Garden State diversions on the way to the beach Out-of-the-way NEW JERSEY

June 18, 1995|By David Rosenthal | David Rosenthal,Sun Staff Writer

You know the feeling -- the lemming-like fervor that propels you as you set out for a vacation at Cape May, Stone Harbor or some other spot along the Jersey shore.

You can't wait to feel the sand, to dive into the surf, to start getting some return for the hundreds of dollars you're shelling out for a beachfront condo.

So you set your baseball cap a little lower and press a little harder on the gas pedal. Stop for a meal? No chance. Drinks? Only if the van's air-conditioning breaks down.

But there is another way.

See those highway exit signs flashing by, touting towns such as Salem and Millville? Why not take a few hours to explore these overlooked, under-appreciated spots, and others in the pie-slice of New Jersey between the Delaware and Maurice rivers and U.S. 40?

The towns, with rich histories, are worth a look. You'll hear echoes of their beginnings in the maritime trade -- an era when the Delaware Bay was rich with shad, sturgeon and oysters. You might even want to pause at a couple places with intriguing names -- Bivalve and Shellpile -- just to tell friends you've been to such a place.

What do you have to lose? A bit of time until that first sunburn?

Here's what you could be missing:


The flavor of this old industrial center is well-preserved on the Oak Diner's menu, which features sandwiches such as the DuPonter (tuna salad), the Anchor Hocking (boiled ham and cheese) and the Mannington Mills (roast beef and Swiss cheese).

But just across East Broadway is an imposing reminder of earlier times: an oak tree that was standing when Salem was founded in 1675. The tree, estimated to be more than four centuries old, still guards the Friends Burial Ground. Here you'll find some of the first families of Salem: the Actons, Wistars and Thompsons, in graves with unpretentious headstones.

Locals still mourn the companies, including Heinz, that have left Salem or cut back local operations, drawing some of the lifeblood from the town. Although the business district appears frayed, some homeowners have united to restore the stately brick buildings along Market Street.

Here, you might browse in Lee Link's antiques shop, and listen as she recounts the tales behind the many samplers decorating her walls.

(A warning: If you happen to step into Ms. Link's garden, be sure to close the gate, for the safety of the turtles she keeps there.)

Or you might buy some crafts -- and spend the night -- a few doors down, at the Richard Woodnutt House, whose rooms are decorated with hand-painted trays and furniture.

The 1721 Alexander Grant house at 78 Market St. has been restored and is open for tours, though there are few weekend hours. The house doubles as the headquarters for the local historical society.

Many of the homes and gardens -- and other Salem landmarks -- are open for events during the year. In August, for example, Market Street Day offers crafts, music and an antique car show. Another annual highlight is the Yuletide tour in December.


This quaint town on Cohansey Creek, less than half an hour's drive from Salem, opens along a wide, tree-shaded street lined with 18th- and 19th-century homes. Many of them hark back to the days when Greenwich was a port of entry for goods from England and the Colonies -- a role that contributed to its bit of revolutionary fame.

In 1774 -- a year after the Boston Tea Party -- about 40 local residents set out to seize an East India Tea Co. shipment that had been dropped off in the town by a British ship. Disguised as Indians, the men took the tea chests from a house where they had been stored, brought them to a nearby field and burned them. The tea burning is memorialized by a small park and monument on one end of town.

Gibbon House, whose central rooms date back to 1730, is another historic attraction along Ye Greate Street. Built by Nicholas Gibbon, a merchant, the house has been partially restored and is open for tours.

The house also is the site for many of Greenwich's special events, including Farm Day, which features traditional games and crafts. Christmas tours have included a home said to be haunted by the ghost of a pirate, and another that sheltered slaves on the Underground Railroad. Near the center of town is a small maritime museum, filled with items from the town's heyday as a port.

While you're in town -- or even before, as you ask directions -- you're likely to be drawn into a debate over the town's name. Most longtime residents pronounce it green-witch, though you'll probably hear gren-itch, and maybe even gren-witch.

You can't end that debate, but there's another question that is much more pleasant to stew over. Local folks, when hungry, seem to split evenly between two restaurants on the Cohansey. Some favor the Bait Box; others swear by Ship John.

What better way to spend a day than to immerse yourself in the debate, over clam pie or some other seafood dish, while watching the boats along the river.


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