Dennis Creek in years past the creek was spanned by a covered bridge. The Dennis Creek Landing was the Port of the area with a number of wharves, stores and most importantly three very productive and prosperous ship yards from which many ships were built, launched and towed out the Dennis Creek to the Delaware Bay and on to either Philadelphia or Delaware for outfitting of their sails. The Dennis Township School House Museum contains a number of displays of some of these early vessels as well as a list of the ships built and the names of the hearty souls who were the Sea Captains from the surrounding villages of the Township.
Architecturally, research revealed that throughout the 18th century and into the first decades of the 19th century, the site present-day South Dennisville (the fast ground south of where the causeway would cross the creek) was largely the private domain of the Ludlam family.
With the construction of new causeways and bridges over the north and south branches of Dennis Creek after 1789, and the re-routing of the stage route through South Dennisville about 1800, the complexion of the local economy (and with it, the cultural landscape) changed dramatically. James J. Ludlam erected a blacksmith shop and tavern to take advantage of the new highway traffic, and new houses began sprouting up around the intersection of the main Bayshore Road and County Road and along both sides of the Bayshore Road, southward towards Goshen.
By the 1870 the main proponents of Dennisville’s maritime and commercial interests had made South Dennisville their principal place of residence. The owners of the three shipyards, J.H. Ludlam, R.S. Leaming and L. Edwards, all occupied houses on the Bayshore Road to the south of the creek. Maps of the time show buildings lining both Route 47/Delsea Drive/Bayshore Road and County Road, many of them labeled with the names of ships’ captains and families involved in the shipbuilding industry.
Dennis Creek Landing
The wooden bridge over Dennis Creek, at right, was built in 1885 and replaced in 1908. (Source: George W. Brewer Jr.)
The pony truss bridge over Dennis Creek Landing about 1925. This bridge was built in 1908 and replaced in 1928. (Source: George W. Brewer Jr.)
Dennis Creek Landing Ship Building
In the second half of the 19th century; the Dennis Creek Landing shipyards are estimated to have built upwards of 50 vessels.
Ultimately, shipbuilding at the landing fell victim to competition from larger urban shipyards, the transition from sail to steam, and the use of iron and steel in place of wood. The gristmill closed down sometime in the early 1890s, around the same time that the Sea Coast Railroad Company constructed a rail line through North and South Dennisville, bypassing Dennis Creek Landing. Before long, the causeway was largely reduced to its original primary function, that of providing a crossing over the creek and tidal marsh. By the late 1920s, when the bridge over the creek was replaced for the fourth time, the landing and its related industrial and commercial facilities had all but vanished from the landscape, leaving behind a line of abandoned wharves for sporadic usage by local fishermen and recreational boaters.