Linwood Historic District
The Linwood Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Linwood Historic District is significant for its association with the history and development of Linwood, New Jersey between 1820 and 1935. During this century from the early federal period to the eve of World War II the town of Linwood grew out of the early settlement of Leedsville along Shore Road, the primary route along the mainland shore in Atlantic County, New Jersey. The Linwood Historic District includes a section of Maple Avenue, which was once a part of the main inland route from Shore Road and the site of the community's first post office and many of its earliest houses. Many houses in the Linwood Historic District were the homes of locally important people including sea captains and customs collectors as well as members of locally prominent families such as the Somers and Risleys. The community once included farmers, sea captains, and other people in the mix of maritime and land-based occupations usual in most early-American waterfront communities. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries farming in Linwood became more specialized with poultry and plant nurseries. At the same time the advent of the railroad, trolley, and automobile encouraged the growth of tourism and commerce. Some of the larger houses in the district became guest houses. Subdivision of lots made room for additional houses. The houses, specialty stores, and other buildings in the Linwood Historic District directly reflect the growth of Linwood between the early nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Linwood Historic District is also significant because its architecture embodies the styles that were popular during its period of development. The architecture also reflects the social and financial status as well as the personal tastes of its residents between 1820 and 1935. The early-nineteenth century houses in the Linwood Historic District express the conservative architectural and construction preferences of the town at that time. The district contains a large number of Gothic houses that are in very good condition and are now being repainted in colors appropriate to their time. In a more ornate style with more flamboyant trim, these large houses indicate the prosperity of the sea captains who owned many of them. Later houses in Colonial Revival, Foursquare, Queen Anne, and Bungalow styles are also good examples of their types and help to convey the later history of the development of Linwood as a Jersey shore community with rail, trolley, and automobile transportation.
History and Background
Linwood, in Atlantic County, is one of a group of towns that grew up along Shore Road, an early route between the Great Egg Harbor River and the Mullica River in southern New Jersey. The Shore Road towns are all on the solid land west of the bay which separates the Atlantic Ocean and Absecon Island from mainland New Jersey. Although the ocean and its bays and marshes formed much of the basis for early economic and social life of these communities, none of them had direct access to the main trade routes along the Atlantic Coast. Here in south Jersey, as in other coastal areas without substantial harbors, roads and land routes had to replace the preferred water routes for trade and communication. Shore Road connected the small but growing communities along its length and also served as the terminus for other roads leading to Camden where people and goods could cross the Delaware River to Philadelphia, colonial America's most important city. With the advent of steamboat and railroad travel, Shore Road took on another character as tourists discovered the pleasures of the Jersey Shore. The Shore Road towns never experienced nineteenth century industrial development themselves, but it was in part the industrial development in larger cities that allowed the growth of tourism in the area.
The modern towns along Shore Road, Somers Point, Linwood, Northfield, Pleasantville, and Absecon all have a common heritage, but each town has its own distinctive features, too. The Sculls, Somers, Risleys, Leeds, and other early settlers spread throughout the Shore Road towns, and their descendants, as well as their early homes, are a part of the present-day communities. Today, as in the past, the Shore Road towns are primarily residential areas with small local businesses. All have become somewhat popular with vacationers and have some seasonal residents. In none of these towns does a resort atmosphere with hotels, motels, and boardwalks dominate as it does in most New Jersey oceanfront towns.
These towns all have a history that includes the maritime trades. Although shipbuilding along the south Jersey shore never became a nationally important industry as it did in the major ports of Boston and Philadelphia, many local men followed the sea. Fish and shellfish from Scull Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond also provided a livelihood for many residents of the Shore Road towns until well into the twentieth century.
The dates of significance for the Linwood Historic District cover the period from 1820 to 1935. The Linwood Historic District contains houses representative of the major historical eras during that time: the antebellum, Civil War, late nineteenth century, and early twentieth century. Linwood remains a small town and was never the site of a world-shaping event. Thus it retains the buildings and other tangible evidence of its development over a period of more than a century. Although major events seem to have bypassed Linwood, the town today is nevertheless a product of these events. The invention of the steamboat altered the pattern of life in Linwood and the other Shore Road towns. Although Linwood was home to a number of sea captains, a continuation of the age of sail might have fostered expanded shipbuilding and related maritime activity. In the late nineteenth century as industry concentrated in large American cities with their transportation facilities and ever-increasing supply of immigrant laborers, Linwood, like other small towns, clung to its earlier traditions. The mid-nineteenth century arrival of the railroad and expanded tourism until the Great Depression brought more people to Linwood, but all in an orderly fashion that retained the older houses along with the new. The architecture within the Linwood Historic District also represents the major eras in the period of significance. The oldest buildings dating from about 1820 are in simple vernacular or modified federal styles typical of their time; the later Victorian houses incorporate the popular styles and building practices of the late nineteenth century; and the early twentieth century Bungalows and Cottages represent not only the changing taste of their time, but the ability of more and more Americans to own not only their own home, but a summer cottage as well. The period of significance ends just before World War II which brought about profound changes in the way Americans lived as well as in the way they constructed their buildings.
Seventeenth century Dutch explorers came into this part of the western hemisphere and established Fort Nassau near the present city of Gloucester, New Jersey, in 1623. Swedes established a fort near the present Salem, New Jersey in 1642 but eventually surrendered it to the Dutch. The English claimed the territory in 1664, and it briefly reverted to Dutch control before the English made a lasting claim. Through a series of grants a group of Quakers came into possession of New Jersey, dividing it into two sections. The southern part of the state became West Jersey. Although colonial New Jersey did not receive its own governor until 1738, settlements and towns started to develop. William Penn and other proprietors encouraged Quakers to settle throughout southern New Jersey. Thomas Budd of Philadelphia acquired a large amount of land there and sold a portion of it in 1695 to John Somers, Jonathan Adams, James Steelman, Jonas Valentine, John Gilbert, Peter Couwenhoven (later Peter Conover), and John Scull. These were the earliest settlers in the area, and many of their descendants still live here. The earliest Quaker settlements in Atlantic County were at the opposite ends of Shore Road at Somers Point and at Leeds Point. Although the Quakers formed a meeting, or congregation, at a much earlier date, when they first built a meetinghouse, in about 1730, it was halfway between those two communities and just within the northern border of the present town of Linwood. This was called the Bakersville Meeting which continued only until 1843. Today the Friends Cemetery is the only tangible reminder of the early meeting.
Although the community of Leedsville was small, it was on a locally strategic transportation route. Ferries and small roads branched off from Shore Road to other points. The present Maple Avenue was a part of the inland route from Shore Road to Camden, where people and merchandise could cross the Delaware River to Philadelphia. It is not surprising that dwellings, businesses, and eventually the post office clustered near the intersection of Maple Avenue and Shore Road.
Much of the nineteenth century village atmosphere remains on Maple Avenue, where a group of houses stand as tangible evidence of Linwood's early history. The simple gable-roofed house at 1031 Maple Avenue was probably built before 1820 when it was purchased by Robert B. Risley, who later became collector of customs, a township Justice of the Peace, and a state senator. 1021 Maple Avenue, next door, was probably built as a two room house before the 1830s and eventually became the home of Bassett Steelman, the operator of a packet steamer between Somers Point and Philadelphia. Other houses on Maple Avenue that date from about the same time are at 1014 and 1040 Maple Avenue. Near the middle of the nineteenth century the latter house was the Methodist parsonage and also served as the post office for a short time. The house at 1007 Maple Avenue, a large two-and-a-half story clapboard-covered house with gable roof, which dates from the early 1800s and was probably the home of Samuel R. Risley, a shipbuilder and storekeeper.
There are also a number of houses dating from the first half of the nineteenth century scattered along Shore Road, an indication of the importance of the route in the early history of southern New Jersey. In the early nineteenth century there appear to have been at least two taverns in the present Linwood: one near Central Avenue and the other near Country Club Road. These taverns catered to stagecoach travelers along Shore Road. Although the taverns are no longer standing, there are other buildings, such as the one at 1037 Shore Road, that local tradition says is one of the oldest houses in town. This was at one time the home of David Somers who ran a store here in the mid-nineteenth century. Similar in shape to several of the houses on Maple Avenue, it too has a gable roof with its ridgeline parallel to the street. In the late nineteenth century it was the home of the Edmonds family and since the 1950s has been in commercial use. Nearby, on the other side of the street at 1038 Shore Road is another house of similar shape which was once the home of Captain William Rose.
Many of the houses in Linwood stand on land that originally belonged to the Scull or Leeds families. These buildings include the house at 1525 Shore Road, a gable-roofed house that was mentioned in the will of John Scull in 1834, and the house at 1725 Shore Road, owned by Edmond Somers until 1828 when he gave it to his son, Lewis Somers. Another member of the same family, Captain Francis Somers, lived in, but did not build, the house at 2123 Shore Road which dates from about 1830. Francis Somers was the great great grandson of John Somers the immigrant who was the first member of the family to settle in the area that is now Atlantic County.
The Thomas Morris House at 1444 Shore Road, built in 1853, is an excellent example of the modified Federal style that appears in the larger early- and mid-nineteenth century houses of the area. Five bays wide with a gable roof and clapboard exterior, its graceful proportions make it one of the outstanding houses in the Linwood Historic District. This was the home of Thomas Morris, who served in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate and was also a deputy customs collector for Somers Point. Attached to the rear of the house is the old customs house, which was moved from its original roadside position in front of the house. In 1791, shortly after the new government of the United States established a customs service, Somers Point became the port of entry for Gloucester County. At that time there was no separate town of Linwood (or Leedsville as it was first called) and the actual customs house for the Great Egg Harbor customs district was in front of the Morris House. Here the customs collectors registered arriving ships and collected duty on their cargo. They also recorded goods salvaged from coastal shipwrecks. Daniel E. Benezet, Jr. was the first collector of customs, a position held by eighteen other men before the district was discontinued in 1912. Thus, many of the houses within the Linwood Historic District still remain from its early years.
In 1854 the Camden and Atlantic Railroad began carrying passengers from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, thereby opening the shore to resort development. Prior to that time the oceanfront was undeveloped, and settlements on the fastland such as Linwood and Somers Point served the maritime trade. The customs district and its business was an important element of the early community. All ships entering the Great Egg Harbor River registered here, giving the community an economic link with the inland iron forges and timber businesses. It is not surprising that a number of sea captains built houses nearby as the years passed.
Among the most striking houses in Linwood today are a group of large Victorian houses dating from the last quarter of the nineteenth century. These houses represent the era when sea captains lived and prospered there. Although people in all the Shore Road towns were in maritime-related trades, Linwood has the largest percentage of sea captains' houses. These houses tend to be two-and-a-half stories high, with steep pitched roofs, Gothic windows, porches, and elaborate trim in Stick or Eastlake style. These houses dominate the streetscape and make it possible to visualize Shore Road in the late nineteenth century. The large restored house at 1104 Shore Road dates from about 1870 and was the home of Captain Israel G. Adams,who also became the mayor of Linwood. The large Gothic house at 1330 Shore Road, dating from about 1860 was the home of Captain James Ireland. Captain Job Somers lived with his wife in yet another large Gothic house at 1418 Shore Road, built in about 1870. Other houses of similar style and age are at 2114 and 1123 Shore Road, and all stand as evidence of the days when many sea captains lived in Linwood.
As the community continued to grow in the late nineteenth century houses in other styles appeared. The home of Job Somers, physician, surgeon, trustee of Seaview Baptist Church, and founder of Keystone Lodge, was the large gable-roofed house with dormer windows at 801 Shore Road. Lewis Steelman, a blacksmith, built his home at 1022 Maple Avenue in about 1880 and worked at the shop behind his father's house next door. Perhaps one of the most elaborate houses of this era is the house at 1049 Maple Avenue with its wraparound porch with ornate trim in the Eastlake style. Captain Peter Reed whose wife was a member of the Risley family built the house.
By 1890 the town had just become independent from Egg Harbor Township and had a population of 536. There were enough residents to support stores and other services. One of the few early commercial buildings remaining from that time is the building which is now a house at 1011 Maple Avenue. It was originally a dry goods and grocery store owned by S.R. Risley, who lived next door. By the 1920s it had become a dwelling, as it is today. The increasing importance of the community required a post office, a need that brought about the change of name to Linwood. Prior to 1880 the Somers Point Post Office handled the mail for Leedsville residents, but in that year Joseph R. Risley received the appointment as the first postmaster for Leedsville. Since another post office in New Jersey was also called Leedsville, the residents needed to select a new name. By vote they chose Linwood, which has been the name of the town ever since.
There was a school on Maple Avenue before 1870, but it, unfortunately, no longer stands. However, its replacement, the Linwood Borough School No. 1 at 16 West Poplar Avenue, built in 1873, is in excellent condition and is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Probably the best preserved nineteenth century one-room school in Atlantic County, it served as a school from 1873 to 1908. At that time the New Jersey County School System had been in existence for less than a decade, and Egg Harbor Township, which included Leedsville, was divided into 48 school districts. This school served district #19, which included the area roughly between the present Central and Belhaven avenues. The building operated as an ungraded one-room school until 1894, when the school was divided into two rooms. After Linwood built a new school in 1908, the old school building became the Linwood Borough Hall, serving that purpose until 1965. Present  plans call for the Library to move to another building and for the Linwood Historical Society to move into the Leedsville School.
There are now several modern churches within the Linwood Historic District that do not contribute to the significance of the district because they are not old enough. However, the Seaview Baptist Church at 2040 Shore Road, although much altered, does date from 1881, and is just one of the churches that stood in Linwood at that time. The Leedsville (Linwood) Baptists met in the Union Congregation Hall until 1881 when a fire destroyed the hall. The Baptists then moved the Baptist Chapel from nearby Bakersville to Linwood where it became the Seaview Baptist Church.
The rapid development of Atlantic City as a resort after it became accessible by railroad in 1854 influenced further railroad building and tourism in the nearby communities of Atlantic County. Linwood, like the other Shore Road towns, was soon on a railroad line. In 1880 the Pleasantville-Ocean City Railroad opened along Shore Road between Pleasantville and Somers Point, eventually to be replaced by a trolley that started operation on the same route through Linwood in 1903. Linwood was not directly on the ocean, but it appealed to some vacationers, so by the 1920s it had many guest houses although the town never had hotels.
Among the older houses which adapted to summer use was The Gothic house at 2001 Shore Road which became the "Hollywood," and was a summer home, as well as a working farm. The large house with the elaborate porch at 1049 Maple Avenue became the "Linwood Inn" and the house at 2036 Shore Road became "The Goldenrod." Other houses along Shore Road in the newer early twentieth century styles were equally suitable for family living or vacationing tourists. "Haven Hedge," as the house at 2016 Shore Road was called in the 1920's, is one of a number of houses on Shore Road in the popular Foursquare style. The Bungalow appears in a variety of versions along Shore Road. The name of this house is derived from the Indian word for a resting house by the road. Its low gable roof that frequently extended out to shelter a porch gave the house a cozy appearance that appealed to millions of Americans. The house at 2263 Shore Road is a good example of this style. One-story cottages seem especially appropriate to the shore area of south Jersey and there are a number of them in the Linwood Historic District which help to convey the feeling of the time when some summer residents were moving to Linwood.
Many Philadelphians who first came to Linwood as summer visitors eventually made the town their permanent home. Clara and Glen White moved to the shore area just before World War I and were animal lovers. In addition to their involvement with the SPCA, the Whites buried first their own pets and then the pets of others in a plot on Shore Road in Linwood. Although there was no formal landscaping plan for the cemetery, it eventually held nearly a thousand pets and the ashes of at least two of their owners. Glen White made caskets which his wife lined with satin. Pet owners placed markers on the graves ranging from plain wooden crosses to stone statues of the pet Rex, the Wonder Dog and "Cootie," the mascot of the WWI 314th AEF are buried in the cemetery as well as the pets of such celebrities as Eddie Cantor, Billie Burke, and Irving Berlin. There are no similar pet cemeteries in the area, and it is probably one of the oldest pet cemeteries in the nation. However, it was not started as a commercial or perpetual care cemetery, but is rather the result of two individuals' concern over where their own pets and the pets of others could be buried. Today it is called the Clara-Glen Pet Cemetery in honor of its founders.
While vacationers were discovering the Jersey Shore, farmers were realizing that south Jersey not only had excellent farmland; it also had efficient means of transportation to the markets of Philadelphia and New York. In the early twentieth century, when independent farmers raised chickens for sale and for eggs, a substantial poultry industry developed in Atlantic County. In Linwood, as in many other towns, there were many poultry houses in the backyards of houses. In 1924 and 1932, for example, there were poultry houses behind the houses at 721, 747, and 904 Shore Road. The Linwood Poultry Farm had large chicken houses located where the Waldor Orchid greenhouses are today. The poultry farm had become the Brighton Floral Nurseries by 1934.
The Linwood Historic District conveys the history of the town over a period of more than a century between 1820 and 1935. Its setting is essentially the same as it was in the early nineteenth century: a long straight road with houses scattered along both sides interspersed here and there with small stores, churches, and public buildings. The individual architectural styles and building types in the Linwood Historic District show the popular tastes of their time; taken as a group they show how the community developed historically and architecturally. Houses in different styles, but in a similar scale, blend together to show the evolution of the community from a small village in 1820 to a large, independent town in 1935.
As in other towns along Shore Road, modern development has taken place east and west of Shore Road. Although there are some old houses outside the district, there is no other similarly cohesive group of buildings in Linwood. An historic sites survey of North Atlantic County has identified a potential historic district in all the Shore Road towns, but each district has its own individual character. In comparison to the other towns, Linwood has a higher percentage of early-nineteenth century houses. It is also different from most of the other towns in that it has never become a major rail or automobile transportation intersection. Today, as in the past, it is primarily residential, with a few small businesses and offices.
Many of the residents of the Linwood Historic District are working to preserve the original fabric and character of their houses. Authentic Victorian colors now adorn many of the large nineteenth century houses, and preservation efforts over several decades have helped to preserve the early-nineteenth century houses. The town has its own historian who actively works to preserve its old houses. A local historical society and local events such as house tours serve to stimulate interest in preserving this historic area of Linwood.
James Kirk, historian of the town of Linwood was the single most valuable source of information. He provided his own information as well as printed information in addition to the following sources:
Andrew, Russell M. Railroading in Atlantic County, New Jersey. Atlantic County Historical Society, 1981.
Atlantic County Historical Society, Somers Point, New Jersey, Collection of photographs, post cards, and undated newspaper clippings.
Beers Map of Atlantic County, 1872.
Boucher, Jack E. Absegami Yesteryear. Somers Point: Atlantic County Historical Society, 1963.
Ewing, Sarah, W.R. "Early Friends Meeting Houses in Atlantic County," Atlantic County Historical Society Yearbook.
Heston, Alfred M. South Jersey, A History. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1924.
________. Absegami: Annals of Eyren Haven and Atlantic City. Camden: Sinnickson Ches and Sons, 1904.
Kobbe, Gustav. The New Jersey Coast and Pines. Shore Hills: Gustav Kobbe, 1889.
Kuhlman, Gladys S. "Dedication of City Hall" Pamphlet. Linwood: 1965.
Linwood Bicentennial Committee, "Historic Homes of Linwood, New Jersey," Linwood: Unpublished manuscript, 1976.
Linwood Historical Society. "City of Linwood History Walk" Pamphlet for walking tour. Linwood: September, 1987.
Manuscript Census for Atlantic County, 1900, 1910.
Matlack, T. Chalkley, Compiler. "Brief Historical Sketches Concerning Friends Meetings of the Past and Present with Special Reference to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting" Unpublished Manuscript, 1938, at Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College.
National Register Nomination for Linwood Borough School No. 1. 1983.
Rose, T.F. and Woolman, H,C. Historical and Biographical Atlas of the New Jersey Coast. Philadelphia: Woolman & Rose, 1879.
Sanborn Insurance Atlas. 1924,1932.
Sunday Press, May 11, 1980, June 20, 1981.
† Proscilla M. Thompson, The History Store, Linwood Historic District, Atlantic County, NJ, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.