Monday, May 21, 2012

The Return of the Shad – A Lambertville, NJ Tradition

The Return of the Shad – A Lambertville, NJ Tradition
Written By NJ Historian

Each year like clockwork, the shad return to the Delaware River to spawn. It is an ancient cycle first observed by the Lenni Lenape and has continued ever since. Today, in Lambertville, New Jersey the townspeople commemorate the arrival of the shad the last weekend in April with an annual Shad Festival. However, despite settlement in Lambertville dating to the 1750s, the festival’s first year was not until 1981.

At the Shad Festival
Lambertville is a town built around the Delaware River and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. During the eighteenth century, the city was named after various operators of ferries across the river to Pennsylvania, ultimately becoming known as Coryell's Ferry, after Emanuel Coryell who owned the ferry. The city became known as Lambertville in 1814 when the post office was established, in honor of John Lambert, a local resident, who had served as United States Senator and Acting Governor of New Jersey. Lambertville was officially incorporated as a town in 1849 and reincorporated as a city in 1872.

In the nineteenth century, Lambertville, due to its proximity to the canal and the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company (now defunct), became a factory town with a diverse range of industries; lumbering, sawmills, gristmills, paper, iron and rubber manufacturing. After the introduction of the automobile, the canal, and eventually the railroad became obsolete and the factories shut down, one by one.

The effect of the factories along the river and canal hurt the annual shad migration. In the 1940s and 1950s the pollution on the river was so bad around the Philadelphia area that there was zero dissolved oxygen in the water and caused a “pollution block” to the shad migration. Fewer and fewer shad were able to make it up the river to spawn. According to local shad fishermen, 1963 was the bleakest year when none made it past the block.
Lambertville City Hall - built circa 1870.
The town remained stagnant between the 1940s and 1960s. In the 1970s, young people who had grown up in Lambertville but left to make their fortunes elsewhere returned with a mission – to reenergize their home town. The city began to attract artisans and entrepreneurs. During this same time period, the river was cleaned up to a point that the shad returned and the festival was started in 1981 to celebrate the successful renewal of their migration.

Today much of Lambertville’s eighteenth and nineteenth century charm remains in its architecture, much of which has been restored or adaptively used. The town has become a tourist destination, with many shops, galleries, antique shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and one lone commercial shad fishery, standing the test of time and in business since 1888.

In front of the James Marshall House - Marshall lived in Lambertville between 1817 and 1834 and
discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in California in 1848.
For More Information:
Lambertville Historical Society


The Lions Club in the 1960 once had a Shad Festival on the Hudson under the George Washington Bridge(Jersey side). Great food ! ! ! Lambertsville native Brian Kendig is a friend and musician look for him to return and perform. There is also a wonderful luthier (maker of guitars) near Lambertsville.

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