Tuckerton Seaport Opens New Exhibit ‘Turn of the Century Tuckerton’

May 23, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Artist Cathleen Engelsen in front of her grandfather's image. W.C. Jones owned the drug store, movie theater and was a photographer in Tuckerton in the 1920’s.

The new exhibit installed in Tucker’s Island Lighthouse at the Tuckerton Seaport is a testimony to the working people of Tuckerton in the early 1900s. The exhibit is the brainchild of new exhibitions director Julie Hain and Executive Director Brooke Salvanto, who wanted to move beyond the focus of the bay and include the industries of the townsfolk who settled and lived along the Tuckerton Creek.

To do so, they needed the generous help of historic painter Cathleen Engelsen and her archive of her grandfather’s photos. They also collaborated with the Tuckerton Historical Society and drew from their own Seaport collections.

Late spring is the season for school trips to the Seaport, and they are booked solid, said Hain “Between 100 and 200 children will be arriving from all over the state each weekday.” Hain and Salvanto wanted something really special to tweak the children’s curiosity about the past.

A vignette of a schoolteacher and a row of wooden desks is a jumping-off point for discussions about how children learned in one- or two-room schoolhouses. “They can sit in the wooden desks and imagine what that was like,” Hain said.

A copy of the 1900, 1910 and 1920 census is available to peruse, and local families might get a kick out of looking up their ancestors. Many were shipbuilders, farmers, clammers or oystermen, but not all; there are blacksmiths, telephone operators, shopkeepers, linemen (for the Tuckerton Wireless), railroad workers and hotel workers.

“They also get a name that they look up on the census and then an occupation card that they can follow to information in the exhibit,” explained Hain.

A movie of Tuckerton folks populating Main Street in the ’30s also shows a bustling town of shoppers and shopkeepers – some clown for the camera while others hustle by.

Tuckerton had a movie theater that was owned by Engelsen’s grandfather William Clarence “W.C.” Jones. A mock theater is on display showing a video loop of the restored silent film “The Great Train Robbery.” A couple of movie seats and a piano show how silent films were accompanied by music. Engelsen’s Aunt “Pep” used to play the score, while her mother, Ruth, swept out the popcorn after the film ended.

A large photo of W.C. in his drugstore shows an affable man and an early entrepreneur. Engelsen has contributed a showcase of pharmacy bottles for the exhibit, and she explained that W.C. was not a true “pharmacist” as we think of them today. “Anyone could open a drug store, and they mixed the drugs according to the doctor’s instructions,” she said.

W.C. Jones also made postcards of his photos of Tuckerton to sell in his drugstore, and collectors prize them today.

“I’m sure my mother is smiling right now,” said Engelsen. “Everyone has been using my grandfather’s historical photos, but they never put his name on them. When I painted my mural (of the Tuckerton Creek), my mother brought all his photos to me to use as reference.”

Engelsen’s mural of the Tuckerton Creek is a big part of the exhibit. Shipbuilding was a large part of the Tuckerton economy, and her father, Sid Pearce, owned a boatyard on the creek.

Her grandfather’s photos show large schooners moored along the banks. “They made really big boats.”

Also on display is a painting of the Tuckerton Wireless, done by Dennis Seeley. The wireless was built in 1914 and gave the world the first transatlantic radio signals. “It was the state of the art in communications of its day,” said Hain. “We like to let the kids think of ‘Then and Now’; now they have cell phones, but back then it was dots and dashes.”

During the opening ceremony on Saturday, May 12, Salvanto reminded people that there were three other exhibits opening that day: the Jersey Shore Folklife exhibit, also in the Lighthouse, New Jersey Junior Duck Stamp and an art exhibit by the sixth-grade students of the George J. Mitchell School.

Art teacher Kathy Csipkay, Pine Shores Art Association Past President Paul Hartelius and Hain explained how the students came to make the collages that tie into the “Turn of the Century Tuckerton” exhibit. The Seaport collaborates with PSAA to give an outreach program to the schools. Artists Hartelius and Jill DeFelice brought collage material to Csipkay’s 6th-grade art classes while Hain and Paul Hart talked about the occupations of Tuckerton residents of the time. Youth decoy carver instructor Andrew Tonnesen also showed his carvings. The children then had time to choose an occupation and imagine what it might look like, using copies of old photos to collage.

Saturday was also Seaport Volunteer Picnic Day and Trustee President Jeff Daum thanked the volunteers who work hard to keep the Seaport a pleasant and educational place to visit every day.

Late spring to early summer is a busy time for the volunteers. Trustee Tim Hart said the newest building, the blacksmith shop, is 75 percent completed.

The next big weekend event at the Seaport is the Baymen’s Seafood and Music Festival on June 23 and 24. For all that’s going on – classes, tours and festivals – pick up the new Tuckerton Seaport Experience Guide at the Seaport or at the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center in Ship Bottom.

— Pat Johnson


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