A trip to the Jersey Shore isn’t complete without spending at least part of a day exploring and experiencing the Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum. Located thirty minutes north of Atlantic City and fifteen minutes south of Long Beach Island, it’s time well spent absorbing the wonderful smell of cedar shavings on the floor in the boatworks building and the artistic beauty of three generations of Shourds decoys set up by the New Jersey Decoy Collectors Association in the Hunting Shanty.
A staff of only five paid employees runs the forty-acre Seaport complex. Filling in all over where they are needed is an enormous group of loyal volunteers who do everything from clerical, sales, building, painting and teaching to cleanup and maintenance. The current volunteer staff ranges in age from 11 to 92.
Decoy carving is considered an integral part of the baymen’s tradition, right up there with clamming, oystering, fishing and hunting. The Hunting Shanty was the first building at the Seaport. Master carver Malcolm Robinson, Jr. is one of the volunteers. The great-great-grandson of Harry V. Shourds, he is known for his award-winning Barnegat Bay style decoys and antiqued shore birds. He teaches carving and works with the Youth Carving Club.
Fred Reitmeyer, Jr., grandson of the boat builder and decoy carver Carl Adams, is a regular demonstrator and teacher at the Seaport, using the tools and techniques he learned from his grandfather.
There are year-round festivals, shows, events and celebrations at the Seaport. You can even arrange to have your wedding there! In December a European style outdoor holiday market combines gift and craft vendors under a heated tent, a true Christmas Village complete with Santa, horse and wagon rides, entertainment and food.
In June the Seaport features the Annual Baymen’s Seafood & Music Festival with clams, scallops and crabs to eat and craft beers to drink. A replica of the Parsons Clam & Oyster House on the grounds of the Seaport displays the tools used in the history of local clamming when the Parsons Clam & Oyster Company used to send five truckloads of clams five nights a week to the Campbell Soup Company in Camden.
In late October the Seaport becomes the “Haunted Seaport” – four scary nights combining pirates, hayrides, a haunted Lighthouse, a haunted graveyard and less scary activities including a magic show for younger children. There are parades and fireworks for July 4th and New Year’s Day. Tuckerton Food Truck events celebrate Cinco de Mayo. The Decoy and Gunning Show has a dock dog competition.
Working with the artistic and creative area of the 18 year old recreated maritime village on Tuckerton Creek, the Pine Shores Art Association installs exhibits that the Association changes each season. This year they provided “Turn of the Century” scenes that go back over 100 years and focus on the kind of work people did then, how their houses were decorated and what they did for fun.
Mary May, a master basket maker, specializes in white oak baskets. You can enroll in her classes at the Seaport and learn how to make berry, baskets, pound fish baskets and market baskets. If you want to learn how to embroider, spin, weave and quilt, Patricia Zackey will teach you.
Catherine McLearon is the new collections intern at the Seaport. She graduated from Seton Hall University with a BA in Political Science and a minor in History. As a local resident, Catherine was always aware of the Seaport and its opportunities and reputation. She saw how the Seaport and the community of Tuckerton came together after Superstorm Sandy damaged the Seaport and residents’ homes and businesses.
As an unpaid intern, Catherine works part-time at the Seaport supporting the staff and learning the business end of the Seaport. She has given school tours and helped with exhibits. She likes doing something different every day. Recently she went with the Director of Exhibits and Board Trustee to the Noyes Museum of Art to check out their decoy collection. What initially seemed to Catherine to be piles of wooden ducks sharing space with pottery, blown glass and eel nets, became a giant step in her education, as Board Trustee Jim Allen through his description of carving details and “attitude,” made the distinctions for her that put the wooden ducks in a new light. Her ultimate goal is to become a full time Director of Collections which would be combined with giving tours and writing and researching. As she said, “No one at the Seaport does just one thing,” but she enjoys the diversity.
Barnegat Bay, the 42 mile long, mostly shallow bay bounded by the barrier islands of the Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island and the New Jersey mainland from its start at the north end at the Point Pleasant Canal in Bay Head to its end at the south end at Little Egg Harbor, has always been a fertile area for clamming, crabbing, oystering, fishing and duck hunting. The eastern end of the bay is shallower and the deepest water, dredged for the Waterway, is in the area of the Intracoastal.
The clammers and crabbers liked garveys and the duck hunters liked sneakboxes, both boats that were built locally and were uniquely suited to the bay and the buyers’ needs. The sneakbox had its origin in the 1800s when Capt. Hazleton Seaman built one of white cedar. Ideal for duck hunting, it was lightweight, flat bottomed and had low freeboard. It could easily be rowed by one person, it was easily hidden from the ducks overhead by covering it with grasses and could go through 4” deep water. This is truly a waterfowler’s boat, a low-profile boat capable of carrying decoys, gun, lunch and built strong enough to get you back home through a choppy bay.
Since duck hunters go out all winter, a sneakbox has to be light enough for a single hunter to pull it across snow covered marshes and ice covered creeks to get to the best spots. Parallel light oak strips were attached bow to stern and used as runners, so the hunter can drag his boat like a sled over the snow and ice. Although it can be rowed or sailed, small outboards are also used.
Gus Heinrichs started building sneakboxes while he built houses on Long Beach Island. He started out as a clammer with a boat his father built for him but took his grandfather’s advice to get off the water and learn a trade. After working for a builder and starting his own company, he built 300 houses and built sneakboxes when he had time. He became a master boatbuilder at the Seaport and so far, has built 70 sneakboxes.
Other Seaports have a greater number of buildings and events or have built sleek glass buildings, but after visiting the other Seaports and then visiting Tuckerton, you can’t help but notice that the emphasis is on giving back to the community, as they fed as many from Tuckerton as came to eat at the Seaport. When the community got itself together again after the storm repairs, there was the matter of people who still needed some help and that became the foundation for the Community Garden, with the harvest going to the local Food Pantry.
A brief encounter with a volunteer on one of our visits brought home the feeling that everybody at the Seaport, paid and volunteer, is willing to go the extra mile. It was a cool fall afternoon and we stopped as a volunteer locked up the building she had been taking care of. She would have reopened it for us, but we asked how was it being a volunteer – on a cool fall day was it cold in the building, was it awfully quiet? We heard her story about having had a job she liked where she used to live in northern Jersey. She would have kept working but her husband retired and in the worst way wanted to move to Tuckerton. She left her job, they moved to Tuckerton, she got a job as a volunteer and he died. What she said always stayed with me, how having volunteered there made such a difference in her life and how it helped her get on with her life. These are the volunteers that make Tuckerton such a special place.