As the canal era came to an end, James Rickenbach's drydock was closed down probably around 1895. The closure was prompted in the short term by a coal miners strike which severly crippled canal commerce, and by a large flood in May 1894. Wilson Rickenbach left Tuckerton likely in 1895, and moved to Camden N. J. to look for work in the shipyards along the Delaware River. Wilson dismantled his house at Rickenbach Station and ferried it via canal boats down the Schuylkill Canal to the Delaware River. He reassembled his home at Cramer Hill in Camden. Explore this district where he, his family and brothers lived and worked by clicking here.
Then, according to his daughter Anne (from a letter dated 1972), "Due to the fact that the Rickenbach boatyard had built many boats for concerns in Philadelphia, his reputation preceeded him so had no trouble locating himself. Before long he started his own yard and expanding into a corporation with my uncle Morris Noecker (Wilson's brother-in-law) and (later) a Mr. Ake (possibly a cousin). Yard became known as Noecker, Rickenbach and Ake.". Wilson's brothers Howard, and James were also part of this company. The company, known originally as the Noecker, Rickenbach & Ake Shipbuilding Company, was incorporated on March 17, 1905. The incorporation statement gave the company’s address as 419 Market St. in downtown Camden. However, the shipyard was built in the Cramer Hill section of Camden, near 28th St.and Harrison Ave, along the Delaware River across from Petty Island, just down the street from Wilson’s home. Ironically, this is directly across the river from Port Richmond in Philadelphia, where in 1894 Wilson's older brother Edwin was struck by lightning and killed while his canal boat was being tugged in a convoy.
The yard specialized in building barges and other wooden ships. In 1908, Wilson sold out of his share in the company, and purchased land in the Rickenbach Station area adjacent to his brother Adam’s farm. Accordingly, the company shorted its name to the Noecker and Ake Shipbuilding Company on 29 December 1908. It is not clear whether Wilson remained in Camden with the company after selling his interest, or returned to live on what was the Herbein farm that he and his brother Adam had purchased. William Howard also left the company around that time. Wilson’s brother Curtin lived in downtown Camden and started his own tugboat company across the river in Philadelphia.
The shipyard built and repaired small and medium-sized wooden boats and ships. In 1918 the Noecker and Ake Shipbuilding Company sold a wooden patrol craft called the S. M. Goucher to the U.S. Navy, which probably represented one of many military contracts for the firm. They built a strong reputation during World War I (1914-1918), and by World War II (1939-1945) the yard employed about 250 men and had built boats for entities as far as Great Britain. You can view a painting of the shipyard in its heydey by clicking here. By 1928, the yard stopped building ships and instead limited activities to ship repair. Perhaps around this time, Mr. Ake divested from the company, which became the Noecker Shipbuilding Company.
By the 1950s, the company was in financial dire straits, because steel was by this time favored over wood in the construction of commercial ships of all sizes. At this time, the company was owned by Samuel M. Noecker (son of Morris Noecker), who served as its president and was a major stockholder (only four others held stock in the company). Samuel Noecker died on 1 October 1959, and soon thereafter the company stopped all business because of lack of demand for wooden ships. A court appointed Robert E. Gladden as the receiver for the financially strapped corporation.
In 1961, Samuel Noecker's widow Marjorie E. Noecker filed claim for a large sum of money that her husband had put into the company between 1944 and 1953 to keep it afloat. She was granted compensation by the superior court of New Jersey, though only for funds back to 1953 due to a six year statute of limitations. Included was the testimony of Mr. Fred Brock, who was employed as a bookkeeper for the company around that time. Anthony J. Schunk was a director and vice-president of the company. This was all part of a suit filed in March of 1961 by Annie V. Rickenbach (Wilson's widow), as executrix of the estate of Wilson B. Rickenbach, to claim a portion of the remaining assets of the company.
Source: 66 N.J. Super. 580, 169 A.2d 730 (Annie V. Rickenbach v. Noecker Shipbuilding Company), George Wagner (personal comm.), Camden Courier-Post (1942), Phil Cohen (personal comm.).
Below is a view of what might be the shipyard, with the steamboat "Prudence" in the foreground. Behind the brick factory is a watertower on which may be written "Camden". If so, this would strongly suggest that it is actually the shipyard.
The photograph below, probably from the 1880s or early 1890s, shows what may be the construction of a boat on land near the drydock (when the drydock was empty of water in the winter or spring). The boats seem large for canal boats, so it is equally possible that this picture may show construction at an early incarnation of the Noecker, Rickenbach, and Auk Shipbuilding Company at Cramer Hill, Camden, NJ. If so the photograph would probably have been taken between 1897 and 1908.