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Deck the Historic Halls

Mauricetown’s Candlelight Christmas House Tour returns. Mark your calendar for Saturday, December 16.

by Patricia Martinelli
The Mauricetown Historical Society has been housed in the historic Compton House since 1984.
The Mauricetown Historical Society has been housed in the historic Compton House since 1984.

While the weather outside may be turning frightful, don’t let the cold deter you from heading down to Mauricetown on December 16 between 5 and 9 p.m. to enjoy the annual Candlelight Christmas House Tour. The event, priced at $20 per person, will include 10 private homes and six public buildings, as well as entertainment and refreshments offered throughout the evening.

Like many popular local events, the tour was discontinued for a few years because of Covid-19. However, the dedicated volunteers who run the Mauricetown Historical Society feel it’s time to stage its return.

“This event is a significant fundraiser for the Society,” said Judy Moore, one of the founding members of the non-profit. “It supports our efforts to stimulate interest in regional history through educational programs for students and events to attract new visitors.”

Tours will begin at the Mauricetown Fire Department. One significant stop will be the Mauricetown United Methodist Episcopal Church located at the center of town, which features the Mariners Memorial Window, a beautiful stained glass tribute to the sailing crews who were lost at sea between 1856 and 1914. The Millville Woman’s Club Chorus will present a concert there.

In addition, the post office will host a presentation by the North American Bluebird Society, an organization dedicated to the preservation of bluebirds and other species. A live nativity will be housed at The Academy, Mauricetown’s first school that was used until 1962.

The Society was started in 1984 by local residents who were concerned about preserving the town’s past. Headquartered in the Edward Compton House Museum at 1229 Front Street, the Society’s collections include historic clothing, furniture, artwork and more, reflecting the lives of the early residents. In addition, there are maps and memorabilia related to the industries that once thrived in the town, which provided a variety of goods to large cities on the east coast.

“This spring, we celebrated 100 years of wedding gowns and most recently installed an exhibit dedicated to the five physicians who served our community from the 1830s to 1964,” Moore noted.

Much of the town lies within a 78-acre historic district that is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. Mauricetown was recognized by both the state and federal government for its architecture and contributions made to maritime history between the early 19th and early 20th centuries.

If you’ve never visited this charming historic village—which is nestled on the banks of the Maurice River—as you stroll along its quiet streets, it’s easy to imagine that someone set the clock back more than 100 years, rather than just an hour. Most of the houses date from the early to mid-19th century, marked with plaques noting their original owners’ names and the year each structure was built. It is possible, if you listen hard enough, to hear the sound of sailing ships coming into port, filled with cargo such as silks, satins and other treasures from exotic locations around the world.

Apparently, Mauricetown was named after the Prince Maurice, a ship that was captured and burned roughly 300 years ago by native tribes on a bend in the river that would later bear that same name. The land was first surveyed by John Peterson about 1730; roughly 50 years later, much of the property was purchased by Luke Mattox and it became known as Mattox’s Landing.

The bounty of lumber provided by the surrounding Pine Barrens allowed the early settlers to ship wood to many ports throughout the growing country. Their success inspired George Elkinton to move to town and build a wharf in 1803. Soon after the Compton brothers arrived, they began buying land on the banks of the Maurice River with plans to expand the community. They re-christened their new home Mauricetown in honor of the waterway.

It was an appropriate decision since the river was the lifeblood of the community. Many of the homes were built by ships’ captains who had traveled the world before retiring to the town. And shipbuilding remained the town’s primary industry well into the mid-19th century. According to an article that appeared in the May 24, 1867, issue of the West-Jersey Pioneer: “Mauricetown has acquired an enviable reputation for producing some of the best vessels afloat upon our waters.”

Today, the population of Mauricetown remains relatively small but that’s fine with its residents. While visitors to the Jersey Shore will stop by on their way there, the residents stay focused on enjoying the tranquility that has been a part of daily life for many years. But they are always welcoming to anyone who wants to learn more about their community’s unique history.

If you don’t have the opportunity to visit for the Candlelight Tour, you can learn more about Mauricetown by contacting the historical society at 856-785-0457 or visiting its website at MauricetownHistoricalSociety.org.