THE PASSING OF THE STAGE COACH
THE opening of the railroad from Mount Holly to Camden in 1867 marked the beginning of a new era in the development of Moorestown as a home centre. Prior to that time the stage coach was the only public means of travel between Moorestown and Camden. The first stage line of which I have any knowledge that passed through Moorestown was established by Daniel Cooper in 1759. It started at Cooper’s Ferry in Camden and led to Middletown and Sandy Hook passing through Moorestown and Mount Holly. From Sandy Hook the passengers were carried to New York by boat. Another interesting old line was established by John Keen at a very early date and left Toy’s Hotel, Camden on Wednesday and Saturday for Moorestown, Mount Holly, Jobstown, Wrightstown and New Egypt. The fare each way to New Egypt was $1.25. These early lines probably stopped in Moorestown at Moore’s Hotel in the western end of the town and Cox’s Tavern in the eastern end. Prior to the opening of the railroad there were two rival stage lines between Camden and Moorestown, one of which made its headquarters at the William Penn Hotel which stood on the ground now occupied by the Burlington County Trust Company and the other at the West End Hotel now standing at No. 31 West Main Street and used as an apartment house. The stages were far more comfortable at that time than in the early days and after the road was gravelled and incorporated as a turn pike in 1850, travel was probably reasonably comfortable excepting in the Spring of the year. Many of the old milestones are still standing on the north side of the Pike, one being located on Main Street near the forks of the road in West Moorestown and another in East Moorestown opposite the Mount Laurel Road, reminding us of the “good old days” of our grandfathers.
THE PASSING OF THE STAGE COACH 53
Like all forward movements the advent of the “iron horse” was vigorously opposed by some of our more conservative residents. The progressives, however, won the day and the Camden and Burlington Railroad Company was chartered in 1866 and ran its first train, a special to Mount Holly Fair, in October, 1867. A time table now in the possession of Gilbert Aitken of Moorestown, dated April, 1868, shows that there were two trains in the morning and one in the afternoon to Philadelphia and returning one in the morning and two in the afternoon. The Camden and Burlington County Railroad Company was the outgrowth of several previous attempts to build a road from Mount Holly to Camden. The Mount Holly and Camden Railroad Company was incorporated in 1836 but lost its charter because it was not constructed within the specified five year limit. Another attempt was made in 1859 when the Camden, Moorestown, Hainesport and Mount Holly Horse Car Railroad Company was chartered on March 19th. The charter specified that the road was to be completed five years from the following Fourth of July. Notwithstanding the fact that the charter specified a Horse Car Railroad, the company proceeded to build a road bed and to lay tracks suitable for steam trains. The charter, however, expired by limitation as the road was not completed by July 4th, 1865.
The Camden and Burlington County Railroad Company, which received its charter on February 6th, 1866, was a consolidation of the two earlier companies. It is evident that the company organized in 1859 must have almost completed the road, otherwise the first train could not have been run in 1867. Some of our older residents state that the road was first staked out on the southern edge of the Ridge about where Prospect Avenue is now located but was afterwards changed to Third Street then the northern limit of the village. The company first proposed placing its station at Mill Street but as this plan was vigorously opposed by the residents of the eastern and western ends of the town,
54 MOORESTOWN AND HER NEIGHBORS
it was finally decided to place one station at Chester Avenue and one at Church Street. The present station at Chester Avenue—one of our most cherished antiques—is the original station with the exception of the baggage room at the eastern end. The attractive brick station in West Moorestown was built in 1897, the original building being now used as a freight station. The Stanwick Avenue Station was erected in 1881 for the accommodation of those who desired to attend the Moorestown Fair, the entrance to which was just across the street north of the railroad.
The Fair was held under the auspices of the Moorestown Agricultural and Industrial Society which was organised and incorporated in 1880. The object of the society was “to promote the agricultural and industrial interests of the people of the community by holding exhibitions, public lectures and discussions from time to time.” Horse racing, side shows and gambling were strictly prohibited. The Fair grounds consisted of about seven acres and were located along the railroad track east of Stanwick Avenue. Fairs were held in the Spring and Fall of each year and were largely exhibitions of horses, cattle and other live stock as well as of the farm products of the neighborhood.
At the time the railroad was established the land north of Third Street was open country. The Charles Collins farm was located north of the railroad and east of Chester Avenue. The farm house stood near Joseph H. Roberts' residence, 215 E. Central Avenue and was moved back when the present house was erected in 1898. It is now used by Mr. Roberts as a garage. The Lane to the Collins farm lead to Chester Avenue prior to the opening of Central Avenue. The farm owned by Dr. John H. Stokes joined the Collins farm about where Oak Avenue now runs. The Amos Stiles farm was located west of Chester Avenue and north of the railroad. The farm house stood near the residence of the late John S. Collins, 33 East Central Avenue and the front Lane lead to Chester Avenue about opposite the lane leading to the Collins homestead. There was a
THE PASSING OF THE STAGE COACH 55
long back lane on the Stiles farm which lead to Church Street near its junction with Maple Avenue.
A group of Moorestown and Philadelphia business men who foresaw the development that would follow the inauguration of train service to Philadelphia, organized the Moorestown Land Company shortly after the opening of the Railroad. They purchased the Charles Collins farm containing fifty acres for $20,000.00 and sub-divided it into building lots. Central and Oak Avenues were laid out east of Chester. Each of the ten members of the company purchased a lot and erected an attractive home on same. Doubtless these men were the first regular commuters to Philadelphia. The commuters in the early days were often times called "crows" for the reason that they spent their days in Philadelphia or Camden and flew out to Moorestown to roost at night. Portions of the Stokes and Stiles farms were purchased a little later and Central and Oak Avenues were extended west of Chester.
All purchasers of lots in the new development had to agree to certain wise restrictions. Nothing objectionable to a residential section, such as “slaughter houses, pigsties, saloons or shops” were permitted. The wisdom of these restrictions—our first zoning law—is evident to us as we stroll through this beautiful section of our town. The development of this section known to the older generations as “The Company Grounds” was the first step in the evolution of Moorestown the typical Jersey village to Moorestown one of the most beautiful suburban towns in South Jersey.
The organization of the Moorestown Improvement Association in 1004 may be said to mark the second step forward. Moorestown at that time still retained many of the characteristics of a country village. There were no sewers in the town and practically no sidewalks north of the Railroad and at that time we were drinking unfiltered water pumped directly from the pond in the woods back of the pumping station and at times directly from Pensauken
56 MOORESTOWN AND HER NEIGHBORS
Creek. William E. Rhoads, whose beautiful country home is located on Riverton Road just north of the town was the first to realize the need of an association to correct these and other undesirable conditions and should be remembered as the founder of the society. Mr. Rhoads then living on Oak Avenue invited about forty residents representing every section of the town to meet at his home to discuss the advisability of organizing an Improvement Association. The proposed plan met with the approval of all present and The Moorestown Improvement Association, whose sole aim was and is to make Moorestown a more attractive community of homes was organized.
The residents of the town cooperated with the activities of this organization with the result that eight or ten miles of cement sidewalks were laid during the following two or three years and the Moorestown Water Company was induced to install a filtration plant. The movement for the bonding of the Township to purchase the water plant and to establish an artesian well system was started by The Improvement Association in 1912. A committee of representative citizens met at the Town Hall to consider the subject and a Citizens' Committee with the late Walter P. Stokes as Chairman was appointed to carry out the plan. A special election was held on July 15th, 1913 at which the people approved the bonding of the Township for $140,
000.00 for the purpose. The Moorestown Water Company was paid $77,322.80 for the plant which was considered a fair valuation at that time. The country village has largely disappeared and Moorestown is now recognized as one of the most beautiful of Philadelphia’s suburban communities.