Coastal Heritage Trail - Delsea Region - New Jersey Scenic Byway

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Maritime History
The maritime heritage of the New Jersey coast is rooted in the interdependent stories of trade, navigation and defense. The resources of the ocean, bays, adjacent rivers and tributaries supported the fishing trades, which in turn sustained boat building and related industries. Navigable waterways and protected harbors encouraged inter-city commerce. Lighthouses were built to warn mariners of hazards to their ships and prevent loss of crew and cargo. Defense of port cities ensured that maritime trade would continue.

As you explore the Delsea Region of the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail, you will discover reminders of the past and contemporary examples of our maritime heritage.

Industry And Trade
Fishing and boat building have been associated with the coast since the days of the Lenni Lenape. By the 1900s, boat building and other maritime industries were supported by the thriving oyster trade in the Delaware Bay. Shad, sturgeon and crab were also part of the fishing industry. Ships carried New Jersey agricultural goods to ports around the country. Today, remnants of coastal New Jersey's 19th and early 20th century maritime economies can still be found in fishing vessels working the Bay and in small industries found in coastal communities. Along some of the back roads, you can see modem examples of traditional trades, such as boat building. Towns with evocative names like Bivalve and Shellpile are still supporting maritime industries, carrying the past into the present.

Aids To Navigation
The Delaware River was, and continues to be, a major artery for ocean-going vessels as well as smaller ships. The many vessels using the river needed navigational aids to guide and direct them. Dangerous shoals were marked with lights built out in the water. Many of these, such as the Ship John Shoal Light, though difficult to see from the mainland, are still used today. Range lights, such as Finns Point Rear Range Light, were used in pairs to allow ships to pinpoint their location. The Captain would sight along the two lights, one teller then the other, and their alignment assured him that his ship was in the safe channel.

Tributaries opening into the Delaware Bay spawned small lighthouses for the many fishing and recreational boats of the area. East Point Light is one of the few small lighthouses still standing. Its automatic light works to guide boats safely in and out of the harbor.

Coastal Defense
During the Revolutionary War, skirmishes were fought between British and American ships for control of the vital Delaware Bay. Many coastal communities were involved in the War for Independence; Greenwich even had its own "Tea Party." Hancock House State Historic Site at Hancock's Bridge, commemorates the site of a retaliation in 1778 by British soldiers on patriots who supplied provisions to Washington's army camped at Valley Forge.

The threat of war with Spain led to the 1890's construction of Fort Mott, with its disappearing guns, to protect the port of Philadelphia. These guns loaded, fired, and then "disappeared" behind the protection of a camouflaged concrete wall that blended into the seashore landscape. Unsuspecting ships would never see the weapons firing upon them.

Finn's Point National Cemetery was designated as a burial ground for Confederate prisoners who died in the prison camp at Fort Delaware. Approximately 2,400 Confederate and 300 Union soldiers are buried in the cemetary.

Maritime History
New Jersey's maritime heritage is rooted in the interdependent stories of trade, navigation, and coastal defenses.

The resources of the ocean, bays, adjacent rivers, and tributaries supported the fishing trades, which in turn sustained boat building and related industries. Navigable waterways and protected harbors encouraged inter-city commerce. Lighthouses were built to warn mariners of hazards to their ships and prevent loss of crew and cargo. Defense of port cities ensured that maritime trade would continue.

New Jersey Maritime Trail intro

Learn more about the maritime history of:
Sandy Hook Region Barnegat Region Absecon & Cape May Region


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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