 1920s, the use of salt hay began to decline and the meadows grew obsolete. Glass companies such as Gayner Glass of Salem replaced it with cardboard as a packing material. Lack of labor and the increased value of muskrats, which thrived in the salty meadows, contributed to the decreased harvesting. Salem's meadows were the first in the three-county area to decline compared to Cumberland and Cape May where they were worked longer, and salt hay remained a profitable crop into the 1960s. "From Fortescue to the southern boundary of Cumberland County, there are roughly 10,000 acres of diked marsh. In Cape May County, in the vicinity of Dennisville, Goshen and Eldora, there are about 2,000 acres of salt marsh." [27]

Today, the few farmers who continue to harvest salt hay are found in Cumberland and Cape May counties. One property that continues to exemplify this technology is the Burcham Farm outside Millville (Figs. 52-53). Although the Burcham House was built between 1869-70, the thirty-five acre site—a designated Century Farm and one of the few extant dike farms in the area—has been reclaimed since the early nineteenth century. Dikes made of earth, tires, and concrete rubble prevent the Maurice River's tide from eroding the near-island tract where twins Janice and Jeanette Burcham grow timothy, vegetables, and raise a few sheep, pigs, and geese. Sluice gates and drainage ditches (Fig. 54) are used to keep water off the property. Until the last thirty years, the Burcham's neighbors maintained similar properties, but they disappeared after the dikes and sluices broke down.

Although the Burchams could grow salt hay today, it would be unwise since the farm's drainage system has allowed the land to become arid and conditioned enough to support a better grade of hay and crops. Salt-hay farmers, however, use a system of embankment and drainage based upon the same principles that the Burcham family has employed for more than 100 years. The process of reclamation, however, is not as intensive, since salt hay is a lower grade of grass that can stand inundation by salt water.

Burcham farm
Figure 52. Aerial view, Burcham farm, a near-island triangle and probably the last working dike farm on the Maurice River; the strip of land (foreground) is all that remains of the adjacent dike farm. Wettstein, ca. 1950.

Figure 53. U.S.G.S. map showing Burcham farm and its tenuous relationship to the Maurice River.

sluice gates
Figure 54. Sluice gates around a drain pipe let water escape from fields at low tide; as the tide rises, the gates press shut so as not to flood the fields. Sebold.

Fertility was the reason farmers continued to reclaim the marshes for farming until the mid twentieth century, though some used more conventional methods to increase production. Between 1810 and 1900, growers emphasized the care and fertilization of soil, and crop rotation. In addition to greater range, the number of farms increased while their size decreased, and more farmers turned to growing produce, and raising dairy cows and poultry. Revolutions in transportation and food preservation—canning and freezing—increased profit margins. Competition expanded as farmers farther away gained access to new markets via railroads and, later, trucking.

Two natural inhabitants of the salt marsh—one friend, one foe—have historically generated related activities here. Muskrats, which nest here in abundance, are trapped and sold for the hides as well as the meat (Fig. 55), which is prepared like other game. Since the seventeenth century, there have been efforts to diminish the menacing mosquito population. Pest control was codified under Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration in the 1930s when the U.S. Army established Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in Cape May and Cumberland counties. The men here were charged with mosquito-control by way of digging ditches and draining swamps. One camp was located near Fairton and another was located at the present location of the Cape May County Mosquito Commission. Two CCC barracks are extant at the latter site, which also housed German prisoners of war during World War II.

muskrat skins
Figure 55. Muskrat skins dry on the wall of a trapper's shed; the animals were sought for their meat and skins. New Jersey: Life early 20th century.

Fruit and Vegetables

In Cape May County, many farmers initially raised crops and dairy cows to meet the demand of oceanside resorts; this dwindled during the twentieth century when hotelier operations enjoyed greater and less-expensive transportation options, ie. shipping via rail and water. Agriculture—especially truck and dairy farming—continued to play a significant role in Cumberland and Salem counties. Truck farming consists of growing vegetables and fruits that were taken to the urban markets in Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere by horse-drawn wagon, railroad, and later trucks.

Despite the fact truck farming did not become a major influence until the mid to late nineteenth century, the crops grown here season after season were introduced much earlier. Europeans brought the knowledge of several vegetables with them, and in turn learned from the Indians to grow corn, squash, and beans. With Robert Johnson's promotional assistance, tomatoes became a profitable crop in Salem and Cumberland during the 1800s (Fig. 56). Farmers from all three counties also raised wheat, rye, corn, peas, beans, and hay; livestock included horses, milk cows, sheep, and pigs. [28]

farm wagon
Figure 56. Farmers with their wagons filled with tomatoes await the boats that will ship them down the Cohansey River and beyond to urban markets or canneries. New Jersey: Life early 20th century.

With the advent of the automobile in the first decades of the twentieth century, South Jersey became the largest truck-farming area in the state. Truck farmers grew many of the same vegetables and fruits—especially tomatoes—beans, onions, green peppers, fall lettuce, and berries as had their ancestors in the nineteenth century. Due to South Jersey's proximity to Philadelphia, much of it was exported via the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad; some farmers, however, continued to transport by wagon. Scows and barges carried tomatoes to Baltimore canneries and returned loaded with stable manure for fertilizer; dairy products were also shipped to Philadelphia and the seashore resorts. This method of transportation eventually became illegal due to stricter sanitation codes. [29]

Besides commercial sales, this produce was sold locally from roadside stands, as early as the 1920s (Fig. 57). Roadside markets or stands continue to be a common sight in the rural areas of South Jersey today, especially along main roads such as Route 49, Route 47, and Buckshutem Road. They are either affiliated with nearby farms or greenhouses or they appear to sell produce grown from outside the area; in some instances, the peach orchard or vegetable fields are located next to the roadside stand, which is located in front of the farmhouse. There are a handful of definable forms that these stands take: the temporary pole-shed type of structure with modest and movable shelving; a gable- or shed-roofed building that is largely open on the front facade, of which Camps Big Oaks Farm Market is an example (Fig. 58); or is enclosed but features a continuous shed roof; and a structure like the aforementioned, with rambling additions of flat or slightly sloped roofs supported by plain posts. In some cases, the roof is extended off the side facades, and a new "exterior" is created by attaching chicken wire to the roof supports; floors in most are poured concrete. While the older roadside stands are made of wood, more often than not painted white, the more modern examples are constructed of corrugated metal.

roadside market
Figure 57. Roadside market, Fairton (early 20th century), is simple but more stylish—with awning and lattice posts—than stands today. New Jersey: Life.

Camp Big Oak's Market
Figure 58. Camp Big Oak's Market, near Port Elizabeth, is a partially enclosed utilitarian structure with a shed roof.

Farm Labor

Produce was planted and picked by hand (Fig. 59) during the nineteenth century by any form of labor available; many farmers employed their children, wives, tenants, and hired hands. At the turn of the century, farmers began to hire local workers and migrant laborers from the early spring to late fall. From the 1920s until recently, the migrant force was mainly composed of Italians and blacks; workers were primarily men, however, poor economic conditions often forced the wives and children to work, too. In one asparagus-packing plant (Fig. 60), only women appear to be charged with bundling and binding this crop.

picking crops
Figure 59. Crops were hand-picked by men, women, and children, as here at a bean field near Port Norris. New Jersey: Life, early 20th century.

Figure 60. Produce, including asparagus, was hand-picked by a female workforce at this Fairton farm. New Jersey: Life, early 20th century.

Italian families came from Philadelphia to work on truck and berry farms. Whether they stayed in one locale or moved around during the season, a family was often pald as a single unit—an estimated $1,000 or so per season. Most farmers provided meager housing on their property. Some of the Italians who stayed in South Jersey on a year-round basis rose from laborer to farm operator and property owner. In some cases, those who stayed in South Jersey helped farmers recruit more Philadelphia Italians each spring. Padrones received a sum for each person they brought to the farm; during planting and harvest, padrones worked in the fields as supervisors or bosses. Laborers found jobs through the padrones or private and government-run employment agencies that placed farm help in New Jersey from New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in New Jersey. [30]

Unlike Italians, many black migrant workers came great distances to work in New Jersey, most from as far south as North Carolina and South Carolina. After the season, some returned home while others settled in New Jersey. In Salem and Gloucester counties, black migrant workers were preferred over Italians because they spoke English and had previously worked on farms. Sometimes, however, Italians forced blacks out of the market because they would accept lower wages. [31] The ethnic groups found on truck farms included Poles, Russians, Germans, Austrians, British and Canadians—though they represent very low numbers. Workers ranged in age from 8 to 73. [32]

The laborers' average day in the summer was ten hours, in the winter eight. Most laborers returned to their homes in Philadelphia or other cities while few stayed to do minor chores on various farms. Living conditions were poor for most migrant workers throughout the early twentieth century. Some single men were boarded in the farmhouse, while others occupied outbuildings or abandoned railroad cars. [33]

Men accompanied by families were at first given one-room wood shacks with a single door on the gable end, but by the 1920s, some farmers began to supply cabins for the working families. These were a one-story frame or concrete block, typically 14' x 40', containing three rooms. Other housing units of the 1920s consisted of a long, frame, gable-roof structure with eight bays and four separate units; these units were two piles deep with an extended roof and porch. There was no water or plumbing, so cooking and washing tasks took place outside; families also were given garden plots and were allowed to keep some farm animals. Each unit held forty-seven people. [34]

The conditions of the migrant workers remained virtually the same until 1945 when the Migrant Labor Act was passed by the New Jersey Assembly. This act created an independent state regulatory agency, the Migrant Labor Board, which was composed of members from seven state departments. The agency established migrant labor policy and approved all rules, regulations and procedures regarding migrants. In 1959, the Migrant Labor Board proposed a law that would require farmers to "install hot water and heating facilities in the housing provided them." The board, however, generated controversy with the farmers over the matter; farm organizations feared that the improvements would cost the average farmer between $2,500 and $5,000. Despite these figures, the Migrant Labor Board was able to require farmers to abide by its regulations. The bill proposed by the farmers to bypass these rules was vetoed by Governor Meyner in 1960. During the controversy, however, Commissioner Male of the Civil Service Commission toured farms in various New Jersey counties and found that the farmers in Camden, Gloucester, Cumberland, Cape May, and Salem counties had been exemplary in complying with the Migrant Labor Board regulations. [35]

Today's migrant-worker dwellings are much the same (Fig. 61): frame or concrete block with a gable roof and no ornamentation. The number of housing units per structure ranges from one to five. The buildings are usually placed in groups of three or more, in a square layout with an open yard in the center. It is not uncommon, however, to find single structures or several placed haphazardly. Despite their less-than-desireable furbishments, migrant workers' housing today has running water and electricity.

migrant-worker housing
Figure 61. Migrant-worker housing is generally very basic, with running water and electricity introduced late in this century.

Today, truck farmers continue to grow many of the same crops as did their forebears at the beginning of the century. They also continue to employ migrant workers, though the nationality of this labor force has shifted to Hispanics of Mexican or Puerto Rican heritage. Although South Jersey is now noted mainly for its fruit and vegetable crops, the region continues to produce a limited amount of salt hay, which is still used for packing, mulch, and occasionally fodder. In the Port Norris area, the hay is used by a one-person rope factory and a coffin-mattress company. In addition, the region's resources still support trappers and dairy and sod farms on a small scale.

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Last Modified: Mon, Mar 14 2005 10:00:00 pm PDT

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