The Bayshore Center at Bivalve was founded in 1988, then spent the next eight years on the historic restoration of a local Tall Ship – the centerpiece of the organization’s efforts. Grassroots support for the restoration of the 1928 Delaware Bay oyster schooner A.J. MEERWALD steadily grew, and money was raised through a variety of volunteer and community-based fundraising activities starting with an art auction supported by South Jersey’s amazing community of artists, artisans, and traditional craftspeople. The schooner’s restoration was galvanized by major grants totaling $690,000 from the NJ Historic Trust in 1991 and the NJ Department of Transportation in 1993.
During the restoration of the nationally significant A.J. MEERWALD, a framework for a region-wide educational facility and shipboard programming was built, membership base initiated, a volunteer program instituted, the Delaware Bay Museum opened on Main Street in Port Norris, Delaware Bay Day was created and periodic educational initiatives and cultural events hosted. The Annex and one of the Shipping Sheds were purchased in 1995.
In 1996, the A.J. MEERWALD embarked on her second career as a schooner on Delaware Bay. The organization was faced with its second “start-up” period as the restoration/construction was over and the operation began. The staff support and organizational structure (not to mention the budget) necessary to manage, market, schedule, sail and present programs on the historic vessel were very different than what had been developed thus far. The grassroots organization grew to keep up with the new demands.
The A.J. MEERWALD was officially declared New Jersey’s Tall Ship in 1998. This marked a turning point where the organization had almost “caught up with itself” just in time to use Cumberland Empowerment Zone funds to purchase six more of the very needy historic 1904 Oyster Shipping Sheds in 2001.
Restoration of the Shipping Sheds and Wharves to create a south Jersey destination as well as an official homeport for the A.J. MEERWALD took many years. In 2011, the staff moved into the restored building and it was officially opened to the public on September 30. The first exhibit in the new Delaware Bay Museum & Folklife Center, called “The Abundant Oyster?” opened in November. The Oyster Cracker Café started serving in January 2012, and had its official ribbon-cutting on June 28th.
Since then Bayshore Center at Bivalve has been adding programming on its campus and in the community. On the campus the Delaware Bay Museum & Folklife Center has continued to expand its interpretation of the history, culture and environment of the Bayshore through exhibits, enrichment programming for youth as well as adults, a storytelling series, special events and festivals and the wildly popular 2nd Friday celebrations – all year long. The art gallery has brought vibrancy and monthly rotating treasures complemented by the Museum store’s offerings.
After Superstorm Sandy there has been a need for Bayshore-wide recovery and resiliency efforts for which BCB has been serving a leadership role – hosting the Cumberland County Long Term Recovery Group and championing the development and implementation of the Cumberland County Delaware Bayshore Recovery Plan.
Now BCB proudly operates the MEERWALD throughout the state while it manages the Bayshore Center – a Bayshore gathering place that highlights locally sourced seafood and produce, provides a window into the working waterfront and captures the traditional character of the bayshore.