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Woolwich Township

Gloucester County, New Jersey

Woolwich Town Hall is located at 120 Village Green Drive, Swedesboro, NJ 08085.
Phone: 856‑467‑2666.

Neighborhoods

Woolwich Township [†] was first incorporated on March 17, 1767 and takes its name from an English town on the Thames River famous for its naval school. The township was part of the Civil Organization of West Jersey, established in 1676, and was originally within Greenwich Township, one of the four incorporated jurisdictions in what is now Gloucester County. When Woolwich Township was first formed from Greenwich Township in 1750, before incorporation, it encompassed an area of 40,000 acres and was known as South Greenwich. Subsequent secessions reduced the land area, with Franklin Township being formed from Greenwich and Woolwich in 1820, and Harrison Township in 1844. In 1877, West Woolwich, which is now known as Logan Township, was set off from Woolwich, although in 1901, part of Logan was returned to Woolwich. In 1902, Swedesboro, the principal town of Woolwich, was incorporated as a separate municipality.

Recent archaeological finds show that humans have been present on the land within township boundaries for approximately 10,000 years. Two indigenous communities are known to have existed beside both the Raccoon and Oldmans Creeks. The Narraticons lived in the vicinity of the Raccoon Creek. Their name, which is a version of their word for "raccoon," survives in the names of the creek and the main lake in Woolwich, Narraticon Lake. The Kagkakaini Sakins lived along the Mosackas Creek, now called Oldmans Creek.

In 1638, Swedish settlement came to the Delaware Valley and a colony was established on the east side of the Delaware River that was referred to as "New Stockholm" (also "New Sweden"). This colony began to grow when the land was purchased by the Swedes from indigenous community members in 1641. The first Swedish settlement was located on the banks of Raccoon Creek and was called "Raccoon" until 1765 when the name was changed to "Swedesborough." Swedish and Finnish inhabitants moved into the area and created homesteads. They gave shelter to the passengers of the first English ship to arrive in 1677, which docked at the Raccoon Creek.

With English settlement in the region, Swedish place names began to be replaced with English names, including that of "Woolwich." Early settlers raised grain, fruit, and vegetables, and tended stock. Pehr Kalm, a Finnish botanist and one of the most famous recorders of botany in the colonies, traveled in the region between 1748 and 1751. He began his stay in Swedesboro and in his important account, Travels in North America, reported on the variety of fruit growing on local farms and "peaches so thick on the ground that one could hardly miss stepping on them." Some of New Jersey's richest farmland is located within Woolwich Township and farming has long been a principal industry of the area.

Waterways have also historically been important to Woolwich and Swedesboro. Farm products and timber from the rich forests were conveyed to markets along the wide tidal Raccoon and Oldmans Creeks. Later, during the nineteenth century, an early steamboat plied the Raccoon Creek from the wharves at Swedesboro to Philadelphia along with other vessels. The steamboat carried produce to a farmer's market along Dock Creek in Philadelphia, which served as an early boat landing and launch site. This creek is now covered and known as "Dock Street."

Early mills in and surrounding Woolwich and Swedesboro that ground flour and sawed lumber relied on tributaries to local streams to provide their power. Mills were established at Lake Narraticon next to Swedesboro, on Basgalore Creek, on Pargey Creek forming Warrington Millpond, and on Porches Mill Creek.

Travel on roads was nearly impossible during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Road quality was exceedingly poor and bridges were frequently in disrepair or nonexistent. However, the first highway to cross both Camden and Gloucester Counties, Kings Highway (also called Salem Road or the Great Road), was completed in 1702 and provided an alternative to water travel. The Kings Highway travels through the center of Woolwich Township and Swedesboro and has several historic houses and structures along its length. Railroads became an important means of travel and transport of goods, especially farm produce, in the latter half of the 19th century. One of the earliest lines in the southern part of Gloucester County was the Swedesboro Railroad, established in 1854, and subsequently operated by the West Jersey Railroad Company and then the Pennsylvania‑Reading Seashore Line. This line opened new markets for products from the Woolwich area. It also carried passengers until 1933. It continues to operate today as a freight line.

The railroad served new processing plants that were established in Gloucester County in the late 19th century. One of these, founded by Edgar Hurff, was the largest privately-owned processing plant in the world. Hurff also developed the largest seed business in the world and was the first to process canned asparagus in the eastern United States. The Hurff plant became the California Packing Corporation plant that packaged Del Monte vegetables for many years.

Highways and trucking began to replace railroad transport of both goods and people after World War II. Automobile transportation corridors provided the framework for land uses that exist today in the township.

In the 1950s, the New Jersey Turnpike was built, with one of its exits on Route 322 in the northeast corner of Woolwich Township. The turnpike bisects the township on a northeast�southwest line. In the 1960s, the construction of Interstate 295 began to bring major changes to Woolwich. Although the road is west of Woolwich, in Logan Township, it provides easy access in and out of Woolwich.

In the 1970s, a major residential development called Beckett was planned for Logan and Woolwich Townships. It was later renamed "Weatherby." When completed, Weatherby is planned to bring 4,300 housing units along Center Square Road and bisecting Auburn Road in the southwest quadrant of the township. As of the publication of this ERI, about 2,240 of Weatherby's housing units have been built.

The township's population grew by 29 percent in the 1980s in response to this new development, and then increased more rapidly in the following decades, by 108 percent in the 1990s and by 236 percent in the 2000s. Between 2000 and 2010, Woolwich was the fastest-growing township in Gloucester County and in New Jersey. Over the past several decades, Woolwich Township has become home to people from increasingly varied ethnic and social backgrounds. Residents hold a diverse set of occupations reflecting local and regional service and light manufacturing economies, though the township still supports an active farming community.

Many residents commute throughout the tri-state region for employment and for other basic services, making the township a residential community for the more urbanized portions of southern New Jersey.

In the mid-2000s, in response to the significant changes that this population increase brought, the township began expanding its programs to protect its open space, agricultural lands, natural resources, and historically quieter, more rural character. In 2008, the township was among the first in the state to create a TDR program, which is a land preservation and smart growth strategy in which development rights associated with a parcel of land are transferred from a landowner to another entity, enabling land to be permanently protected from development and providing compensation to the landowner for that protection. This program has enabled Woolwich to substantially grow its acreage of protected farms. Woolwich's residents have voted to tax themselves to create a consistent funding stream to protect and steward township parks.

Woolwich has received a variety of recognitions for these initiatives. In 2017, the township was handed the Governor's Environmental Excellence Award, which is given annually to about 17 residents, businesses, institutions, or communities each year that have made significant contributions to environmental protection in New Jersey. Woolwich was chosen for its work preserving 917 acres of land within the first eight months of the year, bringing the township's total count of permanently preserved acreage to over 3,000 acres. Not resting on these laurels, Woolwich continues to strive for more protection and better stewardship of its environmental assets while also encouraging and managing growth and development of its built environment.

Environmental Resource Inventory for the Township of Woolwich, 2019, www.dvrpc.org, accessed January 2021.

Nearby Towns: East Greenwich Twp • Greenwich Twp • Lower Chichester Twp • Marcus Hook Boro • Oldmans Twp • Paulsboro Boro • South Harrison Twp • Swedesboro Boro • Trainer Boro • Woodstown Boro •