Soupy Island- Revisited

A Day at Soupy Island-  Where Memories are Made

I don’t think any other place in South Jersey has granted more smiles, laughter and fond memories to city-dwelling urchins over the last century than Soupy Island. I wrote about Soupy Island about a year ago. Many people have emailed me regarding their recollections. Words cannot express how much joy it gives me to receive these precious memories. I’ve recently become a mother and, as any parent can tell you, there is no greater joy than to hear a child’s laughter.

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Sign of Soupy Island.

On May 4, I was invited to Soupy Island for a second visit by Dawn Christman. Dawn sits on the committee as chair of the Hessian Woods Girl Scouts. Since 1999, her organization, as well as the Boy Scouts, has held an Annual Camporee at Soupy Island. The Girls from various troops in West Deptford Township set up their tents and enjoy a weekend of fun at this children’s resort. There is a general theme each year, and in 2013, it was Halloween. Children dressed up in their finest costumes and strutted around the expansive grounds.

The concept for Soupy Island originated in 1877 when a Philadelphia entrepreneur, John F. Smith, began transporting Philadelphia children to Smith Island, located in the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden, for a day of fun, a hot bowl of soup, and crackers. Until a steam ferry company cut a canal through Windmill Island in 1838, Smith Island was not a separate sand spit. Windmill Island received its name because John Harding built a windmill there in 1746, but he died from his continued exposure of standing in the river during construction. The Smith Family was living on the island, mostly during the summer season and decided to open up their land to the public. Many physicians at this time thought fresh air would be healthy for children as cities grew increasingly overcrowded and polluted, creating unhealthy conditions during the summer heat. Underprivileged children visited Smith Island to enjoy a day of leisure.

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Bird’s Eye View of Windmill Island bottom of picture. You can see the canal in the middle of the island.

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Another view provided by the Free Library of Philadelphia archives.

In the 1880s, a man by the name of Jacob Ridgway built an amusement park on Smith Island and ran steamers to it from Philadelphia and Camden. Known as Ridgway Park, It became a place for Philadelphians and New Jerseyans to spend a day of fun. To paint a picture of island park, groves of willow trees flourished on the island. And visitors could enjoy beer gardens, hot air balloon rides, tight-rope entertainers, a hotel, pool, restaurants and parks.

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Smith Hotel on Smith Island.

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Smith Island Ferry Dock.

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Smith Island Swmming Pool.

In 1886, Smith Island could no longer accommodate the throngs of children who flocked to the small island during the warm months. The Smith family moved the park to Red Bank, New Jersey, near present-day National Park, where it still remains today. The new sanitarium became known as Soupy Island.

By the 1890s, the continued presence of Smith and Windmill islands impeded the City of Philadelphia from expanding its wharves and port facilities. In 1891, the Army Corps of Engineers contracted with American Dredging to remove the islands from the river. By 1897, Windmill Island was completely gone and became a distant memory; the dredge spoils served to fill in the back channel of League Island and also added 21 acres to Pettys Island.

Under-privileged kids continued to travel via steamboat from Philadelphia to Soupy Island, but most now arrive by bus.

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Soupy Island Slide built in 1903.

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1930s Joseph Ferrari carousel.

Soupy Island has played some vital roles during its existence. There was a sanitarium (hospital) built for children affected with Tuberculosis. It once stood near one of the swimming pools. Soupy Island also served as a refuge for 8,000 local families during the Great Depression, providing them with shelter and sustenance. During the Second World War, armed guards within the grounds of Soupy Island performed surveillance of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard across the Delaware River and the park reportedly hosted emplacements containing defensive weapons for possible air attacks.

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The scouts camping out for the night.

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More encampment near the slide.

Soupy Island has served generations of children and it will continue to be a pillar of our South Jersey community for the foreseeable future. Children still flock to “the island” to enjoy an exciting day riding the carousel, climbing on the various playground equipment, swimming, playing volleyball and enjoying the original sliding board, zooming down it while sitting on wax paper.

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Girl Scout in her Halloween costume, posing with Santa.

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Camp Volunteers.

Technology may have changed, but the lasting memories have not, including the joy I witnessed among these young Girl Scouts. Their tents sprawled across the lawn and laughter filling the air, as it has for over a century on these special Soupy Island grounds.

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See! Even the adults enjoy their day at Soupy Island.

P.S. As a former Daisy to Cadet….”On My Honor, I Will Try…” Girl Scouts and former Girl Scouts, should be able to finish this sacred oath.

Until Our Next Adventure, My Friends! -The Yummygal

22 thoughts on “Soupy Island- Revisited

  1. I didn’t realize it was still open. I used to live around the corner from there. I went there as a child and so did my son. I remember especially the Mobil Oil picnics held there each year. Great memories, thank you.

    • Terri, I think it is wonderful the “younger generation” is still enjoying it and making long-lasting memories. Over 130 years and still going strong. Our Great Great Parents enjoyed it and now the current youth. Truly amazing.

      Stop by this summer to check it out!

  2. I hail from West Deptford, live now in North Carolina! Thank you for bringing back so many wonderful memories for me!

    • No problemo. I really love our local “Joy factory.” As it continues on with positive memories for kids and us grown adults. Thanks for your comment!

  3. My parents had friends that lived in National Park and every summer I would visit. We always had a great time at Soupy Island. Brings back so many happy memories. My daughter and her husband now live in National Park and they will no doubt create many memories for my three little grandsons.

  4. Love the Soupy Island. Found it again 5 years ago! Remembered the great times spent there with the family as a child. When I revisited and walked thru the gate it was so nostalgic tears of joy filled my eyes. Nothing had changed. They have done an incredible job keeping Soupy Islands inmtegrity! The owner saw how happy I was she took me on a tour thru all ofm the buildings, including the kitchen where they serve the soup!

  5. I lived in South Jersey all my life. I moved to Kentucky 19 years ago. I found your page yesterday by accident. I spent my entire Sunday looking at your pictures. I LOVED them! Nothing like bringing home here to Kentucky. Thank you–Terri

  6. I grew up in Verga, in the 50s, just down the road from Soupy Island. Wespent quite a few days there during the summer. We would walk down Hessian to Red Bank Ave to Soupy Island. I can clearly remember the slides, swimming pools, and of course the soup served in pressed hard paper bowl. Great memories for sure.

  7. Never knew or heard a thing about this place! Thank You, as always, for sharing and teaching! I grew up in Pennsville & Avalon – my whole life – til i moved to Alloway in 1995. Love learning from you Blog and FB page. Jill

  8. We were there this weekend for Camporee. Its exciting (to me) to be able to enjoy a place close to home that has so much history. I am happy to be able to bring my daughter there for the weekend and to ride the old wooden carousel.

  9. i used to go there in the summer for yrs. I lived in verga. I used to belong to troop 96, i then oined the verga fire dept and we took our trk there to give rides. I even remeber the xmas in july celebrations it was great and glad to see it still open for the rest of the generations to enjoy

  10. I lives in South Phila. and never heard of Soup Island, Until my husband Joe Wyatt, who lived in Fishtown area always talked about as a kid he and his friend went to Soup Island, which left from Penn Treaty Park off of Delaware Avenue. He loved it as a kid.
    Thanks Pat Wyatt

  11. Today aug 20,2014 visted soupy island today but found it was closed for the season. Have to wait for next year. When dose it open for the season ?

  12. In the 70’s I taught at a Head Start program in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. One summer we took all of the children on a boat to Soupy Island for the day. What a wonderful time we all had! I think it was the best school trip I took with the kids. I’ve tried to find where it is several times since the internet came into being, but never had any success. Thank you for filling in the gaps p s of my memory about this magical place.

  13. My Dad told me that when he was a kid his sister and brothers went there for soup in the late 1920’s and when my kids were in National Park School they would go there for the day,we had so much fun that was in the the 80and90s

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