History

What Port Norris looked like along the Maurice River when the oyster industry was booming

Port Norris, New Jersey is a small town located along the Maurice River, where the river meets the Delaware Bay. Port Norris was established in 1811. The town was a major center for oysters, however it is still an important center for oysters. In the first half of the 20th century, there was a bustling oyster harvesting and processing community that settled in this little community.

The communities of Port Norris and the neighboring Bivalve were once known as the “oyster capital of the world” because it was the wealthiest municipality per capita in the state and among the top ones in the country during the 20th century. There were many millionaires, in this area, per square mile just because of the oyster industry during its heyday.

The AJ Meerwald, a restored oyster schooner

The oysters were harvested using oyster schooners from the Delaware Bay and brought into the Maurice River to the docks that lined the river.
The oyster business really took off along the Maurice River with the arrival of the Bridgeton and Port Norris Railroad in 1872. Once the oysters were at the docks, they were loaded onto freight trains and shipped to markets in Philadelphia and New York. By the 20th century, Delaware Bay oysters, shipped from the Maurice River, were served from Baltimore to New York and as far west as Kansas City, shipped using the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Pennsylvania Railroad until the 1930’s when trucking took over the shipping needs.

Replica of the Ada C. Lore (an oyster schooner)

The industry in Port Norris was successful until the late 1950’s when a parasite called MSX (Haplosporidum nelsoni) and then later hit by Dermo (Perkinsus marinus) in the 1990’s. These two parasites depleted the oyster population in the Delaware Bay. This had a devastating affect on Bivalve and Port Norris communities. So this once wealthy community was decimated after these parasites made their presence. Little remains of this once booming area, besides a few seafood businesses such as Bivalve Packing Company and now Port Norris is among the poorest towns in the most impoverished county in the state.

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