How to use:
The Maurice River Reaches Map is easy to interact with the simple controls and features provided.
Listed below are the key features and descriptions of how they can be utilized.

Working with the controls
The map is fully draggable. Simply click anywhere on the map and begin dragging your mouse to move the map to specific areas.
move up click to navigate the map "up".
move down click to navigate the map "down".
move left click to navigate the map "left".
move right click to navigate the map "right".
zoom in click to "zoom in" for a closer look.
zoom in click to "zoom out" to back away from the map.
default map setting click to get back to the "default" map setting.
red buoy click to learn more about that reach.
Maurice River Recollections Project
River Reaches

The Maurice River Reaches Project
Reach #35

Janice and Jeanette Burcham remembered. Pat Witt remembered. Many folks still do. Life changed during World War II - even along the Maurice River.

During that era, the US Government turned to the expertise of long-standing shipbuilding operations like the one in Dorchester, for help in expanding the Naval fleet. And the lifelong occupations of many of the river's residents changed with the tide. Frank Burcham closed down the brickyard that the family had operated on their property since 1867. Pat Witt's father, Alfred Vanaman, tended his farm after his long shift at the shipyard. During those years, many husbands, fathers, and brothers laid down the tools of their trade and went to work at the Dorchester shipyard.

Today, the sleepy little village gives barely a hint of the important role it played in the history of the region.

The environs of Dorchester have been surveyed and documented in one of Cumberland County's earliest deeds and records. The historical background found in 1988 Conservation Plan for the Manumuskin River Watershed, developed by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, revealed that the first property surveyed in the Manumuskin drainage basin was carried out in 1691 for Benjamin Barlett. It encompassed 10,250 acres on the eastern side on the Maurice River.

In his book, Maurice River Town, Herbert W. Vanaman noted that a town called Dorchester was plotted in 1691, but no lots were sold until about 1800. When Budd & Worledge surveyed the tract for Squibb, the Dorchester plot contained 2000 acres.

Couder Landing may be one of the first names attached to the location. In a deed dated October 1714, John Scott of Rhode Island requested a re-survey of "10,000 Acres of Land Lying on the South east side of Morris River" that was laid out in 1709. The original deed "Certificate and drafts of Edward Leatts," held in the Cumberland County Collection of Historical Documents, sets the boundaries of the survey, "Beginning at White Oak on or near Couder Landing near mouth of the small gut that falls onto Prince Morris River…"

Couder Landing appears to have been corrupted to Crowder, and the gut, Crowder Run, may have taken its name from that. And the name Cowder Gut, possibly a misspelling, appears in meeting notes from Dorchester dated 1777.

Local historian Herbert Vanaman discovered a map in London, created prior to 1762, that shows a ferry crossing at this reach. Local resident Charles Hartman studied and made compilations of old maps and sureys of the Maurice River region. He discovered that there was an "ancient ferry road heading east to a ferry that crossed to Dorchester, just south of Crowder Run.” 

In 1799, Peter Reeve bought the tract encompassing Dorchester from the West Jersey Proprietors. He put the lots up for sale.

On a Cumberland County Map of 1862, which is based on surveys by S.N. and F.W. Beers and now found at the Lummis Library in Greenwich, NJ, Crowder Run cuts away from the Maurice River right above where a hotel is situated on the eastern shore. Vanaman mentioned that such an establishment, Sickler's Hotel, catered to stagecoach and river travelers on that stretch of the Maurice River. Another landmark, the Dorchester United Methodist Church, was built in 1856. The Dorchester Ferry is also noted on the 1862 map, linking to one lone road on the western shore that led directly to Mauricetown.

Vanaman observed that "Shipbuilding has always been the principal industry in Dorchester." New Jersey's Tall Ship, the A.J. Meerwald, was built at Dorchester Shipyards in 1928. At the time, the shipyard was operated by Charles H. Stowman & Sons."

In the 1930's Joseph Gaskill worked alongside his father at the Stowman Ship Yard in Dorchester, learning how to do the maintenance work a boat required. In 1998, Gaskill preserved these memories in a publication entitled, "A Tribute to Captain Jesse ‘Shave’ Gaskill.”  He remembered how his father often needed the services of the shipyard, which at the time was owned and operated by the Stowman brothers Charlie, Ben and Walton.

Journalist Judy Baehr's research for Cumberland County's 250th anniversary capsulized Dorchester's shipbuilding endeavors in the 1900's. She noted that during the period 1921-31, Dorchester "was very active in building oyster boats; and during World War II, they were busy constructing vessels for the government. Around 1853, another shipbuilding plant in which large ocean-going vessels (over 1,000 tons) were built was established by Nathan Baner and William Champion."
(Editor's note: It wasn't uncommon to have a captain have a painting of his vessel done while at port.  Captain Bacon of Mauricetown had a few of these paintings which Caroline Bacon routinely shared with visitors to her Mauricetown home.)

In the town’s more recent past, Julie Smalley of Acorn Island, recalled how, in the 60's and 70's, her husband Donald would head down river to see what was happening at the shipyard in Dorchester. "Donald always liked boats. Any time we rode by, he would have to stop and look."

Local artist Pat Witt, who set up her easel on the docks of the shipyard more than once, had a story to tell. She was frequently given permission to bring groups of student-artists to private properties along the Maurice River. The docks at Dorchester were no exception. Witt likes to tell the story about one session they had there. Morris Blackburn, the group's instructor and Witt's mentor, was having a problem with perspective. This frustrated the accomplished painter. Witt related with a hearty laugh that Blackburn was unaware that the boat he was focusing on was being slowly lowered on the rail.

The impact of the Dorchester shipbuilding operations on the history of this region can not be minimized. With no one to carry on the skills of the old-timers, and fewer people to echo the memories, will this history rush out with the tides?