Commercial Township

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Published by multiple papers.
Story by Lousie Ogden Mints

The Indians who lived in this vicinity were the Uanlachtigo (Turkey) tribe of the Lenni-Lennapes. These were of the Delaware Band. One of their camp grounds was the Fawney's Point Field (Alphonso Lore) of Berrytown. One trail runs from Robbinstown through Marsh's Field, over Loggerhead Run, across the Hansey Creek Road and into the “Hooty-Owl's Nest” in Dividing Creek, N.J. Another trail comes out at Crooked Creek, Orr's Gravel, in Dividing Creek, one at French's Mill and another from above the Lambdin home to the Ricci Farms. Another settlement was at the end of what is now “Quail Drive”. Their trails followed high ground as much as possible. Piles of oyster shells may still be found in the fields where the Indians had their camp sites. There was a large camp site at Egg Island in the Delaware Bay, which according to a draft made in 1691, then contained three hundred acres. It has eroded until there is no land remaining. They had another camp at “Steep Run” in Haleyville with trails running across the fields to Buckshutem.

William Dallas was not a soft spoken man for life was rugged in those days and only the fittest survived. Death lay at one's elbow from the imminence of wild animals, clouds of swarming mosquitoes that often drove cattle mad, or even from starvation if a man was not ambitious enough to hunt for food.

In 1751, the First Baptist meeting house was erected in Dividing Creek on a lot donated by Seth Lore. William Dallas was one of the builders. Dallas found that the shipping of cordwood could be a profitable business so, establishing a ferry for that purpose, he named his newly acquired territory “Dallas Ferry”. The first ferry was located along the river near his cabin. This ran to Wiggam's Landing. Dallas built a sawmill the following spring. The shipping of cordwood and hay became the main industries. This continued for seventy years.

Boats called “Shallops” were built from thirty to fifty feet long. They were narrow shallow boats suitable for traveling up small streams. They usually had two masts and were steered by ropes. Some sailed from Ware Creek, a gut off Dividing Creek. Recently, when a hay farmer had the gut deepened, when the mud was thrown on the bank, many pieces of cordwood were found in the mud. This creek was reached crossing the meadows at Berrytown (West Port Norris). These boats sailed to Philadelphia, PA and to Boston. The second ferry was at McLake farm (the site of the former Gun Club) and ran to High Street Leesburg, N.J.

Dallas and his wife had three children, William Jr., Johnathan, Ann. Ann Dallas married Joel Clark, the oldest son of Cornelius and Elizabeth Clark (later Bodley) the founder of Port Elizabeth, N.J. Joel died about a year after the marriage. Johnathan Dallas married Suzan Clark, the sister of Joel. She died a few months later. Johnathan married her sister, Elizabeth Clark. They had five children, Suzan, Elizabeth, Ann, Mary, and Holmes Dallas.

William Dallas Jr., became a farmer. He owned 450 acres of land, 23 heads of cattle and 6 hogs.

Samuel Dallas, a relative, was a large land owner in Dallas Ferry. He brought his young nephew Ichabod Lore 2nd, to the village and sold him a farm. Ichabod had a son Levi, who was born in Port Norris in 1813. In 1838 he married Catherine Lore of Dividing Creek. Their son Uriah, was born in 1840.

In 1749 William Dallas built a tavern in his village to accommodate the oystermen and fishermen. In Middletown, now North Port Norris, Isaac Petersen built a house. There he and his wife raised 13 children. This house still stands, just north of Sockwell Road. An upstairs bedroom was framed with exposed axe hewn timber. The floors have wide boards, it has a winding stairway and large fireplace. In his will, dated 1813, Petersen handed the property over down to his children. Err “Shang” O'Neal was the last of the Petersen clan to occupy it. Mrs. Keziah Lupton of Port Norris is a direct descendent of this family. The house is now owned by Robert Lindsay of Port Norris.

In 1793 a road from Dallas Ferry northward through Haleyville to Buckshutem was laid out. Some of the early settlers between Port Norris and Haleyville were named Parsons, Shinn, Shellhorne, Compton, Sheppard, and Rogers.

In 1800 Tabor Fagon, a circuit rider, established a brick factory beside his home in North Port Norris. This operated until 1861.

William Dallas died in 1784 leaving his property to his son Johnathan Dallas who operated the ferry for many years.

Johnathan Dallas became acquainted with a wealthy coffee merchant from Philadelphia, Pa named Joseph “Coffee” Jones. Coffee Jones was quite interested in purchasing Dallas Ferry. In 1810 the purchase was completed and Jones renamed the village “Port Norris” in honor of his oldest son Norris. “Coffee” Jones, known as a Legal Light traveled to various towns settling disputes.

Jones, active in the cord wood business, had several boats. One was named the “Plow Boy”. He built a corduroy road and a wharf at the end of east Main Street. He built a new tavern there to replace the old one built by Dallas. (Norman Jeffries house stands on the site of the tavern.)

On the south side of Main Street, Jones built a windmill. The cord wood business was good and boats ran to Philadelphia. In 1813 his boat, the “Plow Boy” was captured by the British in the Delaware Bay and ransomed for $1,000. John Ogden and Norton Harris operated the tavern. These two men carried on an extensive cord wood business for Jones. During the time the tavern was operated by these men, the village was lively place. The highway leading to the landing was for many years a great avenue for horse racing.

“Coffee” Jones engaged several men as agents in buying sheep, some of them quite expensive. Having acquired several thousand sheep, he had eight skilled carpenters come from Philadelphia to erect a sheepfold. This was about 100 yards from our present Police Barracks. The sheep's quarters were divided into rooms holding 15 sheep each. Many of the lambs were killed by foxes which were very numerous at that time. The sheepfold was 300 ft. long and 65 ft. wide. He paid $900 for three Merion rams which had just been brought to this country. He brought a Welchman named David Owen to the village to be the shepherd. He cleared much of his meadowland into four acre plots and built fences. He used this for pastureland.

One evening in 1812, a violent storm struck the village. The wind increased until it reached violent proportions. Wind and rain bore down at a furious pitch and wood flew everywhere. Water gushed into the sheep pens owned by Jones and the buildings were torn apart in the screaming wind. Giant willows and maples were twisted and cast to the ground. All of the sheep but 300 died faster than three adepts could take off their pelts. Wool was then worth $1 per pound. The sheepfold was completely destroyed. Coffee Jones, discouraged, shipped the remaining 300 sheep up the Delaware to Hog Island then made a lottery of his real estate, selling tickets wherever he could. John Ogden drew the tavern property which remained in the hands of his heirs for several generations.

By 1818 Port Norris had become a hamlet of twenty houses. Much of the land was still marsh and woodland. Taxes were 25 cents to 50 cents per acre. The paths were only lanes that became so muddy that it was safer to hold on to the fences which enclosed most of the properties. A small wooden bridge was built across Dickey's Ditch on East Main Street. At times the mud was so deep along the bridge approaches that hundreds of tons of hay were placed on the road to make it possible for the horses to cross. Roads in the village were so bad that a hack went in a ditch at the corner of High St. and Main Street. It cost $13 to repair the hack.

The last bear killed in Port Norris was in 1830. Steve Mayhew built a three story hotel on East Main Street in 1872. This was a beautiful building and contained forty rooms. It had gas lights and screened porches. The dining room seated 50 guests. In 1890 it was operated by William Deemer and six assistants. Liquor and wine were sold but Mr. Deemer had never tasted them. It was later sold to a Mr. Davis. In 1928 the hotel burned to the ground.

After the lapse of a few years, Port Norris ceased being the shipping port for cordwood and was noted for the prime oysters which were shipped by relay teams to nearby cities. The shipper had to put up his own dock and build his own wharf. Dredges were pulled in by five or six men to a line, pulling hand over hand until the dredge was hauled aboard. Later, dredging was done by winders with a crank turned by hand. The first hand winches for the oyster boats were invented and built by Joseph Turner in his blacksmith shop at Bivalve. Marine railways were erected and they built and repaired boats which were quite numerous. Shops were built for the manufacture of dredgers. Sail lofts were established. Ship chandleries sprung up and numerous stores of all kinds occupied the business section of town. The Robinstown school was built in 1812.

In 1880, Robert E. Magee came to Port Norris to work in the sail loft owned by James Mulvey. He had learned the sail making trade at the arsenal at Philadelphia making tents for the Army. One of his apprentices at the sail loft at Bivalve was Ed Cobb, who later owned and operated this loft for many years.

In the early days, lanterns were used if you had to travel at night. Later, after the gas company was established here, lamp posts were erected and gas lights used. Will Hollinger was the lamplighter. Ice houses were established along the stream opposite Si Hoffman's home on Yock Wock Road.

The train service was established about 1860. The station was a long building or shed with a covered shelter which reached the length of the station and covered both sets of tracts. Nearby was the turntable and a round house. At times, five locomotives were housed there. There were four freight trains per day and two passenger trains. When the rail service first started, it extended to the Maurice River Cove lighthouse but due to marshy conditions, it was impossible to hold the tracks at that time so the service was cut off at the site of the present Marina. There was a small mail car and Clarence Mayhew was the mail clerk. The post office was established in 1870.

The Methodist Protestant Church was organized in 1858. Rev. John Stewart was the first pastor. The church was located where Mrs. Elsie Henderson's home now stands.

The first Methodist Episcopal Church in Port Norris was built in 1872 on land where the G.A.R. cemetery is now located. This church burned to the ground on Aug. 3, 1884. Land on the corner of East Main and North Ave. was purchased and a Church erected. This was torn down in 1924 and a new Church built with beautiful stained glass windows.

The first Baptist Church was built in 1880. It burned to the ground in 1884. Another church was built and dedicated.

The Port Norris Lodge No.76, Knights of Pythians was instituted July 14, 1872 with a membership of 140. They built a large hall which became a lodge hall on the third floor, a community hall on the second floor and a grocery store on the ground floor. Folks disagree about the exact date when the hall caught fire but most believe it occured in Jan. of 1901 when it was destroyed, taking with it a store on Main Street and a house on South Market. The hall was rebuilt in 1902, the building was razed in 1966.

On March 14, 1874, Commercial Township was organized and taken from Downe Township. The first meeting was held in the William Hinson Hotel in Mauricetown. William Hinson was the President of the Committee, Levi Lore, Treasurer, William Haley, Clerk, Samel Butcher, Assessor and George Compton, Collector. Other members were Uriah Lore, Stephen Mayhew, William Compton and Andrew Blackman. Overseers were Dr. Charles Butcher and Dallas Compton.

In 1901 the township granted an ordinance permitting the Bridgeton and Millville Traction line to construct and operate its existing street railway over the public road leading from the Covered Bridge in Dividing Creek to Dallas Ferry, on the south-westerly side.

In 1902 the Interstate Telephone Company was granted permission to place its poles and equipment for telephone and telegraph purposes in Port Norris.

The Commercial Gas Company was established in Port Norris in 1909.That same year, Philip and Ann Berry, Henry Berry and Phebe and Ellis Cain deeded Berrytown Road to the township. The deed was accepted and recorded.

In 1907 the Port Norris Fire Company was organized.

The sea furnished many delicious foods, including soft and hard shell crabs, clams and oysters. All of these are edible animals, but only the oyster is farmed. All the others are gathered from what nature has provided. All of the lands under the water belong to the state. Lands for oyster farming may be rented for a fee, depending on the location. The oysterman marks the boundary of the grounds by pushing stakes into the bottom. He applies to the Division of Shell Fisheries for a lease covering the area. As long as the planter pays the annual lease fee and his lease is approved each year, the ground is his for oyster farming. In return for rentals paid, the Division employs watchmen who police the area to prevent theft of oysters.

The first shucking house was established at Bivalve in 1922 followed by the McNaney Oyster Company in South Port Norris. Many others followed. These modern oyster shucking houses and the clam processing plants employ hundreds. Tonging, fishing, crabbing and farming offer other avenues of employment. For many years Port Norris has been known as “The World's Oyster Center”.

The shuckers must have a health certificate from the New Jersey Board of Health before they are allowed to shuck oysters. The equipment used for washing and packing is inspected and licensed. As washed and packed, they are pushed by paddle into the cans during the packing process and are not touched by human hands.

Oysters are nutritious and have exquisite flavor either raw or cooked. They contain Vitamins A, B, C, and D and are rich in iron, calcium, iodine and phosphorus.

The 1974 Commercial Township Centennial Committee has planned a four month program commemorating the Township's 100th birthday. Events are planned to begin on March 10, the 100 year date line and will continue until June 8th, when a parade and strawberry festival will be held. Beginning March 12, all clean shaven men may register for the “Brothers of the Brush” and the women may register for “Sisters of the Swish”. The men may grow anything from a mustache to a beard. The women must wear at least one article of Colonial Clothing in public during the centennial days. Awards will be given and nonparticapants will be expected to pay a fine.

The month of March has been designated as “Clean Up Month” through out the township in order to have everything ready for the celebration. Wooden nickels will be circulated to be used as cash or souvenirs. A brochure including the history of each Commercial township village will be offered for sale. Former Mayor Henry W. Taylor is chairman of the Centennial Committee. Others serving include: Eugene Eichelberger, John Whiting, Glenn W. Horseman, Thomas Beachaump, Richard Peterson, Alexander Ogden, Margaret L. Mints, Lehma Gibson, Doris Scott, and Kathy Marino.