Collingswood Residential Historic District
The Collingswood Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The advent of the railroad made suburbanization a New Jersey and national phenomenon. With proximity to two major industrial and commercial cities, New York and Philadelphia, New Jersey was destined to develop "bedroom communities" linked to urban centers first by railroads, then by automobiles. Collingswood, located approximately ten miles from Philadelphia, was to become one of hundreds of New Jersey communities and several Camden County municipalities to be transformed from farmland to suburb. While boasting a rich history of early settlement, Collingswood's most distinctive characteristics stem from its late-nineteenth and primarily early-twentieth century development into a residential community. The landmarks of this settlement, which include a substantial landscaped park, represent a well-preserved collection of resources assembled over a relatively short period of time. As a district, they document a history of suburbanization, thereby meriting significance in the context of community development in addition to architecture and landscape architecture.
Detailed accounts of Collingswood's initial settlement and early history have been documented extensively in Prowell's History of Camden County, New Jersey (1886); Heston's South Jersey, A History 1664-1924 (1924); and Bancroft's The Collingswood Story (1965). The area's first settlers were Irish Quakers, who in 1677 founded a colony in a 1600-acre area of West Jersey province known as the "Irish Tenth," which encompassed parts of Collingswood, Haddonfield, Camden, and Haddon Township. Their pioneering settler was Robert Zane, the first of many generations of Zanes to shape Collingswood. Zane was followed by other colonists — William Bates, Thomas Thackara, Mark Newbie, Thomas Sharp, and George Goldsmith — who together established the Newton Colony. Much of the land that Zane originally held was to be developed into Collingswood at a much later date.
The first settlers built their houses along the Newton Creek, where they typically engaged in milling industries, and laid out roads along old Indian paths. Two of the earlier roads were Haddon Avenue (the Haddonfield and Camden Turnpike), maintained as a toll road from Cooper's Ferry to Haddonfield by 1847, and Collings Avenue, which in 1767 linked the settlers' meetinghouse with Haddon Avenue.
The eighteenth century development of Newton was minimal as was much of the nineteenth century development of what was to become Collingswood. Large portions of the land remained in the Zane and then Collings families upon the marriage of Robert Zane's granddaughter to Richard Collings. In the nineteenth century, various boundary and jurisdiction realignments placed Collingswood in Haddon Township, Camden County, before it was to be incorporated as a borough in 1888. Up until the 1880s and even the '90s, the land was used almost exclusively for farming, including frontage along the Camden and Haddonfield Turnpike, despite the fact that a railroad between Camden and Haddonfield first went into operation in 1856 and the Camden and Atlantic Railroad stopped at Collingswood by 1871. Compared to communities such as Haddonfield and Merchantville, Collingswood was slow to launch its residential development campaign. The railroad did, however, set the stage for the suburban growth, with the leading role taken on by Edward C. Knight.
Edward C. Knight, the great-grandson of Richard Collings, was a successful Philadelphia merchant, railroad executive, and eventually, real estate developer. While maintaining a Philadelphia business and city residence, in 1868 he acquired his family home, the Collings-Knight Homestead, for farming purposes. Upon seeing the development opportunities presented by the railroad in 1871, Knight convinced his Maryland cousin, Richard T. Collings, to oversee his farm which included a field that would become Knight Park in the 1880s (officially dedicated in 1893). In addition to managing Knight's farm, Collings acted as his agent, acquiring almost the entire original Zane holdings or approximately three-quarters of the present borough during the 1870s and 1880s. To develop these properties, companies such as the Collingswood Land Company, the Collingswood Real Estate Company, and the Collingswood Realty Company were formed and the subdivision of parkside property and the former Tatem tract near the railroad was begun. Shortly before the borough's incorporation in 1888, approximately three builder-designed houses and the Methodist Church were erected on Park Avenue between Massey (Lakeview Drive) and Dayton Avenue. Two of the builders of this block, Andrew K.H. Doughty and Walter L. Patterson, were to lead prolific careers in Collingswood. Doughty erected the houses at 602 and 604 Park Avenue circa 1886 as well as the original first Methodist Church building (1887) and parsonage (1892). Patterson, erected buildings from numerous plans (some architect-designed) for developers and owners to adapt to their liking. He was responsible for many of the Park Avenue houses (501, 514, 621, and 625) and two dwellings around the corner on Lakeview Drive, 203 Lakeview Drive being his residence. One identified architect-designed residence on this street is 610 Park Avenue, the work of Thomas Stephen, a prominent Camden County architect in the early twentieth century. In 1904 he designed this Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style house that was also constructed by Walter L. Patterson.
This early residential development marked the beginning of Collingswood's growth into what was to be perceived as "The Town Beautiful," although relatively few of the forty to fifty-foot-wide lots were built upon until the 1910s and 1920s. "The Town Beautiful" was a vision of Collingswood shared by the community in the early twentieth century. As described in the borough's 20th anniversary book, "The Town Beautiful" depicted an idealized, planned town with generously laid out streets, residences of high architectural standards, and landscapes of beautiful lawns and gardens. These attributes, in addition to proximity to the city, the high character of the people, the churches and schools, the absence of saloons, and Knight Park, made Collingswood an "idealist's dream."
From the inception of Collingswood's suburban era, promotional efforts were undertaken to attract people from the Philadelphia-Camden area to make the borough their home. In 1886, "special trains were run to Collingswood from the city with visitors carried free of cost."The visitors arrived at the new train station which was completed in the summer of 1886. Resorts such as Kalium Springs (located beyond the Collingswood Residential Historic District) advertised Collingswood as a center for health. Howard L. Merrick's villa and bungalow colony were also established for resort travel. In his circa 1912 brochure called "The Manor House," he described the 1801 structure "as a delightful place of rendez-vous, recreation, and refreshment which will meet the demand of those seeking transient or permanent quarters, and those whose patronage calls for a refined, well-conducted hostelry."
The presence of the Cooper River and Newton Lake augmented the community's recreational appeal as well, although the most significant attraction of this type was Knight Park, dedicated in 1893. This 61-acre triangular park, improved circa 1896-1906 by Philadelphia landscape architect and civil engineer, Alfred R. Egerton, contained a romantic landscape of plantings and paths and amenities for boating, athletics, and social and religious events, such as the Chataqua which convened there in the summer. Investment opportunities, often based upon speculation, were also an advertising ploy. Large profits were to be reaped from investment in Collingswood, where lots could be purchased for as little as $350, in part because, "the tunnel under the Delaware is expected to double the value of Collingswood lots." That tunnel was never built although the bridge to Philadelphia was completed in 1926. The accessibility of Collingswood to Philadelphia and Camden, its recreational facilities, and its affordable building lots were all assets highlighted in the real estate brochures of the early twentieth century.
The response to development efforts was slow at first, but then the borough underwent a building boom. The population was 200 in 1882; 1,625 in 1900; 4,795 in 1910; 8,714 in 1920; and 12,723 in 1930. The majority of buildings in the Collingswood Residential Historic District correspond to the 1910 to 1930 period of construction which followed the opening of a street car line along Haddon Avenue to Camden in the early 1900s. The predominant type of housing erected during this era was the detached, mass-produced or builder-designed "Comfortable House." According to architectural historian Alan Gowans, the "Comfortable House" of the 1890-1930 period filled a social need, namely, the ability for a person to be independent by owning a home and having input into its design. The "Comfortable House," manifested in a variety of styles, gave the growing suburban middle class its independence away from the row houses and tenements of the city. On a property with modest sized lawns, each owner could enrich his house with distinctive modifications to a basic plan. Walter L. Patterson, one of Collingswood's preeminent builders, offered his clients basic plans designed by architects Thomas Stephen, Joshua C. Jefferis, and Alex M. Adams, with the option to make certain changes such as relocating porches or omitting dormers. Even with their variations, the houses make a strong statement for the rise of early-twentieth century domestic architectural styles that were to become the mainstay of North American suburbs. These styles, clearly dominant in the Collingswood Residential Historic District, are the Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial Revival, American Foursquare, and Bungalow. While these "Comfortable Houses" are the norm, the Collingswood Residential Historic District also boasts examples of more high style Queen Anne and Colonial Revival architecture such as the William C. Lore, James E. Taylor, and S. Canning Childs residences at 422, 426, and 428 Browning Road (all built circa 1903), the Judge John B. Kates Residence at 430 Collings Avenue, designed in 1911 by Joshua C. Jefferis, and the Georgian Revival brick house at 500 Browning Road, built circa 1915.
Accompanying the suburban growth of Collingswood was a commercial and social infrastructure (see Collingswood Commercial Historic District). The principal commercial core of Collingswood originally developed along Haddon Avenue which was known as the Camden and Haddonfield Turnpike. (Note: West Collingswood, too, has a commercial center, although much smaller.) In the 1860s and '70s, most of the land that was to evolve into the commercial section of Haddon Avenue between Fern and Woodlawn Avenues was part of a 95-acre parcel owned by William P. Tatem. His was one of several farms scattered along the Haddonfield Turnpike. The completion of the new Camden and Atlantic Railroad station at Atlantic and Collings Avenues in 1886 coincided with modest development of Haddon Avenue, mostly residential. The few commercial buildings included J. Stokes Collings' store and post office at the corner of Ceilings and Haddon Avenues and Mahlon Bosterick's Hotel on Haddon Avenue, near what is now Lincoln Avenue. A drug store, across from Collings' store, was in operation by 1893, but the more significant commercial growth of Haddon Avenue was not to occur for almost a decade. That growth was largely in response to the residential community beginning to form in developments laid out by the Collingswood Real Estate Company, Collingswood Realty Company, and Collingswood Land Company.
Collingswood's first house of worship was established by the Friends, but during the early years of suburbanization, several other congregations organized. These were: the First Methodist Episcopal Church (1886), Holy Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church (1887), First Baptist Church (1889), Collingswood Presbyterian Church (1902), West Collingswood M.E. Church (1902), St. John's Roman Catholic Church (1903), St. Paul's Lutheran Church (1905), Christ's Chapel, W. Collingswood, Protestant Episcopal (1907), and City Line Mission of the First M.E. Church (1908). These nine congregations were supported by a population that was less than 5,000 in 1910.
Of the various denominations established in Collingswood, the Methodists in particular appear to have played a highly visible role in the community. The First Methodist Episcopal Church on Park Avenue (originally built in 1887) was erected within one of the first planned neighborhoods on land donated by Richard T. Collngs' Collingswood Real Estate Company. The builder selected for the church and the 1892 parsonage was A.K.H. Doughty who, along with another Methodist, Walter L. Patterson, was to build hundreds of dwellings in Collingswood. Patterson's wife was president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.), which shared the Methodists' penchant for maintaining Collingswood as a place where "No Saloon Is Tolerated." The Methodists were also responsible for establishing "The Home for the Aged and Infirm of the Methodist Episcopal Church" in 1890, erecting the initial Moses and King-designed building at Haddon and Zane Avenues in 1891. And, the Chataqua which convened in Knight Park had its origins as a Methodist-sponsored religious, educational, and social event. Finally, the Methodists published the borough's first newspaper in 1902, a monthly publication called The Retrospect.
In conclusion, the Collingswood Residential Historic District contains a collection of resources that together assume significance in the area of community development, domestic architecture, and landscape. The Collingswood Residential Historic District documents the growth of a rural township into a late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century suburb. The classic development of this suburbanization is seen in the advent of the railroad and street car lines; the speculative acquisition of large landholdings; the formation of real estate companies and subdivisions; extensive promotional and advertising campaigns; construction of made-to-order, builder-designed and prefabricated houses of the "Comfortable House" genre; and growth of a commercial and social infrastructure, in this case, strongly guided by the Methodists. In addition, the Collingswood Residential Historic District contains a significant landscape resource, Knight Park, which played an important role in attracting investors and residents to and in fulfilling the aspirations of "The Town Beautiful." Because the buildings, as grouped in contiguous residential enclaves of Queen Anne, parkside, and bungalow houses, and the park retain their integrity and convey this history of community development, the Collingswood Residential Historic District is eligible for the National Register.
Bailey Collection, Collingswood Public Library, Collingswood, New Jersey.
Bailey, W.T. Plan of Building Lots Belonging to W.T. Bailey, et al. located at Collingswood on the Camden and Atlantic Railroad, 1891.
Bancroft, Raymond M. The Collingswood Story, 1965.
Bennet Collection, Collingswood Public Library, Collingswood, New Jersey.
Business and Street Directory of Collingswood, Westmont, Haddonfield, Erlton. Compliments of Collingswood Trust Co., c.1926.
Camden and Vicinity Telephone Directory of the Delaware and Atlantic Telegraph & Telephone Company, 1920.
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"Collingswood Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration." Souvenir Program, 1938.
Collingswood Land Company Plan, 1893.
Collingswood, New Jersey Fire Insurance Maps. New York: Sanborn Map Company, 1904, 1909, 1915, 1922, 1930.
"Collingswood." Promotional brochure, 1908.
Collingswood Public Library Photograph Collection. Collingswood, New Jersey.
D'Alessandro, John T., ed. Collingswood, New Jersey Bicentennial. Collingswood: The Bicentennial Committee, 1976.
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Recorder of Deeds, Camden County Courthouse, Camden, New Jersey.
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† Carol A. Benenson, M.S., Kise, Franks & Straw, Collingswood Commercial Historic District, Camden County, New Jersey, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.