AJ Meerwald at the Bayshore Center at Bivalve
The AJ Meerwald is a traditional Delaware Bay oyster schooner, launched in 1928. Owned and operated by the Bayshore Center at Bivalve she now serves as a platform for maritime education programs, as well as tourist cruises. The ship itself has had a varied life, from a commercial oyster dredge to a fireboat in the Coast Guard during the Second World War. Today she is a National Historic Ship, and the official tall-ship of New Jersey. She is 115 feet in total length, and has two gaff rigged masts. The Bayshore Center also has a museum dedicated to the history of the Delaware bay, and the New Jersey coast.
Backstory and Context
Just before the great depression crippled the shipbuilding industry, great wooden schooners were still being built all along the coasts of the United States. In 1928 one such ship was launched from Charles H. Stowman & Sons shipyard, she was an oak on oak two masted centerboard schooner with a gaff rig. This meant that she had oak planks on an oak frame, two gaff rigged masts (sails in line with the ship) and she had a centerboard, essentially a large fin which could fold up into the center of ship when in shallow waters.(History and Specifications)
Her design and build was fairly unique to the Delaware bay area, which once hosted upwards of five hundred such vessels who would go out every spring for oyster dredging. By the time the Second World War came to the United States the AJ Meerwald already had thirteen years and many miles under her keel but was about to put to use in a totally new field. Under the War Powers Act the United States Coast Guard commandeered her for use a fireboat. Much of her dredging equipment and rigging was removed, with pumps, hoses, and other firefighting equipment being added.(Ibid.)
In 1947 she was returned to the Meerwald family who sold her eight months later to Clyde A. Phililps. He rechristened her the Clyde A. Philips and continued to use her for oyster dredging until 1957 when the industry collapsed due to the parasite MSx. She was then passed on to Cornelius Campbell who outfitted her for surf clamming. She continued in this role into the late 1970s when she was essentially retired until the late 1980s.(A.J. Meerwald-History)
In 1989 she was donated to the Bayshore Center in Bivalve, and in 1992 was taken out of the water to begin her restoration. In 1995 her restoration was completed, she was rechristened back to her original name of A.J. Meerwald and was named as national historic ship. She began her current life as a tourist attraction, education platform, and museum ship. In 1998 New Jersey governor Whitman designated her New Jersey’s official tall ship.(History and Specifications)
The Bayshore Center itself is also worth visiting. Founded in 1988 it has steadily grown, from its acquisition of the AJ Meerwald in 1989 to today it has expanded its programming, scope, and goals. The Delaware Bay Museum now sits in Oyster sheds and by historic wharves which were restored in 2011. In 2012 they opened their restaurant the Oyster Cracker Cafe and are still growing. The Meerwald, in addition to a normal sailing schedule host special events and a five day summer camp for teenagers, designed to teach not only the history of the Delaware bay area but also traditional sailing techniques and skills. (BCB History)