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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The Delaware Bay's oyster beds were recognized as an important resource as early as 1719 when the colonial legislature enacted regulatory laws to prevent their pillaging. In 1775, the legislature forbade lime-burners from taking the oyster shells for making lime. By the early nineteenth century, oystermen in the Chesapeake and Delaware bays adopted the use of wood dredges with iron teeth and a rope mesh bag, instead of the traditional tongs or rakes. Dredging generated a larger oyster harvest and was improved after the Civil War when the frame and mesh bag were made out of iron. [21]

Figure 30. Oyster growing areas in the Delaware River-Bay, showing seed beds and planting grounds. Undersail.

It was not until the late 1800s, however, that the Delaware Bay oystering industry boomed, although the procedure for gathering and processing the oysters changed very little during the nineteenth century. The oysters were dredged up, brought to the mouths of creeks and rivers, and placed in large bins atop the mud flats where the tide washed through them. Once cleaned, they were loaded on to boats or wagons en route to Philadelphia. [22] Efforts were undertaken to escalate production and profit, but one factor working against the oystermen was the demand for shells to be ground into lime. This depleted the shell supply needed to host (provide a shell surrogate) seed oysters, and caused state officials in 1846 to close the oyster beds during the summer. This led to a fortuitous discovery after some oystermen gathered a load of oysters and took them to Philadelphia and New York markets—only to find that they were overstocked. The men returned home and dumped the bivalves nearby in deep water. In the fall they discovered that the oysters had fattened, and hence the oystermen realized the potential of moving the small ones from shallow beds and relocating them to the deeper and saltier waters of the Delaware Bay. Transplanting oysters thereafter became a widespread practice that boosted profitability but continued to deplete the natural beds. Moreover, many seed oysters were shipped to New England. As the supply of these shellfish continued to decline, New Jersey oystermen had to go as far as Long Island Sound to acquire seed oysters for the following harvest. [23]

The arrival of the railroad to the Maurice River area in 1876 enhanced the oyster industry. The first year an average of ten cars of oysters per week were shipped out; a decade later—about the time protective laws were being enacted—an average of ninety cars per week departed Bivalve. At the same time, more than 300 dredgeboats and 3,000 men were involved with Delaware Bay oystering (Fig. 30) [24]

In an effort to preserve the limited supply of seedlings in the area, the New Jersey legislature initiated a series of protective laws. In 1893, the state was divided into seven districts "with a commission of fourteen members to promote the propagation and growth of seed oysters and to protect the natural seed grounds." The legislature empowered the planters' association of Maurice River Cove to make rules governing the industry, to employ guards, and to assess fees. In 1899 the state passed yet another bill to enhance the protective stances of the first two bills. Fifteen years later, New Jersey created the Board of Shell Fisheries to further ensure the longevity of the Delaware Bay oyster harvest, which by 1917 had evolved into a $10 million a year industry. [25]

oyster growers
Figure 31. Taking up oysters at Bivalve shwoing the iron rakes, flat oyster boat, and processing houses of Bivalve in the background. New Jersey: Life early 20th century.

canning raw oysters
Figure 32. Canning raw oysters at Port Norris. New Jersey Life, early 20th century.

packing oysters
Figure 33. Packing oysters in baskets at Port Norris. Wettstein, pre-1904.

shucking house
Figure 34. Interior of shucking house showing workers in their cubicles and ketles filled with shucked oysters. Undersail, ca. early 20th century.

shucking house
Figure 35. Shucking house on the Maurice River where oysters are opened and prepared for shipping. Undersail, 1920s.

The move from sail to motor power in the early twentieth century disrupted the network that united the oystering community. The crew, no longer needed to control the sails, instead culled oysters, which improved efficiency. The culling process—separating the good oysters from bad and other trash—was also mechanized. During the 1930s schooner production fell, and eventually shipwrights only repaired the old boats. Motors made sail-makers and riggers obsolete. By the end of the decade, the only surviving auxiliary industries were dredgemaking, some smithing, and the furnishing of machine parts. [26]

In 1950 oystermen suffered an even greater setback, unrelated to industrial progress. The oysters grew susceptible to the MSX virus, a parasitic attack that weakens or kills an oyster, which has virtually ended all oystering on the Delaware Bay. Today, only thirty boats work the bay compared to the 500 active oyster vessels at the peak of the industry. In an effort to combat the MSX menace, scientists at the Rutgers Experimental Station in Bivalve, at one time the major oyster port on the bay, are working to develop a stock of virus-resistant oysters.

Today, Bivalve contains the architectural remnants of its once-flourishing oyster industry that historically included the towns of Port Norris and Shellpile; much workers' housing stock has been demolished. The processing houses (Fig. 36) are extant here, though they have been somewhat modified since 1904 when erected by the Jersey Central Railroad. The plain frame buildings are set at the shoreline, with finger-like docks extending into the shallow waters sheltered by a shed roof; vessels entered this space and originally dumped their shellfish cargo for a natural rinsing. The enclosed buildings housed the workers and ancillary industries such as sailmaking.

oyster processing
Figure 36. Oyster processing at Bivalve (ca. 1904). Workers bunked upstairs, processing occurred below; the N.J. State Police is the current tenant.


During the 1860s when oystering was on the verge of its boom, another maritime industry had already developed at the mouth of Stow Creek, in the fishing village and namesake of Caviar—now called Bayside. During the fishing season, approximately 400 fishermen lived in the nearby cabins and houseboats, with access only to a store, post office, and train station. The last was critical, because many fish were transported by train to New York City, and sturgeon fishermen at Cape May Point used Caviar's station to off load their catch (Fig. 37). Sturgeon meat and the eggs for caviar were sold to boats that waited off shore, which then delivered them to steamboats en route to Philadelphia. [27]

sturgeon docks
Figure 37. Sturgeon docks at Caviar/Bayside. Rutgers Collection, ca. 1930.

One prominent sturgeon fishermen was Harry A. Dalbow who, in 1891, formed a partnership with Joseph H. Dalbow. The ten-year association started with two sailboats and nets, and grew to encompass a fleet of about twenty large gasoline-powered boats. The Dalbows' work extended longer than the summer season in Caviar; to North Carolina and South Carolina in the winter, and in the fall to Maine and Canada. Fishermen commonly migrated each season, despite efforts in some jurisdictions to outlaw non-resident fishing. In addition to the sturgeon fishing, Dalbow undertook a canning venture. With the help of the American Can Company in Penns Grove (just north of Deepwater) he started packing caviar in small, vacuum-sealed glass jars. Other companies canned its caviar in kegs made in Russia, but Dalbow's process was so successful that he went there to help found canneries like his own in Astrakhan and Baku. [28]

By 1925, factory and sewage pollution coupled with over fishing caused the sturgeon and caviar industry on the Delaware to diminish. In 1904, the Sturgeon Fishermen's Protective Association discussed passage of a law forbidding the landing of any sturgeon under 4', since fish this size are of little value as a source of caviar. State laws were eventually passed but not before most of the sturgeon in the Delaware Bay had disappeared. [29]

In the Penns Grove area four shipyards supplied sturgeon fishermen with boats at various times. In addition, the men were dependent upon local men, women, and children to make the necessary 12" mesh nets; in 1890, machine-knit 11-13" nets replaced handmade ones (Fig. 38). [30]

fisherman drying nets
Figure 38. Fisherman drying nets. Rutgers Collection, early 20th century.


Another maritime industry to emerge in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was menhaden fishing. Menhaden, or bunker fish, stays in marshy areas and moves south in the fall. Not a delicacy for human consumption, the fish caught in the bay at the turn of the century were taken by steamboat to a local factory between Leesburg and Heislerville where it was processed. [31] Although the facility is gone, Menhaden Road recalls the place where the fish were "cooked with steam, the fish oil pressed out and the remains dried and ground into fish meal for animal feed and fertilizer." [32] The oil was used in the manufacture of paints, inks, soaps, and lubricants.


In recent years crabbing has become a major industry on the bay, as well as a weekend recreation. Blue crabs are found throughout the tidal waters of New Jersey, and although they are a critical food group to watermen today, the enterprise of crabbing has fluctuated drastically since the end of the nineteenth century. In the 1880s, for instance, approximately 1.5 million pounds of crabs were captured, while in 1890 the harvest was less than 100,000 pounds. [33]

The volume of crabs did not peak akin to the 1880s level until 1940, when almost 5 million pounds were caught. The increase is attributed to the replacement of baited trot lines with the self trapping crab pot (Fig. 39). Used mostly during the summer harvest when crabs actively feed, trot lines—with 100 or more baits tied at intervals—could stretch as long as 1,000'. In the winter fishermen dragged dredges behind their boats, allowing the teeth of the dredges to scrape out the dormant crabs; dredges are still used during the winter harvest. Today, the crabbing industry continues to flourish, as does the use of the crab pots, such that in 1985 an estimated 1.6 million pounds of crabs were caught. In addition, a private company in Shellpile deals in aquaculture, flash freezing soft-shelled crabs for export to Japan. [34]

crab pots
Figure 39. Crabbing pots outside a Bivalve storage building.

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

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