The Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum, located in Tuckerton, New Jersey, is the recipient of one of the American Association for State and Local History’s 70th Annual Leadership in History Awards.
The museum was honored for its Community Museum Leads Community Recovery initiative, which was created from dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated much of the Mid-Atlantic region in October 2012.
Formed in 1989, the first shanty museum opened in 1992, yet, the 40 acre seaport site opened in May 2000, with additional buildings added over the years. To date, over 11 million dollars has been invested in exhibits and facilities. There are now 17 buildings that make up the Seaport Museum in Tuckerton. Some buildings include Hurley Conklin’s Carving Shop, Jay C. Parker’s Decoy Shop, Perrine’s Boat Works, and a recreation of the Tucker’s Island Lighthouse, which serves as the Seaport’s focal point.
Tucker’s Island Lighthouse is a reproduction of a lighthouse that was built in 1868 on Tucker’s Beach. As soon as one enters the lighthouse, they are greeted with amazing enlarged photos that depict, frame for frame, the destruction of the lighthouse by falling into the ocean in October 1927. The lighthouse contains exhibits on New Jersey maritime history and the people who lived it including stories of shipwrecks, lighthouse keepers, and the U.S. Lifesaving Service. The displays stretch over two floors and, from the second floor, one can climb 42 steps to the tower of the lighthouse for a beautiful view of the entire Seaport and the surrounding area.
“This museum tries to convey a sense of stewardship, life on the bay, and how people in this area lived during the 1800’s,” Jaclyn Stewart Wood, Director of the Jersey Shore Folklife Center (a function of the museum), explains. “This is a grassroots organization and we try to inform the public of traditional ways of life.”
Presently, the museum is supported by 2,811 memberships which represent 10,024 individuals.
“The Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum is a nationally recognized ‘community museum,'” says Paul Hart, Executive Director of the Tuckerton Seaport Museum. “This means that we are intimately involved in our community. We were created by locals who wanted to preserve the endangered Barnegat Bay and New Jersey Pinelands culture based on the relationship of humans with their environment through art, industry (economy), history and culture.”
“We have about 30,000 traditional museum visitors each year, including 6,000 student on school tours and many festivals and special activities,” Hart continues. “We also have about 60,000 community visits each year including the Tuckerton borough Easter Egg Hunt, Fourth of July fireworks, a January 1st Fire and Ice event with fireworks, hosting the MS coast to coast bike event, traveling Mammography clinic, blood drives, community groups such as Birding group and AA meetings. This is truly a museum of the people, for the people and by the people. We have over 500 volunteers donating over 54,000 volunteer hours.”
The museum also houses the largest collection of sneakbox boats in America, totaling 50, including boats one can row or sail, and even a few with motors. A sneakbox is a boat which can be sailed, rowed, poled, or sculled.
Many staff members of the Seaport helped with the Community action, including Paul Hart, Executive Director of Tuckerton Seaport Museum; Brooke Salvanto, Deputy Director of the Seaport; Timothy Hart, Esq., Deputy Director of Finance; Jaclyn Stewart Wood, Director of Jersey Shore Folklife Center; Diane Hartelius, Manager of Development and Grants; Nick Wood; and hundreds of volunteers.
“Superstorm Sandy hit the Tuckeron/Little Egg Harbor region with particular severity including hundreds of homes destroyed and thousands of people displaced,” says Hart. “The Museum was never out of action supporting the community including the time without power. The Museum has held two community events for over 800 people each year. This great event included crafts and meals completely donated by local restaurants. The Museum suffered over $350,000 in physical damage and the loss of exhibits.”
There are still four exhibits, almost three years after the storm, that are closed due to the storm. Kelly’s Oyster House, Skinner-Donnelly Houseboat, Joe Dayton’s Sawmill, and the Periwinkle houseboat are all in need of extensive repairs in order to reopen to the public.
With the award from AASLH, Tuckerton Seaport is the only New Jersey awardee in 2015. This feat is even more special because it is rare that any New Jersey museum or initiative wins an award.
The Seaport exhibited both visionary leadership and a commitment to true public engagement in addressing environmental disruptions and human displacement caused by this storm of historic proportion. The Seaport offered economic, social, and emotional assistance to a community in need.
By becoming a foundation for donation collections and distribution of needed items as well as hosting an NPR public forum to formulate how to prepare for resilience against future storms, the Seaport met the economic needs of those affected by the storm. By hosting community dinners to bring people back together, visiting classrooms to offer healing arts outlets for children affected by Sandy, and recording personal narratives of the storm to create a Storm Stories Oral History Exhibit, the Seaport met social and emotional needs.
In the absence of a formal town square, locals have made the Seaport a unofficial community center that has evolved into the major host of town celebrations. Those programs that particularly meet the needs of the local population include oral history, building indigenous watercraft, decoy carving, and basket making. Locals, especially the children and grandchildren of the tradition bearers, have a sincere yearning to share, preserve and validate their memories. The Seaport is a trusted place to donate family heirlooms and local artifacts.
The following is an excerpt from Tuckerton’s application for the 2015 IMLS Medal (separate from the AASLH awards), awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, of which Tuckerton is now one of 15 finalists:
For the past 9 years, the NJ Council on the Arts has awarded the Tuckerton Seaport with a Citation of Excellence for our programming and classes tailored to our identified communities of locals, seniors and families. Programs improve the quality of life for local residents by offering a rich cultural resource and enrichment opportunities in their backyard. Museum exhibits preserve and celebrate the creative spirit of the region, its traditional arts, and its occupational and recreational folklife. The museum highlights local culture through national issues such as the Smithsonian’s Main Street Key Ingredients traveling exhibit. The Seaport hosts Tuckerton’s Friday Night Summer Concert Series and a summer Saturday morning Farmers Market. In its role as a community center, the Seaport provides the Hunting Shanty meeting room at no cost to nonprofit organizations, clubs, scouting groups, seafood associations, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The 40 acre campus is the site for most of the town’s holiday celebrations as well as other nonprofit organizations’ major events such as the Sunshine Foundation’s fishing tournament, the MS Coast the Coast bike-a-thon and the 5K run fundraiser to benefit brain cancer. We conduct school tours that are participatory and engaging with STEAM-based educational experiences.
To address the emotional needs of local children affected by Superstorm Sandy, the Art Helps project provided healing arts program services to five local schools whose students were affected by the storm. The teachers, participating artists and Seaport staff met with an art therapist to develop school-specific projects that focused on the healing power of the arts. This program helped students to work through their fears and emotions following the storm.
“At the local level, our programs and services measurably improve the residents’ quality of life by preserving the fast-altering traditions of the bay,” Hart says. “Membership grew by 22.17% over last year reflecting an increase of public support. Membership brings return visitors; over time, they bring grandchildren, friends and other family members. Community based participation, whether by volunteering or for social and cultural purposes, develops a sense of pride and strengthens the connection between people and the place they share.”
“The Tuckerton Seaport acts as an economic engine for the area, drawing 103,000 visitors (38,000 for onsite tours and an additional 65,000 for community events) who regularly combine a trip with lunch, dinner, or local shopping in the surrounding area as well as fueling up their automobile or boat before heading back home. For a town with only 3,000 residents this influx of spending is significant.”
The awards for the winners of the Leadership in History awards will be given out at a ceremony in Louisville, Kentucky this upcoming September, which Paul Hart and his wife Eleanor will be attending to represent the Tuckerton Seaport Museum.
The Tuckerton Seaport Museum has a number of great community events scheduled through the end of the year that include the “Truck”erton Food Truck and Brew Festival in August, the New Jersey Maritime Festival in September, Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey in October, their Halloween event Haunted Seaport, the Community Gathering in November, and more. For a complete list of the museum’s events, click here.
It is clear why the Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum is being recognized by so many different organizations. It truly is an institution that is supported by the community and one that supports the community as well. The purpose of museums and educational associations is to function with the surrounding area in mind. Museums can certainly thrive when the support of the community is evident.
The Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen’s Museum is dedicated to creating an experience for its visitors that includes a sense of place, a connection between then and now, and a sense of stewardship.