Tuckerton Historical Society Publishes New Book Edited by Steve Dodson

May 30, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Tuckerton, A Newspaper History, 1852-1917 was compiled from articles in the New Jersey Courier by Steve Dodson.

Tuckerton: A Newspaper History, 1852-1917 compiled and edited by Steve Dodson and published by the Tuckerton Historical Society is 600 pages of Ocean County history gleaned from its newspaper of record: The New Jersey Courier, Pioneer Newspaper of Ocean County.

This is Dodson’s fourth book for the society, all proceeds from the sale of the books contribute to the upkeep of the Society’s Giffordtown Schoolhouse Museum and the archives and programs put on by the THS.

Dodson spent over a year compiling the stories by perusing the digital copies of the Courier in the Toms River library’s historical section.

From his forward: “I remember a particular photo, men in the lifesaving service on the beach, having a clambake with their families circa 1900. A part of me thinks, yes, this is what life was like then; rural people on an undeveloped barrier island, enjoying one of their idyllic pleasures. As I’ve spent the last twenty years poring over old diaries, letters, town minutes, as well as histories of the region, I should know better; but this image still persists…”

“The decade leading to the new century and the one following it saw astounding changes in transportation, communication, utilities and medical science. It was horses to autos, kerosene lamps to gas fixtures, telephones increasing their range, people wintering in Florida, more divorce, more murder, lawsuits. Women swam marathons, and demanded their own checking accounts, people felt threatened by waves of immigrants and tramps on the road; workers went on strike for better wages and women agitated for temperance; even in our ‘sleepy’ Jersey shore towns.”

Dodson’s search through articles for the historically significant and interesting must have filled many a winter’s night. He has compiled and organized his gleanings into easily read chapters. Find chapters on the railroads, medical emergencies, and crimes. The chapter on crimes is extensive including the infamous Christmas morning murder in Tuckerton, a clammer shot dead by an oyster watchman in Parkertown, a ‘fire bug’ (arsonist) in West Creek, and a fistfight that ended in a murder in West Creek, plus the occasional robbery, assaults on women and children, thieving gypsies and forged checks.

A chapter on shipwrecks, details the beginnings of the life saving service and the various improvements over the years.

Bicycling was very popular in Tuckerton and a bicycle track was built for regional races. An article on women ordering bloomers for bicycling and asking for pistol pockets so they can carry a gun for protection from “tramps” is quite illuminating.

Separate chapters dedicated to West Creek, New Gretna, Barnegat and Beach Haven have miscellaneous items but Tuckerton’s chapter is broken into alphabets A—J because it was the largest town in the region.

The chapter on the Tuckerton Wireless gives a much more extensive history of the 840-foot tower than I’ve read elsewhere. For a time during the start of the First World War when America was attempting to remain neutral, the tower was the only communication between the Americas and Europe as British warships cut a trans-Atlantic cable that in August 1914. The wireless was closed that same month when it was supposed the German owners were sending messages from Germany to German ships along the coast. Then the wireless was reopened when the Navy sent Lieutenant C.B. Platt and two marines to censor the transmissions. It was closed again later that month when it was found it was never licensed but was reopened again in September for both belligerents and neutral countries in censored coded messages. In 1915 the French attempt to take over the plant saying they had entered into a contract to buy it but since the war was going on between Germany and France, the suit was dismissed. The wireless was closed in March, 1917 and guarded by 40 naval officers and eventually five German workers including the plant manager were arrested when the U.S. entered the war in April, 1917.

Besides murder and intrigue there are many articles about the relationships between families in Tuckerton, the businesses and the past times. For local families, those doing genealogies, or interested in a particular subject, THS Vice-president John Yates compiled a twenty-page index.

A word from the editor about some of the language in a few of the articles: “I included the original words, rightfully deemed racist by today’s standards because I'm an historian, not a censor,” wrote Dodson in an email. “I believe in getting as close to the truth (of the past) as possible. Changing, deleting, censoring words does not help in that endeavor. ...I suppose I believe as Walt Whitman did, the ugliest word is censorship.”

Dodson’s wife Lynda Lim-Dodson typed the huge manuscript and Bass River historian Pete Stemmer provided additional Courier articles and resources on New Gretna.

Dodson has dedicated the book to former THS President and Giffordtown Schoolhouse Museum curator Barbara Bolton, “Who loved her hometown and its history.”

The book is available through the Tuckerton Historical Society for $40. It will also be available at The Tuckerton Seaport. All proceeds go to the THS.

— Pat Johnson


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