Port Republic Historic District
The Port Republic Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
Port Republic is a very well-preserved residential community which reflects the ambiance of a nineteenth century community which had its origin in the late eighteenth century.
The Port Republic Historic District is significant for its association with events important to the state and national history, and for it association with the development of Atlantic County. The industrial and residential sites and the roads that served this colonial community were undoubtedly important to the development of Atlantic County.
Port Republic, located on Nacote Creek, near the mouth of the Mullica River, was established in the mid-18th century as a mill site. Elijah Clark built Clark's Mills Meetinghouse southwest of town in 1762. Evi Smith, Hugh McCollum, and Richard Westcoat obtained a charter to built a dam across Nacote Creek on March 11, 1774 (McMahon 1973:205). Soon thereafter, they constructed mills for sawing lumber and grinding corn.
This region was explored as early as 1637 by John Mullica, who gave the river its name. In southern New Jersey after 1676, the Quakers settled under the direction of William Penn. The first community in this area (Atlantic County) was at Chestnut Neck, on the west bank of the Mullica River near the present town of Port Republic. A Friends Meetinghouse was built near Leeds Point, to service the spiritual needs of that village.
By 1776, Chestnut Neck was the largest village on the New Jersey coast and an active port with ships trading in New York; during the Revolution, it served as a shipping point of supplies, especially food from the south and cannonballs from local furnaces. This harbor was also used by eighteenth century privateers, as a secluded harbor to keep captured British ships.
With the onset of hostilities against the British, a group of townsmen led by Captain Johnson built a "crude sand fort" on the south bank of the Mullica River, below Chestnut Neck. On April 12, 1778, Gen. Burgoyne sent a British raid of 800 men to attack Chestnut Neck. The villagers were vastly outnumbered, the village was burned, along with all ships in the harbor, and many residents were killed. After the British attack, only three families decided to remain at Chestnut Neck. The rest fled to Gravelly Landing, on Nacote Creek, and built their houses around Clark's Mill.
At Clark's Mill (the present Port Republic) on the Nacote Creek, Fox Burrows Fort was constructed by Colonel Richard Westcoat and Elijah Clark, following the British attack on Chestnut Neck. The ruins of the fort site were evident as late as 1889.
The Nacote Creek during the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century was an industrial center and busy port. Located close to the Mullica River, connecting with the Great Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, it was a safe harbor and haven for privateers and coastal merchant sailors. Privateer prizes (captured ships) were frequently hidden here. The wreck of an English sloop of war, the Zebra, was reported as visible within the Nacote Creek at Port Republic as late as 1889. The leading shipyard was the Van Sant yards, operated by Nicholas Van Sant, at which many coastal ships were built.
The village at Clark's Mill was first known as Wrangleborough. In 1842, Samuel Van Sant petitioned the townspeople to change the name to Unionville. This name was changed to Port Republic when a post office was located in the town, because there was already another town named Unionville.
The residents of Port Republic had a diversified economy which included fishing and oyster harvesting, salt hay gathering, and milling; many workers made cedar shingles, worked in the shipyard, and farmed. The produce of the farms included potatoes, wheat, corn, beef, pork and wool.
Micajah Smith, a privateer and local mill owner, built a small Methodist meetinghouse about 1800 and set aside the land adjacent for a cemetery. The meetinghouse was replaced in 1871 by the Port Republic Methodist Church.
During the mid-nineteenth century, the changes with the transportation network left Port Republic behind. The slow silting of the Nacote Creek, combined with the development of steam-powered craft and the rapid deforestation of southern New Jersey, led to the abandonment of Port Republic as both a port and shipbuilding center. As early as the mid-18th century, a stagecoach route passed through this area on route to Leeds Point, but after the 1859s the railroads began to operate the stagecoach routes. The Camden and Atlantic Railroad, operational in 1854, passed far from the town; thus, Port Republic did not experience the late 19th century growth that the railroad towns did, and consequently it retained its original character.
By 1872, Port Republic still contained most of the original structures that had been built there. There were also two schools, several stores, and a grist mill. An atlas of 1879 stated that Port Republic once shipped cedar and pine to New York, New England and the West Indies, but there was little activity left and "many of the sawmills had fallen into disuse."
Port Republic successfully petitioned in 1905 to become an incorporated city. Although some cottages and bungalows were built here during the early part of the twentieth century, most of the nineteenth century character has been retained, and the physical appearance of Port Republic has probably changed very little since the 1940's. The town currently includes a small saw mill (in operation since the 1930's) and a machine shop. The general attitude is to retain the 19th century character of the town by dissuading modern development in the area.
The Port Republic Historic District encompasses all of the 19th century developed area of Port Republic as shown on the 1872 Beers Atlas of Atlantic County. Because Port Republic retains so much of its earlier character, and so many of the buildings retain their architectural integrity, the district is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In some of the early buildings, like the Franklin Inn (5 Mill Street) and Haig Place (Old New York Road), for example, the Georgian or Federal influence is very evident. A number of buildings also retain their Victorian facades complete with gingerbread cornice and porch trim. Because the town has not developed and the commercial establishments were few, Port Republic has retained a very strong 19th century ambiance.
Port Republic has potential undisturbed archaeological resources associated with historic house, mill and dam sites and is therefore significant as being likely to yield information about the milling and ship building activities of Port Republic as a 19th century industrial community.
Hall, John F. 1900 The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County. Daily Union Printing Company, Atlantic City.
Heston, Alfred M. 1924 South Jersey: A History. Volume II. Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York.
Sanders, Harriet. Atlantic County Historical Society Yearbook, Vol.2, No.4, National Register Nomination for Amanda Blake Store.
HABS recording for Franklin Inn.
† Maryanna Ralph, Preservation Planner, MAAR Associates, Inc., Port Republic Historic District, Atlantic County, NJ, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.