Blackwood Historic District
The Blackwood 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 Blackwood Historic District, through its streets lined with dwellings, churches, schools, and commercial buildings, conveys the rich heritage of the oldest and largest village in Gloucester Township. Settled in the eighteenth century, Blackwood, or Blackwoodtown as it was called, thrived as a crossroads village along the Black Horse Pike well into the nineteenth century, becoming an important local government and transportation center by the 1830s. Subsequently, the advent of the railroad in 1891 ushered in a new era of development. First as summer homes and then as year-round residences, this village followed a pattern of residential growth that is representative of a broader trend, namely, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century suburbanization of Camden County. The district's association with an early settlement in Gloucester Township, its survival as the most important such example in the township, and its contribution towards a better understanding of settlement patterns in the county make the district eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Gloucester, one of the southern townships in Camden County, has provided essential transportation routes between the Delaware River and the Atlantic Coast since its early period of settlement. Eventually improved as turnpikes, the Camden and White Horse transversed the township's northwestern part; the Camden and Blackwood, which connected with the Williamstown turnpike at Blackwood, crossed through the southwestern part. This location along the major turnpikes was to make Blackwood an early stopover for travelers while its proximity to the south branch of the Great Timber Creek and Blackwood Lake permitted Blackwood to develop into an industrial site by the first quarter of the eighteenth century. In 1701 George Ward purchased approximately 250 acres of land on the south side of Timber Creek in what was known as Upton, the early settlers' name for the land on both sides of the creek from Runnemede to Greenloch. Ward built a fulling mill, gristmill, and residence, his mills being assessed the highest of any others in what was Gloucester County at that time. While George Ward undertook industrial pursuits, his brother, William, purchased a tract of land at the northwest corner of Church Street and Black Horse Pike in 1696 and opened the first tavern in the village.
In 1731 John Blackwood, Sr. of Scotland purchased the tavern and ten years later acquired 95 acres of the mill property — although not the mills — from George Ward. Adding to his holdings, Blackwood purchased 100 acres in the early 1750s which included what became the site of the village, and provided one acre of land across from his tavern for the Presbyterian Church. By the early nineteenth century, the sparsely settled village was comprised of the mills, mill housing near Church Street and Railroad Avenue, a tavern, and a Presbyterian Church. A Methodist congregation became active circa 1801 and by 1834 erected a frame meeting house at 115-117 East Church Street. Blackwoodtown, slowly growing, became the township seat of government in 1831, the same year in which Uriah Norcross started a daily stagecoach route between Camden and Cape May with headquarters in Blackwood. Shortly thereafter, a second stagecoach line was established between the village and Camden.
The next few decades witnessed a period of growth which in part, likely resulted from the substantial improvements to the Williamstown and Camden Turnpike and the Camden and Blackwood Turnpike around 1850. The village's growth is evidenced by the 1860 atlas which depicts numerous residences including nine 1-1/2-story speculative houses erected in 1857 by James Tomlinson on West Church Street.Relatively new Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches and parsonages graced Church Street and a hotel and post office (the former tavern) operated at the northwest corner of Church Street and Black Horse Pike while a store occupied the southwest corner. Also lining the crossroads were a carriagemaker, tailor, blacksmith, cabinetmaker, shoemaker, saddler, milliner, restaurant, and various other stores that clearly formed the mid-nineteenth century commercial core. The village also boasted a schoolhouse on E. Church Street and the Blackwood Academy, a fine private institution at 27 South Main Street (built in 1845 as a Temperance Hotel). In keeping with its commercial and residential growth, Blackwood developed a social infrastructure. Lodge 64 of the International Order of Odd Fellows was chartered in 1847 and in 1869, the Minerva Lodge No. 25 of the Knights of Pithias was founded. The Blackwood Grange at 43 W. Church Street (rebuilt in 1909) was started in 1875 and a local chapter of the Knights of Monin Castle was organized in 1883.
The year 1891 marks a significant date in the history of Blackwood as well as Gloucester Township. With the opening of the Gloucester Branch of the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroad, residents of what was essentially an agricultural/industrial community were afforded the opportunity to live in the country and commute to work in Gloucester City, Camden, or Philadelphia. Moreover, the advent of the railroad — which replaced the stagecoach — enticed people to settle in Blackwood just as it stimulated development in other Camden County communities such as Collingswood and Merchantville. Augmenting this development were promotional testaments that "the location is healthful and the surrounding charming in every respect." And, the formation of building and loan associations and development companies provided the financial backing for new construction. Typical of numerous suburban communities in the second half of the nineteenth century, the initial appeal of Blackwood was as a summer resort. Of the 45 lots laid out by James T. Pine on Central Avenue, the purchasers "who contemplate erecting summer residences in the near future" were principally from the city. The logical progression in development, as evidenced by Blackwood, was the establishment of year-round residences from these summer cottages.
James T. Pine was responsible for the first major speculative development that emerged from the railroad era. Anticipating its inauguration, Pine assembled the tract of land extending primarily along Central Avenue and fronting the railroad in 1885. On June 2, 1892, he filed his plan of building lots with the county and shortly thereafter began his sale of lots. Among the earlier dwellings were those of Benjamin F. Batten, painter (105 Central Avenue) and Cornelius G. Hagerman, grocer (116-18 Central Avenue). By 1910, Pine's lots were sold and most were improved with dwellings for a middle-class neighborhood comprised of a printer, stovemaker, hardware salesman, publisher, stenographer, bookkeeper, cashier, merchant, grocer, and engineer, just to name a few. In the meantime, towards the east end of the district, Daniel Hagans and his wife Mary erected their prominent Queen Anne style house and carriage house at 149 E. Church Street circa 1900 and various development houses on the south side of the street, including 26-28 E. Church Street.
In keeping with the pace of residential development, which in the early twentieth century expanded into areas of Blackwood beyond the Blackwood Historic District's limits, the commercial core changed as well. In 1911 the Georgian Revival style bank building for the First National Bank of Blackwood was erected at the southeast corner of Black Horse Pike and Church Streets. That bank was designed by Philadelphia architect H.L. Reinhold who also designed the Mt. Holly Trust and Safety Deposit Company. First National, one of the only banks on the Black Horse Pike between Camden and Atlantic City, was later acquired by the Camden Trust Company in 1939. A reflection of Blackwood's commercial prosperity, a second bank, the South Jersey Bank of Blackwood, opened in 1923. That Neoclassical style bank and its adjacent store and apartments were built according to plans designed by prominent Camden architect Thomas Stephen. In 1925, the same year in which major improvements were made to the Black Horse Pike, the old tavern at the northwest corner of Black Horse Pike and Church Streets was demolished for the Kelley Realty Co.'s 2-story brick commercial row. In addition to supporting a commercial corridor, the former crossroads village boasted a vaudeville and moving picture theater by 1921.
Although various demolition and new construction have altered the commercial and residential streetscapes of Blackwood in the second half of the twentieth century, a sufficient concentration of surviving resources continues to project a history unique within Gloucester Township. Unlike Blackwood, the other early villages of the township never attained a comparable commercial and/or residential center, certainly not one that had its roots in the late seventeenth century. Kirkwood, which supported various industries, attained its first regular store in 1870 while Lindenwald was not even founded until 1885. Clementon developed strong milling interests, but not the wealth of churches, stores, and dwellings that formed Blackwood. Watsontown, Brownstown, and Davistown never grew beyond small hamlets and Spring Mills, which had substantial industrial works, also remained a small entity. The Lost Town of Upton, listed in the National Register, documents only the remains of a former village while Chew's Landing, which once had a rich heritage, essentially declined when the railroad replaced its shipping interests.
As it stands, the Blackwood Historic District contains a collection of buildings and sites that documents the village's growth from an eighteenth century respite to a twentieth century commuter suburb, and conveys its ongoing activity as a commercial center. This assemblage also depicts a pattern of development that is representative of its era, yet unique for its level of preservation, particularly when viewed within the context of Gloucester Township. Because of its important historical associations, the landmarks reflect primarily 1830s the turn-of-the-century suburbanization of Blackwood.
Building Permits, Camden County Historical Society, Camden, NJ. Permit #A-69.
Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission Files, Haddon Township, NJ.
Corotes, A. Charles and James M. O'Neill. Camden County Centennial 1844-1944. Camden: Public Enterprises, 1944.
Evening Bulletin. Philadelphia: 8 October 1948.
Griffiths, Thomas S., History of Baptists in New Jersey. Hightstown, NJ: Ban Press Publishing Co. 1904.
Lake, D.J. and S.N. Beers. Map of the Vicinity of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: C.K. Stone and A. Pomeroy, Publishers, 1860.
One Hundredth Anniversary of Church Building: Blackwood Methodist Church. Blackwood, NJ. 1856-1956. Ellwood F. Keller, Th. M., Minister, 1956.
One Hundred & Seventy-Fifth Anniversary: 1750-1925 First Presbyterian Church. Blackwood, NJ, compiled by Pastor, Oct. 1925.
Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide. 12 April 1911, p. 232.
Prowell, George R. The History of Camden County. New Jersey. Philadelphia: L.J. Richards & Co., 1886, pp. 672-90.
Recorder of Deeds, Camden County Courthouse, Camden, NJ.
Sanborn Map Company. Blackwood. Camden County, New Jersey. New York: 1924. Plates 1-4.
Tatman, Sandra L. and Roger W. Moss. Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects 1700-1936. Boston: C.K. Hall & Co., 1985.
U.S. Census Records, National Archives, Philadelphia, PA.
Viggiano, Jim. Research prepared for the Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission, 1986.
West Jersey Press.
† Carol A. Beneson, M.S., KKFS, Inc., Blackwood Historic District, Camden County, New Jersey City, nomination document, 1987/1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.