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Legends of Port Norris

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Fenton Anderson
February 7, 1913– November 18, 1997


By S. Joseph Hagenmayer, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT
POSTED: November 21, 1997

Fenton Anderson, 84, the dean of the Delaware Bay oystermen, died Tuesday at South Jersey Hospital Systems/Bridgeton Division. Born in Bivalve, he was a lifelong resident of Port Norris, both in Cumberland County.

Mr. Anderson was the retired captain of the 65-foot schooner Martha Meerwald and was the former owner of the Washburn and Anderson Oyster Co. He began oystering in 1934 as a young man in his 20s, but he had worked in the industry his entire life. His father and grandfather had both been oystermen.

"He was a very intelligent man who chose a life not associated with the mind - a physical life closely attuned to nature and the seasons,'' said his daughter Carol Anderson Steketee.

His knowledge of the bay and the oyster industry served him well. Mr. Anderson served on the Delaware Bay section of the Shell Fisheries Council for 36 years and was its chairman for 13 years. He also was a member of the New Jersey Marine Fisheries Council, and was a charter member of the New Jersey Oyster Planters and Packers Association.

Joseph Dobarro - principal biologist for the Bureau of Shellfisheries and stationed in Bivalve for the last 18 years - said Mr. Anderson "brought a tremendous amount of insight to the council'' and documented those insights with his real life experiences.

In an industry that has seen some very bad times and changed dramatically with the use of mechanized harvesting, Mr. Anderson was a survivor. He even outlasted the decimation of the industry in the late 1950s when a parasite destroyed 95 percent of the bay's oysters. He made crab pots and switched to crabbing while the oysters made a recovery.

In an industry that has seen some very bad times and changed dramatically with the use of mechanized harvesting, Mr. Anderson was a survivor. He even outlasted the decimation of the industry in the late 1950s when a parasite destroyed 95 percent of the bay's oysters. He made crab pots and switched to crabbing while the oysters made a recovery.

His daughter recalled that her father stuck with the "old way because he felt that you would overfish the supply.'' He considered mechanization a short-term view of the industry, she said.

In 1984, Mr. Anderson was featured in a New Jersey Network documentary Schooners on the Bay. In recent years, he served as an advisor for the reconstruction of the 85-foot schooner A.J. Meerwald - restored to preserve the heritage of Delaware Bay oystering industry.

He was honored in 1996 by Gov. Whitman for his long service to the industry and the council. One of the great prides of his life was his granddaughter Susan Conova, who carries on the family tradition, recently receiving her doctorate in marine biology.

Mr. Anderson was a graduate of the former Port Norris High School, where he was a shortstop on the baseball team. He later played semipro ball, and was a coach for area Little League. He was a charter member of the Port Norris Athletic Association, founded by local semi-pro baseball players to buy the local baseball field. The organization hoped to present the property to the township one day as a recreation site, his daughter said.

As the last surviving member and trustee, he recently concluded selling the field to the Shiloh Baptist Church for the construction of a recreation and daycare facility. He served on the Commercial Township Committee for eight years in the 1950s and was a Democrat.

He was a 50-year Master Mason in the Shekinah Lodge 58 and a member of the Scottish Rite and the Cedars of Lebanon.

He is survived by two daughters, Carol Anderson Steketee and Gayle Anderson Penven; five grandchildren; a great-grandson; and two sisters, Eileen Washburn and Selma Townsend. He was the widower of Susanna Lutz Anderson.

Burial was at the Haleyville Cemetery, Cumberland County.

Portr Norris Historical Society
Family of 20th Century Legend, Fenton Anderson with
Robin Berry, PNHS at the awards dinner, 11-10-13


Also See

A documentary about the wooden boats used to dredge for oysters under sail on Delaware Bay until World War Two, when they were refitted with engines. It follows two New Jersey schooners that were restored to sail for use as Windjammers to take tourists on excursions on Penobscot Bay in Maine. There are on camera interviews with the late oyster boat captain Fenton Anderson, local historian Donald H. Rolfs, and Windjammer captains Douglas J. Lee, Edward B. Glaser, and David Allen. It ends with a race between the two Windjammers to a folk song about a schooner race on Delaware Bay sung by Jim Albertson. This documentary was originally distributed by New Jersey Network and is no longer available.
Click here to view video


Fenton Anderson
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