Cherry Hill Township
Cherry Hill Town Hall is located at 820 Mercer Street, Cherry Hill NJ 08002; phone: 856-665-6500.
European settlement in this region began with Dutch and Swedish traders along the Delaware River. By 1664, however, the English had asserted their claims of sovereignty and New Jersey became a colony of the crown. Cherry Hill Township is located in what was then known as the third tenth of West Jersey, between the Pennsauken and Timber Creeks, extending from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the early settlers were Quakers who bought land from the Proprietors of West Jersey. Many of these early settlers had names familiar to us today, such as Coles, Cooper, Kay, Matlack, and Hinchman.
In 1686, the population of the third and fourth tents, encompassing modern day Camden, Gloucester and Atlantic Counties, had reached approximately 1,400, which encouraged settlers to petition the West Jersey General Assembly, meeting in Burlington City, for their own county. The result was the creation of Gloucester County, named after the shire in England. Gloucestertown (Gloucester City) was the county seat. In 1786, fire destroyed the county courthouse and prison in Gloucestertown and, as a result, the county seat was moved to Woodbury, where it has remained.
Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, the most prominent town in the region was Haddonfield, which grew on trade from Kings Highway and the Cooper River, to the ports of Camden and Philadelphia. Trade in this region was further bolstered by the coming of the Camden and Amboy railroad line in 1835, which directly targeted Camden City as the transfer point from rail to ferry, for goods moving from New York to Philadelphia.
By 1843, the growing population in and around Camden prompted a number of prominent businessmen to press for the creation of a new county. After a great deal of political controversy, the New Jersey Legislature passed a bill establishing Camden County in 1844, which encompassed the townships of Waterford, Stockton, Newton, Union, Delaware, Gloucester, and Washington, although Washington Township was later returned to Gloucester County in 1871.
Cherry Hill was originally part of Delaware Township (a name it retained until 1961), which also included part of Camden City north of the Cooper River, Pennsauken, and Merchantville. Delaware Township was largely a quiet farming community for nearly three centuries after the area was first settled. The area of Cherry Hill slowly developed, at first, around several key villages or communities. The largest concentration of settlement occurred at Ellisburg, near the intersection of Marlton Pike (Route 70), laid out in 1796, and the "great road" or Kings Highway, built in the 1680's. The road bisected the land of Isaac Ellis who consequently built a tavern at the intersection. Several houses and an inn were later constructed. This was also the location of Cherry Hill's first schoolhouse, a log cabin built in the 1750's.
Colestown named after Samuel Coles, who had settled in the area in 1685, was another early village in Delaware Township. The Colestown Cemetery was originally established as the graveyard for St. Mary's Episcopal Church. Built in 1751, St. Mary's was the oldest Episcopal Church in West Jersey. The church was destroyed by fire in 1899, though it had not been used extensively since 1837. The distinctive stone Gatehouse Chapel at Colestown Cemetery, which is listed on both the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1858, shortly after the cemetery was incorporated.
A third hamlet was Batesville, located on the Haddonfield border, near the intersection of Long-a-Coming (Haddonfield-Berlin) and Kresson (a.k.a. Burlington) Roads. Early settlement in this area developed around the Cooper River and Blazing Rag Tavern, where the Kress Liquor Store now stands, though a majority of the land in Batesville was settled in the 1870's.
The modern boundaries of Cherry Hill were established by the breakaway of both Stockton Township (now Pennsauken and eastern Camden City) in the 1850's and Merchantville in 1874.
At the turn of the last century, Delaware Township's population was not much more than existed at the previous turn, in 1800, having 1,679 people in the 1900 Census.
Cherry Hill was fairly insulated from the rapid growth of late 19th century suburbs developing along railroad and trolley lines, such as Merchantville, Haddon Heights, and Magnolia. It was, however, the subject of a great deal of land speculation in the 1920s, as was happening all throughout South Jersey. This was largely attributed to the rise in automobile ownership, the opening of the Ben Franklin Bridge, and the boom in the stock market. On Cherry Hill's western borders, the Hinchman, Erlton, and Locustwood neighborhoods all had their beginnings in the 1920's land speculation boom. However, the stock market crash and the subsequent tightening of money that led to the Great Depression had its effect both on continued development and the Township's finances. The subdivided land under speculation was considered "improved" and subject to a higher taxation rate. With the bankruptcy of many land improvement companies, the owners of the land refused to pay the increased rate on vast tracts of land. Tax collections plummeted and led, in 1933, to state receivership for the municipality.
By 1935, in fact, only four municipalities in the county were able to certify adequate funds to meet their financial obligations. It was only in 1942 that the Township was able to regain control of its finances from state oversight.
During the Great Depression, however, Roosevelt's New Deal brought a number of positive developments to the Township. The Works Progress Administration built the Township a municipal building. The WPA also created, in cooperation with the Camden County Park Commission, the Cooper River and Pennypacker Parks along the Cooper River. When the New Deal was transformed into the war effort, construction activity rose to house workers for Camden's numerous factories and shipyards. In fact, Cooper River Village, adjacent to Erlton, was built in 1942 to provide housing for workers. The added real estate activity was directly responsible for the reversal of the Township's financial future. That year was momentous for another reason, when Garden State Racetrack opened for the first time. In just 49 days of racing, over 400,000 people visited this Cherry Hill landmark.
The population of Cherry Hill grew slowly until the mid-1940's when the post-war development boom started. For instance, the population in 1930 was 5,734 and had only increased by 77 people to 5,811 in 1940. By 1950, however, the population had doubled to 10,358 and by 1960, it was 31,522 and now, nearly 70,000.
In Cherry Hill, the history of development has left relatively few examples of historic sites. However, as time moves on, the early post-WW II suburban development of the Township will become eligible for preservation. Since historic preservation districts permit greater architectural control and maintenance of structures than afforded by the typical zoning ordinance, it may be a method of ensuring the continued desirability of Cherry Hill's neighborhoods as they age.