Camden County Cultural Alliance Marker Project
Collins & Pancoast Hall
On September 6, 1886, John S. Collins acquired land in Merchantville from Senator Alexander G. Cattell. Collins was a founder and developer of Miami Beach and Collins Avenue, there, bears his name. In 1887, carpenters built a lumber yard complex on this site. Fire, in 1892, destroyed the existing main structure. This large hall building with a Queen Anne façade and overtones of Germanic Victorian brickwork was erected in 1893. It was in a prominent location, where Centre Street was crossed by the tracks of the railroad. The first floor housed the building supply company owned by John S. Collins, coal and lumber merchant, Quaker developer and visionary, and his son-in-law, Thomas J. Pancoast. There was a railroad siding, south of the Hall, with auxiliary shops in the rear. On the Chestnut Avenue side, the Post Office (1900 to 1909) served residents. The developers designed the building to provide spaces for the growing cultural and social undertakings, including the handsome first public auditorium on the second floor and a third floor Masonic meeting room that served that organization from 1893 until 1965. St. Agnes Guild of Grace Episcopal Church gave the premier performance. In 1912, Collins and Pancoast became J. S. Collins & Sons and offered a complete line of lumber, hardware, paints and garden supplies. The Merchantville-Pennsauken Water Commission had its beginnings when a group of citizens met here to discuss the water famine of 1909. The Playcrafters found a home in the building in 1937 and remained there until 1976. Dancing classes for young girls and boys were conducted in the auditorium. The public has enjoyed eateries such as Craig’s Ice Cream Parlor (late 1970s), Tavern on the Square (opened March 1998), The Collins House (2004) and The Blue Monkey (2008). Thus, this building was an architecturally imposing commercial structure that caps the most active generation of Merchantville's growth, representing the maturing of the community as it evolved towards one that sustained the arts and was unified by various social and fraternal organizations. On February 16, 1984, it was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places.
The connection between the USS New Jersey (BB-62) and the State of New Jersey goes far beyond just sharing a name. The longest battleship in the world, and the most decorated in our nation’s history, was launched a few miles from this spot at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The builders included men and women from New Jersey, particularly those from Camden County. One such “Rosie the Riveter” was Lillian Carson, a native of nearby West Collingswood, N.J. Lillian went to work at the Navy Yard assuming she would be an office worker. Instead she was sent to a vocational school to be trained as a welder. She worked on helping to build many systems on the Battleship including “pipes for the heating systems on the ship, and later helped weld the deck and the areas underneath the big gun turrets.”
Lillian Carson’s efforts, and her fellow New Jerseyans, paid off when New Jersey slid down the ways into the Delaware River on December 7, 1942, a year to the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Christening the ship New Jersey was Mrs. Carolyn Edison, wife of New Jersey Governor Charles Edison, son of famous New Jersey native Thomas Edison. First Commissioned on May 23, 1943, the crew of New Jersey would go on to write a long an illustrious history over the course of four decades. During four separate commission periods New Jersey accumulated nineteen battle stars in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, and the Persian Gulf War. She was last decommissioned in 1991.
Joshua Saddler is reputed to have been a Maryland fugitive slave whom Josiah Evans, a Quaker, helped to gain his freedom. Accounts of Joshua’s escape, discovery, and emancipation, while interspersed with historical accuracy, have not yet been confirmed. However, records reveal that by 1834, Saddler and his family were known as “free persons of color” in the community. On May 3, 1842, with “Two Hundred Dollars lawful money well and truly paid,” Joshua Saddler purchased five acres of land in Haddon Township (then Newton Township, Gloucester County, NJ), from the estate of John Rowand. These five acres became known as “Saddlertown.” Joshua and Hannah, his wife, lived the balance of their lives in the settlement, as did a good number of their eleven children. Hannah died in Saddlertown on September 12, 1877. Joshua followed on January 15, 1880. In his Last Will and Testament, proved February 5, 1880, Joshua expressed the desire that Saddlertown land remain in family hands. He also admonished the family that "... in no instance to commit waste, by cutting the timber growing thereon..."
On August 22, 1892 Haddonfield Quakers Charles and Beulah M. Rhoads purchased a portion of Saddler's original 5-acre property from Joshua Saddler's grandson Jefferson Fisher, Jr., and built a combination church/school for the residents of Saddlertown, completed in 1893. Eight founding members of the church were Robert Hankinson, Elizabeth Hankinson, Joseph Hankinson, Jefferson Fisher, Jr., Mary Ann Fisher, Moses Cornelius, Margaret Fussell, and Isaac Saddler. The church is now called Rhoads Temple United Methodist Church. Children of Saddlertown attended school on the first floor of the church building from 1893 until 1912. In 1912 a new one-room schoolhouse was erected by the Haddon Township BOE on land purchased from the estate of Aaron Stoy. The schoolhouse no longer exists.
The Saddlertown community was enlarged in 1899 when Dr. Lawrence L. Glover purchased land from Sarah Elizabeth Hunt adding an additional 18 building lots to the Saddlertown tract.
Saddlertown history also includes the Saddlertown Summer Rest Cottage, founded in 1893-94 by Isabel M. Shipley of Camden, NJ. The home was advertised as "a summer home for aged and infirmed colored people." For at least 20 years Shipley cared for a reported 200 people. Shipley described the rest home as being in Saddlertown "across from a chapel built by a friend of the race [Charles Rhoads]."
The land on which this Inn stands was purchased from Indian Chiefs Mohocksey, Tetsmcho, and Apperinges on September 10, 1677. At that time the area was a thickly forested wilderness, through which passed a portion of an ancient Indian trail, which would later become known as the “Long-a-Coming”. This trail ran from the Delaware River to the New Jersey shore and was one of the few east-west paths crossing the state. As settlers arrived in the area and started harvesting timber and farming, the trail became a road known as the “White Horse Pike”. It was on this road that David Albertson built the Spring Garden Inn in 1826 to serve weary travelers passing through the area. The Inn, along with the older Blue Anchor Inn owned by David’s father Josiah Albertson, became important stopovers for stagecoaches, where horses were changed and passengers could rest and refresh themselves. This was particularly important for stagecoaches that ran from Philadelphia to Cape May, and both Inns were located approximately halfway along this arduous journey. In 1854 the Camden and Atlantic Railroad to Absecon was built just behind the Inn. Woodburning trains stopped at a platform beside the tracks and passengers could walk the short distance to the Inn, stretch their legs and have a drink at the bar. The trains to Atlantic City no longer stop. The barns and stables that were located in the fields behind you across the road have long since disappeared, the new White Horse Pike was rerouted to the South and the Inn is now a private home.
Peter Mott House
Peter Mott was a free Black man, a 19th century preacher and Sunday School superintendent in Snow Hill, New Jersey, the former name for Lawnside. He was a farmer, a landowner, a laborer and a plasterer. The community’s population grew with fugitives from slavery, others freed by nearby Quakers and by the efforts of abolitionists.
The Rev. Mott may have struck his first blow against slavery by escaping from bondage to lead a purpose-filled life as an agent of the Underground Railroad. The UGRR, a secret network offering liberty to freedom-seekers, was run by passionate advocates who put their convictions into action, despite harsh penalties, by hiding, aiding and guiding fugitives. Philadelphia including abolitionists Jacob C. White and Ralph Smith promoted a renamed community called “Free Haven” as a place to run to.
“You may wish to know why so much secrecy about a place known as Free Haven. Well, it was a place of freedom to an oppressed people, so much so that they with thankful hearts called it Haven, and the secrecy was to conceal their habitation from the oppressors.”
--Charles Smiley, “The True Story of Lawnside,” Camden, New Jersey, 1921
Elizabeth Ann Thomas married Peter Mott in 1833 in Gloucester County, New Jersey. She may have been born in slavery as well. They built their home in Snow Hill around 1845. In the 1850 and 1860 U.S. censuses the Motts reported they were born in New Jersey; only in 1870 -- after the Civil War -- did they say their birthplaces were Delaware and Virginia. Each was designated “B” for Black.
According to oral tradition, the Rev. Mott carried freedom seekers in his horse-drawn wagon to members of the Society of Friends in Haddonfield and Moorestown. Residents passed down stories of local women cooking more food to help Mrs. Mott feed her furtive guests. Bounty hunters were confounded by the community’s dense woods and freemen who were ready to fire off shotguns. In one case, a newspaper reported the sound thrashing residents gave two suspected spies sent by slave catchers.
Peter Mott died in November 1881. His death certificate listed the cause of death as heart disease. Elizabeth Ann died two years earlier. The Rev. Mott was buried at Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church cemetery on Mouldy Road by Edward Miller, originator of the area’s Miller Funeral Home. His grave is no longer marked.
The Mott House, Lawnside’s oldest house, was placed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 1994. Giles Wright, director of Afro-American History for the New Jersey Historical Commission, who with Clarence H. Still, conducted tours of the Mott House noted its triple significance as an Underground Railroad site owned by an African-American abolitionist in an African-American community.
Today descendants of those who ran away, bought their freedom or were manumitted, still live in the town. Among these families are the Arthurs, the Coopers, the Bells, and the kin of William Still, “the Father of the Underground Railroad.”
The location and preservation of this one room school provides a historical and visible link to the first European settlers of this area who were Quakers escaping persecution and arrived in 1681. They called this newly settled area Newton Colony which was located just north of Newton Creek in what is now Haddon Township, Collingswood, Oaklyn, and Fairview in Camden County. This was the first permanent English settlement in what was once known as Old Gloucester County.
In 1821 the schoolhouse was built on this site which was adjacent to Quaker burial grounds. The school was called the “Newton Union School”. Ten years later the Newton Union Society realized they had never received the deed for the school property and payment had not been made. Samuel Champion, a local Quaker landowner, came forward to pay the $75 for the land and it was deeded in his name. The school then became known as the “Champion School”. It was sold back to the Newton Union School Society trustees but the name stayed associated with the school.
In 1838, the Champione School was named the first free school in Old Gloucester County. Students came from farms now within the bounds of Collingswood, Oaklyn, Woodlynne, Haddon Township, Camden, and Haddon Heights. They arrived by walking, horses, and boat. They studied the 3Rs, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. There was only one teacher for all students of various ages. It became part of the Haddon Township school system in 1865.
The Champion school closed in 1906 but still continued to serve the community. Some of the uses after a schoolhouse were for meetings were held, tax collection, church services, collection site for WWII war efforts, USO site, and lastly a voting site.
In 1986, after vandalism incident destroyed part of the back of the building. A group, “Newton Union School Society” formed to salvage and restore the property. The Champion School (aka Newton Union School House) was approved for the National Register for Historic Places on September 27, 1988.
Across the street remains another landmark of the Newton Colony, the Friends Burial Ground. Many of the original settlers are buried there. There are also 22 Revolutionary War Veterans buried in the site and 2 War of 1812 Veterans.
Gloucester City Waterworks
The year was 1881, and it was 13 years after Gloucester Town had officially become an incorporated city. Members of the city council had passed by a majority in favor of having a water works constructed. The matter was met with resistance and was set aside for a time.
Then in August of 1882 the matter was once again brought up and voted into ordinance. This time it was passed although with insufficient funding. Council secured the services of John H. Yocum, a civil engineer from Camden, and in 1883 the work commenced in earnest. The money would be found, for the need for clean potable water was clearly a necessity.
Two sites were suggested with the first site being the head waters of the Newton Creek near Mt. Ephraim. This was thought to be an excellent site for spring water. The second site of Hudson and Gaunt Streets and Johnson Boulevard and Newton Creek being the chosen site. When digging began it was found that a subterranean stream of pure water was struck. The contractors were chosen and bids accepted.
John Eschback - General Contractor out of Philadelphia
Piping, complete $34,534.81
Thomas Leeming- Local man Brick layer
Engine house $5,565.97
Tank Foundation $2,275.00
John Baizley- Blacksmith and Machine Shop owner Philadelphia
Water Tank $5,870.00
Robert Wetherill & Co.- Chester, PA well known for boilers and Corliss Engines
Corliss Engine $14,500.00
Henry P.M. Berkenbine - Hydraulics Engineer, Fire Protection Apparatus
Fire Protection $2,500.00
Groundbreaking for the engine house took place on February 26, 1883 with dignitaries on hand. The reservoir construction began on March 2, 1883. On May 5, 1883 the crew on the reservoir hit quicksand and construction was halted until a solution could be found. A new engineer, James Chapman, was brought in on the reservoir and it was completed in October of 1883 as was the water tank. Pipe had been laid throughout the city and with all projects finished it was time to test and prove the pipes, tanks, and hydrants. In the first two months testing proved to be difficult as it was winter and burst pipes, broken rivets, and ice formed on the outside of the water tank all caused issues that needed to be solved.
In the spring of 1884 it appears that the water works was completely operational with little to no fanfare. The water works just started working delivering safe healthy water to the citizens of Gloucester after some false starts and stops along the way. The Gloucester City Water Works was now supplying water where none had been before and no one seemed to take note of the major milestone in their city.