The A.J. Meerwald, a restored 85-foot oak-hulled oyster schooner that was declared New Jersey’s state tall ship in 1998, may find a summer home in Point Pleasant Beach amidst a larger project that seeks to develop the Channel Drive corridor as a marina district.
The ship was launched Sept. 7, 1928 in Dorchester, Cumberland County, and served as a fishing vessel until it was commandeered by the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II to serve as a fireboat. She was returned to her owner, the Meerwald family, after the war and continued on as an active oyster dredge for years. In 1995, she was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Last September, the Meerwald made a major impression on local residents and officials when she took up residence in Point Pleasant Beach for a short stay. After an overwhelmingly successful visit that proved popular with members of the public, officials began a discussions about giving the ship a “summer home” in Ocean County. It is normally docked on Delaware Bay in Commercial Township, Cumberland County.
“The reception was so strong and their fundraising was really productive as well,” Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Paul Kanitra said. “There’s definitely a mutual interest in this.”
The first step toward preparing for the potential arrival of the Meerwald may be taken next week by the Ocean County Commissioners. Point Pleasant Beach has asked that the county vacate the portion of Baltimore Avenue between Broadway and the Manasquan River to the borough so it can gain control of the area in order to redevelop it into a maritime attraction. Ocean County Engineer John Ernst said about 500-feet of roadway would be transferred from the county to Point Pleasant Beach if the commissioners vote in favor of the measure at an upcoming meeting.
Kanitra said the borough has already been awarded a $1 million streetscape grant to develop the area with a maritime village theme, and basing the state’s tall ship in one of the busiest Jersey Shore towns would represent a major addition for tourism. Plans for the marina district also include a hotel, bar and restaurant project.
Should the county commissioners vote in favor of giving up the land, it would be used to create a dock at the end of Baltimore Avenue.
“There are some needed bulkhead repairs that we need to talk to the county about, and because we feel the Meerwald would be a boon for Ocean County tourism – that kind of vessel and the events it brings – after we get the street moved over to us, we have to talk about how to build the dock,” Kanitra explained. “We’d love the county to partner with us on that.”
Boosting the north end of Point Pleasant Beach’s maritime appeal even further is the borough’s impending acquisition of the former U.S. Coast Guard Station, which is slated to be turned into a maritime museum. That building could also provide crew quarters and office space to the Meerwald staff during the summer season.
“It’s one piece at a time, and I think we’re putting those pieces together the right way for what will be a pretty impressive addition to Point Pleasant Beach and Ocean County,” said Kanitra. “Seeing the tall mast of New Jersey’s tall ship when people come into town would be an incredible thing to achieve.”