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Pietism was the source for much of the early religious vitality and diversity in Philadelphia. Between 1683 and 1800 thousands of Pietists crossed the Atlantic Ocean looking for a place where they could follow their conscience in religious matters. Pennsylvania became an attractive destination thanks to the goodwill fostered by William Penn’s missionary journey to Germany in 1677. Although Penn’s goal was to further the cause of the Quaker faith in German territories, the friendships he developed among Pietists yielded dividends for his new colony. Pietist beliefs were commonly found among German settlers who embraced the freedom to practice their religion according to their scruples. Pietism also spread throughout the region circulating among laypeople and clergy. Many American Protestant churches, especially evangelical churches, were influenced by the Pietist commitment to a heartfelt conversion experience that emphasized a dynamic and activist personal faith. Into the twenty-first century elements of Pietism remained in many of the beliefs and practices of churches throughout the Philadelphia region.

[caption id="attachment_34938" align="alignright" width="214"]Depiction of August Hermann Francke, the creator of Pietism's major institutions. This early eighteenth-century painting depicts August Hermann Francke (1663–1727), a professor at the University of Halle. Francke established the chief institutions of Pietism with his massive orphan houses, schools, and charitable works in Halle, Germany, known as the Halle Foundations. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Originating from German-speaking Europe, Pietism was an international network of early modern laypeople and clergy who hoped to revitalize Christian devotion in the lives of ordinary people. Although the sources for Pietism were many and often disputed, the roots of the movement are found in the work of Johann Arndt, Martin Luther, English Puritans and other Calvinists, and even the mystical elements of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Pietism emanated from the thought and work of two Germans, Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705) and August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), who hoped to reform Protestant churches in late seventeenth-century Prussia. Spener, a preacher and theologian, wrote the principal text of Pietism, Pia Desideria (1675), while Francke, a professor at the University of Halle, established the chief institutions of Pietism with his massive orphan houses, schools, and charitable works in Halle, known as the Halle Foundations. Francke’s labors influenced Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-60), leader of the Moravians. Francke and the Moravians subsequently shaped the thought and practice of two Church of England clergymen, George Whitefield (1714-70) and John Wesley (1703-91), the founder of the Methodists, each of whom played an important role in the Great Awakening. The breadth of Pietist influence was not limited to these few individuals but included diverse practitioners of radical Pietism who brought an entrepreneurial ethos to the movement that empowered women and men through a dynamic and activist Christian faith.

Arising in the wake of the devastating social and cultural effects of the Thirty Years’ War in German lands, Pietism was a response to the Lutheran Church’s emphasis on doctrine and church governance that did little to connect theological ideas with everyday Christian living. The early Pietists responded to this moral and religious morass in the second half of the seventeenth century by encouraging an experiential religion that focused on an individual coming to faith in Christ through a heart-felt change, emphasizing the importance of the Bible for Christian belief, living out their faith through pious practices, and seeking to socially and morally reform the world. Pietists also believed that the Second Coming of Christ would be preceded by revivals that would restore the true church and lead to the conversion of peoples around the world. This focus on the end times, or eschatology, was rooted in fears about religious wars but also pointed to the hope for the eventual victory of Christ and the church over a fallen world. More radical Pietists engaged in a wide-range of practices from prophetic utterances to ascetic and communal living experiments. Radicals were also often advocates for equality among the sexes and races, which further alienated Pietists from the mainstream society. In the context of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Pietists’ religious and political opponents sharply rebuked them as social, religious, and political subversives and shunned their experience-based and emotional form of Christianity. Despite being embattled, Pietists continued to attract followers. Their emphasis on a reorientation of one’s personal life after salvation encouraged personal transformation through small group Bible study, ethical living, social activism, and supporting Christian missions and evangelism.

Pietists come to Pennsylvania

Pietism flourished in several German cities, including Frankfort am Main, Halle, Württemberg, Heidelberg, and Herrnhut, and immigrants from those areas directly influenced religion in and around Philadelphia. The persecution of Pietists by German state authorities encouraged their migration to North America. By 1682, Pietists in Frankfurt organized the Frankfurt Land Company to sell land purchased from William Penn (1644-1718) to German Pietists. Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651-c.1720), a Pietist business agent for the Frankfurt Land Company who later became a Quaker, helped establish Germantown in 1683. Promotional tracts written for Germans Pietists highlighted Pennsylvania as a land free from the immorality and decadence that religious separatists believed troubled Europe. After the invasion of German territories by the forces of the French king Louis XIV, many Pietists and religious dissenters escaped to Pennsylvania seeking peace and the freedom to follow their conscience in matters of faith.

[caption id="attachment_34941" align="alignright" width="280"]Manuscript hymnal produced by Conrad Beissel. The founder of the Ephrata Cloister, Conrad Beissel, became well known for his hymn writing and music composition. This image depicts a manuscript hymnal composed in 1746. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Some of the radical Pietists who came to Pennsylvania held beliefs that reflected the transition from the magically-infused early modern world to the scientific rationality of the modern world. One such example was Johannes Kelpius (1673-1708), who arrived in Philadelphia around 1694 and was a member of a radical Pietist sect known as the “Chapter of Perfection” established by Johann Jakob Zimmermann (1642-93). Using numerology, prophecy, and a close reading of world events, Zimmermann believed that Jesus Christ would soon return. In anticipation of Christ’s arrival, he planned to travel with a group of mystically-minded monks to Pennsylvania to prepare for the momentous event. Zimmermann, however, died before he could see his vision fulfilled, and Kelpius took the helm of leadership and secured passage for the men to Philadelphia. Kelpius’s hermit community, often referred to as the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness based on Revelation 12:6, settled in the wilderness along Wissahickon Creek where they built a small tabernacle and waited for the Second Coming of Christ. Another radical Pietist who followed in Kelpius’s footsteps was Conrad Beissel (1691-1768). In 1732, he founded the community at Ephrata, also known as the “Camp of Solitaries.” By 1755, the community had reached the apex of membership with some three hundred to four hundred  residents in separate houses for men, women, and families. Ephrata was noted for its distinctive piety, art, music, dress, emphasis on celibacy, and communal living. Eventually, the community dwindled in size and reorganized as the German Seventh-Day Baptist Church in the early nineteenth century.

Another group of radical German Pietists in colonial Pennsylvania who were influential among early German immigrants were the Unitas Fratrum, more commonly known as the Moravians. They, along with other religious refugees, sought protection from Emperor Charles VI on the lands of Count Zinzendorf in Germany. Zinzendorf, a former student of Francke in Halle, gave the Moravians a Pietist vision for global missionary work and sent groups of Moravians to North America. The first Moravians migrated to Germantown, but later groups made their mark on Philadelphia and the surrounding region. They established settlements at Lititz, Nazareth, Emmaus, and Bethlehem, where they made a significant contribution to female education in the colony. They also brought their love of music with them to Pennsylvania and wrote sacred music, sang hymns and chants, and played in orchestras that brought them acclaim. Moravians were noted also for their evangelism, particularly among Native Americans and African slaves.

Pietists influence the development of American Lutheranism

[caption id="attachment_34942" align="alignright" width="300"]Henry Melchior Muhlenberg’s Gravestone at the Augustus Lutheran Church. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg lays buried in the Augustus Lutheran Church cemetery in Trappe, Pennsylvania, as depicted in this 2019 photograph. (Photograph by Darin D. Lenz)[/caption]

By 1740, Pennsylvania had twenty-seven Lutheran churches, but due to a severe shortage of clergymen, only a few pastors could be found to lead them. To partially fill this void, German Pietist leader Gotthilf August Francke (1696-1769), son of August Hermann Francke, encouraged Henry Melchior Mühlenberg (1711-87) to travel to Philadelphia to provide leadership to Lutheran congregations. Arriving in 1742, Mühlenberg recognized the gravity of the situation and gave his complete devotion to his pastoral and ecclesiastical duties in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. He recorded his experiences in Hallesche Nachrichten, one of the most detailed accounts of everyday life in Pennsylvania from the colonial period. Mühlenberg organized the first Lutheran church body in the colonies, the Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania, that oversaw the steady growth of Lutheran churches in the region. Pietism also influenced his belief in the power of education to reform society. He strove to found schools as an avenue for encouraging individual piety and civic mindedness. Due to his industrious educational and ecclesiastical efforts he is considered the “Father of American Lutheranism.”

Pietism was a late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century movement that was vitally important for the development of Protestant Christianity in Philadelphia and the surrounding region. Even though Pietism did not remain an essential aspect of American Lutheranism beyond the early nineteenth century, the influence of Pietist churches and the American revivalist tradition perpetuated traces of Pietism among adherents of Methodist and Holiness churches throughout the nineteenth century. During the twentieth century, Pentecostals and Charismatics, heirs of the Holiness movement, embodied a new incarnation of Pietist radicalism that harked back to the religious impulses found in early colonial Philadelphia.

Darin D. Lenz, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of History at Fresno Pacific University.

Cumberland County, New Jersey

Cumberland County, New Jersey, located on the Delaware Bay about thirty-five miles south of Philadelphia, was formed from the southeastern part of Salem County in 1748. Its location and natural attributes led to a three-faceted economy that bridged centuries: rich farmland supported agriculture; two tidal rivers and the Delaware Bay provided a maritime economy; and deposits of silica sand fostered a glass industry. A diversity of immigrants, from Quakers, Presbyterians, and Baptists seeking religions freedom in the seventeenth century, to German glassblowers in the eighteenth, and Mexican and Central American agricultural workers in the twenty-first, generated three primary population centers, Bridgeton, Millville, and Vineland, separated by farmland interspersed with smaller settlements. As several industries declined in the second half of the twentieth century, they were only partially replaced economically making Cumberland the poorest county in New Jersey.

[caption id="attachment_35078" align="alignright" width="300"]Map of 2014 median household incomes in Cumberland County, New Jersey. Cumberland County, located in southwestern New Jersey, had a median household income of $52,593 in 2018. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

The area that became Cumberland County was first inhabited by the Lenni Lenape, whose settlements clustered along the rivers. Archaeology revealed evidence of ten thousand years of continuous occupation at the Indian Head Site in Deerfield Township. The Lenni Lenape population plummeted after settlement by the Dutch and Swedes, and the Indians claimed two of their people died for every Christian who arrived. About nine thousand people with ancestral links to the Lenni Lenape lived in Cumberland in the twenty-first century, and in 2018 New Jersey formally recognized the existence of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation

John Fenwick (1618-83) established Salem in 1675, the first English settlement in West Jersey, but Swedes and Dutch had already been living in the area for forty years. The nucleus of the Swedish settlement was northwest of what became Cumberland County, but Swedes hunted and cut lumber along the Maurice River without obtaining title to the land. Swedish family names remained common in the area. 

From the beginning, Fenwick planned to found a second town on the Cohansey River, fifteen miles southeast of Salem. He intended for it to be called Cohansey, but settlers renamed it Greenwich, probably after Greenwich, Connecticut. It was not until three years after Fenwick died that his executors laid out the town and began selling sixteen-acre lots.

Early colonists included Quakers, Presbyterians, and Baptists, attracted by the religious tolerance of Fenwick’s colony. The first settlers in Greenwich were Quakers from Salem, beginning in 1686. Sometime between 1680 and 1685, Presbyterians from Fairfield, Connecticut, and Long Island established New England Town on the east side of the Cohansey. About the same time, Baptists from Rhode Island and from Ireland also settled on the east side of the Cohansey, and Welsh Baptists came to Bowentown, between Greenwich and Bridgeton, by way of Swansea, Massachusetts.

Philadelphia Connections

Commercial connections with Philadelphia were extensive from the beginning. By the turn of the eighteenth century, Greenwich had become one of three official ports of entry in New Jersey.  From 1695 until 1765, the West Jersey Assembly authorized Greenwich to hold semiannual fairs, in April and October, where anyone could peddle wares. Each fair attracted as many as twenty ships from Philadelphia, laden with goods to sell.

Cumberland County came into existence when the Tenth Assembly of New Jersey (after the unification of East and West Jersey in 1702) passed an act forming a new county from the southern part of Salem County on January 19, 1748. The act responded to citizens’ petitions, which objected to the inconvenience of all official business being carried out in Salem, at the extreme western edge of the county. The new county was named for the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765), a contemporary hero credited with defeating Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1720-1788) at the battle of Culloden in 1746.

Greenwich was the primary settlement at the time, and its citizens were so confident it would become the county seat they neglected to vote in a referendum to locate a new courthouse. The handful of residents of Bridgeton (then Cohansey Bridge) outvoted them, claiming the courthouse site, and, by default, designation as the county seat, to the consternation of the Greenwich inhabitants. 

The rest of the area remained largely unpopulated in 1748 except for farms scattered along the two main rivers, the Cohansey and the Maurice, and a tavern located where Port Elizabeth was eventually laid out, on the Maurice in the southeastern section of the county. Of the 677 square miles that comprised the county, 484 were land and the rest water. The tidal Cohansey and the Maurice (pronounced Morris) Rivers drained toward the Delaware River, while the Tuckahoe River, a rare northern blackwater river, flowed toward the Atlantic Ocean. The high point in the county, 140 feet above sea level, was located in what became Upper Deerfield Township. At sea level, salt marshes bordered the Delaware River and the tidal reaches of the Cohansey and Maurice.

Slavery existed in Cumberland County, though not to the extent found farther north in the state. The estimate for 1790 was 120 slaves, decreasing to 75 by 1800; by 1830, only two people remained in slavery. 

Cumberland County was a destination for slaves escaping from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, accessible by boat across the Delaware Bay. The presence of abolitionist Quakers and free blacks created a haven. As the Underground Railroad evolved, one of the three main routes north through New Jersey became known as the Greenwich line, named for its southern terminus. While many escapees continued north, some settled in Cumberland, especially in the village of Springtown, in Greenwich Township, populated by five or six hundred freeborn and escaped blacks. The settlement was operated as an armed camp, allowing in no unknown whites and subjecting all unknown blacks to questioning by a tribunal. According to Rev. Thomas C. Oliver (1818-1900), an Underground Railroad agent, “The strongest settlement among the colored people that I knew of was Greenwich. None were ever taken out of that place. The fugitives were as safe there as if they were in Canada.” 

Quakers Set the County’s Tone

The Quakers set an egalitarian tone for the county. In 1843, when Philadelphia historian John Fanning Watson (1779-1860) visited Greenwich, his ancestral village, he noted that farmers ate at a common table with hired hands, both black and white. It may have been the tolerant atmosphere promulgated by the Quakers that made possible the founding of Gouldtown, a historically prosperous settlement of free, mixed race people—primarily African American and white—that was established east of Bridgeton between 1755 and 1774, when Benjamin Gould (c. 1702–77) purchased a 249-acre tract. According to oral tradition, free black men from the West Indies settled there and married women of Dutch and Finnish descent. Their descendants continued to inhabit the village, which survived as an unincorporated village in Fairfield Township, into the twenty-first century, when Philip Roth (1933-2018) made Gouldtown the hometown of his protagonist Coleman Silk in his 2000 novel The Human Stain.

[caption id="attachment_35082" align="alignright" width="222"]Portrait of Samuel Ringgold Ward from the cover of his autobiography. Samuel Ringgold Ward, depicted in this photograph from his 1885 autobiography, became a prominent African American abolitionist during the mid-nineteenth century. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

The presence of Quakers and free blacks probably accounted for the county’s strong support of the Union during the Civil War. The attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, initiated an outpouring of patriotic fervor in the county, where “towns and villages…were decked with the starry banner, and every cross-road of any importance…had its flag waving in the air.”  The first company of volunteers to be raised was the “Cumberland Grays,” (Company F of New Jersey’s Third Regiment); the company set off to war by way of Philadelphia on the steamer Patuxent. Many more companies were formed over the course of the war, and none was ever short of volunteers, some encouraged to join by the bounties offered by various towns and townships. 

Those in the minority who sided with the Confederacy were sometimes treated harshly by the Unionists. Though New Jersey as a whole voted in 1860 and 1864 for Lincoln’s opponents, Cumberland County overwhelmingly supported him in both elections, by 58.58 percent and 56.75 percent respectively.

Following the initial seventeenth-century settlement, immigrants continued to be attracted to the county. The failure of the 1848 democratic revolution in Germany instigated a massive migration of Germans over the next decade, a sizable number of whom settled in Cumberland. Some worked in the glass factories and some started businesses. Italian farmers were recruited by Charles Landis when he founded Vineland in 1861 to realize his vision of a grape industry, and Italian migration continued well into the twentieth century. Many Italian families remained active in agriculture in the county.

The 1881 pogroms against Jews in southwest Russia initiated a worldwide relocation effort funded by wealthy Jewish philanthropists. Expanses of vacant land were purchased in South Jersey. Settlements were clustered on the Salem-Cumberland border, west of Vineland, with Rosenhayn (1883) and Carmel (1882) located in Cumberland. Farming was a struggle, as many of the settlers came from urban backgrounds. Many turned to clothing manufacturing to supplement their income, first under contract with manufacturers in Philadelphia and New York, and eventually with their own factories in Bridgeton, Millville, and Vineland.

African American Farm Labor

Farm labor in the first half of the twentieth century was provided by African Americans who moved north each year from Florida as crops were ready for harvest, and by Philadelphians of Italian descent whom labor brokers transported down for the season; members of both groups settled permanently in the county. Mid-century saw a rise in migrant laborers coming to the county from Puerto Rico, many of whom remained, particularly in Vineland. In the twenty-first century, farm laborers immigrated from Mexico and Central America. Bridgeton became a residential center for Hispanic immigrants, whose proportion of the population approached fifty percent. Some of the migrants commuted as much as an hour away for work in the fields.

[caption id="attachment_35083" align="alignright" width="300"]Laborers picking string beans at Seabrook Farms. This photograph, created in June 1942, depicts day laborers picking string beans at Seabrook Farms in Bridgeton, New Jersey. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Other significant immigrant groups included Ukrainians, Russians, and Greeks. To deal with a World War II labor shortage, Seabrook Farms, about three miles north of Bridgeton, recruited interned Japanese Americans and Latin Americans of Japanese descent, eventually relocating a population of three thousand. After the war, the corporation brought Europeans, primarily Estonians, from displaced persons camps. Eventually, five thousand workers and their families, from twenty-five countries, speaking thirty languages, formed the cohesive community of Seabrook, a rural global village. 

Agricultural Economy

Ancient geological forces combined to give Cumberland a thriving agricultural economy from the beginning. A large river system, often referred to as the "proto-Hudson," flowed in from the north, followed what became the Delaware River valley from Trenton, New Jersey, then curved back across southern New Jersey's interior. Waterways cut into the earlier marine sands of the local Cohansey Formation to lay down the fluvial deposits known as the Bridgeton Formation, thus building the county's surface deposits. During the Ice Age windblown silt known as "loess" enriched the sandy-gravelly deposits of the Bridgeton Formation, which accounted for the increased productivity of soils found in the western part of the county and along the Delaware Bay.

Agricultural development of this prime farmland and timber harvest were the initial commercial enterprises. Products shipped to market by water. As early as the 1690s, the Cohansey sawmill of Richard Hancock (ca.1640-89), previously Fenwick’s surveyor general, supplied Philadelphia with cedar.

The Revolution Intervenes

The American Revolution interrupted Cumberland’s growing prosperity. The area suffered during Philadelphia’s occupation by the British during 1777-78, when it served as prime territory for foraging troops. Farmers were afraid to leave their houses to plow or sow crops, and the population faced an increasingly dire situation until the British evacuated Philadelphia in June 1778.

Shipbuilding began in 1780 when the schooner Governor Livingston was constructed at Bridgeton. Unfortunately, on her first homeward voyage, she was captured by a British frigate, discouraging further shipbuilding for another fifteen years, until John Lee (c. 1765-1840) established a shipyard in 1795 in what became Leesburg. Prior to a decline around World War II, 583 ships were built in Cumberland County, with Bridgeton (153 ships), Dorchester (100), and Leesburg (71) dominating the industry.

[caption id="attachment_35080" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of the Mariners' Memorial Windows in Mauricetown, New Jersey. Dedicated in 1921, the Mariners’ Memorial Window in Mauricetown, New Jersey, names the sea captains and mates who perished at sea between 1856 and 1914. (Photograph by Penelope S. Watson)[/caption]

In another facet of maritime commerce, in the nineteenth century, schooners from the Maurice River plied the coastal trade, transporting goods up and down the East Coast from Nova Scotia to the West Indies and South America, and even to Europe. Mauricetown served as the home port for most of the captains, and their homes remained in what subsequently became the Mauricetown National Register Historic District.

Fishing and oystering made up the third aspect of maritime business. The Cumberland County shore and river mouths were ideal oyster habitat, which thrived in a mix of fresh and salty waters. The Lenape harvested oysters at low tide, and they became a food source for settlers in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, oysters became the nation’s fast food, and in Philadelphia were “sold by dozens and hundreds up to ten o’clock at night in the streets.” In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the national oyster harvest became centered on the Delaware Bay, and in particular the Maurice and Cohansey Rivers. By 1874, 372 oyster boats were listed in Cumberland County. Some of the oysters shipped by boat, but a direct railroad line to Bridgeton, the Cumberland and Maurice River Railroad (completed in 1875), offered an alternative form of transporting the oysters to market. At the height of the industry in the 1920s, seven thousand boxcars left Bivalve on the Maurice River alone, with 58,800 tons of oysters shipped in shell during 1923.

The tiny settlement of Caviar on the Delaware Bay in Greenwich Township briefly became the center of the world’s caviar production in the 1880s, after the sturgeon of Russia and Germany were fished almost to extinction. The industry was so profitable a new rail line, the New Jersey Southern Railroad, was built between Caviar and New York City. At the height of the fishing season, fifteen rail cars full of caviar left daily for the city, where most was sent on to Europe, including Russia. Overfishing decimated the Delaware Bay sturgeon population, which declined in the 1890s and crashed to almost nothing in 1900.

The county’s land-based economy transformed around the turn of the nineteenth century, when local entrepreneurs implemented developing hydropower technology by damming both the Cohansey and the Maurice Rivers. Earlier saw and grist mills had used more primitive forms of water power, but the new dams were intended to drive emergent industries. In Millville, Philadelphians Henry Drinker (1734-1809) and Joseph Smith formed the Union Company in 1790 to purchase twenty-four thousand acres in the eastern part of the county. Drinker and Smith built a dam and mills to use the waterpower. Five years later, they sold out to Joseph Buck (1753-1803) and partners, and Buck laid out the town of Millville, producing a plan that reserved the land bordering the river for mills, with residential areas on higher land away from the river.

R.D. Wood & Co.

David Cooper Wood (1781-1859) of Greenwich Township constructed an iron foundry and furnace in Millville in 1814, first manufacturing stoves and iron posts for gaslights and eventually specializing in water pipes. Thirty years later, with the foundry in trouble, David’s half-brother Richard Davis Wood (1799-1869) came to his aid; in 1850, he bought David out and formed R.D. Wood & Co. Richard expanded the available water power and diversified the industries, adding a cotton mill, a bleach and dye works, and a glass factory. The combined industries were managed in Philadelphia, eventually becoming R.D. Wood & Sons. In 1890 Richard’s son George (1842-1926) moved to Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and formed Wawa Dairy Farms as a hobby. The hobby became a business that began selling milk from its own stores in 1964, and in 1968 the two businesses merged as Wawa Inc. From 1971 until 2009, Wawa Inc.’s regional headquarters were located in David C. Wood’s 1814 house in Millville.

Bridgeton’s industrial development began in 1815, when brothers Benjamin (1779-1844) and David (1793-1871) Reeves of Deptford Township, great-grandsons of John Reeves (1674-1748), exclusive operator of the early eighteenth-century ferry between Burlington, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, purchased water power to operate the Cumberland Nail Works, which became Bridgeton’s major industry for the rest of the century.

Steam power had replaced water power by the time Oberlin Smith (1840-1926) left his job at Cumberland Nail and Iron and founded the Ferracute Machine Company in Bridgeton. He and his partners specialized early on in making can presses for local food processers.  By the end of the century, Ferracute was shipping presses around the world, including an entire mint to China. At its height during World War II, Ferracute employed as many as seven hundred people. The automobile industry became the mainstay of the company, and Ford Motor Company was the major client until Ferracute closed in 1968.

[caption id="attachment_35084" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of the Whitall Tatum Company's Millville, New Jersey plant. The Whitall Tatum Company survived for 193 years in Millville, New Jersey. This 1907 photograph shows the company’s factory along the Maurice River. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The nineteenth century also saw the development of the glass industry. Cumberland was an ideal location because of the presence of weathered quartz sands of the Cohansey Formation, used in making glass. Also present were molding sands, aggregates of sand and clay, used for making cast-iron molds for the glass. The industry began as early as 1799, when James Lee (1771-1820) built a factory in Port Elizabeth. Lee moved his operation to Millville in 1806, but the Port Elizabeth factory survived under various owners through most of the nineteenth century. In 1838, John Whitall (1800-1877) of Philadelphia became a partner in Lee’s Millville factory in 1838 and was joined by his brother Israel Franklin Whitall (1795-1873) in 1845. The brothers continued to live in Philadelphia and run the company headquarters. The factory specialized in bottles, jars, and vials, many custom-made for Philadelphia pharmacies. Whitall, Brother & Company evolved into Whitall Tatum Company. After 1938 the business went through a series of owners until it closed in 1999, having survived for 193 years.

The first glass factory in Bridgeton, Stratton, Buck and Co., began operations in 1836. Eventually, the town supported twenty glass operations. Cumberland Glass Manufacturing, formed in 1880, evolved into Owens Illinois Inc., one of the largest glass manufactories in the country and Bridgeton’s major employer until it ceased operations in 1984. Owens Illinois closed the plant because the equipment was outdated, and the decreased need for glass containers in the era of plastic did not warrant the expense of modernization.

A Processing and Transportation Center

While Cumberland County as a whole prospered in the nineteenth century, and Bridgeton became the processing and transportation center for the agricultural products of the western side of the county, the poorer soil toward the northeast was left fallow and appropriated for open cattle range. Before the Civil War, the population in that area amounted to only about two hundred people. Charles K. Landis (1833-1900), born in Philadelphia and educated as a lawyer, had already participated in the founding of Hammonton, Atlantic County, New Jersey, when he purchased twenty thousand acres from Richard D. Wood in 1860; further acquisitions brought the total to about fifty-three thousand acres.

Landis, a liberal thinker who supported abolition and votes for women, planned a utopian agrarian community and hoped that Vineland would attract progressive thinkers as well as farmers and grape growers. To this end he banned alcoholic beverages from the start, which appealed to women in the suffragist movement, many of whom also promoted prohibition. He advertised nationally starting in 1861, and though some called him a charlatan for selling unproductive farmland, he had many buyers. Advances in agriculture meant that with much effort and investment, the poor soil could be made productive. In 1866 alone, over twelve hundred buildings were constructed, and by the end of the decade, there were over seven thousand residents. 

Vineland soon became a center for the suffragist movement; during the 1868 election, women brought their own ballot box to the poll and proceeded to vote, knowing their votes would not be counted. From the beginning, Vinelanders were sensitive to the uniqueness of their community, and founded the Vineland Historical Society in 1864, when the city was just three years old.

To encourage the agricultural aspect of his community, Landis reached out to Italian grape growers, offering a twenty-acre property in exchange for building a house within a year, and clearing and cultivating the land for vineyards. In the 1860s and 1870s northern Italians moved to Vineland; in the 1870s and 1880s immigration shifted to southern Italy. Vineland continued to attract Italian immigrants up to the 1920s. The vineyards, orchards, and berry patches flourished, contributing to Vineland’s prosperity and Cumberland’s agricultural economy. 

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Cumberland County bay-shore became a vacation destination, supplementing the existing industrial, maritime and agricultural economy. A forty-room hotel, the Warner House, was built in 1877 at Sea Breeze, south of the mouth of the Cohansey, to accommodate Philadelphians leaving the Chestnut Street wharf on the steamer John A. Warner. The resort boasted a pier, a toboggan slide, a boardwalk and a bowling alley, and an occasional clam bake and yacht regatta. Attractions at East Point, near Heislerville, included a hotel and a tavern, and the Fortescue Hotel offered lodgings in Fortescue, a fishing resort between Sea Breeze and East Point along the bay shore. Railroad access from Philadelphia to the ocean resorts diminished the appeal of the bay destinations by the time of World War I, and Sea Breeze and Fortescue catered mainly to county residents after that.

Bird Hunting for Sport

Railbirding—hunting small waterfowl known as rail—appealed to wealthier Philadelphians. In order to pursue the sport, a few, such as the Wetherill family, owned houses along the Cohansey, and many were members of the Sora Gun Club. Probably the Cohansey’s most famous Philadelphia visitor was artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), who travelled regularly throughout the 1870s and 1880s to his family’s “fish house” in Fairfield Township. Eakins first came with his family and later brought his students with him. The Cohansey was the inspiration for some of his best-known works, including “Starting Out After Rail” (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and “Pushing for Rail” (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

In the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, Cumberland’s economy continued to depend in large part on the three components of agriculture, maritime activities, and glass manufacturing. Agriculture, and the related industries of processing and distribution, were still the mainstay of the county’s economy. Founded near Bridgeton in 1933, Seabrook Farms Corporation was a national leader in the development of frozen foods, and in 1955 Life magazine called it “the greatest vegetable factory on Earth.” The tomato and asparagus fields in western Cumberland in the mid-twentieth century gave way, for the most part, to corn and soybeans. The original Seabrook Farms closed in 1976, but in 1978 grandsons of the founder, Charles F. Seabrook (1881-1964), built a new frozen vegetable processing plant in Upper Deerfield, freezing snap beans, spinach, collards, mustard greens, peppers, peas, and lima beans, 95 percent of which were grown within the county. In the twenty-first century, much of the farmland was bought or leased by nurseries, as rising land values in central New Jersey forced growers to seek less-expensive acreage. Around Vineland, farmers specialized in growing vegetables and herbs, particularly for ethnic cuisines.  

Oystering reached its peak in the early twentieth century, but two parasites, commonly known as “MSX” and “Dermo,” devastated the oyster population and the industry at mid-century. Research in management of the parasites, conducted, in part, at Rutgers University’s Haskin Shellfish Laboratory in Bivalve, led to a slow but steady revival of the industry in the twenty-first century. Concurrently, the Bayshore Center, home of restored oyster schooner A. J. Meerwald, New Jersey’s official tall ship, celebrated and interpreted the industry.

In the late twentieth century, the glass industry declined as plastic supplanted glass for many uses. The loss of the major glass manufacturers—Owens Illinois in Bridgeton and Whitall Tatum and the major operations of Wheaton Glass in Millville—eliminated glassmaking as the county’s major industry but did not end it altogether. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, the glass industry employed close to three thousand people, with eight companies in operation. Most concentrated on specialized products for medicinal and laboratory needs, but the largest, Durand Glass, produced a variety of hollowware. 

Cumberland County was fully engaged in national events in the first half of the twentieth century. Fortescue, on the Delaware Bay between the Cohansey and Maurice Rivers, was a focus of activity during Prohibition when it acted as a major port for landing whiskey brought to the three-mile international limit by ships from Canada and Jamaica. Tenders brought the liquor into the bay, and many local ship captains transported it to shore and hid it in the marshes until it could be transported north by truck. A light on the roof of the eight-story Cumberland Hotel in Bridgeton signaled when it was safe for the trucks to pass through town. Local residents, including law enforcement, were aware of what was going on, but kept silent out of sympathy, fear, or remuneration.

The Millville Airport, begun as a civilian airport in 1939, expanded to become an airfield capable of hosting fighter planes as World War II engulfed Europe. Leon Henderson (1895-1986), a Millville native serving as head of the U.S. Office of Price Administration, was instrumental in having the airfield dedicated as “America’s First Defense Airport” in August 1941. It opened as a gunnery school for fighter pilots in 1943. For most of the war, training was done on the P-47 Thunderbolt, with about 1,500 pilots passing through the program.

Tourism as a Supporting Industry

Tourism continued to be a major supporting industry.  The New Jersey Motorsports Park opened on five hundred acres in Millville adjacent to the airport in 2008. It featured two road courses, a go-karting complex and other amenities, which attracted fans and participants from across the country. In 2010 the surviving World War II buildings at the Millville Airport became the Millville Army Air Field Historic District in the middle of the still active airport, and were home to the Millville Army Air Field Museum and ancillary attractions

[caption id="attachment_35081" align="alignright" width="300"]Overhead view of the Millville Municipal Airport. The Millville Airport, begun as a civilian airport in 1939, expanded during World War II to host fighter planes. This 2006 aerial photograph depicts the modern Millville Municipal Airport. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Nonprofit arts and culture organizations generated increasingly significant revenue, over $16 million in 2015 alone. In 1994 Millville developed the downtown Glasstown Arts District, a public art center with galleries and studios. Also in Millville, Wheaton Arts, and the Creative Glass Center of America, founded as Wheaton Village in 1968, featured a museum with a major collection of early American glass and working glass artists in a recreated nineteenth-century glass factory. Beginning early in the twenty-first century, the restored Landis Theater in Vineland and the reconstructed Levoy Theater in Millville provided live musical performances, and the Off Broad Street Players Theater Company and the Cumberland Players contributed live theater. Bridgeton reemphasized its century-old 1,100-acre city park and its amenities, such as a children’s splash park, boating on Sunset Lake, and the 1934 Cohanzick Zoo, with over forty species. Vineland was home to the last remaining drive-in theater in the state and the reconstructed Palace of Depression, the 1932 original of which was advertised as “The Strangest House in the World.”

Each year, fishing competitions in Fortescue, the February Eagle Festival in Mauricetown, Bay Day at East Point Lighthouse, an eighteenth-century-style Craft Faire in Greenwich, the Wheaton Arts Festival of Fine Craft, the Millville Army Air Field Museum Air Show, and the Cumberland County Fair provided activities for residents and visitors. The county’s cultural diversity made an additional contribution through a series of annual events such as Seabrook’s Japanese Obon Festival, Vineland’s Puerto Rican and Greek festivals, Bridgeton’s Cinco De Mayo Celebration, and the Friends of India Kite Festival.

The Prison Industry

In the twenty-first century, four prisons were a major source of jobs in the county, with over two thousand employees among them. Cumberland County hosted Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, Southern State Correctional Facility in Delmont, and South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton. In 1990, Fairton Federal Correctional Institution, a medium security prison for men, opened. Inexpensive land attracted the state and federal governments to build the prisons, and the county acquiesced on the promise of jobs. Other major employers were health and human services organizations and government agencies. 

As the twenty-first century progressed, the county faced a serious threat to its continuing existence. The close proximity to the Delaware Bay with its rising sea level, exacerbated by sinking land (technically known as glacial forebulge subsidence), endangered the survival of the bay-shore communities. Thompsons Beach, Moores Beach, Money Island, Seabreeze, and parts of Fortescue, once thriving villages along the Delaware Bay shore, were bought out by the state’s Blue Acres program (a fund for buying property subject to increased flooding to discourage further habitation) and the buildings bulldozed. With sea level predicted to rise by as much as six feet threatening to inundate up to a third of the county by the end of the century, the continued long-term existence of large portions of the area was uncertain.

The county maintained many historic connections and patterns in the twenty-first century, as development evolved at a slower rate than in other parts of the region. With a county per-capita income of $21,883 according to the 2010 census, the search continued for new, compatible industry. Growing cultural diversity made Cumberland a majority-minority county (one in which no racial group makes up more than half the population), the only one in the southern part of the state. Cumberland County kept its historic connection to agriculture by purchasing preservation easements on twenty thousand acres of farmland, one-third of the remaining total. It grew 20 percent of New Jersey’s produce and 28 percent of the state’s horticultural product, making it by far the most productive agricultural economy in the Garden State. Agriculture and related industries provided more than four thousand jobs. Glassmaking endured as a viable industry. Commercial oystering, fishing, and crabbing continued at a diminished level, as the rivers and bay were used primarily for recreation. The lack of explosive economic development was a trade-off that many residents were willing to accept in return for a less-congested and more community-oriented quality of life.

Penelope S. Watson, AIA, is a Principal at Watson & Henry Associates, where she has worked as preservation architect for over thirty years.  She has an undergraduate degree from Mt. Holyoke College, a professional degree from the Boston Architectural College, and a Master’s in Preservation Studies from Boston University.

Musical Instrument Making

Philadelphia became the leading center of musical instrument making in colonial America and the early republic, reflecting the importance of music in everyday life. Early Philadelphia’s many German inhabitants, unlike the Quakers, openly embraced both secular and sacred music. Philadelphia became particularly noted for producing keyboard instruments and dominated American piano manufacturing from 1775 until surpassed by New York and Boston in the 1830s. Musical instruments continued to be made in Philadelphia, however, most notably pianos. Smaller cities such as Lancaster, Reading, and Harrisburg also became home to musical instrument makers by the late eighteenth century. In 1839, the town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, became the headquarters of the C.F. Martin & Company, which continued to be a global leader in the manufacture of acoustic guitars in the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_35076" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of the Old Swedes Church. This 1858 photograph depicts Philadelphia’s Gloria Dei Church, formerly a Swedish Lutheran church. It is the location of the earliest documented use of an organ in British North America. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Moravian craftsmen who immigrated to colonial Philadelphia brought their skills as makers of instruments, from church organs to stringed instruments. One of the first keyboard instrument makers in the colonies, Johann Gottlob Klemm (1690–1762), immigrated to Philadelphia in 1733. Six years later, he made and signed a spinet, the earliest known American-made keyboard instrument. That same year Klemm completed an organ for the Swedish Lutheran Church (Gloria Dei) of Philadelphia.

With music an expected part of both Moravian and Lutheran worship, their churches were among the first to acquire organs. St. Michael’s Lutheran Church of Philadelphia dedicated an organ imported from Germany in 1751. By comparison Christ Church (an Anglican congregation) acquired an organ in 1728 from Ludwig Christian Sprogel (1683–1729), but it had failed by 1739 and the congregation did not acquire a new organ—built by Moravian craftsman Philip Feyring (1730–67) —until 1766. St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, which had numerous German members, also had an organ by 1748. Klemm also worked with the Swedish émigré Gustavus Hesselius (1682–1755), a painter, on an organ commission for the Moravian Church in Bethlehem. In addition to the Moravians, English instrument-maker Dr. Christopher Witt (1675–1765), who joined a German Pietist group of Mystics living along the Wissahickon Creek in 1704, sold an organ, possibly one that he had built, to St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Germantown in 1742.

Stringed instruments made by John Antes (1740–1811), a Moravian composer and instrument maker in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, included three examples that survived in museums and private collections: a violin dated 1759, a cello dated 1763, and a viola dated 1764. Among brass instruments, trombones had special meaning for Moravians as the instrument named in Luther’s German translation of the Bible as accompanying the word of God. Trombones typically came from Europe, however, because of the scarcity of sizable quantities of brass in the colonies.

Skills of the Instrument Maker

The making of keyboard instruments, essentially a highly specialized area of furniture production (joinery), required both technical expertise and detailed knowledge of many wood species. For example, mitered dovetail joints typically concealed all evidence of the joinery in a piano frame, which was usually built of solid mahogany to withstand the enormous strain exerted by the tension of the strings. Many instrument makers first trained as joiners and later specialized in building instruments. Both Klemm and his protégé David Tannenberg (1728–1804) worked initially as joiners before taking up instrument making. With nearly fifty organs to his credit, Tannenberg became the most renowned organ builder in early America. Keyboard instruments were complicated to build; a large organ could take a year or more to finish, while a piano might take one hundred or more working days depending on its complexity.

Most keyboard instruments in colonial American homes were in the harpsichord family, in which the strings are plucked. Their volume and tone could only be varied in limited fashion. By the late 1700s, pianos surpassed harpsichords. Distinguished by the use of small hammers that strike the strings, a piano’s sound is controlled by varying the pressure on the keys. The earliest known reference to a piano made in America appeared in Philadelphia in 1775 when Johann Michael Behrent (?-1780) announced that he had “just finished for sale, an extraordinary instrument, by the name of PIANOFORTE, of Mohogany, in the manner of an harpsichord, with hammers.”

[caption id="attachment_35158" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of a square piano produced by Charles Albrecht. This square piano is one of more than twenty surviving instruments constructed by German immigrant Charles Albrecht. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Charles Albrecht (c. 1760–1848), a German, immigrated to Philadelphia in the mid-1780s and worked as a joiner. By 1789, his work included a mahogany piano later preserved in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent—the oldest known American-made piano. In 1792, Albrecht offered for sale “TWO new and elegant PIANO FORTES which he will warrant to be good.”  By 1798, Albrecht’s shop made at least ninety-three pianos, more than twenty of which survived into the twenty-first century. Later examples feature gilded and painted floral decoration on the nameboards, likely made by an ornamental painter. Albrecht employed numerous apprentices and journeymen, including Joshua Baker (b. 1773) and Charles Deal (b. 1793), but he also advertised pianos imported from London in 1799, 1800, and 1802.  His brother, George Albrecht (?-1802), also made pianos in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

By the 1790s instrument makers working in Philadelphia included the Scottish immigrant Charles Taws (c. 1742–1836), who moved to the city from New York. Taws began advertising in 1790, when he offered for sale “of his own manufacture, a few elegant and well toned Piano Fortes.” Listed in the Philadelphia city directories first as an “organ builder” and in subsequent years as a musical instrument maker, in 1793 Taws advertised his pianos as “superior to any imported” from London or Dublin. By 1805, however, Taws began advertising imported London pianos, which he praised as superior to local products, and in 1813 he derided “HOME MADE instruments.” Given the limited market for pianos, touting imported models as less expensive and of higher quality than locally made ones was evidently advantageous for business owners such as Albrecht, Taws, and others.  

Beyond Philadelphia

Instrument makers also worked in smaller urban centers and towns outside of Philadelphia, including Wilmington, Delaware, and Lancaster, New Holland, Shaefferstown, Reading, and Nazareth in Pennsylvania. In 1839, the German émigré guitar maker Christian Frederick Martin (1796–1873) relocated his six-year-old business from New York City to Nazareth. An early Moravian settlement founded in 1740, Nazareth remained the headquarters and principal factory location for the C.F. Martin & Company into the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_35074" align="alignright" width="229"]Photograph of a Loud and Brother's upright piano built in 1831. This 1831 upright piano made by Loud & Brothers in Philadelphia took the form of a secretary desk, with a case of carved rosewood. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)[/caption]

Philadelphia dominated the American piano trade in the early nineteenth century, and in 1830 could boast of eighty piano makers. Skilled instrument makers included new influxes of German immigrants, among them Christian Frederick Lewis Albrecht (1788–1843), who in 1823 opened a shop in Philadelphia (no connection between him and Charles Albrecht is known). During the 1820s, the company known as Loud & Brothers, started by London immigrant Thomas Loud Evenden (1792–1866) and family members, led the local piano industry. In 1824 alone, the firm made an astonishing 680 pianos at its Philadelphia manufactory on Chestnut Street. By 1831 Loud & Brothers also made upright pianos. As the nineteenth century progressed, the company also made the pump organs that became a staple element of genteel Victorian parlors.

Philadelphia soon lost ground to New York and Boston, however. In 1829, approximately 2,500 pianos were built in the United States: Philadelphia made the largest number, nine hundred, followed by eight hundred made in New York and seven hundred in Boston. The locus of the piano industry shifted with the emergence of major manufacturers in Philadelphia’s rival cities. In New York, German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (1797–1871) founded Steinway & Sons in 1853. Boston also became a major production center, led by Alpheus Babcock (1785–1842), who moved there from Philadelphia in 1837.

On a gradually smaller scale, Philadelphia continued to produce pianos. C.F.L. Albrecht’s company lived on after his death in 1843 and in 1887 was acquired by Blasius & Sons; they continued to make pianos into the 1920s. Other major firms included the Philadelphia Piano Manufacturing Company of Hunt, Felton & Co., which operated by the 1850s at 211 N. Third Street. In 1891, Irish émigré Patrick J. Cunningham (?–1941) founded the Cunningham Piano Company, with a factory at Fiftieth and Parkside Avenue and show room at Eleventh and Chestnut Streets. After thriving for several decades, the company ceased production in the 1930s when demand for luxury pianos plummeted during the Depression. After World War II, Louis Cohen, a former employee, bought the company and relocated it to Germantown. There, the business focused on piano restoration rather than manufacture. In 2000 Cunningham resumed selling new pianos, assembled in China from parts made in Italy, Japan, Germany, and other countries.

After piano manufacturing declined in the 1900s, particularly during the Depression era, some Philadelphia companies developed a new niche in the restoration of musical instruments. Others became importers of foreign-made musical instruments. These businesses remained in the twenty-first century as the remnants of Philadelphia’s once-leading role in the production of American musical instruments.

Lisa Minardi is executive director of Historic Trappe and the Lutheran Archives Center at Philadelphia. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of American Civilization program at the University of Delaware, where she is studying the German community of early Philadelphia for her dissertation. Her publications include numerous books and articles on Pennsylvania furniture, architecture, and folk art.

Virginia B. Price

Virginia B. Price is a public historian based in the Washington, D.C., area. She received her M.A. from the College of William and Mary and a Master of Architectural History from the University of Virginia.

German Reformed Church

From the beginning of the eighteenth century, the German Reformed Church played a role in developing the religious landscape of southeastern Pennsylvania. Along with other Reformed churches, the German Reformed Church provided a spiritual home for German immigrants and their children that, over time, also served as a medium for adapting to American culture even as many congregations supported their own schools and social services and retained German as a language in worship and basic education through the nineteenth century. Although its strength remained outside of Philadelphia proper, into the early twenty-first century the German Reformed Church in Philadelphia kept up its principal congregation as a touchstone for Reformed practices in worship and social outreach.

[caption id="attachment_34794" align="alignright" width="263"]An 1876 print depicting Martin Luther. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, published in 1517, laid the foundations for Protestantism and the subsequent development of the German Reformed Church. He is pictured here in an 1876 print. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The path to a German Reformed Church in the Philadelphia area began in Europe in 1517, when Augustinian monk Martin Luther (1483-1546) composed his 95 Theses, initiating the “Reformation.” Within six years of Luther’s Theses, Huldrych (or Ulrich) Zwingli (1484-1531) published the charter for the Zurich (Swiss) Reformation. These doctrines developed further as Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) and John Calvin (1509-1564) carried them into the western Holy Roman Empire. In that area, at a time of disputes regarding interpretation of the Lord’s Supper, Frederick III of Simmern (1515-76), Elector of the German Palatinate (a region of southwest Germany), sought unity by commissioning the 1563 Heidelberg Catechism. Several Dutch synods also began to follow this style of religious instruction. The Heidelberg Catechism continued as a teaching and preaching tool as well as a guide for the faith of the German Reformed Church (ultimately United Church of Christ) into the twenty-first century.

German and German-Swiss farmers, laborers, artisans, and redemptioners (indentured servants) brought their religious practices to Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic region as they migrated to find economic opportunity, peace, and freedom of worship. By the late seventeenth century, German immigrants had settled near Philadelphia in a town they named “Germantown” (incorporated into Philadelphia in the nineteenth century) and began farming in Montgomery and Bucks Counties. With their personal faith, but without pastors, they worshiped in their homes. These German religious folk identified as Lutherans, Amish, Mennonites, Moravians, and Dunkards. By the early eighteenth century, the first official German Reformed congregations were emerging in America. The Reformation had set a path of continued “reform,” thus a “Reformed” German faith, not to be confused with any other German faith. In 1710, Sam Guldin (1664-1745), Pennsylvania’s first Reformed minister, preached in Germantown, but he did not attempt to organize a formal congregation.

1720s: Twelve Congregations

In the 1720s, John Philip Boehm (1683-1749), a schoolmaster, organized twelve Reformed German congregations in Pennsylvania, including the congregations at Falkner Swamp, Skippack, White Marsh, and Philadelphia.  In 1727, George Michael Weiss (1697-1762) and four hundred of his congregants arrived in Philadelphia from the Palatinate. Weiss began to minister to the Philadelphia “church” founded by Boehm. In 1730, Weiss returned to Europe to raise funds for the fledgling church, but he returned the following year with empty hands. He moved to New York and ministered there for the next fifteen years. Following Indian attacks, he returned to Pennsylvania and tended to congregations in Montgomery County until his death. Although Weiss did not remain in Philadelphia, his early congregants considered him the first pastor of the German Reformed Church they continued to cultivate.

Before building the German Reformed Church (“Old Reformed”), congregants worshiped in members’ homes and then in a small frame house on Arch Street that they shared with a Lutheran congregation. In 1741, the German Reformed congregation purchased a lot on the southeast corner of Fourth and Sassafras (later Race) Streets. In 1747, they completed their hexagonal church building, one of the earliest German Reformed churches in America. As time passed, the congregation used a portion of the land later known as Franklin Square as a church burial ground.

German settlements continued to spread through Pennsylvania into Berks, Lehigh, Lebanon, and Lancaster Counties. In 1742, Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf (1700-60), bishop of the Moravian Church, arrived in Pennsylvania. He attempted to unite German faiths—Lutherans, Reformed, Moravians—into one church. These faiths each had unique spiritual confessions, and John Philip Boehm resisted the unification efforts.  Still actively serving German Reformed Christians in central and eastern Pennsylvania, Boehm called on the Dutch Reformed Church in New York to send him more Reformed ministers. The Church answered his call with the second pastor of Philadelphia’s “Old Reformed Church”—Michael Schlatter (1716-90).

When Schlatter arrived in America, he found congregations of German settlers scattered throughout New York and Pennsylvania. Within one year, as directed by his superiors, he organized the Reformed ministers and congregations into a coetus (synod). Given the diversity of German religious sects competing for the devotion of German immigrants, Reformed leaders welcomed this new organization. The second coetus, in 1748, adopted the Heidelberg Catechism. Schlatter continued his work in Philadelphia and traveled through the regional colonies on mission trips. The German Reformed congregation in Philadelphia grew in numbers and in prosperity. In 1774, it replaced the hexagonal church with a larger building, one that could seat three thousand people.

Americanization and Assimilation

In the surge of postwar nationalism that followed the American Revolution and the War of 1812, leaders of Reformed congregations faced issues of Americanization and cultural assimilation. Throughout the eighteenth century, German Reformed churches had conducted services in German. As early at the latter eighteenth century, Lutheran leaders in America discussed the need for their ministers to preach in German and English. During the nineteenth century, congregations began adopting English-language practices both in oral and written forms, a process that took much of the nineteenth century to complete. Fewer in number, Danish Reformed churches moved to English most quickly. Given their German roots, German Reformed congregations maintained close connections with Lutherans, with whom they shared a heritage and common concerns about holding on to German as essential to their identity. The pace and extent of language and cultural adaptation varied depending on the concentration of German speakers in the congregations and the commitment of ministers to encourage at least bilingual worship and instruction.

[caption id="attachment_34793" align="alignright" width="225"]A 2011 photograph of the Lancaster Theological Seminary. Lancaster Theological Seminary, an affiliate of the United Church of Christ, teaches future clergy members and leaders. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Beginning in the 1820s, as outdoor Christian revivals and charismatic frontier leaders called Americans toward a democratization of Christianity, “Free Synod” congregations emerged. Their desire to hold on to their strong German identity and not give in to English ways began a long and energetic debate, which ultimately led to a schism in the Reformed Church—Free Synod versus Eastern Synod. In 1821, some German Reformed members (Eastern Synod) proposed an “American-style” theological seminary, which they opened in 1825 on the campus of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Although they perceived their denomination as “a proper American institution,” their seminary continued using the German language lest it “die out in silence.” The seminary moved in 1829 to York, Pennsylvania; in 1837 to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania; and finally to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1871, where it became Lancaster Theological Seminary.

Through the nineteenth century, Old Reformed in Philadelphia and other Reformed churches provided basic education to local children, including those too poor to pay tuition. Since Pennsylvania had no public education law until 1834, it was common for both German Reformed and Lutheran churches to offer parochial schools. Both denominations provided their members with secular education before and after the development of public schools. Especially in the early years, German constituted the language of instruction.

The “High Church” and the “Low Church”

In the late 1860s, the German Reformed Church consisted of two factions. The “high church” faction wanted to make worship more formal. This group ultimately established Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  John Henry Augustus Bomberger (1817-90), a German Reformed pastor from Philadelphia, supported the traditional “low church” style of a plain and simple worship. "Under his leadership, the church founded a college in the "village" of Freeland (later established as Collegeville.) The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted the college its charter on Feb. 5, 1869, naming the school for Zacharias Ursinus, a sixteenth-century academic and theologian from Heidelberg, Germany.

As Pennsylvania’s population tripled between 1860 and 1920 and its urban population more than doubled, the German Reformed Church maintained a significant presence. A religious survey done by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1926 found the Lutheran Church to be the largest Protestant body in Pennsylvania with 551,000 members. The Reformed Church retained 216,000 members, ranking fifth behind Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists. In 1934, the German Reformed Church merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America, and in 1957, this combined group joined the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches to organize the United Church of Christ.

[caption id="attachment_34791" align="alignright" width="300"]A 1910 photograph of the third church building used by the Old First congregation. The Old First congregation has purchased or constructed several churches since its inception in 1727. This 1910 photograph depicts the congregation’s third building—currently in use—constructed at Fourth and Race Streets in Philadelphia. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The main German Reformed Church in Philadelphia, Old Reformed, also experienced transitions. In 1837, because of traffic noise on Race Street and the inadequacies of its second structure, the church expanded with a third building. Following the Civil War, as the area around the church became enveloped by industry and business, many people moved. The congregation followed the migration of its members and built a new church in 1882 at Tenth and Wallace Streets. In 1925, the congregation similarly followed its people to Fiftieth and Locust Streets. In 1967, however, the Old First Reformed Church returned to its original location at Fourth and Race Streets as part of efforts to revitalize Center City Philadelphia. Engaging more directly with the community, the church began presenting a live crèche at Christmas in the 1970s (changed to a refugee nativity in 2018), opened an overnight shelter for the homeless in 1984, and in the early twenty-first century began hosting a jazz workshop. Through mergers in the twentieth century “Old Reformed” formally became Old First Reformed United Church of Christ. As of 2019, it was one of a dozen Reformed churches in the immediate Philadelphia area and scores of Reformed churches in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Brenda Gaydosh is an Associate Professor of History at West Chester University.  Her research focuses on varied aspects of the Catholic Church—from a biography about Nazi-era German Provost Bernhard Lichtenberg to current research on the Christian bishops in the DDR.

Darin D. Lenz

Darin D. Lenz, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of History at Fresno Pacific University.


From their earliest introduction in Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth century to their modern incarnations as high-speed highways, turnpikes have expanded Philadelphia’s reach to points west and linked the region with other commercial centers and suburbs of the eastern seaboard. Beginning with the first turnpike in the United States, a sixty-two-mile paved toll road from Philadelphia to Lancaster completed in 1795, private investment authorized by state governments enabled swift and extensive construction of improved roads to meet the needs of changing times. The first generation of turnpikes, completed by the 1820s, gave the Philadelphia region connections reaching as far west as Ohio, north through New Jersey to New York, and south through Delaware to Baltimore. In the automobile age of the twentieth century, when states again embraced toll roads as a way of financing high-speed, limited-access superhighways, the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes cut through Philadelphia’s suburbs and embedded the region in the interstate highway system.

[caption id="attachment_34514" align="alignright" width="300"]A 2010 photograph of the Ship Inn, a tavern along the Lancaster Pike. The Ship Inn served as a tavern along the Lancaster Pike. This 2010 photograph depicts the building’s Federalist-style architecture, as originally built by John Bowen in 1796. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Turnpikes take their name from the pole or pike used to block entrance to a road until a toll is paid. First introduced as a means of road improvement in England in the late seventeenth century, turnpikes emerged in the United States in the decades after the American Revolution. The need to improve the new nation’s rudimentary and haphazard dirt roads, many of them created by foot traffic over former Indian trails, far exceeded local capabilities or public finances. Seeking a solution, state legislatures awarded charters of incorporation for turnpike companies and empowered them to sell stock and collect tolls in exchange for improving or creating roads for faster and easier travel. With state economies highly dependent on moving agricultural goods to market and with populations spreading westward, legislatures readily granted charters to hundreds of turnpike companies. Within a few decades, by the 1830s, the nation had almost twelve thousand miles of turnpikes.

Pennsylvania inspired the wave of toll road construction with the success of the Lancaster Turnpike, which mostly followed the Philadelphia-Lancaster Road that had been in use throughout the eighteenth century. The earlier road, in addition to serving as the link between Philadelphia and Lancaster (founded in 1729), was the “Great Wagon Road” that enabled migrants and freight to move west across southeastern Pennsylvania and from there into the backcountry of Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Discussion of improving the heavily traveled road began among merchants and state legislators shortly after the War for Independence and, with lobbying by Philadelphia elites, came to fruition with a charter of incorporation for a turnpike company in 1792. Residents in and around Lancaster and Philadelphia eagerly bought one thousand shares of stock, valued at $300 each, and the company organized under the leadership of William Bingham (1752-1804), a Federalist political leader and prominent Philadelphia merchant.

Paved With Stone

By 1795, the completed turnpike to Lancaster required tolls but it had been paved with layers of crushed stone, widened and straightened, and engineered for good drainage. Inns and taverns opened along the route— purportedly as many as one per mile— to serve an increasing volume of traffic. A sturdy stone bridge carried the road across Brandywine River in Downingtown; by 1805, a separately chartered toll bridge (the “Permanent Bridge”) carried Philadelphia traffic to the turnpike over the Schuylkill River at High (Market) Street. Although some objected to paying to use the road and its bridges, the faster travel time to market made the tolls worthwhile for farmers, and the reliability of the road benefited freight haulers and stagecoach operators. The project produced steady if not spectacular dividends for investors.

[caption id="attachment_34509" align="alignright" width="300"]A Carl Rakeman painting of the first Macadam Road in the United States. This 1823 painting of the Boonsborough Turnpike Road in Maryland depicts the first use of a macadam surface within the United States. John McAdam invented this new form of pavement in Scotland, while serving as a road trustee in Bristol, South West England. (Federal Highway Administration)[/caption]

The Lancaster Turnpike inspired a nationwide rush of turnpike-building and rivalries among cities. As toll roads radiated outward not only from Philadelphia but also from New York, Wilmington, and Baltimore, they knit together a region that later travelers would recognize as the Northeast Corridor. The important connection between the commercial hubs of Philadelphia and New York received attention from turnpike projects extending from both cities. For example, the Frankford and Bristol Turnpike (chartered 1803) carried traffic through Bucks County to the Delaware River at Morrisville, where a ferry crossing allowed connection with turnpikes across New Jersey to New York. (Until the 1850s, most turnpike activity in New Jersey emanated from New York investors eager to bolster New York-Philadelphia commerce or improve connections with agricultural areas in northeast Pennsylvania.) To the south, the Philadelphia, Brandywine, and New London Turnpike Company chartered by Pennsylvania in 1808 and Delaware’s Philadelphia Pike, built across the northern neck of the state between 1813 and 1823, enabled travel and trade between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Toll roads reached out from Philadelphia like spokes of a wheel, connecting the city to the interior of Pennsylvania. Turnpike companies improved the northwesterly Germantown and Ridge Roads through Philadelphia County, and then the Germantown and Perkiomen Turnpike (opened in 1799) extended travel for an additional twenty-six miles to Reading. Turnpikes also strengthened Philadelphia’s connections to the Lehigh Valley via Bethlehem Pike (chartered in 1804). Where turnpikes reached into the agricultural countryside of southern Chester County, they met with similar roads extending northward from Wilmington, Delaware. Across the expanse of Pennsylvania, helped by state funding for turnpikes beginning in 1806, a proliferation of short turnpikes between communities created the means for people and products to travel between Philadelphia and any corner of the state, then west into Ohio. 

Regional Turnpike Network Expands

By the 1820s, turnpikes had vastly expanded Philadelphia’s regional connections by improved (often paved) roads. Enthusiasm for turnpikes waned, however, with the advent of canals and railroads and the realization that most turnpikes returned meager long-term profits. During the 1850s, South Jersey gained the Black Horse and White Horse Pikes as improvements to earlier roads, and Pennsylvania chartered turnpikes between Philadelphia and West Chester (1848), between Darby and Ridley in Delaware County (1851), and near Philadelphia along the Wissahickon Creek (1856). But most turnpike development at mid-century focused on shorter wooden-plank roads connecting with the railroads and canals. By the end of the nineteenth century, most turnpikes reverted to public use as the charters for turnpike companies ended or as the companies surrendered them for lack of profit. An era of turnpikes ended, but the states gained an extensive network of public roads made possible by private investment. Over time, the nineteenth-century turnpikes became state and U.S. highways.

[caption id="attachment_34513" align="alignright" width="300"]A 1942 photograph of a toll booth along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, begun during the Great Depression, opened on October 1, 1940, with a 160-mile stretch of road between Carlisle and Irwin, Pennsylvania. This photograph captured cars passing through a toll booth onto the turnpike in 1942. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

As a method for financing transformational roadways, turnpikes revived in the twentieth century to meet the demands of the automobile age. The new generation of toll roads in Pennsylvania and New Jersey blazed multilane, limited-access superhighways across long distances, not radiating outward from cities but skirting their suburban fringes. The outlying interchanges for Philadelphia on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes still positioned the city within the emerging Northeast Corridor and connected it to the West, but vehicles also could speed by Philadelphia en route to other destinations. Turnpike service plazas, offering gasoline, restaurants, and restrooms, encouraged drivers to stay on the highway.

 The Pennsylvania Turnpike, begun during the Great Depression of the 1930s, aimed to produce jobs as well as an improved highway across the state. Its first phase (opened in 1940) ran through central Pennsylvania between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, a route that allowed its builders to take advantage of a roadbed and mountain tunnels that had been abandoned by a nineteenth-century railroad venture. When the turnpike extended to the Philadelphia area in 1950, its interchange twenty miles west of the city near Valley Forge set the stage for a rush of industrial, commercial, and residential development. The growth of an “edge city” at the former village of King of Prussia gained further impetus from completion of the turnpike’s Northeast Extension toward New Jersey and Scranton between 1954 and 1957 and the Schuylkill Expressway connection with Philadelphia in 1958. The turnpike’s exits at Plymouth Meeting, Whitemarsh, and Willow Grove also attracted commercial development to Philadelphia’s suburbs.

New Jersey Turnpike

The New Jersey Turnpike, authorized in 1948 and opened in segments during 1951-52, solidified the state’s position as a vital East Coast transportation corridor by funneling nonstop traffic on a nearly straight diagonal from rural South Jersey (where the Delaware Memorial Bridge replaced ferry service across the Delaware River in 1951) to the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. As the interstate highway system developed during the 1950s and 1960s, the turnpike offered an alternative to the partially completed Interstate 95 between that highway’s segments in Delaware (the Delaware Turnpike) and New York, thus speeding trips between Washington, D.C., and Boston. The turnpike’s exit closest to Philadelphia, in largely agricultural Mount Laurel Township, Burlington County, spurred plans for development resembling King of Prussia in Pennsylvania—industrial parks, shopping centers, and suburban subdivisions. In Mount Laurel, however, these proposals threatened displacement of longtime African American residents, who viewed the township’s development strategy as an attempt to cultivate a more white, middle class population. Their effort to build low-cost garden apartments for displaced residents led to two far-reaching court decisions (1975 and 1983) banning exclusionary zoning and defining the responsibilities of communities to provide affordable housing.

[caption id="attachment_34512" align="alignright" width="233"]A 1951 photograph depicts the construction of a bridge along the New Jersey Turnpike. The New Jersey Turnpike, authorized in 1948, funneled traffic diagonally from rural South Jersey to the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. This photograph depicts a bridge along the turnpike, crossing the Hackensack River, under construction in 1951. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

For the new generation of automobile turnpikes, Pennsylvania and New Jersey created independent agencies with authority to raise revenue, build the roads, and manage the enterprises: the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. (In Delaware, the state Department of Transportation held jurisdiction over the tolled segment of I-95.) The Pennsylvania Turnpike, a risky proposition during the Great Depression, began construction with a $29 million grant from the federal Public Works Administration and sold its first $41 million in revenue bonds to the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which in turn sold them to private investors. The New Jersey Turnpike, originating in the boom years following World War II, launched with the largest toll-road bond issue in history up to that time—$250 million in thirty-five-year bonds. The turnpike agencies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey had power, patronage, and unending streams of revenue from toll booths and service plazas operating twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year—circumstances that led to instances of corruption in both states.

For the Philadelphia region, beginning with the Lancaster Turnpike of 1795 and continuing into the twenty-first century, turnpikes achieved transformational change for the movement of people and goods. Private investment and tolls achieved improvements in road surfacing, speed, and safety beyond the capacity of public financing. The resulting turnpikes contributed to forming regional ties between Philadelphia and nearby communities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware while also forging connections to travel and commerce of the nation.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor in Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Trenton, New Jersey

The state capital of New Jersey and the seat of Mercer County, Trenton parlayed its strategic location on the Delaware River into becoming one of the most productive industrial sites in the Greater Philadelphia region. A small city of only 7.65 square miles located halfway between Philadelphia and New York, Trenton conveyed its considerable status to the world through the sign the city erected in 1917: “Trenton Makes, the World Takes.” However, the loss of industry and the rise of social costs as the population shifted put the city into serious decline after World War II, challenges it faced into the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_34476" align="alignright" width="300"] Trenton (inset and upper right) is linked to Philadelphia, Camden, and other major industrial cities by the Delaware River, a vital shipping lane. Depicted in this 1932 map, it flows through five states: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Europeans chose to settle in the Trenton area because it was the easiest spot to cross the Delaware. The area’s earliest inhabitants, the Lenape Indians, had already carved out an Indian trail connecting the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. During the colonial period that trail became the most direct route between Philadelphia and New York and as a roadway spurred Trenton’s growth into a town, a small industrial city, and later into part of a larger industrial corridor that stretched along the Delaware River through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

The Trenton area was first settled by English Quakers in 1679, when Mahlon Stacy (1638-1704) built a house and grist mill along the Delaware River. In 1714, William Trent (circa. 1653-1724), a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, bought Stacy’s property, laid out house lots for sale, and by 1719 “Trent’s Town” was the site of the county courthouse. By 1726, ferries crossed the Delaware to Philadelphia, and by the 1750s, stagecoaches reached New York. From then on, Trenton had a steady stream of travelers from Philadelphia and New York.

By the 1770s, Trenton had become the mercantile center of an area that sprawled over two counties. During the Revolution, it was the site of the two Battles of Trenton when the army of General George Washington (1732-99) crossed the Delaware and twice defeated the Hessian troops on December 26, 1776, and a week later on January 2, 1777. After the Revolution, Trenton became the state capital in 1790, an incorporated city in 1792, and a link in the new nation’s direct inland route from New England to the southern states. During the 1830s, bridges, canals, and railroads improved the Philadelphia-New York route. Transit reinforced Trenton’s central position in the area and led to the creation of Mercer County in 1838 with Trenton as the county seat.

Textiles, Steel, Rubber, Pottery

[caption id="attachment_34287" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of the Lower Trenton Bridge. The slogan Trenton Makes, the World Wakes is illuminated on the side. The Trenton Chamber of Commerce adopted the slogan “ Trenton Makes, The World Takes” in 1910. It first appeared on the Lower Trenton Bridge, which spans the Delaware River between Trenton, New Jersey, and Morrisville, Pennsylvania, in 1911. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Good transportation links attracted new industries to Trenton from the 1840s on. Its first industry had been textiles. But in 1845, New York businessman Peter Cooper (1791-1883) opened an iron mill in Trenton, and later John A. Roebling (1806-1869), of later Brooklyn Bridge fame, moved his wire rope/steel cable business to Trenton as well. Many more industries followed. Two of the biggest were rubber, from the 1850s until the 1950s, and pottery (fine china and sanitary ware), from the 1860s into the twentieth century. By 1900, Trenton was a booming industrial city and part of a manufacturing belt along the Delaware River. Trenton had begun by selling manufactured goods to Philadelphia and New York, but it later sold high quality goods to the nation and the world. In 1917, the city proudly proclaimed its industrial might with a large electric sign on the Lower Trenton Bridge, saying “Trenton Makes, the World Takes.”

Trenton’s population grew and diversified with its industry. People from home and abroad flocked to Trenton’s mills and factories, causing the population to rise from 6,461 in 1850 to its peak of 128,009 in 1950. At that time, Trenton had the fifth-highest density of cities over 100,000 population, or around 17,000 persons per square mile. Its population also changed as thousands of immigrants toiled in Trenton workplaces, from the earlier Irish, German, and British, to the later Italian, Polish, Hungarian, and Czechoslovak. From 1905 on, the proportion of foreign born declined steadily, but a new stream of African Americans began arriving during World War I.

In the 1920s, Trenton still had a vibrant downtown, a rising population, and industries producing for the world. But by then, decades of mechanization had eliminated many jobs and weakened Trenton’s unions, and many Trenton companies had left the city. This process began in 1904 when U.S. Steel acquired Trenton Iron Works and continued when Colorado Fuel & Iron bought Roebling’s in 1953. These factors were obscured during World War I and the 1920s but were exposed by the 1930s Depression. The city only managed to survive with New Deal relief efforts and public works until World War II temporarily restored business and jobs.

Trenton’s prosperity ended in the post-war years. Manufacturing disappeared, while young families left Trenton for new housing and jobs outside the city. Downtown retailers relocated to suburban shopping centers, and cultural, state, and educational institutions also left. Only Thomas Edison State College and a satellite campus of Mercer County Community College remained downtown. In 1957, even the governor’s residence moved to Princeton.

African American Migration

Many African Americans migrated to Trenton for World War II defense jobs, and their numbers continued to grow afterwards. Although they constituted only 11 percent of the city’s population in 1950, racial tensions increased because they were arriving just when jobs were disappearing. This was revealed by the 1948 case of “The Trenton Six,” which drew international attention when six black men were wrongly convicted for murdering a white storekeeper. Although they were later exonerated, racial distrust flared again when the city’s urban renewal program resulted in the demolition of homes of African Americans despite their protests. Tensions intensified in December 1967 when black and white students clashed in Trenton Central High School, and again in April 9, 1968, the day of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral. Violence erupted after black college student Harlan Joseph (1949-68) was fatally shot in the back by a white police officer. During later decades, Trenton suffered deeply from poverty, joblessness, and gang violence. Trenton remained well below the state’s poverty levels into the twenty-first century and often topped the list of the most violent cities of its size with consistently high murder rates.

While parts of the city declined, Trenton’s downtown and central core were rebuilt. This began in the late 1950s with John Fitch Way, an urban renewal highway that cut off the downtown from its Delaware River waterfront. It continued in the 1980s with new county and state office towers and the massive Hughes Justice Complex, and followed with entertainment and sports venues such as a new minor league baseball stadium for the Trenton Thunder in the 1990s. Renewal continued with conversion of the Roebling mills for housing and tourism and a new Trenton Transit Center serving Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, SEPTA, and the River Line. Trenton had a new skyline, but state buildings paid no city taxes, and state employees did not spend enough money downtown to assure revival. City officials often had misgivings about the state’s larger role. But without private investment, state initiatives were the only way to rebuild Trenton.

[caption id="attachment_34286" align="alignright" width="300"]Reenactors at the Old Barracks Museum preparing to reenact the Battle of Trenton during Patriot's Week. The Trenton Downtown Association holds Patriot Week annually between December 26 and 31. Pictured is a reenactment of the Battle of Trenton, conducted by the Old Barracks Museum. (Old Barracks Museum)[/caption]

Trenton lost much population since the 1950s, dropping to 84,913 in 2010. Middle-class residents continued to leave, and African Americans increased from 23 percent of the population in 1960 to 52 percent in both 2000 and 2010. Hispanics began arriving in the 1960s, reaching 34 percent of the city’s total in 2010. Thereafter, the city’s population stabilized at over 84,000, while levels of poverty and crime declined, despite an isolated shootout at the Art All Night festival in June 2018. Earlier that year, multiple news outlets repeated a Wallet Hub online description of Trenton as “the worst capital city to live in.” Despite having to battle such negative publicity, the city was long inspired by the efforts of residents, civic organizations, and city officials deeply dedicated to Trenton and its future. In recent years, residents celebrated the 242nd anniversary of the Battle of Trenton and the city unveiled an ambitious master plan, Trenton 250. In September 2018, New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy (b. 1957), pledged to revitalize the struggling city with new redevelopment and safety measures.

Evelyn Gonzalez is a Professor of History at William Paterson University of New Jersey. She has written essays for The Encyclopedia of New York City and The Encyclopedia of New Jersey and is the author of The Bronx (Columbia University Press, 2004).

Evelyn Gonzalez

Evelyn Gonzalez is a Professor of History at William Paterson University of New Jersey. She has written essays for The Encyclopedia of New York City and The Encyclopedia of New Jersey and is the author of The Bronx (Columbia University Press, 2004).

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