Shedding light on some forgotten New Jersey treasures

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

We’ve traveled back in time to the turn of the 20th century and learned how to carve decoys. In Tuckerton, hungry locals often hunted waterfowl before they boarded their boats, though some would visit a decoy carver’s shop similar to ones at the Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum.

“Well if you wanted to get birds, and they wanted to get the birds, both to eat and to sometimes sell. And they also took people out hunting, acting as guides. They wanted to get the birds to come to them. The only way they’re going to do that is with a decoy,” said Clarence Fennimore, decoy carver at Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum.

The charming waterfront buildings, like the clam house and boat works, are representations of historical places in and around Tuckerton.

“We want to give people a slice of life of what life was like around the Barnegat Bay at the turn of the 20th century,” said Julie Hain, director of education and exhibits at Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum. “We want them to carry that information through, and think about the differences between then and now.”

A replica of Tucker’s Island Lighthouse now stands at the seaport that was originally located nearby. It fell in the water in 1927 after a series of storms. There are 42 steps to the top.

Forty-two just happens to be the exact number of steps at the Sea Girt Lighthouse. It’s the original, land-based building and dates back to 1896. Unlike some of the other lighthouses at the time, the lighthouse had indoor plumbing, a kitchen, three bedrooms and more which is why it was considered a bit of a dream job for the keepers. Now, visitors are invited to climb this lighthouse and the many others throughout the state.

“This is basically the midway point between the Navesink Twin Lights to the north, and then Barnegat to the south,” said Catherine Schwier, a trustee at the Sea Girt Lighthouse. “What would happen was when mariners were leaving Twin Lights they could not yet see Barney, so this lighthouse was erected to illuminate that dark space.”

The keeper would climb a ladder while carrying coal to fuel the light. He also had to come up to clean often. If the windows were dirty, the light wouldn’t shine bright enough for those on the ocean.

Years ago, lighthouse keepers weren’t the only New Jerseyans to live where they worked.

There are several historic villages in the state which offer people a sense of what it was like to work in New Jersey hundreds of years ago. The Historic Village at Allaire, located within Allaire State Park, was a prosperous iron producing community in the 1830s. Workers and their families lived there and many of the original buildings still remain — like the bakery, general store and blacksmith shop.

“Well, a lot of tools for the blast furnace, a lot of repair work,” said Historic Allaire Village blacksmith Kevin Marshall. “You may have to install tires on wagon wheels, a lot of horseshoeing.”

Marshall is an expert, giving presentations to 7,000 school kids this year alone. These sites are open throughout the summer, giving visitors a chance to embrace New Jersey’s history.