Travel in History’s Wake: Take a Ferry Across Little Egg Harbor Bay

By PAT JOHNSON | Jul 17, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson READY TO BOARD: Capt. Dan Woods (right) pilots the Pohatcong II across Little Egg Harbor Bay to Beach Haven.

Beach Haven and Tuckerton share a long history together. It was Rueben Tucker who started the first seaside boarding house in 1765 on Tucker’s Island, a long-gone island off the southern tip of Long Beach Island. Some say it was the first seaside resort. His son Ebenezer would rise to prominence during the Revolutionary War, serving with Gen. George Washington. Washington, in gratitude for Tucker’s service, appointed Tuckerton as a port of entry for ocean-going ships and established a customs house and post office there. Tucker was the customs official, postmaster, Burlington County freeholder and twice was elected to Congress.

Beach Haven itself was the brainchild of Archelaus Pharo, a Tuckerton merchant who bought up 666 acres on LBI and developed the town’s streets. He conspired to bring tourists to the new resort town via his Tuckerton Railroad, finished in 1872. Wealthy tourists from Philadelphia would take the train to Tuckerton (from Camden) and then board the Pohatcong steamship at Tuckerton’s Edge Cove for the trip across the bay to his new development. Later, a spur of the railroad would be developed to cross the bay at Manahawkin, the site of today’s Route 72 Causeway, then south to Beach Haven. Passengers would go directly to the large hotels that sprouted there.

Over the decades, Beach Haven continued to grow in prominence as a seaside resort while Tuckerton sunk further into obscurity. The trend was expedited after the Garden State Parkway was finished in the 1950s and tourists to Atlantic City bypassed Tuckerton, situated on the Old Shore Road (Route 9).

Then in 2000, to boost the profile of historic Tuckerton, the Tuckerton Seaport opened – a 40-acre maritime village with 17 historic or recreated buildings on the edge of Tuckerton Creek.

This year, Tuckerton, Beach Haven and the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce have recreated the old sea route to Beach Haven. The Pohatcong II passenger ferry travels from the Tuckerton Seaport to Beach Haven three days a week, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, leaving at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 and 5 p.m. Departure from the Taylor Avenue Municipal Dock in Beach Haven is at 9:30 a.m., 12:30, 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.

The 30-foot pontoon boat seats 28 passengers in sunshade comfort for the 45-minute to an hour bay crossing, depending on bay conditions.

Twenty of the 28 seats can be reserved in advance for a fee of $5 each, each way. The other eight seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The otherwise free service runs until Labor Day with some special event tours in the fall for the Chowderfest in Beach Haven and the Ocean County Decoy and Gunning Show in Tuckerton.

On Monday, July 15 at 8 a.m., a glorious sunny but mild morning, two Little Egg Harbor residents, Kevin Jarvis and George Kupczak, were ready for a day on the Beach Haven beaches. This was the first time aboard the ferry for both men. They had their beach chair backpacks filled with water, sunscreen and bug repellent and were planning to walk across the Island three blocks from Taylor Avenue to the beach, and then nine blocks to the Sea Shell Resort and Beach Club where they would change clothes, eat and enjoy the Tiki Bar. They already had their free senior passes to the beach.

Mary Maloney had also made reservations to take the early trip and was interested in seeing what Beach Haven had to offer in terms of its museums and attractions. She had seen a piece on Parker’s Garage and the ferry in a Monmouth County publication and had traveled south from Ocean Township.

Even though the ferry was relatively empty on Monday (weekends are crowded), Tuckerton Seaport crewmember Carly Conticchio would give a talk on the historic, environmental and folk art aspects of the shore. Tuckerton was called various names before it was named for Ebenezer Tucker: It was Andrews Mills, Quakertown, Fish Town, Clam Town and Middle of the Shore. Original people of the shore were the Lenape, and they created a huge midden (waste piles) of shells in their clam and oyster drying stations on the marsh. The midden rose high above the marsh and could be used as a lookout point, Conticchio speculated. The first two mills, one for grinding corn and one for sawing lumber, were built by Edward Andrews, who with brother Mordecai was one of the first settlers of Little Egg Harbor, established in 1699. Hence the name Andrews Mills.

Conticchio broke into her history talks whenever a bird of interest showed up: ospreys have a nest along the creek and great blue herons and egrets were spotted. The anticipated otters did not make a showing, but she assured the gathering they do exist.

As the ferry left the no-wake zone of the creek, Capt. Dan Woods raised the boat to a speed of 18 knots across the smooth, shallow bay. A refreshing sea breeze and the expanse of blue-green water greeted the passengers. It was no time at all when the Long Beach Island horizon came into view. Passengers passed a home on a private island that is for sale and saw the confined disposal facility being developed for dredge material by the New Jersey Department of Transportation on Parker Island.

Docking at Taylor Avenue was a bit bumpy, but passengers were warned to stay seated. Then it was off to various pursuits in Beach Haven.

This reporter traveled with Maloney as she walked to the first stop on her itinerary: the beach pavilion at Fifth Street. The beach at 9:30 was relatively empty, but the water was clear and warm enough to stick her feet in. Next was a stop at the Beach Haven Library, a charming Colonial revival-style building, where librarian Anna Serbeck gave a private tour of the museum upstairs that contains cases of shipwreck artifacts including Baltic Sea amber necklaces, sailors’ handiwork, household items and letters of early settlers, including portraits of the Pharo family.

On a quest to learn more about Beach Haven, two blocks down from the library, the Long Beach Island Historical Museum on Engelside Avenue, located in a renovated church, had all you could ask for and then some about early life on a sandbar 6 miles at sea. Especially charming were the rooms equipped with Edwardian furnishings.

Taking a breather on the shaded porch, the next hike was to the New Jersey Maritime Museum on Dock Road, the earliest street in Beach Haven. This museum is primarily devoted to the study of shipwrecks along the Jersey Shore and the exploration of those wrecks by divers. Early dive suits and equipment plus the history of the early lifesaving service are contained on the second floor in this well-appointed free museum. Back on the west side of town, a stop at Polly’s Dock for a refreshing drink was in order. Polly’s has been a boat rental since the 1930s and retains its funky rowboat atmosphere while offering bayside dining.

Two family groups were on board the 12:30 ferry to the Seaport, both first-time visitors. Beach Haven resident Dan Costello had served at the Beach Haven Coast Guard Station back in the day when he met his wife, Shirley Parker. His mother, Elma, and niece Stephanie Oswald were visiting from around Oneonta, N.Y. Down for just a week, they took one afternoon to visit the Seaport.

After entering the creek and approaching the Seaport, Dan was thrilled to see his old ship, Coast Guard cutter #44355 up on dry dock near the wharf. He had served as a coxswain on the boat and remembered actually rolling over in the waves of the Barnegat Inlet – the boat was built for such a feat – and also rescuing two crew members off a barge that had run aground on Short Beach during a storm. “The men were giving their wills over the radio, but we got them off,” said Costello. “We were strapped to the bow.”

He added, with a laugh, “I remember painting the hull of that ship many times.”

Family members Shay, Ron and Alex Brodbeck were also taking a day of their LBI vacation week to explore the mainland and, upon docking, they set off for Doyle’s Pour House.

Randy Gribb of Little Egg Harbor had taken the ferry over to Beach Haven at 11 a.m. and made his return trip at 12:30. He wanted to scout out the ferry ride for his wife. “I wanted to take a boat ride. I used to be in the Navy and water is in my blood,” he said.

On the days when the ferry is not running across Little Egg Harbor Bay, it does tours of the winding Tuckerton Creek on Tuesdays, at 2, 3 and 4 p.m., free of charge thanks to a grant from the OceanFirst Foundation. On Thursdays, July 18 and 25, reserve a seat for “Breakfast on the Bay,” a tour of the creek stopping at the Dockside Café for a “Shipmate’s Breakfast.” On Tuesdays, July 23 and 30, take a “Sunset Sail” from 7 to 9 p.m. ($20 non-Seaport members and $15 members). Those interested can register for these special tours by calling 609-296-8868 or book a ferry trip at Tuckertonseaport.org.

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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