Before we go ahead… I would like to say a few words…
Hi and Happy New Year!!! I have a lot of goodies planned for you this year. Now that it is extremely cold outside, I have time to sit down and get some postings up! I’ve got hundreds of them coming. I do not claim to be Mrs. Grammar when it comes to this blog. I write for fun, so I do apologize if things aren’t all that “proper.” This blog is about having a great time and showing folks what is out there in South Jersey. I try not to get too technical in matters and attempt to explain things as easily as I can.
Ahh… Yes, this is where it all began South Jersey!!! Really!!! Gloucester City holds a ton of history secrets, my friends! This small 11,000 resident “city” may have been known in the Guinness Book of World Records for most bars per capita at 38 total establishments…. As the birthplace of Rock N Roll (Bill Haley & the Comets) And…. as “Title Town” through the 1960s-1970s because of Gloucester Catholic and Gloucester High School winning many championships in football, basketball and baseball… but are you aware that Gloucester City was reportedly the first settlement in South Jersey?
Yerp…. Well… According to this…
It is speculated that Gloucester City may have been the renowned settlement of Fort Nassau (some say otherwise and believe that it was in Brooklawn or Westville). The real creepy part about it is that no one really knows its EXACT site. Maps are estimated and show various locations in the general vicinity of Fort Nassau. However, we do know that it was where Timber Creek met with the Delaware River.
Here’s the story… History records state that Captain Mey declared upon the Hermaomissing (aka Delaware River) at the mouth of the Sassackon (Timber Creek) as the place of his settlement and built a fort made of logs. Upon returning eight years later, the place was found deserted by the colony and that the Indians laid claim to it. There were no signs of any of the settlers. Poof! They were gone! I have to say that’s pretty freaky!!!
The area was known as Arwaumus by the Native Indians. However, it was named Gloucester Point by London and Yorkshire Commissioners in 1677.
I really don’t like writing books on this blog, as I could literally go on and on about Gloucester like an Encyclopedia Britannica… However, I will discuss key elements of Gloucester’s past and current historical places to check out… And I will do my best as to not bore the heck out of you because this is not my intention. I try to make history a bit fun and enjoyable!
Then came Betsy Ross…
Perhaps, the most famous woman from the late 1700s is Betsy Ross. Her maiden name was Griscom and if you read up on South Jersey history, the Griscoms were everywhere. Betsy was a rebel in those times. A lot of folks don’t know this fun fact about her and I find it interesting as part of her history.
In 1773, she rode a ferry over to Huggs Tavern in Gloucester where she wedded John Ross. Now, John Ross was an Anglican a huge no-no with Betsy’s faith. She was a Quaker and brought up in that discipline her entire life. Basically, if a Quaker marries someone of another faith they are “read out” (stripped of their membership), exiled from the meetinghouse and friends/family basically shun you… You’re on your own little lady.
Betsy had met John during an apprenticeship at an upholstery shop and they fell in love.
It’s a true love story as she pretty much gave up everything to be with the man she loved.
Then the American flag was “invented” by her and yada yada.. I think everyone that grew up in the Philadelphia area knows the rest of the story. However, this is her connection to Gloucester City (hey, I’m developing a timeline here.)
Fast forward just a bit to October 22nd in the great year of 1777, a battle was a brewing during the Revolutionary War. A Battle at Red Bank to be exact. Gloucester is known for the HMS Augusta that somehow scattered upstream during a nasty storm and was washed ashore on a small beach area. It was cherished here for decades, but not much remains visibly seen today. The HMS Augusta was a 64-gun ship part of Britain’s Royal Navy. She was accidentally destroyed by fire on October 22, 1777.
I am kind of scattered all over the place on Gloucester, but I just want to discuss some key facts of history and hope you don’t get lost moving from point to point… If you do.. I am sorry.
Salem Road…. Kings Highway….
A lot of folks have probably heard about Salem road at one time or another, but it’s actually Old King’s Highway or large chunks of it anyway. Old Salem Road stretches from Burlington City to Salem and was the primary thoroughfare from its creation in 1681 and even through today. It’s had a few revisions and diversions over the years, but most of the route remains intact.
What many folks don’t know is that Old Salem Road once led to Gloucester. It actually ran right on Market Street and then behind Cedar Grove Cemetery (near Cold Springs school) to a small bridge and then to Little Timber Creek… Ahem, near “the trestle.”
Cedar Grove Cemetery…
This cemetery is very mysterious to me. Upon my research, I have found ties that American Indians are buried here.
One in particular is a man named, Levin Stockume. Levin was a Delaware resident, but allegedly a Nanticoke Native American and married a woman from his tribe. Delaware had laws against any person that was not Caucasian that was attempting to better themselves. They also did not allow non-Caucasians to purchase firearms or ammunition. Levin defied this gun law (he purchased arms) and was arrested. Levin was fined $20 and had to pay court costs. He then got arrested a second time and was so fed up that he moved his family to Gloucester City, New Jersey. He ran a general store and millinery (made lady hats) out of his home on Mercer Street and died on December 25, 1864. He was 57 years old.
Another popular Native American of the Lenni tribe named Ada M One Star is also buried here.
Many Civil War, World War I and World War II veterans are also interred here. As you see, this cemetery has some historical significance to Gloucester City and is almost unknown by most.
St. Mary’s Cemetery
Many of Gloucester’s notable families are buried here. One in particular is William Thompson aka “Billy the Duke.” He created a hotel, boardwalks, beaches a shad fishery and a theme park (Washington Park was in nearby Westville). He also created an infamous racetrack that was shut down very shortly after it was opened. Billy the Duke is noted as having the first outdoor lights for baseball. The Philadelphia Athletics played at the state-of-the art ball field called, Gloucester Point Grounds. They played on Sundays due to Philadelphia’s blue law restrictions. The Athletics played from 1888-1890.
I’ve written about Billy “the Duke” many times and is one of my most favorite historical persons from the last Century. His funeral procession is claimed to be the largest in Gloucester City’s history.
I am told by caretakers of the cemetery that when they opened the New St. Mary’s cemetery in nearby Bellmawr, that families would bring their horse and buggies, dig up their loved one’s casket and transport their bodies to the new cemetery. I asked why they would do this and the caretaker stated that the persons alive wished to be buried next to their beloved ones since there was not much room left. If you take a walk around, you’ll notice tombstones are rather clustered with family plots and missing “spaces” are found throughout.
I’d say this is probably the most historical section when it comes to buildings in Gloucester. On this stretch of road, you can find old well-kept homes and St. Mary’s Cathedral.
St. Mary’s is known as one of the top most beautiful churches in New Jersey. Its architecture is early gothic style and the church started construction in 1888 and was finalized in 1889. The tower and spire can be seen for miles and is 160 feet high.
We head just doors away to the old…
First Presbyterian Church of Gloucester City
Due, to a lack of membership in the congregation, it had to shut its doors. This church is over 165 years old with stained glass windows and over 6,000 square feet.
There was a Methodist Church on Monmouth and Willow (similar architecture) converted to a residential property a few years ago.
Proprietors in colonial times were people who settled land disputes… New Jersey had our own little proprietor mafia where they would met yearly at this park. Historians continue to meet here every year for the last 200 plus years and is the oldest consecutive meeting in the country!
In 1929, a twelve acre park was revealed to Gloucester City and bounded by the Delaware River, Market Street, King Street and Jersey Avenue. It was named Propietors Park after the annual meeting spot of the proprietors.
On the premises of the new park, once stood Hugg’s Tavern (see Betsy Ross above) that was built in 1750 and saw many historical events through the centuries. Within this park was a bath house, swimming pool, tennis courts, club house and children’s playground. The bathhouse contained a dance hall and open pavilions with decks that were enjoyed in the summer seasons. The locker rooms in the bath house had accommodations for over 2,000 bathers.
Freedom Pier and Development
Freedom Pier was recently renovated in 2012 and there are HUGE plans for its future. With a restaurant and a few pubs in the works, the plans look awesome. Here is the link to the designing firm planning it. http://hollidayarchitects.com/freedom-pier-redevelopment/
A beautiful schooner, North Wind, has already claimed its home on the pier. It is a non-profit that sails out to educate children and provides maritime training for them.
There are many inspiring developments going on in Gloucester City at the moment and I’m very excited to see their outcome.
PS. I know I left a ton of things out like the history of the Coast Guard Station and the factories, but this is just a blog. I could write an entire book on Gloucester.. hundreds and hundreds of pages long so please don’t kill me if I left something out because I’m sure I probably did. This isn’t even a taste on the history of this small city.
For a neat in depth history of the Coast Guard station (there’s also a video with pictures) please check out this link. http://www.gloucestercitynews.net/clearysnotebook/2014/03/video-a-brief-look-at-the-united-states-coast-guard-base-gloucester-city.html
P.S.S. Also, for all you foodies out there! There are some FANTASTIC restaurants and pubs to eat at in this town. Virtually unknown to the rest of South Jersey. I think it would pleasantly surprise you!
Until our next adventure, my friends!